February 5, 2009

How important is reading the bible?

This was brought up to me today as something that I will need to do in order to have a true leadership education.  In order to understand the approximately 76% of the U.S. population that identifies as Christian, I need to read and have a basic knowledge of their core book (which by the way I do, though I don't have verses memorized or anything).  I'm not denying that this is a good idea.  It may even be the right thing to do.  I certainly would not tell my children, or anyone else for that matter, not to read any of the core books in any religion.  But for me, right now, I simply don't care that much.  I have so many books that I really and truly want to read.  I do not want to spend my time on something I have zero interest in and probably won't retain.  One of the principles of our homeschooling philosophy is not forcing the kids to learn anything they are not ready to learn.  It's counter-productive because if there is no intrinsic interest, they won't remember most of it.  

What if I never want to read any religious text?  Well I am following along with Kafir Girl as she blogs the Quran.  It's a good thing she is f*cking hilarious, because otherwise I would definitely not be following along.  As it is, I don't read every post because sometimes I just don't find it interesting.  Can I not have a world class, liberal arts education if I don't read every thing on some list that defines a world class, liberal arts education?  So what if the majority of Americans are Christians.  Most of them probably haven't read the bible either.   We might not even live in this country for our entire lives.   I am also not a big fan of fiction.  If I am going to read it, I want it to be good.  I actually read the bible once, many years ago.  My recollection is that it was not good (in an entertaining sort of way).  

There also seems to be this idea that, as an atheist, I can't dismiss something I don't know every single thing about. I say bollocks.  I don't know every single thing about baby formula either.  I'm not going to start using it because the majority of my countrymen do.  I am also not going to research Similac when I have been nursing perfectly fine for  over three years and two babies (and one before that!).  I don't need formula and I never will.  The same as I don't need religion and I never will.    I'm not saying I will never read the bible.  I'm saying I don't want to read it now and I may very well never read it again.  If that's the one thing that is going to keep me from a great leadership education, well then I guess I'll have to deal with that.  

What about the kids?  What if they never want to read the bible?  Who knows?  Heck, they are still really young.  If they want me to read it to them, I will.  I also want to expose them to all religions so they understand their fellow humans.  But I am not going to try to persuade them that their education will be worthless if they don't read books X, Y, and Z.   If they feel the need, they'll do it for themselves and when the time is right for them.   

Me too.  


  1. If you ever feel you _have_ to read any part of them, this is a fun site:

  2. I know exactly what you mean! Whenever I write something about our non-religious parenting approach, I always get the push back from those that are Christian and I feel like I need to research/understand better what they are doing in order to better rationalize my position to them.

    I think the problem comes with what is the societal default. Like the formula example that you gave, people that support breastfeeding spend way too much effort (myself included probably) explaining why it is best. But if it was the default, if it was what everybody did, then we wouldn't have to do that and instead we could, as appropriate, just note the risks of formula.

    Where I live, society/educators struggle between maintaining the Catholic majority view and teaching diversity. The new curriculum that the Quebec government has made mandatory for schools and homeschoolers is supposed to be quite good in this regard.

  3. I believe that basic religious literacy is important. If the goal is to understand the world, religion is a big part of the world. However, the arduous task of reading the Bible isn't necessary to attain this goal. Doing so wouldn't really make you religiously literate anyway. Hell, most believers haven't really read the Bible.

    When you feel the urge to learn about the Bible, I would suggest you skip reading the Bible and pick up a good, academic Bible textbook such as The Bible and Its Influence instead.

    That's good for Bible literacy, but if anyone knows of a good history of the Abrahamic religions, I would be interested to hear recommendations.

  4. I don't think reading the Bible is all that important (I'd like to read it cover to cover once in my life, but it's just too damn long and I'm sure I've got exposed to a good percentage of it during my childhood Sundays).

    However, knowing what's in the Bible is quite important if you want to consider yourself a well rounded individual. The Bible is an extremely important cultural text and there is just so much in our language that references the Bible that you lose out if you're not familiar with the references.

    While we all use some of these metaphors (often unknowingly) in our speech, a lot of them will slip by you if you're lacking in Bible literacy. Listening to an MLK speech without knowing the Bible makes you miss out on a lot of things he was saying. In contemporary political discourse, the Religious right skillfully uses Bible references to, essentially, talk in code that people not in the know don't pick up on.

    And while it's important to have be well rounded in your religious literacy, it's especially important to be literate in the religions of your culture's past. And for better or worse, that means the Bible, if you live in Europe or North America.

    P.S. I'm always amazed how many of our idioms are Biblical. The rest seem to come from Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, sport metaphors, Gilligan's Island and other shows. :-)

  5. Teacherninja- Thanks for the link! Now this I am having fun with!

    Exactly Annie :) We are hoping to move to Canada in several years, though not Quebec. Religion always seems like less of an issue up there overall.

    Jonathan-thank you. I wonder if this sort of book is available in a library system...

    Stepan-- I agree. I have a basic understanding of the bible and I have read it once. But I can't quote it and I get the impression sometimes that if I don't know it like the back of my hand then I'm not a good enough non-believer and my education is somehow lacking. I also can't quote Friends which can sometimes make me seem like I am from another planet too. :) If I run into something I am not familiar with, I can look it up. Sometimes I think just being able to find the information is as important as having it memorized.

    Thanks for all the comments! You all made my day!