Culture in Religion

In Scotty Fleming’s May 14th article, he proposes that the Bible become required reading for all students. He argued that reading the Bible would further our understanding of Western literature and promote religious conversation on campus. Although the Bible may do both those things, simply requiring students to read the Bible is not a feasible option for enhancing religious dialogue. The Bible is a very large collection of writings, and much of it has little relevance to modern religious conversations. Long genealogical pedigrees, ancient customs and ideas make the Bible both tedious and difficult to read even with annotations. If the Bible were required reading, it is likely that most students would simply read it as they do any other book without considering the religious context. Considering that the reason the Bible is so ubiquitous is because of its religious affiliation, you simply cannot, and should not, try to separate the Bible from religion. However, many of the topics that incite religious discussion, such as gay marriage, abortion, certain religious practices or the afterlife cannot explicitly be found in the Bible. Instead, the religious stances on these topics are formed either by people interpreting the Bible in their own fashion or simply creating dogma without a sound biblical foundation. Thus, merely reading the Bible will neither consistently provide a deeper understanding of religion , nor better equip us to discuss religious beliefs. You would need to learn religious law, interpretations and historical context in addition to the Scriptures. A complete reading of the Bible is not necessary to grasp most references in literature. There is a canon of stories in the Bible that are frequently mentioned and that are essential to know. Yes, it is important to know the stories involving Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, David, Job, Jesus and the Apostles. But references to the stories involving people like Melchizedek and Ruth are so few and far between that they are not particularly important to read or know. The Bible is still relevant and still being referenced after thousands of years because it represents fundamental and unchanging elements of human nature. Love, hate, lust, destruction, forgiveness, suffering and punishment, among others, are all themes represented by stories in the Bible. The most germane stories are the ones that are directly relatable to an element of human nature. If you know the characters, a brief synopsis and the pertinent facet of human nature of a Bible story, you have enough knowledge to understand a reference to it. You will get that “The Grapes of Wrath” is taken from a line in the Book of Revelations, and so it probably has to do with destruction and suffering. You will understand that when Hamlet describes the world as “an unweeded garden that grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature possess it merely,” he is referencing the punishment and banishment of Adam and Eve. The way to learn the Bible well enough to understand literary references and have informed conversation is to take a Bible class. A RelPhil class that focused on specific, often-cited stories in the Bible, in addition to religious context, dogmatic history and church history would be the only way to successfully complete Fleming’s proposals. It would be nearly impossible to learn the context and history on your own without guidance. Learning these things in English or History class is possible, but it would take up probably an entire term without teaching required skills in reading and writing that the English. One option is to replace the lower RelPhil elective with a required Bible course. However, having a required course would make the academy teeter dangerously close to religious affiliation, no matter how secular or benign the intention. Thus, the chance of Andover ever implementing that class is seriously doubtful. Although the Bible could provide students with useful knowledge and stimulate religious conversation, because of the manner in which the Bible must be studied to accomplish these goals, it is just not plausible for the Bible to ever become required reading. Derek Farquhar is a two-year Lower from Andover, MA.