The Bible in English. The cultural need to know it.

December 22, 2009

I wonder how many Christians in the United States have read the The Bible in its entirety. Secular Humanists are of course fond of quoting this and that passage to show its barbarity- turn, for instance, to The Reason Project, launched by Sam Harris, and under the Scripture Project the entire Bible (along with the Koran and the Book of Mormon) has been scrutinzed for anything smacking of "Cruelty and Violence"- but, have the humanists read the entire Bible? I wonder if our children are not being distanced from our culture- High Culture, if you will- alienated from one of its sources by their ignorance of it. Cannot our enjoyment of Western art- literature (Milton, Dante), painting (from Giotto to Dali), sculpture (Donatello)- be enhanced by a thorough familiarity with the contents of the Bible? Can we hope to understand Western history without a knowledge of the Book?

The importance of the Bible in English was spelled out by no less a scientist than T.H.Huxley, the champion of Evolution, Darwin's Bulldog, when he wrote in the second half of the Nineteenth Century, "And then consider the great historical fact that for three centuries, this Book [The Bible] has been woven into the life of all that is best and noblest in English history; that it has become the national epic of Britain, and is familiar to noble and simple, from John-o 'Groat's Mouse to Land's End, as Dante and Tasso once were to the Italians; that it is written in the noblest and purest English, and abounds in exquisite beauties of mere literary form; and, finally that it forbids the veriest hind who never left his village to be ignorant of the existence of other countries and other civilizations, and of a great past, stretching back to the further limits of the oldest nations in the world. By the study of what other book could children be so much humanized and made to feel that each figure in the vast historical procession fills, like themselves, but a momentary space in the interval between two Eternities; and earns the blessings or the curses of all time, according to the effort to do good and hate evil?"

The literary qualities of the King James Version of the Bible have been noted, but many of us are not aware that we owe so many of our common sayings to it. A Drop in the bucket. A man after his own heart. A thorn in the flesh. Am I my brother's keeper? At his wits end. Can a leopard change its spots? Blind leading the blind. And so on.