Friday, February 20, 2009

The Bible Should Be Required Reading For Children, According To A Non-Believer; Plus A Story By A Pinoy Translated Into Spanish

Zen In Darkness sent in this interesting article about a non-believer who believes that the Bible should be required reading for children on the basis that the stories in it are "terrific", and poor knowledge of biblical tales limits understanding of a lot of literary work. An excerpt:

"I'm not a believer." Pleasantries exchanged, this is the first thing Andrew Motion says to me when we meet at his north London flat. So why is he so passionate about the Bible? "Simply because it is full of terrific stories. These stories are primitive. They speak to us about human nature and the recurring patterns of human behaviour."

The poet laureate believes all children should be taught the Bible from an early age. Sadly, he says, many children miss out, and not just on the stories themselves. Poor knowledge of the Bible limits understanding of a whole raft of literary work, from John Milton through to TS Eliot.

"Take any of the metaphysical poets, almost any of the Victorian poets," he says. "Even reading the great romantics like Keats requires you to know things about the Fall, who some of the people in the Bible are, ideas of sinfulness and virtue. It's also essential for Tennyson, Browning and Arnold, and needs to be there in the background of the modernist period. Even a writer like TS Eliot is re-imagining all kind of mythological structures.

"Think of a poem like The Wasteland. You can't get anywhere near it without this kind of knowledge. Yes, you can have a conversation without referring to where these ideas come from, but you can have a much richer one by connecting them to their original sources."

He recalls the first cohort of English literature students he taught at Royal Holloway, where he is now professor of creative writing. "These were all bright students, very hard-working, all with good A-levels, but their knowledge of the great ancient stories was very sketchy. So when the time came to talk about Milton, I found very few knew there had been a civil war. As for the Bible, forget it. They just about knew who Adam and Eve were."

These days, he mainly teaches postgraduate students, but the lack of biblical knowledge still presents difficulties. "Many of my students stumble into vaguely mythological stories in their writing. When I ask them anything about the Bible, they frankly, by and large, don't know. I don't particularly blame them for it. But I do think there is a real problem with the education system that has allowed these great stories to disappear, to fade out of the diet everyone gets at school. It's an essential piece of cultural luggage."

Motion is dismissive of the idea that some parents might object to the notion of Bible studies, or see it as force-feeding children religious ideas. "If people say this is about ramming religion down people's throats, they aren't thinking about it hard enough," he says. "It's more about the power of these words to connect with deep, recurring human truths, and also the story of the influence of that language and those stories."

Neither will he accept the idea that young people might not want to read the Bible, or don't see it as relevant to their lives. It is an idea that clearly irritates him. "Writers don't have any obligation to be relevant. They have an obligation to tell us the deep truth about ourselves."

The quotes in the last two paragraphs got me. *sniff* :D

And still on Zen In Darkness, he was the one who brought to my attention this request for flash fiction, remember? Well, he went and got his piece published and translated into Spanish over at Breves No Tan Breves. You can check it out here. Congratulations!


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