GC: People have been duped into thinking that you can be properly educated without a thorough knowledge of the central text of our culture. In places, it has been a deliberate ‘sidelining’ of the so-called imperialist white man’s book; in other places, it has just drifted out of view. It’s a swindle because people are being deprived of something very precious.
Who are you writing this book for?
I started writing it for my classmates, years ago when I was a uni student. Studying literature and philosophy, I realised I had a massive head start because I knew the Bible. I wanted to convince them that, whatever your religious views, the Bible was essential to grasping our history, literature, art, music, architecture, language—pretty much every element of Western life. But not just Western life, either.
After a while, I realised I was writing for the kind of person who, by our laid-back Aussie approach to things, has been tricked into thinking that they already know the Bible when they really don’t. I start the book with a simple quiz on Bible knowledge. If Uncle Fred, or the smug guy at the desk next to you at work, can’t get 100 per cent on that test, they are victims of the great Bible swindle. Even if he tells you that “he read it years ago”.
So I’m writing for those who think they know the Bible but won’t admit they don’t, as well as for those who think they don’t need to know the Bible at all. This last group is still usually a bit curious about it, nevertheless.
So what does Uncle Fred need to know about the Bible?
Well, my big point is that they need to know that it is not just a book, but a library of books. God’s library, if you like. The Bible is an anthology of writings which hold together. And they are different kinds of writing: poetry, history, wise sayings, biography. The Bible is a remarkably diverse collection of literature. I try to cover some fairly simple but essential pointers about the Bible: for example, it has two ‘halves’ that connect together, the Old and New Testaments. I also make the claim that the Bible has a centrepiece—Jesus Christ. When you start to get a grip on the claims the Bible makes about Jesus, the rest of it starts to come together around that.
Apart from that, I suggest that you need to know the characters and stories, or you’re not going to enjoy your TV, novels and rock songs as you should.
There’s rock music that references the Bible?
All over the place, yes. It always surprises me that people don’t often get that so many of the U2 lyrics they are singing are quotes from the Bible. Also Nick Cave, Metallica, Lady Gaga here and there. The Bible’s everywhere. And not just rock. In the book, I sweep across country and western, choral music, gospel (of course, although many people still don’t get that!). I’m not trying to sound smug, I just think it’s a sign of how entrenched the swindle is that people don’t even know that ‘gospel’ music is connected to the Gospels, the stories of salvation through Jesus Christ, which we find in the Bible.
You’ve provided a question for uni students to test their lecturers?
I say (just being cheeky) that students should ask their lecturers “What parts of the Bible are relevant to studying this subject?” and see if they can answer. If you are doing film studies on the Coen brothers, you’ll need to know your Old Testament prophets. Or if you are studying law, you’ll need Exodus, Leviticus and the Sermon on the Mount. But it will be rare to find a teacher who realises that, because the swindle has been underway for a few generations. Don’t be too hard on the teachers, though. They are probably innocent victims of a bad education, just like you!
What should we do about the great Bible swindle?
Obviously, I think the Bible needs to be restored to a significant place in (especially) senior high school education. I think there should be Bible literacy courses available, probably around Years 9-12.
I’m not talking about Religious Studies; I’m talking about a course that gives you the background for your other subjects. There’s a move for this in the US and the UK, and we need to catch up. It shouldn’t be politicised; both sides of Australian politics have acknowledged in recent times the need for Bible knowledge. I’d like to see the Bible included appropriately in the new History and English national curricula. It actually isn’t that hard, from an educational standpoint. It just needs to be de-sensationalised.
As a Christian, my beliefs are on my sleeve about the spiritual value of the Bible. But this isn’t primarily about that. It’s just making the claim that to be a genuinely educated Australian, you need to know quite a bit about the book that shaped us more than any other, and it’s a scandal that generations of students have now been denied that knowledge.
The Great Bible Swindle, Greg Clarke is available in the Bible Society bookshop.