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Why we still need the Bible in a sceptical society

Australia is digging a hole for itself if it pushes the Bible out of view in an attempt to be fair and embrace all cultures, Bible Society CEO Greg Clarke said earlier this week on ABC radio in Brisbane.

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He told Mornings host Steve Austin that ignorance of the way the Bible has shaped our ethics, society and institutions was growing from a fear of religious texts and religious thinking.

“It’s a problem we’ve got at the moment in our society that we don’t know quite how to deal with religions in a particular way – we want to lump them all in one box and say they’re too hard for the secular society so let’s leave them out,” he said.

“…religion’s one of those things we’re a bit embarrassed about, we try to push it out of view.” – Greg Clarke

“But we’re digging a hole for ourselves doing that. A friend of mine, Bruce Robinson, a professor from Western Australia, has a great term for it – he calls it zero-culturalism, where our attempts to be fair and to embrace all cultures has meant we try to push some things out of view, and religion’s one of those things we’re a bit embarrassed about, we try to push it out of view.”

Clarke told Austin that every adult in Australia needed a basic knowledge of the book that’s shaped the world and the kind of nation we’ve developed.

“You see it everywhere in Australia from the founding of some of our institutions where biblical ideas, for example, are behind some of the insurance industry – the idea to care for those who can’t care for themselves draws from the New Testament – through to the way we set up our school system.”

Proving his point, Austin was not aware that the public school system was proposed in one of the first meetings of the Bible Society, which this year is celebrating its Bicentenary.

“…it was one of the strengths of their movement that Christianity really believed strongly in the education of everyone.” – Greg Clarke

“They suggested that we need to instruct all Australians and this included boys and girls and it was one of the strengths of their movement that Christianity really believed strongly in the education of everyone,” Clarke said.

He said Bible Society advocated that rather than pushing religious texts away, schools should be examining them in proportion to the way they have shaped our thinking about the world that we’re in.

“And if you do that fairly you’ve got to be teaching at least a basic, rudimentary understanding of the Bible somewhere in our education system, so that every adult in Australia emerges with a grasp of where they’ve come from and they can make their own decisions about whether that’s relevant to who they are today but at least they’ll know how they got there,” he said.

Clarke acknowledged that the politics around Scripture in schools, which is under review in Queensland and NSW, was difficult and mistakes had been made on both sides in the way the issue was talked about.

“Sometimes in our society we are tapping into a specific Christian ethic.” – Greg Clarke

“But until any student in any state school can get a basic understanding of the Bible in let’s say their history, English, art, music, economics – all the other disciplines where it’s had an impact – I’d be loath to reduce the amount of Scripture that’s available in any other form in the school because we really have a job to do to address the ignorance people have of this most important text in forming the way we are as a country, as a people.”

He gave as an example the parable of the Good Samaritan, which has been so influential in legal systems around the world.

“Here’s a story that Jesus told about someone who cared for a person in need who was not from their tribe, not from their nation, someone very different to them, and we’ve enshrined that in law. In fact, I think the laws in many places are actually called The Good Samaritan Law to say we want that ethics in our society.”

He also attributed the way animals are treated in Australia to biblical values.

“I think it’s really important that it’s not always true that we’re tapping into a universal ethic,” he said. “Sometimes in our society we are tapping into a specific Christian ethic. Let me give you an example, the way we treat animals in Australian society is very different from the way people think about them in, say, Indian society and one of the powerful reasons for that is the influence of the Bible. So we get a lot of our ethical thinking particularly from the Christian way of life and people can either accept that, reject that or modify that but they need to know where that comes from.”

“…we acknowledge the terrible things that have been done to you by people who have come bearing a Bible to you, but the Bible itself is a loving, gracious merciful book with a message for you.” – Greg Clarke

Acknowledging the pain and anguish of those affected by the child sexual abuse scandal in churches, Clarke said he understood why victims would want to run a million miles from a church.

“But the other part of it is, let’s look at the actual teachings and I would argue that where those terrible things have happened the people involved have moved away from the teachings of the Bible; they actually haven’t paid attention to their own book. You cannot get that kind of behaviour from paying attention to the teachings of Jesus, the rules of the Old Testament, the narratives of how God relates to us.

“So we feel that we need to do a better job as a Bible Society of putting in front of people the opportunity to engage with the Bible, to acknowledge their pains and their hurts and the terrible things that were done in the name of the church, but to say can you take a second look, can you look afresh at the material itself and we acknowledge the terrible things that have been done to you by people who have come bearing a Bible to you, but the Bible itself is a loving, gracious merciful book with a message for you. Look, this is going to be a hard job but we’ve got to do it.”

 

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