It’s rather sad to learn that, according to a Church of England survey, the majority of Christians don’t read the Bible. Sad, too, that one in four schools in England don’t offer Religious Education as part of their syllabus – even though, by law, state schools are supposed to do so.
Apart from issues of faith itself, an understanding of religion is one of the most important aspects of a cultural education. You cannot grasp the traditions of European art – or, indeed, literature – without a knowledge of the Bible and Christian faith.
Teachers tell me that there has been a huge cultural shift in the “landscape of understanding” of their school pupils. Everything now relates to social media – what they see via their iPhones and laptops – rather than to the deposit of culture with which earlier generations were familiar.
So many writers developed through a faith education – even if, afterwards, they ceased to practise. Seán O’Casey, who had very poor eyesight from early childhood, was read to by his mother, a Bible teacher who emphasised the beauty and loftiness of Scripture. This developed his ear for story and language.
Black Americans such as Martin Luther King and James Baldwin drew deeply on the biblical teachings with which they had been imbued, and the cadence of their prose shows it.
Religion is a gateway to culture, as GK Chesterton pointed out. Through religious knowledge, a man with little other education could grasp the concepts of philosophy.
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