Reading the Bible is good for you?
I planned to sketch out each speaker's argument from the Great Debate but I had moved out of the realm of posting a blog and into short essay territory. So instead I'll write on just two here: Rachel Sommerville who opposed the notion that reading the Bible was good for you and Germaine Greer arguing for the notion.
Rachel Somerville's argument was I think guilt by association. Rachel drew us into the prison system in America. There are more people who live in gaol in America than any other city. Lockup town was the evocative phrase. And which US state has the most people in prison? Louisiana with 1 in 8 locked up. And this is the US state with one of the highest percentage of people claiming to be Christian. It was the leaders who read the Bible with one hand and groped for power with the other who make this terrible system what it is. (The statements were made with passion but no data was brought forth to support the connection.)
And yet in aside Rachel pulled down her own argument. She acknowledged the Bible being read by the power hungry and the destitute poor was 'not the Bible of Martin Luther King.' This point is very significant. It is not that the contents were different. No, the Bibles all had the same passages and chapters i imagine. They were different in that they were being read differently. So what is the problem, reading the Bible or misreading the Bible? Even in Jesus day, people misread the Bible and Jesus quickly pointed out to them the error. 'Have you not read...?' Is it the Bible that is the problem or the human heart such that the Bible which speaks of love, mercy and justice would be used to support hatred, vendettas and injustice.
I'm glad that Rachel is defending the poor and marginalised in society. I'm glad Rachel thinks justice matters and that the penal system in America needs a serious overhaul. But does this all stem from reading the Bible?
And what about Germaine, the arch feminist? I have to confess that I expected Germaine to be on the negative side of the debate arguing that the Bible was misogynistic. Yet I was surprised. Germaine in full flow is something wonderful to behold. She is a very powerful and persuasive speaker. She ended her speech with a preacher's call to action, 'If you have not read the Bible, DO!' She gave us two reasons. First, it tells us who we are. The heroic, revolutionary story of the Bible being translated into English and people's thirst for the Bible profoundly reshaped society in the 16th C and so has shaped us. It produced heroic acts and heroic people. They may have been deluded that the Bible was God's word but it was a grand delusion with unimagined impact creating the society that we now live in. The Bible subverted the society that existed to give us this one.
Then, Germaine passionately urged us to read the Bible to understand human yearning. She cited the Psalms as the high point in all the voices of human yearning for God. A voice that has shaped our poetry and plays. Germaine was clear that she thinks the Bible is a human construction but it was amazing how positively she spoke. For her it is 'an amazing human construction.' There was no room in her thinking that the Bible might be from God. If you think it is from God then you'll 'get into a real mess'. And yet, at the end she pleaded us to read the Bible so we'd know how silly it was but also because if you do not read the Bible, 'you will also not know how strong human yearning is for God, social justice, peace and transcendence.'
What do you think? Does the Bible capture human yearning for God? Is the Bible a book that is dangerous because it can be misread? Why not read it and find out!
PS If you wanted to see some passages about God opposes the powerful who rule with injustice and cruelty see Nathan's speech to David after he murdered Uriah or the first few chapters of Exodus or the book of Amos or Jesus' word to the Pharisees at the end of Mathew's gospel or ...