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Biblical Literacy - Declining through the Ages
The sharp decline in biblical literacy in the West should be of concern to all – Christians and non-Christians alike. It is the stories of the Bible that have shaped our culture. Lose the stories and society loses its moorings.
A few days ago I wrote that when I became a Christian, at the age of 44, I already knew a lot about the Bible, despite my non-religious upbringing. By contrast, today many younger churchgoers seem to have only a flimsy grasp of biblical events. How did this happen?
Certainly the impact of the media has been a contributing factor. Recently I decided to investigate. I went to a library and searched through microfilm records from 40 years ago of my local newspaper, The Age. The contrast with today was quite stark.
Last month, for the Melbourne Cup horse race – a major occasion in Melbourne – The Age wrote a hackneyed lead editorial of supreme blandness:
What is certain is that rain, hail or shine, the horses will be magnificent and so will the roses, the hats will be elegant or silly (or both), vast amounts of champagne or beer (or both) will be drunk, an estimated $100 million will be wagered and a good time will be had by all….The Melbourne Cup is more than a horse race. It is a tradition, a carnival and a ceremony, a quintessential part of the culture of the city, and the country, that hosts it.
It is hard to believe that as little as 40 years ago the same paper felt that its editorials could be an occasion to provide moral guidance, based on the stories of the Bible. Here are excerpts from an editorial in The Age in November 1962:
The owner of the highly successful winner of the Melbourne Cup is reported to have been offered a very large sum of money for his horse. His answer was swift and to the point: Even Stevens is not for sale….
No occupation or profession, and no person, is immune to the subtle temptation to sell what never should be for sale. Every man is entitled to a just return for his labour, but there are agreed limits beyond which no man of integrity or honour will capitalise on his special skill or knowledge. It is not always easy to draw the line, but that there is a line no-one can doubt.
And the more we understand the basis of moral health in any community, the more do we see that it is determined by individual unwillingness to compromise on matters of principle, and by a refusal to make available for purchase those things which should not be put up for sale. This applies to the trusted leader; it applies still more to the everyday conduct of ordinary men. For it is what the little man does that finally decides what the community is.
In the Book of the Kings there is a story of such a little man. He appears for a fleeting moment in the light of history, and then fades out; but his name lives on. For in that moment he took a stand which made him immortal.
By profession Micaiah was of the company of the prophets. His king coveted a slice of land belonging to Syria…
It’s a long editorial, with a lot more. But the point is well-made. There was a time, not so long ago, when even our daily newspapers employed stories of the Bible to teach us how to live.
December 13th, 2002