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Wisdom from the Ages
The decline in biblical literacy continues. A survey of British schoolchildren (who receive compulsory religious education) found that,
many of those questioned thought that The Boy Who Cried Wolf was a story from the New Testament. Others knew little or nothing about Christ's miracles, while some wondered why Jesus could not "fly like Superman".
(Thank you to Paul Sharpe of Christian Monitor for alerting me to this story.)
What a difference a couple of generations makes. Two weeks ago I wrote of how my local newspaper, The Age, used to provide readers with moral guidance, based on stories of the Bible. Here are two excerpts, from Age editorials of 40 years ago. The contrast with today is startling.
The first is from November 10th, 1962:
This is the test of friendship, to be constant and unchanging. On this all men are agreed, from the Hebrew man of wisdom who claims that a faithful friend is the medicine of life, to the philosopher Seneca, who says that even the most self-sufficient man needs a friend, and that wisdom and friendship are the two greatest things in the word: wisdom, however, is a mortal good, while friendship is immortal….
Friendships are recalled or revived as memory lingers over the events which tested the quality of men to their utmost, their ability to endure as well as their loyalty to their mates.
It was a sure insight which led to the choice of words engraved on the floor of Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance. For there at its heart where no visitor can miss it, written for all to read, are the words – “Greater love hath no man”.
Speech sometimes conceals thought or hides feeling, but those words have in them a sound and depth which compel silence and reverence. They come from the last conversation between our Lord and His friends which took place a few hours before His death – Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
In the context of the Shrine, or in the Upper Room, they have the note of authority; they reveal deeper meanings to life. They ask us to remember not only the great and good, but the quite ordinary men whom we knew and liked, who with all their strengths and weaknesses had this in common – they went out with you in any weather.
And a week later:
Most of us know that life is a struggle. The parents of a young family find it hard to make ends meet; so also do those who have grown old….
And because we are under this compulsion to live by action, we are also compelled to seek guidance, not from the sceptics, but from the men of faith.
One of the greatest of them had no illusions about the fact of struggle. Indeed, he lifted the struggle from the plane of human relations into a cosmic sphere. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Yet in spite of seeing life as a battleground of such dimensions, St Paul could also say, “Your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”…
Read the paper’s latest editorials. They’re not bad. By and large they are commonsense opinions on problems of our society. But that’s all they are – opinions, based on the intellectual fashions of the day. They are houses built on shifting sand.
Here, once again – and probably not for the last time on this website – is a quote from Professor George Lindbeck:
Every major literate cultural tradition up until now has had a central corpus of canonical texts.…Without a shared imaginative and conceptual vocabulary and syntax, societies cannot be held together by communication, but only by brute force (which is always inefficient, and likely to be a harbinger of anarchy). But if this is so, then the biblical cultural contribution, which is at the heart of the canonical heritage of Western countries, is indispensable to their welfare, and its evisceration bespeaks an illness which may be terminal.
December 28th, 2002