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Bible behind much of western life of today

Greg Clarke; Bible Society, Australia, 2015; $19.95

Reviewed by Terry Oberg

The Great Bible Swindle CoverAPART from the Christian liturgy, one of the joys of Easter is the ABC’s radio presentation, via its music station, Classic FM.

Here the Paschal triduum features glorious seasonal music complemented by announcers who are steeped in musical, theological and historical knowledge.

So much does Christianity permeate this period on this station that one is tempted to ask what of the many listeners who do not have a biblical background?

According to Greg Clarke, the author of this book, that number is increasing and he “is as mad as hell about it,” to quote Peter Finch’s film character in “Network”.

That passion permeates this work, but it is tempered by balance, honesty and understanding.

His aim is to “explain how and to what extent the Bible is behind so much of western life, with special focus on Australia”.

His concern is that, despite its relevance, “millions of people have been denied a basic knowledge of this key text that has shaped their culture”.

Each chapter is targeted at a branch of that culture to prove his point.

Blame is not one of his priorities, but school curricula are not let off lightly.

He sees the Bible as a gateway to our way of life, even if its religious dimension is ignored.

Most of his thinking is based on the values of Scripture as literature.

What do our language, history, movies, poetry, theatre, music, architecture and TV have in common?

All are replete with biblical references to the extent that ignorance of these significantly diminishes our appreciation of any one of the above cultural factors.

This assertion is supported by specific facts that are beyond contention to any open mind.

A few examples will suffice to demonstrate this. Linguistically, the influence of Shakespeare is uncontested. He “introduced something like a hundred new words into common English”.

The world’s greatest authority on this subject, Professor David Crystal, attributes 257 brand new words to the Bible’s dominance.

John Donne’s wonderful sonnet would mean little to a reader ignorant of scripture: “Batter my heart three-personed God”. The classical music canon is graced by such compositions as Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion.

Dave Brubeck and Leonard Bernstein composed superb settings for the Mass with biblical references abounding.

Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” is just one of his many masterpieces based on the Bible.

Hollywood has milked the Bible ever since talkies hit the screen.

Most of Greg Clarke’s text is given to prove the pervasiveness of the Christian book.

Even television is beholden to the Bible. The BBC’s “East Enders” is a series of plots based on Old Testament figures such as David, Goliath and Daniel.

Anyone, to whom Solomon and King David were strangers, misses much of the Seinfeld humour.

My wife made a brilliant Religious Education unit comprising episodes from The Simpsons which worked effectively in schools that exposed their students to the Bible.

Clarke alludes to this cartoon family as another link between modernity and Scripture.

This biblical relevancy is presented with little reference to religion or theology.

Educated people, in the western world, need to be familiar with this sacred source to maximise their appreciation of that world.

The assertion that educators are remiss if their products graduate without being familiar with such a ubiquitous force is compellingly emphasised.

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