Studying the Bible: Academic Blasphemy?
All religious ideals aside, the Bible is world-renowned as the most influential piece of literature to mankind, the most popular and most frequently purchased book and the official documentation of the legendary Jesus of Nazareth who, whether people believe in his status as the Son of Man or not, was a living, breathing revolutionary whose brutal crucifixion gave rise to the largest religious group globally: Christian Catholics. These are simply facts: the Bible is, at heart, a nonfiction work interspersed with religious messages and teachings which the reader may take to heart or pass by as with any book. There is no denying that we can all take something from this ancient text; as Foster phrases it, “even those who aren’t religious or don’t live within the Judeo-Christian tradition may work something in from Job or Matthew or the Psalms” (43). I think it is imperative that our non-Christian colleagues keep in mind that although there are of course Christian morals and lessons in this book, the study of them does not mean everyone has to accept these didactic passages. Biblical allusions are so commonplace that some authors like C.
S. Lewis as many of my peers have pointed out, have even designed their own stories to parallel the life and passion of Christ. Although the story that comes to mind the fastest when I think of Biblical allusions is Grapes of Wrath with the Joads paralleling the devout and steadfast Job, the fetus traveling down the flooded roads like the baby Moses down the Nile (questionable connection) and the mirroring of the Diaspora by the farmers’ mass exodus, Kurt Vonnegut’s black comedy Slaughterhouse Five contains the most impactful reference to the Bible that I can recall. Vonnegut summarizes the entire Bible in about a paragraph and a half, culminating in a line shouted down upon the bewildered Romans from a mighty voice in the sky, “Thou shalt never again beat up a bum with no connections”. This modernization of the story of Christ in Vonnegut’s discussion of human suffering and the trauma of war was by far the most effective Bible reference I have experienced.
In short, the Bible is just another book with another set of messages focusing on another cast of characters. We take from it what we are prepared in our hearts to take from it (my apologies for being philosophical). There is no denying the impact that the Bible has had on society, and this impact is not limited to the Christian global community. It is vital that we as students keep in mind that this study is not the promotion of ideals but just another analysis of a famous work—in fact, the most famous, most frequently referenced and most widely read book, the core of the largest religious group on earth.