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Do you know more about Michael Jackson than the Bible?

Perhaps naively, I've been rather taken aback by the near-total domination of the news by the death of Michael Jackson. I knew, of course, that he was a major figure in the pop music world, but as I don't listen to pop music I hadn't realised that his death would make the impact that it has. It seems to be comparable with that produced by the death of Princess Diana.

If almost everyone knows a lot about Jackson, hardly anyone, it appears, knows anything much about the Bible - not even the New Testament. According to a survey by the National Biblical Literacy Survey, due to be published in full shortly, although most people in Britain own a Bible very few read it. Most of those questioned were unable to say anything at all about Abraham or Joseph and their knowledge of the parables of Jesus was garbled or non-existent; one man thought the good Samaritan had helped someone who had fallen off his camel.

I imagine most of those questioned would have been able to tell you a lot about Michael Jackson. As many have noted, figures such as Elvis Presley and Diana are acquiring mythological status for many people and there is something approaching a religious cult surrounding some of them; this may happen to Jackson.

At the cost of sounding reactionary, I can't help feeling that all this represents an impoverishment of the imagination. Earlier generations were intimately familar with the Bible and its stories informed much of our history, literature, art, and music. If you don't know the Bible you will lose many of the allusions in Shakespeare. Many of our proverbs and metaphors come from the Bible. The decline in knowledge of this source is in many ways a parallel to the decline in knowledge of the Classics, which occurred earlier as the study of Greek and Latin fell away.

You don't have to be a believer to find this state of affairs deeply regrettable. Like it or not, our culture has been shaped by two thousand years of Christianity, and if you are ignorant of this you are cut off from the past. Unlike Mrs Thatcher, I think this matters.

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Last modified on 2016-08-08 07:02


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Of course you are right. The Christian bible forms a great deal of western cultural tradition. I have become familiar with the bible twice, once as a youth, and again as a mature adult. Bart Ehrman's 3 books for the general public(Misquoting Jesus, Jesus Interrupted, and God's Problem) contributed much to my later education, and provided a greater depth and breadth of biblical understanding than did the church itself. (

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