Before the genesis of VHS, I looked forward every spring to the annual TV broadcast of the scriptural masterpieces that, once upon a time, were produced in Hollywood with regularity. "The Greatest Story Ever Told," "The Robe," "Ben Hur," and "The Ten Commandments" were all from that era of regal biblical movies from the late '50's through the early '60s.
Shortly thereafter, the biblical epic went the way of the Edsel. In recent times, "The Passion of the Christ" overcame the numerous excuses Hollywood framed when it came to producing such classic films. This month, the History Channel featured a 10-hour series on the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Even though it was panned by many Christian theologians, provided the series moves people to peruse the canon of Western civilization, it can't be all bad. Besides, we all know the book is always better than any screen version.
No respectable literary scholar will deny that the Bible is the sine qua non of Western civilization. Sadly, it now takes a scholar to articulate what was once collective knowledge. As pollster George Gallup put it, "We are a nation of biblical illiterates." There exists at least two generations of Americans whose dearth of Bible literacy begins and ends with Linus' recitation of Luke's Gospel of Christ's birth in "A Charlie Brown Christmas."
Many public school students used to be biblically literate before the ACLU chased the Bible from the classroom. What the ACLU refused to admit is the Bible is perfectly suited to speak to the human condition. The Swiss Alps are not perfect cones, Gallup observed, but this does not detract from their grandeur.
Lack of biblical literacy puts one at an academic disadvantage. It's impossible to understand Western literature without knowledge of its 73 books. The Bible should be read, studied and discussed in school if, for no other reason, that it is the oldest extant piece of world literature. You don't have to accept the faith therein to recognize the influence the Bible maintains on Western art, history, music and philosophy. Even in this biblically illiterate age, the Bible remains the most distinguished and best-selling book of all time
Like it or not, Western civilization is founded on the Judeo-Christian world view. The West, however, has been going through a major paradigm shift where God and the Bible are no longer vogue. Studying the Bible is not about establishing a state religion, any more than teaching Greek mythology is. The core values of the Western canon should not be censured, but celebrated.
There was a time when the Bible and Shakespeare were acknowledged as the twin pillars of not just English literature, but the foundation of Western civilization. Without the Bible, Shakespeare would read differently, as there are more than 1,200 references to scripture in the English bard's prolific oeuvre.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." When you abandon the Bible, you deny the former. The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia reads, "Proclaim liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof," from Leviticus 25:10. In George Washington's farewell address, he reminded colonists that they can't have national morality without biblical principles. Thomas Jefferson called the Bible the cornerstone of American liberty. Lincoln's Gettysburg Address contains so many biblical references, books have been written about it. It doesn't end there either, far from it. Our history and political proclamations are inundated with biblical wisdom.
Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, producers of the History channel's Bible series, writing in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, said, "It is possible to have education without indoctrination. On this point, believers and nonbelievers should be able to 'see eye to eye.' Interestingly enough, the common desktop reference guide, "The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy," best sums up the Bible's value as a tool of cultural literacy. Its first page declares, "No one in the English speaking world can be considered literate without a basic knowledge of the Bible." Can we get an Amen?
The Bible has been around long before any of its current critics and will be around long after they are just another tattered memory of human folly. Americans continue to stray from all the institutions that have made us the beacon of the world, and it's becoming more evident by our steady decay and decline of traditional moral values.
Surprising? We're only reaping what we've sown.
Hope, however, will never be extinguished because Jesus is risen.
(Maresca, a freelance writer, composes "Turning Points" for each Sunday edition.)