One book inspired Shakespeare, Dickens and Kanye West. So why aren’t we all reading it?

In a new survey, 46 per cent of adults confused a storyline from Harry Potter with holy scripture

Share

It’s enough to test the patience of Job. Not only have Church attendance figures halved since 1968, but in a new survey, 46 per cent of adults confused a storyline from Harry Potter with holy scripture. According to the new report, commissioned by the Bible Society, some 54 per cent of British children are never read stories from the Bible by adults. This compared to their parents’ generation, among whom 86 per cent say they were regularly told about key Bible passages.

As one of the estimated 89 per cent of Britons who do not regularly attend church, I’m obliged to play Doubting Thomas here. Don’t Christian parents have ample opportunity to make sure their children are among the – to my mind, astonishingly high – 46 per cent who are read Bible stories by adults? When Christian groups decry the growing indifference to scripture, could it be that what they’re really worried about is their own declining influence? It’s not enough that committed Christians should be au fait with the adventures of Jesus and the gang – they want the rest of us heathens to quote chapter and verse too.

This proud heathen isn’t particularly anxious about falling church attendance – in fact, taking time to shrug off such anxieties is just one of many superior ways to spend a Sunday. But while I don’t share this rising sense of panic, I do agree with the Bible Society’s James Catford when he says that “the Bible enriches life and every child should have the opportunity to experience it”. You don’t have to be a practising Christian to recognise the power of a ripping good yarn.

They’ll throw me to the lions for saying it, but the real value of Bible stories is not tied to their religious significance – it’s much more universal than that. These stories are part of a shared language of metaphor which anyone can use to express ideas or feelings. Unlike classical mythology, which is the preserve of the learned, or pop culture references, which are for the young and trendy, biblical allusions are supposed to be accessible to every Briton. If the Church of England’s decline is accompanied by the loss of this means of communication, that’s something we should all regret.

Yet fretting Bible campaigners can, like the lilies of the field, rest easy. Rightly, Bible stories no longer take curricular precedence over the laws of thermodynamics or the Bhagvad Gita, but young people are unlikely to come of age in this country without some cultural Good Samaritan showing them a Shakespeare play or a Dickens novel or a Kanye West album – all of which are full of biblical references. If these allusions still carry meaning, what does that matter if they don’t come straight from the source? In fact, isn’t that more proof of their power?

Bible stories don’t automatically deserve a privileged place in our culture, but the good news is that many of them have earned that place, anyway. Stories which outlive their first telling do so by proving themselves useful over time, and retaining the ability to communicate some truth from one human to another. It won’t please the creationists, but it’s still true; Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood and Cain and Abel are all great example of the process of cultural evolution in action.

Not all the stories are fit enough to survive for another millennium. But maybe it’s a good thing for the future of Christianity if atheists stop asking awkward questions about that bit in Genesis where Lot offers his daughter up to be raped by a crazed mob and if no one ever again mentions the passage in Kings where children get mauled to death by bears for the minor crime of mocking Eliseus’s bald patch.

Christianity is no longer the dominant force it once was and, as a result, biblical stories have had to make room in British culture for other stories to sit alongside them, creating a patchwork as colourful as Joseph’s coat. It’s better now. If you’re ever reaching for a biblical reference and none comes to mind, you can always add credibility to your point with a few lines from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. No one will notice the difference.

 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Buyer / Planner

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity has ar...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Manager

£40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity working ...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Journals Manager

£33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The prime focus of the role is to assist...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The era of graduates from the university conveyor belt is over

Hamish McRae
The UCAS clearing house call centre in Cheltenham, England  

Ucas should share its data on students from poor backgrounds so we can get a clearer picture of social mobility

Conor Ryan
Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks