Knowledge of the Bible is in decline in Britain, with fewer than one in 20 people able to name all Ten Commandments and youngsters viewing the Christian holy book as “old-fashioned”, a survey said.
Atheists, however, were not unduly worried about the decline in the Bible’s popularity.
“It shows really that religion is becoming less important to people,” said Pepper Harow, campaigns officer at the British Humanist Association.
I got the article link from the BBC’s Big Question forum. Here was my own response at the time.
Whether you are a believer or not the Bible and the Church of England is part of our national culture and heritage. How can you hope to understand and appreciate the Reformation, The English Civil War or The Enlightenment without some idea of what the bible meant to people. Our language is resplendent with biblical references, our laws are often derived from biblical sources and overturned because we have no secular reason for keeping them.
We should have an awareness of the bible even if we believe that it is myth because people took it very seriously for a very long time. How can you argue against something if you don’t know where the idea came from. If you support stem cell research then you must know about the objections that are derived from Christian dogma as well as those that come from ethical considerations. If you support a woman’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy then you need to understand how others object to it. If you support free education then you need to understand the basis for it and how Christianity was instrumental in creating the public school system.
Some responses lament the decline of knowledge in the general populace. “We are becoming dumber” they say. I disagree though that knowledge is in decline. In the 21st century we have unprecedented access to knowledge on almost any subject you can imagine. I can read Ulysses online, go to a library, order it from Amazon or even borrow a copy. I can discuss the references in a forum with people all over the world if I wish and can even search for one if I don’t know where to find one. I can join a correspondence course, arrange to meet up with Joyce or Tennyson enthusiasts or just write a blog about it. None of this was possible even 10 years ago on the scale we have today.
I think what is in decline is interest. We are becoming the Eloi and the Morlocks, neither is a fate I find particularly appealing. Do you disagree? Should we lament the loss of our history or allow that which has served it’s purpose to pass unremarked and unmourned? Is the decline of biblical knowledge, as I believe, a symptom of a society that has grown bored and indolent, that seeks only survival and entertainment. If we are losing the roots of our history then is this a step to replacing these old myths with something better for everyone?