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Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The Battle of the Books

Richard Holloway believes the Bible has been undermined by literalists. I’m inclined to agree, so long as we’re treating the Bible only as a series of stories to help us think about wider issues.

And this is what this outspoken former Bishop of Edinburgh is getting at in a story in the Scotsman.

He says people are all too apt to see science and religion as something you have to choose between; it’s a “Battle of the Books” – choose The Origin of Species or the Bible.

“Unimaginative literalists have destroyed its reputation by insisting on the factual truth of the myth of the Fall of Genesis rather than encouraging us to read it as a metaphor for the enduring human capacity for self- destruction,” says Holloway.

Anyone who’s ever seen Wagner’s Ring cycle will feel something of this. I studied it to some degree, then saw it in one week, some years ago, and felt new understanding percolating into my grey cells. These texts (and Wagner based his music dramas on Teutonic mythology) can indeed give us a way of thinking, a way of thinking that isn’t literal – but does it have to be?

No – provided we can hold the two things in our minds while seeing an appropriate use of each, such as treating illness with the skills of man and not asking a god or a saint to intervene, and not believing we can conduct our physical lives by Bible stories of magic and invisible people and impossible phenomena.

Stories are excellent tools. I have a book of modern parables. It’s good to dip into. Aesop’s fables are parables, too. The New Testament tells us that Jesus used stories – parables – to make points.

I have for some years had some time for Holloway. But Bible literalists are nutjobs.

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