Everyone should read the Bible.
Now before anyone goes running to his laptop to compose a scathing letter to the editor about the religious propaganda The Northern Light is running, chill out. I didn’t say everyone should believe the Bible. I didn’t say everyone should obey the Bible. I definitely didn’t say anyone should become a Christian. I just suggested that this is a book everyone should add to his or her reading list.
And for good reason.
The Bible is part of our global history. Wars have been fought over of its teachings; societies have been founded based on its principles, and destroyed for adhering to them. For close to 2,000 years, Christianity has been shaping history and for more than 1,600 of those years, powerful world leaders have been making decisions under the influence of the Bible. There is no getting around the fact that this book and its teachings have played a significant role in the development of the world we now live in.
Secondly, and more importantly, the Bible is a part of our global culture. With 2.1 billion followers, Christianity accounts for about a third of the world’s religions. Christianity is not just a Western religion anymore. Even if all the people in Europe and North America were adherents, that would still add up to less than half of the world’s Christians. As such, this book, as the foundational scriptures for Christianity, saturates our culture. We come across Bible teachings, stories and references everyday; in music, in movies, in art, on billboards, on TV, even in a flier accompanying my breakfast on a cross-country flight.
Like it or not, the Bible permeated societies globally and has changed the course of history. We read Plato and Aristotle because of their innovative philosophical ideas. We read Shakespeare and Charles Dickens because they had a dramatic effect on literary history. We read Einstein and Newton because they redefined physics. We read Winston Churchill because of his political genius. Should we not read the Bible simply for its value as a historical and cultural influence?
But beyond it’s significance as a cultural and historical icon, the Bible, at least parts of it, presents worthwhile material: good stories, good lessons and good values.
There seems to be a notion that the Bible is just a collection of rules. But out of the 66 books in the Bible, only the first five are specifically labeled as books of the law. The rest of the Bible includes history, poetry, prophecies, letters and stories. And even those first books about rules include some outrageous narratives. Before you even get to the end of the Book of Genesis, you’ll have encountered stories of murder, deception, miracles, rape, intoxication, inspiration, natural disasters, mercy, wrath, punishment, invention, great leadership, broken promises, incest, scandals, grace and dysfunctional families. Everything Hollywood needs for the making of a great movie.
If cultural relevance or good stories don’t reel you in, maybe a good self-help book will appeal to you. We search relentlessly for ways to be happier, healthier, kinder and more successful. We want better marriages, better careers, better social lives and better sex lives. It would make for a more pleasant world if people looked to the Bible simply for insight on decent human behavior. Its commentary on compassion, anger, love, patience, business practices, money, and generosity, among other things, is solid advice for civilized societies. Even the Ten Commandments offer some good ground rules: don’t murder, don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal.
Whether or not you are a Christian is irrelevant when it comes to reading the Bible. Gandhi looked to the Bible for many of his philosophies, despite adhering to the Hindu faith. Likewise, that I am a Christian is irrelevant when it comes to reading works from other religions. I have a Book of Mormon sitting on my nightstand, despite not being a Latter-day Saint. I read the Quran occasionally, but I am not a Muslim. Darwin is on my reading list, although I am not an agnostic.
Your faith (or lack thereof) should not dictate the limits of your knowledge, nor should it keep you from exploring ideas and lessons from other religions. The Bible is a good read, no matter who you are or what you believe. Even Gandhi thought so.