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Muslims and Jews know their sacred texts. Why don't Christians?

Muslims and Jews know their sacred texts. Why don't Christians?

By Cristina Odone Religion
http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/
April 20, 2014

Cain and Abel. Moses parting the Red Sea. The Prodigal Son's return. Lazarus rising from the dead. Imagine how impoverished our literature would feel if allusion to these biblical tales were lost on the reader.

Today, they are. A recent survey found that only one in 20 people could name all ten commandments, and that 62 per cent of respondents did not know the tale of the Prodigal Son. Poets like Michael Symmons Roberts, who's just won the Forward Poetry Prize, have warned against what Seamus Heaney called the "hollowing out of civilisation": our ignorance of the Bible and other sacred texts means poets, writers, or artists can no longer assume that we draw from a common and cherished legacy.

The Church of England wants to fight this by inviting adults to enrol in a "Pilgrim" course, a kind of Sunday School for grown-ups. Good luck to them – though I suspect that the only people who will make time for this are the lonely elderly who probably already know their Bible anyway.
What the bishops should be investing in, instead, is their existing faith schools. Here, among primary and secondary schoolchildren, the Churches can teach not only the stories of the Good Book, but their morals. The Anglican and Catholic hierarchies should be fighting critics who want to shut down faith schools as divisive — reminding them that ignorance, not knowledge, is divisive. They should be fighting the enemy within who would want to dilute the Anglican (or Catholic) ethos of these schools, for fear of seeming "exclusive".

If the bishops fail in this, Christians will become a community filled with ignorant and therefore insecure men and women. They will feel threatened both by secularists and the followers of other religions. They will be the uncomfortable element in the all-embracing multicultural Britain the Coalition and Labour like to talk of.

Muslims and Jews know their sacred texts. They are religiously literate – which strengthens their sense of identity. They may argue about the rights and wrongs of wearing a veil, or a wig; but they know their Koran and their Torah.

For too long, Christians have been on automatic pilot: they were the majority, that's all they needed to know. Well, they have been proved wrong. Their way of thinking and their way of life is now under threat everywhere. In the Middle East and Africa, they face vicious persecution, as we have seen with the recent tragedies in Nairobi and Peshawar. But in the West too, as I argue in my e-book, "No God Zone", they face discrimination. Laws and social stigma are used against them.
It's time to fight back – by reclaiming our heritage, including above all the Bible.

Cristina Odone is a journalist, novelist and broadcaster specialising in the relationship between society, families and faith. She is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies and is a former editor of the Catholic Herald and deputy editor of the New Statesman. She is married and lives in west London with her husband, two stepsons and a daughter. Her new ebook No God Zone is now available on Kindle.

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