Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In defence of bible stories

A typical children’s bible story book.
The Joseph story is one that I have
often told to Martha (age 5)
I've been surprised by the number eyebrows raised at me telling Martha bible stories. Even though the eyebrow raising is probably at least half in jest.

Some think, or for the sake of a laugh claim to think, that I'm letting down the atheist cause and colluding in the indoctrination of the young.

From the other side of the argument it’s sometimes suggested that I'm up to something devious or that I'm secretly “looking for something” in that quaint phrase which is meant to imply I'm about the find the Lord. (I had an uncle who was a prayer warrior. He used to accost strangers on buses and ask them if they had Found The Lord. But I digress.)

I hardly think that telling bible stories requires an explanation but here it is for the curious. The story of Adam and Eve, for example, is one of the foundation myths of western culture. It’s unthinkable that any child should grow up not knowing it. The same goes for Oedipus, which I'm working on now, but that doesn’t get the eyebrows raised, or if it does for wholly different reasons.

And then imagine going through life saying that so and so is a good samaritan, without knowing the story behind the phrase.

True, many Bible stories presuppose the existence of God; but then other stories presuppose the existence of giants, goblins, talking animals, the Norse or Greek gods, and so on. I suppose you could say that by mixing religious stories in with non-religious I'm subtly undermining the idea that religion should be accorded a special place.

But that would be to ascribe underhand motives to me unjustifiably.

Read my tellings of Oedipus and Adam & Eve


  1. Pete - I hope you're not suggesting I was assuming a position just for a wind-up(!). On this occasion I was genuinely surprised that you would tell Martha such stories, given (my perception of) your background (and hers, RC school, mass each week etc). I understand better now your reasoning and I'm sure you tell the story first and foremost to entertain her (and having read it I'm equally sure it does), my eyebrow-raising was more at the thought of your response to the inevitable question of who is God, or, given her background and the fact that she already "knows" who God is will mean she won't ask you, are you happy to implicitly agree that what she's taught at school is gospel (or Old Testament in this case - sorry)? My interest is a bit selfish - Jude starts attending a RC school in September and I'm already fretting about how to answer some of the questions I'm sure he's going to come home with....

  2. Noggin - Well if Martha grows up religious that’s fine by me and I certainly won't try and talk her out of it. But at some stage she may become curious about me not being religious. I can imagine her asking, well why did you tell me the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall then? To which I could reply, yes but I also told you the story of Prometheus, that’s another fall story. They’re both wonderful stories and both tell you something about the human condition. Some people think that the Adam and Eve story also tells you something about God – I'm just not one of those people.

    As to what to tell Jude, in the early days you just play along, exactly as if you were discussing Santa Claus or unicorns. Then at some later stage you’ll say well actually, not everyone believes all of that, and I'm not sure that I do. When is that stage? You’ll know when you get there.

  3. Thanks Pete - my perception was wrong! I thought you were more anti-religion than that from our past discussions - might I suggest you've been mischievously adopting extreme positions for the sake of a laugh? Anyway the advice is appreciated.

  4. Peter - Good luck with project. James

  5. I have to admit that I am one of the eyebrow raisers - but my reasons are different to those you mentioned at the start of this blog. My facial muscles are exercised for a similar reason to Noggin's - that there are a wealth of non-Christian stories out there with really good messages within them, and Martha is being brought up in a Catholic country and therefore will have a much higher level of exposure to Bible stories than say, a child being brought up in Bradford. That's no criticism of the Irish education system, but merely an observation of the fact that your role perhaps ought to be to tell her more of the 'other' stories.

    "It’s unthinkable that any child should grow up not knowing [The story of Adam and Eve]. The same goes for Oedipus". This, I feel, highlights that to a certain extent you are blinkered by your own upbringing. What do I mean? Well, I've no idea what the story of Oedipus is, and although I knew Adam and Eve lived in a garden with forbidden fruit and conveniently shaped fruit leaves, it wasn't until reading your earlier blog of that I found out what the story was.

    Anyway, so long as you are also telling Martha the story of the frog, the penny and the big black tree as well, I'll be happy..! ;-)