The One Book in Every Creative’s Library - Hope 103.2

The One Book in Every Creative’s Library

For Aussie artists, musicians and other creatives, the Bible is almost always a bookshelf standard. So why is our education system so anti-Bible?

By Greg ClarkeThursday 9 Mar 2017FaithReading Time: 4 minutes

In the libraries of the artists, musicians and other creatives, there is almost always one particular book: the Holy Bible.

Its pages may be ripped out here and there, and sometimes ‘corrections’ are offered in scrawled hotel pens. It will never be pristine, unlike the Bibles in, I’m sorry to say, too many Christian homes.

The artists’ Bibles are used, thumbed and flicked, coffee-stained and underlined. They are still reading them.

Australia’s Lack of Bible Knowledge

In contrast, every recent study shows that basic Bible literacy is very low in Australian culture and in most christianised cultures around the world (while in places like China and Pakistan, it is growing).

Your average high school student from an Australian school, public or private, cannot distinguish Jesus from Judas, and thinks Superman might be in the New Testament (if they know what that is).

A study in the UK found that 43% of children aged 15 or younger hadn’t heard of Jesus’ crucifixion (arguably, the core to Christian belief) and 60% didn’t know the story of the Good Samaritan (according to Geoffrey Robertson, a foundation principle of human rights).[1]

Why is the School System So Anti-Bible?

Woman reading a Bible

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So why is it that creatives are still immersed in the Bible, but we do not value it as part of the educational experience of the average Australian child? I think it is fear. Artists tend be more fearless than the rest of us. They welcome a challenge, they like to explore new territory, and they are willing to suspend their own worldviews to enter someone else’s.

Whereas our school systems seem somewhat fear-driven at this point in time. Teachers are up to their necks in compliance; there are regulations about everything; children are protected from most of the topics they are interested in (lest they be ‘triggered’); and don’t get me started about banned foods in school lunchboxes.

Our educational environment—through no fault of the teachers, I hasten to add—has forgotten how to manage discomfort. And Bible reading brings discomfort.

I’m not a book-banner, and that’s why I’m advocating that the Bible be allowed to emerge from the shadows of suspicion once again.

It takes the reader to a time before their own, to ideas that sit strangely at first encounter, and to ultimate questions about human fate, forgiveness and mercy, and the stickiest dilemmas concerning the divine. But this text, ripe for discovery and discussion, has instead become a hot potato in the school system, and the teaching of the Bible has become politicized, more so than any other text.

Previously banned texts are welcome, in fact encouraged, while the appearance of a Bible on a school desk causes parent and principal to breathe in sharply: ‘Quick, hide the Bible behind the titillating novels!’

I’m not a book-banner, and that’s why I’m advocating that the Bible be allowed to emerge from the shadows of suspicion once again.

A Staple Reference for Writers, Poets & Musos

Bible and piano

In just the past few years, Australian creatives have produced dozens of works for which a working Bible knowledge is essential: Geraldine Brooks’s novel The Secret Chord; Paul Kelly’s songwriting, all of Les Murray’s poetry, Tim Winton’s entire oeuvre, and every second song by Nick Cave.

If you haven’t had a decent Bible education, you simply can’t claim to know what is going on in their work. We have a basic responsibility to our children to enable them to keeping wrestling with the one book, more than any other, that has shaped the culture(s) they inhabit.

The Bible Society’s Great Goal

The Bible Society in Australia turns 200 this week, and educating Australians about the Bible (and with the Bible) has always been one of our goals. In the very first committee meeting, presided over by Governor Lachlan Macquarie, it was determined that public schools should be founded, specifically to teach all children to read the Bible and enjoy its “festival of information”[2] (Members of the Bible Society also founded our first bank, now Westpac, but that’s another story.) What a wonderful birthday gift it would be if we could take the heat out of teaching teenagers the Bible, and instead welcome the difficulties and discomfort that arise from handling transformative literature.

“As a teenager he was struggling with his sexuality… and turned towards the Bible for wisdom and understanding.”

Speaking with Geraldine Doogue for ABC’s Compass programme, the novelist Christos Tsolkias remarked that when as a teenager he was struggling with his sexuality and in fact turning away from religion, he turned towards the Bible for wisdom and understanding: “And so it was a very, very dark time, but what I did, is I read the Bible and I started reading commentaries on the bible and I started reading, going to the library and trying to understand this experience.”

There is a model for engagement, where the Bible is seen as a ‘festival of information’, even if you don’t agree with it, rather than an object of fear, derision or indifference. It shouldn’t just be the artists who take the world’s most influential book off the shelf.


[1]  Pass it On Research Report. Retrieved 1-3-2017.

[2] Sydney Gazette, 8th March, 1817, Vol 15, No, 694, p.3.

Greg Clarke, Bible Society CEOGreg Clarke is the CEO of Bible Society Australia and author of The Great Bible Swindle.