For myself, this semester has been crazy, early as it is. As an English major, I was bold enough to fill my schedule entirely with English and literature classes, which means tons of reading and writing. Even through the first few weeks, the courses have been enlightening. The introductory material, created to expand my own meta-cognitive approach to analyzing texts and recognizing the art and creativity that lies behind the words, is expanding my knowledge of literature to a degree that I have had not yet experienced.
As I gain this new knowledge, I can’t help but to relate it to my own upbringing. As a child I was raised in a Christian household and attended Christian schools — the Bible was the predominant text that I studied. Back then, however, when we read the Bible in class, the focus was to understand God and Christianity rather than the literary strategies and techniques that writers used.
However, as my interest for English literature grows, and I am exposed to new forms of the English language, I begin to think over works of literature that I’ve read in the past. I have overlooked the outstanding quality of works like those by Shakespeare and Milton, for example. This leads me to contemplate popular literary works and ask myself why they become popular? While my ongoing English courses begin to answer these questions and reveal to me why we value certain works so highly, I also think back to my upbringing and wonder why the Bible remains so predominant.
What is it about this book that causes it to remain so highly regarded in our society? Amidst the greatest writers of our time and historical works of literature that display the highest level of literary genius, why do we find the Holy Bible in our hotel rooms instead of the collected works of Shakespeare? Not to say that the Bible holds no literary merit but compared to other great works, the Bible in my opinion displays little outstanding creative thought.
Does our culture take the Bible as just a token, a symbol of the foundational beliefs of our country in the same way that we have “In God We Trust” stamped on our currency? For some, it does serve as a source of moral guidance, but I can imagine only a small amount of our population — devout Christians and religious scholars — actually read the Bible on a regular basis. In other words, the ratio of Bible-readers to Bible-havers is probably quite small. One thing is certain: It is not just another book. It’s cultural significance clearly outweighs that of a typical work of literature. At the same time, neither is it required under law to be in our homes, hotels or anywhere in our nation for that matter.
The Bible began to become popularized as a result of the Reformation and the Renaissance, which together spanned from the 1300s to the 1700s. Having their own Bible to read rather than needing to go to a preacher to hear it gave individuals the opportunity to delve into the “Word of God” for themselves, apart from the delivery of the church. It gave the people the opportunity to explore their own spirituality.
The general public demanded their own Bibles to read in large numbers during this time period, explaining in part the reason why the Bible was so widely distributed. However, that same urgency and demand to read the Holy Bible seems to no longer exist, especially among the grand library of competing works we have available today. So the question remains: Why is the Holy Bible so popular? What is the force that causes a book that seems to have little significance outside of the Christian faith to remain so culturally important and relevant?
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