Lorna Dueck: We have a example in the London, Ont., students whose wider religious knowledge seems to have turned them into terrorists. Miroslav Volf of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture recently told our TV program that when religious knowledge turns violent, it’s a result of “thin, or sick faith.” He challenged us we need to get more religious to cure it, not less. “Thick faith,” as he described it. That comes from a developed literacy with the Bible; it’s easier to read it wrongly, or not read it at all, than to read and interpret it for all it’s worth.
Raheel Raza: If wider knowledge leads a young person to another path, that’s what we call “freedom of religion,” don’t we?
Guy Nicholson: It’s certainly what this well-read panel would call it.
Lorna Dueck: Yes. But this panel exists to explore what a well-informed religious community brings to culture, and to expose what distortions of religion bring.
Raheel Raza: Thank you, Lorna, for pointing out that many distortions of faith are also part of pop culture, Hollywood and documentaries. So the question still remains about the importance of reading the original scripture to weed out the fairy tales.
Howard Voss-Altman: I’d like to defend Guy’s point here. Religion needs to be reinforced by family and community when children are young and still looking for truths to establish their identity. But it is also critical to recognize that religious ideas will be met with skepticism, and we must not be afraid to confront that skepticism and see where it goes. Judaism is in constant struggle with our people and with God, and the recognition of theological tension – both inside and outside of our tradition – is incredibly healthy.
Guy Nicholson: How easy is it to separate a holy book’s universally desirable historical value from its narrower religious message? For instance, I don’t feel like the people who’ve urged me to read the Bible itself over the years have done a great job of selling it on the merits of its historical value.
Peter Stockland: That may be because those people did not approach the encouragement from the perspective of sacramental imagination. They either “sell” it as pure history, which it self-evidently is not and was never intended to be, or they “sell” it as a form of Buckley’s Cough Medicine: so bad it must be good for you. But as Mark Burnett has demonstrated, much of the Scriptures constitutes great storytelling and jaw-dropping characterization. That’s why it must be read.
Lorna Dueck: Guy, you can’t separate these two ideas that reading the Bible draws you into both historical and spiritual truth. I think God’s intentions in letting the words be recorded as instruction to all time was to show our great connectivity of the human race with God. Our belief in God is rooted in historical facts, experience of people, practice of spiritual disciplines – we are a continuation of a long story of humanity and God.
Raheel Raza: The reality is that we live in a world of technology, where the appeal of books is not the same as it was for our ancestors. I find it easier to invite younger generations to “watch” a program than to read a religious text.
Howard Voss-Altman: If people have been urging you to read the Bible for its historical value, they’ve been poor advocates. I believe the Bible should be read and/or studied in a communal setting – with the assistance of clergy, professors or historians. It’s a text for debating and discussing. It’s a text for stimulating life’s big questions: What are we doing here? Why do I exist? Why is there so much injustice in the world? When one reads the Bible alone, it’s just words on a page. But when you read it with a group of people – academic or religious – in an environment of respectful debate, it becomes a journey.