Did you read your Bible last night before you lay down to sleep … ?

Picture: copyright Well, did you read your Bible? I was chosen a while ago to participate in a research project to determine the lifestyle and lives of those who live in Greater Paris. For more than two hours I was asked pages and pages of questions about almost every aspect of my life, but not […]

Picture: copyright

Well, did you read your Bible?

I was chosen a while ago to participate in a research project to determine the lifestyle and lives of those who live in Greater Paris. For more than two hours I was asked pages and pages of questions about almost every aspect of my life, but not one question concerned religion. Even the odd political question was asked: “Have you ever participated in a demonstration?” for example. But religion was obviously taboo.

France is a laic country – it has no official religion, and indeed religion has no part to play in state affairs – and there is great respect for this laicity – laïcité – which was constitutionalized in 1905 but which had existed long before; in the 1880s a set of laws, the Jules Ferry Laws, had already prohibited any religious instruction in a state school. In fact, today, a teacher who would dare to speak of religious belief to pupils could be dismissed, and scholars and students are not allowed to display any religious artefacts like a crucifix, scull cap or headscarf in a lieu of education run by the state. To do so would mean expulsion. (There is currently a debate raging here in France about the wearing of the burqa and a Muslim man has even been refused French nationality because he insists that his wife wear the burqa.)

Yet, the Christian Bible remains the book of which most copies are sold annually here in France. Each year 300,000 copies are bought, and here a sales figure of 40,000 means that a book is a best seller, so you will see what a big seller the Bible is.

So what is going on?

A Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) survey to coincide with an exhibition being held here at its Paris base, shows that the Bibles are however not being read.

So I can once again ask, so what is going on?

It seems that the French feel that they have to have a Bible in the house. Why? Forty-six percent of those who participated in the survey said that they had a Bible for “spiritual and religious” reasons, while 43 percent said that their Bible was for “cultural, historic and literary” reasons. (That leaves 11 percent who skipped the question.)

Of those who chose “cultural, historic and literary” as reason, 35 percent was aged under 25 and 26 percent was over 60.

But what percentage had actually ever read the Bible they have at home? Only 26 percent. (A previous survey which was undertaken by the French Catholic Church actually showed that 74 percent of the people of France have never read as much as a verse from the Bible.)

But what had those in the current survey who had at one time or another read the Bible, or from the Bible, taken in? What stories or events had stuck in their heads?

Most (91%) of them could recall only the story of Jesus’s birth and that of Noah’s Ark.

Jesus’s death and resurrection came second with 88 percent, and third was the multiplication of the bread (well, they’re French aren’t they, inventors of the delicious baguette, so it’s understandable!)

Only 31 percent however had heard of Job.

(There is no mention of Sodom and Gomorrah which I rather regret because having been brought up “Fundamentalist Calvinist” Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa this is the one Biblical story that was drilled into me from before I could even walk just to make sure that should I ever feel like stepping off the path of goodness, honesty, decency and what not, I will know what was waiting for me!)

Now here is something to ponder over. Those who participated in the survey were all Catholics. As the organizers pointed out, the number of Protestants in France is too minor to be significant… (Only 2 percent of the people of France is Protestant.)

This brings me to the persecution by France’s Catholics of France’s Protestants (the Huguenots) in the 16th Century. In 1572, on the day of Saint Bartholomew (August 23) alone, 70,000 Huguenots had been massacred – many had already been killed before that date and after it the killing still had not stopped – but this is something one almost never hears about here in France. I’ve heard a French president apologize to the Jews for France’s participation in the Holocaust, but I’ve not yet heard a French president apologize to France’s Protestants for what had been done to their ancestors.(The Saint Bartholomew Massacre resulted in a flight from France of the Huguenots: Some of them were my ancestors.)

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

One Response to “Did you read your Bible last night before you lay down to sleep … ?”

  1. 1
    Jo Says:

    Nope I didn't, unlike a lot of people, I have a fairly good knowledge of the bible because I was taught it in school and in boarding school they took us to church where we heard excerpts read from the bible. My father, who was an atheist, believed children should have a religious education because it laid down the rules of right from wrong, he figured they could make a decision on whether to practice religion or not when they were older.

    North America is an extremely religious continent. Many people believing God has a hand in everything they do, how many of them have actually read the bible, I don't know.

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