Why Read Scripture? 

“The Christian story is amazing,” says English historian Tom Holland in a recent conversation with Bishop Robert Barron. Holland’s latest book, Dominion, examines the impact Christianity has had on human civilization, which he argues is so complete that even Christianity’s harshest secular critics often unwittingly base their critiques on ideas that he says are fundamentally Christian. Holland drifted away from Christianity as a young man, finding the great figures of the pre-Christian world more compelling. But as he got older, he began to be repulsed by the brutality of the pre-Christian world, and he realized this was only possible because he possessed a mindset that was essentially Christian, even though he wasn’t a believer. In preparation for Dominion, Holland re-read the entirety of the Bible (he had read it twice before). This time, he didn’t read it skeptically, or treat the text as an object of archaeological study. He read it as a story, with an openness to be changed by it. And he came away changed. 

“I think that the ball the churches have dropped is that they have allowed generations of children to grow up with an unfamiliarity with the most basic stories that, I think, have done more to structure how people in the West over the past thousand years or more have come to think than anything else. More than catechisms, more than statements of principle – it’s the stories, the story of the Passion, it’s the story of Christ’s suffering and His triumph over torture and death and horror that has made the Christian people what they are and the modern West what they are. It’s the story of Exodus, the idea that slaves have been brought out of bondage and brought into a new land…. If people want to understand why there is the current debate about how to treat refugees or how we should treat those who are less fortunate than us, the parable of the Good Samaritan has done more to hard wire that into the collective consciousness of the West than any number of statements of principle from political parties or philosophers.”   

He goes on to describe Christ as “the greatest teller of short stories of all time. His stories had a greater impact on the way the world thinks than any other storyteller. And it seems to me lunacy that children can go to church schools and come out of it lacking a familiarity with the most basic parables. It seems insane.”  This Tuesday (4/25) is the feast day of St. Mark the Evangelist, one of those whose inspired writings has enabled the world to know Christ. His is the shortest gospel and it features a Christ who is always on the move – casting out demons, healing the sick, captivating and confounding those who would be His followers – always on His way to the cross. Tom Holland is right – the Christian story is amazing. It has captured the imaginations of people of every age and from every walk of life because it speaks to the deepest longings of the human heart, including, as Holland puts it, “that there is hope in a world that seem[s] oppressed by horror.” While he finds the Christian story compelling and deeply moving, Holland remains a searcher, though he clearly longs to believe. May the grace of faith be granted him. 

posted 4/22/23

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