Why it is Important to Study Religious Texts
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Even if you did not study the Bible in school, you probably recognize this iconic phrase found at the beginning of the Hebrew Bible in the first verse of Genesis.
Living in America, the majority of us are used to having religion kept separate from our schooling. Since we live in a secular society, religion is often not discussed in hopes of keeping things politically correct, unless one was purposefully placed in a religion based private school or Sunday school on the weekends.
In college however, we are more exposed to religion. Just walking on Ring Road you can be bombarded with five different types of religious clubs all trying to tell you about the “true word of God.” You also have the freedom to take religious studies classes as well as other courses that look at religious texts.
I had the opportunity in my freshman year at UC Irvine to take the Humanities Core Course program. This three-quarter cycle was centered on ‘The Human and Its Others.’ Each quarter looks at a different topic. We studied divinity in the fall, society in winter and nature in spring, and through each quarter we saw how the human interacts with each part.
Winter was especially enlightening. It was the first time outside of Hebrew school and my own personal studying that I was exposed to biblical texts.
We started off the quarter looking at stoic philosophy and how it related to God and religion. By the middle of the quarter we were knee-deep in chapters from the Old and New Testament, as well as the Quran. The lectures themselves were a bit stifling, but the information they openly presented was inspiring.
In discussion, we were able to talk about religion freely and it opened up an exchange of ideas. It was interesting to see the different viewpoints on religion. Some, like me, had not been exposed to religion much, while others had gone to religious school so it was second nature. Other students were completely secular, and this was the first time they had studied religion at all.
When looking at religion, we were instructed to view it in the narrative light. We were to view it as one long story with each biblical figure playing the role of a literary character. By doing this, we tried to separate ourselves and any affiliations we may have had from the text.
The most interesting part of the quarter was the second essay we were assigned. The purpose of the essay was to have us think critically about a certain passage in the Old Testament. This passage was the story of Abraham having to sacrifice his son Isaac to prove his trust and devotion to God. My TA expanded the prompt slightly and allowed us to look at any passage in the provided chapters of the Old Testament.
The assignment instructed us to closely read the narrative text of the Bible, critically analyze it and draw a claim from it based off of what it suggests. I chose the story of Adam and Eve eating from the tree, and analyzed it so that God placed the tree, in his all-knowing wisdom, with reverse psychology in hopes of having Adam and Eve eat from the tree and become the enlightened figures he wished to rule.
This was by far my favorite essay to write. I was able to propose my own claim on a major spiritual and literary work that not many others would agree with upon first glance. I was also challenged to think critically about this claim and the narrative that is the Bible.
It is thus important, as learned students of the world, to understand religious texts. Even in our secular society, moral principles and important stories are drawn from the Bible. The Bible can be used as a tool to instruct us on how to treat others. It does not need to become a crutch for religious crackpots to latch onto in hopes of proving some fanatic point.
The Bible has as much power as we give it. I, for one, am glad that in college we are encouraged to pursue the ideas of religious texts more freely because they really can teach you life lessons and serve as a moral compass. The trick is to learn from the text as if it were a truly inspirational book whose theme changed your life.
Sara Naor is a first-year film and media studies major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.