Bible never receives serious discourse

No book has influenced the course of history more than what has come to be known as the Bible, the collection of stories that tells of the rise of the people of Israel, their oppression under various empires and the later journeys of the original followers of Jesus across the Middle East.

However, more important than the scientific and historical quality of the Bible is what it reveals about God to the people who read it. The intent of the Bible is to teach the descendants of Abraham and the followers of Christ about their collective relationship, or covenant, with God. It is true that many varieties of this relationship exist within the Jewish and Christian worlds; by and large, the purpose of the Bible is to teach us about how God wants us to live.

Unfortunately, this creates problems for students at a public college who wish to or are required to study this book. One cannot effectively read a book about God where it is discouragd to talk about him in the theological sense. We have to find a balance between two extremes. The question is whether we can find a balance between the two at this university.

To explore such a question we must, as our professors would say, go to the text. Let us take the story of Adam and Eve, and let us assume that the story is not to be taken literally. The authors of this story were trying to convey what they understood about God and the imperfections of the world to their readership, the people of Israel.

In the story, God creates everything in perfect harmony, with the exception of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

The fruit of this tree contains the ability to know what God knows: that there is evil in the world and it is readily attainable by mankind. At first, humans do not know this, but they know that they have been told not to eat the fruit. They eat it anyway.

Now this is where interpreting and analyzing the story gets interesting. Why would God put the tree there, have it grow fruit, but not expect anyone to touch it? That doesn’t make sense. In the beginning, Adam and Eve lived in a state of “”ignorance is bliss,”” prancing naked through the garden without a care in the world. After they consume the fruit, Adam and Eve gain the knowledge of good and evil, and accordingly, the power to choose between the two. This may sound tragically ironic, but they don’t know that the serpent’s temptation to eat the fruit is evil until after they have eaten the fruit! While this makes their relationship to God more distant, it also makes it more meaningful. Instead of being forced to live under God, mankind must choose to have faith in God.

Thus, the relationship between man and God is enriched. Loving God becomes a challenge for people to accept and attempt, not simply a given. Maybe God wanted Adam and Eve to gain the knowledge of good and evil so that faith would be a difficult choice and not a simple order from a superior. Maybe God wanted everything to be perfect and then to have mankind come full circle, challenging itself to choose good instead of to live blindly in forced good.

While such an idea may be interesting to think about and valuable to a person who wants to believe in God, it will never be seriously discussed in a lower-division classroom here at UCSD.

Why? Because in asking such questions about the Bible, we have crossed from the boundaries of literature and entered the endless expanse known as theology, a discipline strictly prohibited in the confines of religious discussion in the classroom.

At most schools, students have the option to major in theology. Here, there is a small but noble department called the Program for the Study of Religion, which offers a survey of faith systems from around the world.

That isn’t bad — in fact, it is a wonderful thing to study — but the lack of true theological discussion in lower division or general classes on campus is quite apparent.

There will never be any law or item of public policy that will be able to define exactly what should or should not be discussed. Rather, to deepen our own education and add to our understanding of the sacred texts we read, we will need to open our minds beyond what we may presently think possible.

We must learn to treat the Bible and its counterparts in other religions for what they are: tools for understanding ourselves and our relationship with God. Not every student has to be a person of faith; all that is necessary is people who are willing to examine a sacred text for what it is trying to say. Surely, continuing on our present course of education is equal to cheating ourselves out of the true meaning of the books we read.

Could we discuss Homer’s epics without discussing the roles of the gods and their relationship to men? Certainly not.

Similarly, we cannot read the Bible without seriously discussing God. As it stands, effective education about the Bible is impossible. Unless we can change how we read the book in class, we are basically wasting our time. Quite frankly, having the chance to study the Bible openly with my professors is something I wish I had.