Regardless of whether he in fact reads the Bible, he is raising an important issue, that we are ignorant about a book which has shaped so much of our culture.
I went off to college with no knowledge of the Bible, since my high school did not teach the Bible. One cannot understand writers from Shakespeare to Hemingway without a knowledge of the Bible, which I quickly learned in literature classes.
So, I support the president's idea in two ways, which were most likely not on his mind.
First of all, if the Bible is taught in high schools, it should be taught as part of a study of world religions. The Bible would then be read along with the scriptures of Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, for instance.
Secondly, the Bible should be taught as part of the study of English literature. Even the Bible as literature would be an important study. Not teaching it as an ideology but as a gift to world literature.
The Bible has not been taught in high schools because of justified fears of a school system advocating one religion over another. By including a study of the Bible in a general exploration of world religions and their scriptures would eliminate that criticism. And who could argue with the simple fact that knowledge of the Bible is essential for the study of John Donne's poetry or Shakespeare's plays, for example.
Our general ignorance of the Bible and our lack of knowledge about world religions have left the American people vastly ignorant of other cultures and even the history of our own country. I am concerned that as a culture we are not reading enough books from literature to history. I have been in many a person's home where i always look to see where the book shelves are and what kind of books the person I am visiting is reading. All too often there are no book shelves and even no books to be found.
A big reason for the fact many people do not read books is social media. More people spend time on social media than reading a book. Interacting with a classic text such as the novels of Thomas Hardy or F. Scott Fitzgerald enriches the soul far better than a smartphone or a computer screen. Reading history enables us to understand the mess we got into in Vietnam (read the new book "Vietnam" by Max Hastings, considered by critics to be the best on the topic). Reading history enables us to understand the fiasco of the Iraq War and the tragedy of our own Civil War.
How many Americans know that our government, along with the British government, overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran in 1953? Without that historical knowledge, we cannot understand our current relations with Iran. Our president's failure to read about this history, not to speak of knowing the history of Russia and how Putin became a new czar (read "The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia” by Masha Gessen) explains, at least to me, many of his tweets and actions.
A president who does not read is dangerous because wisdom comes from reading, not from TV or from gut feelings.
If you want to see what a society looks like that burns books and does not read but watches TV screens located in every room, read George Orwell's novel, "1984." or Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451," the title coming from the temperature that paper burns. Those books depict a soulless society, soulless because people are prevented from reading books, giving rise to a society where most people no longer want to read books. They just watch TV screens and believe the talking heads.
Without reading books, a person cannot think critically, something we have lost today, in large part because we believe without thinking what we see on TV or on Facebook.
Reading books, including the Bible, helps a person develop a sense of empathy with others, especially people from different backgrounds. A society which does not read lacks compassion and its people develop passionately held opinions without much knowledge of the subject at hand.
There are many articles being published lately in magazines, such as The Week, questioning whether kids and even their parents are addicted to devices such as smartphones. The antidote here is reading books and staying away from these devices. If you cannot go one day — not to speak of one week — without checking Facebook or Twitter, then you are addicted. And if you are addicted, you most likely spend far more time with those devices than curling up with a good book.
Turn off your devices and open a good book for a change. It may change your life.
— By the Rev. Henry Idema, Tribune community columnist