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How relevant is the bible to a more secular Britain?

Joe Wilson
By Joe Wilson
BBC Radio Lancashire

Bishop of Burnley, the Right Reverend John Goddard
Bishop of Burnley, the Right Reverend John Goddard

Events around Lancashire to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible are now well under way.

I've spent the last few days travelling the county to get a sense of the importance the bible plays in the lives of many in Lancashire and I found no shortage of people who have embraced it as their lifelong companion.

To them the bible is at the very bedrock of Christian belief. To its readers it offers so many insights to life's conundrums.

It's the rule book, the guide and the reason why all rolled into one.

I'm not certain who tots up the sales but the Bible Society still claims the bible to be the world's bestselling book.

It took seven years to complete the translation of the King James Bible by the Church of England in 1611.

Religious benchmark

It remains a religious benchmark. Many have followed with new interpretations but underlying most of them are the expansive King James account.

The question today is the relevance of the bible, any bible, to modern day multi-faith and increasing secular Britain.

Four hundred years on the church has now decreed this to be The Year of the Bible with the twelve months being counted from the first Sunday of Advent, which is the start of the church year. A good time then to assess how widely read the bible is and how many people take any kind of notice about what lies between its covers.

The year's celebrations began at Preston Minster where the Bishop of Blackburn, the Right Reverend Nicholas Reade, launched a bible reading marathon which he completed three days later.

One of the readers was the Bishop of Burnley, the Right Reverend John Goddard. He told me: "The joy of biblical teaching is that it sets your mind free to think all sorts of aspects. Some people just read it and others both read and reflect.

"If you do the latter then thoughts begin to cook rather nicely. You begin to find that God is speaking to you in different ways. It's wonderful!"

Big on the bible

King James Bible
The Year of the Bible starts from the first Sunday of Advent

Just as you wouldn't expect to find a referee without a whistle, so you would expect a Bishop to be big on the bible. It's pretty crucial to the ministry and it would be a headline on the national news if a Bishop was to say anything other than good words about the holy book.

You can always find someone who doesn't quite see it the Bishop's way. The bible does have its detractors, millions of them! Many would say it's a dated book of stories. They can't see what grown up, highly intelligent people find in a tome which at best the critics respect and at worst ridicule.

That may be the majority view, nobody yet has taken a head count. However we still found plenty of people for whom The Good Book is at the very least a reference point and at most a fundamental set of principles by which to live their lives.

Michael Guy, the operations manager at Morecambe Lifeboat Station told me that many of his crew "are not what might be called visible Christians."

Looking out across Morecambe Bay on a beautiful autumnal morning Michael told me: "The Bay is incredibly calm at the moment, it looks stunning. When the crew is out there and the weather's rough, when it's dark and it's raining, then everyone calls on their maker."

Up the road at the RSPB Nature Reserve at Leighton Moss in Silverdale, manager Robin Horner is a lifetime bible fan. "I have great childhood memories of really good bible stories." It was in one of those famous bible stories, the story of Noah, the flood and the ark that Robin saw the world's first mention of climate change.

First missionaries

"Later in life, as I got interested in wildlife, conservation and running nature reserves, I found a resonance in that the very first book of the bible has lots of information about protecting wildlife and the need for conservation."

Support for the bible came from all areas of the county. Football legend Jimmy Armfield describes himself as a "grass roots Christian." He plays the organ most Sundays at St. Peter's Church in Blackpool and he says the bible "sets the ethos for our society."

Jimmy continually finds new meanings within the bible and told me one of his favourite pieces is the story of the three wise men who Jimmy believes may have been the world's first missionaries.

Dennis Mendoros, High Sherriff of Lancashire and Managing Director at Euravia Engineering in Kelbrook, also sees the bible as crucial. He reads the bible every day and he says this ancient book is still relevant to his modern life.

"I try to run my business in exactly the way that I believe a person should live his life. I respect my colleagues, clients and customers and I expect them to live their lives in the same way."

Tattooed

In a flat in Darwen I met Candid Mudharara. When we spoke Candid was working hard at her university studies and very much looking forward to Christmas and the year beyond.

It hasn't always been like that, Zimbabwean-born Candid is a refugee from the tyranny of the Mugabe regime. She was separated for a long time from her family. Throughout her troubled and endangered life, Candid has found solace in the bible. "I like the bible because [by reading it] I feel the Lord is looking after me."

A man who was viciously attacked in a Lancashire park whilst walking his dogs also enjoys the protective quality he finds in the bible.

Auxiliary nurse Linton Yates from Bamber Bridge was slashed across the face during the assault. He turned to the Old Testament watchman Ezekiel whose biblical reference - 3.17.18 - is now tattooed across his shoulders.

Linton feels the biblical spirit of Ezekiel will look after him. "When I had this incident I was very sheltered. I just didn't want to be anywhere or go anywhere. By reading this part of the bible it just made me a stronger person."

So yes, the Holy Bible will have its critics and, as society becomes increasingly secular, their voices may grow louder. However, in Lancashire there is obviously still a very healthy number of people for whom The Good Book is more than just a good read.

Joe presents the faith programme on BBC Radio Lancashire from 6am each Sunday.




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