Thursday, January 24, 2013

Erasing our Foundations

I did a very ordinary, nothing fancy arts degree, majoring in English literature, minoring in Canadian history/ Canadian studies.  It's a long time ago now, so I'm nowhere near qualified to begin an exposition on the whole of western literature and culture, especially in the time I have today. I know that, but I was in England a few years ago and I was doing a bus excursion. It was the end of the day, and I was getting quite tired, especially with the time change and being five months pregnant with my youngest daughter. The tour guide announced that we were now on our way to Canterbury and added imaginatively that we should prepare ourselves for the journey. Before he said that, I hadn't really noticed Canterbury listed on the program of drop in spots for the day but then a light went on. Canterbury, as in ...The Canterbury Tales, I asked myself quietly, afraid of being embarrassed if I was wrong. Could I be on my way to -Canterbury? I love history, and may I just say that the highlight of any trip to a museum is always, for me, seeing the pages of my education come alive, that these battles really happened, that these people were alive. The highlight of that trip, more specifically, for me were the cathedrals, which could be said to represent the height of European culture and history.  I was moved, standing inside and in front of Canterbury cathedral that day, feeling small, seeing the worn frescoes and early Gothic spires, that this was what those poor medieval pilgrims were willing to travel for, to suffer for. And when we got to Paris, thinking that Canterbury couldn't be outdone, sitting inside of Notre dame I  cried, while trying to hide that I was crying.  I didn't want my husband to be worried about me. Such beauty.

Yet the funny thing is to me, looking back on my university studies, is that I don't think I really grasped at the time that the Canterbury Tales were about a pilgrimage, or that Paradise lost was about the fall of man, or that Dante's Inferno was about hell and the afterlife. I mean, I did but I didn't if that makes any kind of sense. What do I mean by that?  Well, the only time that I can ever remember a Bible being pulled out in school was in a first year survey of western literature in which my then professor read the story of the fall as a way of demonstrating to us that this was an example of the subjugation of women in literature (and everywhere else) throughout history. So, when we got to Beowulf or The Canterbury Tales or Jane Eyre or just about anything else it seemed... well, it all seemed to end up being about the subjugation of women. Funny that, how now, thinking about it, the whole of western literature was about the subjugation of women. Just scratching my head here. And there was no mention of the Bible, other than to suggest that it was a fine example of the subjugation of women.  Now, I loved that professor, I always had a soft spot for her and still wonder how she's doing sometimes, where ever she is, so I'm not feeling bitter as I write this, just nostalgic haha, and puzzled.  It's only now, in my late thirties, looking back on my education and asking, how did we get from saying the Lord's prayer when I was in grade four, to seemingly erasing Christianity in all of it's forms from our culture? Unless of course, it's to pull it out once in a student's university life to blame it for something. Well, we obviously haven't forgotten it's influence completely, or have we?

Anyway, so where am I going with this?  I came across an article in Huff Post last night. Should the Bible be taught in public schools, it asked. How should the Bible be taught in schools might have been a more reasonable or informed question, and here's my answer. Ask Shakespeare, or Milton, or Tennyson or Frost, or Donne or Bunyan or Bronte, to name a few, to begin to scratch the surface of the hands down most influential book in western if not world history. They were not ignorant of it's influence. Clouded allusions seem to have been reserved for present day secularists and their students.


M.A. Harvey

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