THE BLOG

The Bible for Non-religious People, Part Three: A Unique Connection Point

13/01/2014 13:23 GMT | Updated 08/03/2014 10:59 GMT

When my grandad passed away and my nan was clearing out some of his things, I borrowed one of his old diaries. I had always loved listening to what he had to say; he was full of warmth and wisdom, and I wanted to hear more of his words, even if they were written before I was born.

A lot of the diary was, superficially, very ordinary: 'so-and-so came for lunch today', 'heavy snow this afternoon', 'late for work', that kind of thing. There were also longer, more reflective sections: his joy at visits from his children and their young families, how change left in phone boxes made him think about valuing people often forgotten by others, notes on sermons he'd heard and so on.

But all of it was precious, because it was a window on his world. Whilst I couldn't go and play Scrabble with him any more, here was at least some kind of connection point between his experiences and mine.

Things like that are quite rare, even for people you know well. And they're rarer still for people you've never met. Maybe that's part of the intrigue of castles and stately homes (or programmes like Heston's Feasts): there may not be much common ground between us and knights or baronesses or whoever, but seeing where they've eaten and slept can give a glimpse of shared experience that opens a window between our world and theirs.

Some worlds seem even further apart. There are very few artefacts which can claim to have been important to both English and German soldiers in WWI, for instance, or which can be common to a 16th century monarch and a 21st century homeless person. There are very few writings which would have been familiar to Joan of Arc, Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln and The Beatles.

But the Bible is one such object.

You can open its pages and read passages that your great-grandma might have heard at her wedding, or that her great-grandpa might have prayed every night. You can see words that some people used to justify slavery alongside words that inspired others to campaign for its abolition. You can find stories that were the basis for school assemblies that drove you up the wall as well as for classic works of art.

You don't have to be religious to appreciate the sense of intrigue, wonder, bafflement or even fear that can come from getting a glimpse into someone else's world. Reading words from the Bible in this way might send a shiver down your spine for all sorts of different reasons.

Consider, say, Psalm 46 and imagine how it might sound to a housewife in the blitz, or a soldier in the trenches, or the survivor of a tsunami. People in all those situations will have read those words. What do they say to you?