18 January 2012

Why I prefer a paper Bible

There are lots of words that could be used to describe me. Among some of the more reasonable would be ‘Luddite’ ‘technophobe’ or ‘old fashioned.’ One aspect in which this is true is how I read books. I do not own and have no desire to own a kindle or other sort of tablet device to use as my primary mode of reading. I love picking up a real book and reading it. Even when I have read something, I still like dipping back into it occasionally. Though, of late, I haven’t re-read many books entirely, there are a few which I like to return to again and again: Jamaica Inn, Jude the Obscure, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and His Dark Materials are among the works I’ve read more than once.

Above all these, though, is the anthology of writings which is commonly known as the bible. It really is 66 separate books (though some are sequels to earlier books), spanning a variety of genres, telling the history and beliefs of a nation, climaxing in the life, death and resurrection of one man; and of starting to explain what it all means for the wider world.

Though I consider myself a religionless christian (where I use the term ‘religion’ to indicate a life of ritual, rite and ceremony) the bible is still, for me, the primer for my belief.

Also, as a reasonably well-educated person (though, admittedly, I don’t have a PhD) I know the importance of, where feasible, checking your sources. If I see, say, a rumour on Twitter of something significant happening, but it’s not being reported by and of the mainstream media then I become quite skeptical and will (if I think it’s worth the effort) try to trace the origin of the idea.

Likewise, if I hear or read anything about christianity, then my first port of call is usually to check against the bible. Is someone making something up (even if it sounds like the sort of thing that ‘might’ be in the bible), quoting something out of context or choosing to ignore another point of view that might significantly alter their position?

So here I come back to the point about paper books. If I do an electronic search for what I am looking for (say, on Bible Gateway) then that is all I will see. Though I have a concordance, I am reluctant to use that as a first reference. You see, if I only have a vague idea of what it is I want to check, and I don’t ‘cheat’ then what I have to do is read a lot more material than I otherwise might.

For example, if I think that the passage I am looking for is in 1 Corinthians, what I have to do is re-read most of, or maybe all, of the book. What happens when I do this? More often than not, I come across a passage that I can learn something from, or remind myself of, that I had no intention of reading half an hour earlier. Also, by reading large sections quite quickly, I find that the books flow much better than when broken down into small chunks over a long period of time. Even if you take the longest gospel, Luke, this can easily be read in one sitting on a quiet afternoon (if you have the luxury of such a period of uninterrupted peace). Yet many will eek it out over a week, 2 weeks or even longer!

Of course, I put a reasonable time limit on such searches, otherwise I would never reach my goal. This I usually cap at about half an hour; only if I can’t find something after that do I resort to my concordance.

An analogy I find useful is that of climbing Scafell Pike, the tallest mountain in England. I ought to add, I’ve not actually climbed it myself, though I have climbed much taller mountains in the Alps. Many who attempt to conquer it don’t make it to the summit. It’s not because it’s an especially hard mountain to climb, it’s because there are some beautiful sights to be found just off the route to the top. So climbers get distracted by these and by the time they are ready to move on it is necessary to start making their descent, lest they be caught by a creeping nightfall.

The other benefit to the paper bible is the cross-referencing that is included in some. In my NRSV bible, I have a list of cross-references in a thin column down the centre of the page. So what I do is look up the reference whilst keeping a finger in the original passage. Any electronic bible I have used has not been able to replicate this with either the practical ease or the tactile pleasure that you get by flicking through pages.

So what about you? Are you one to adopt any and every new technology as it comes to market or are you more of a stick in the mud like me? Would love to read your opinions.

1 comment:

  1. Correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I've just read, you're saying that you go to the Bible with a particular goal in mind, but the printed version makes it difficult to achieve that goal without being distracted. The electronic bible makes it easier to do what you actually wanted to do in the first place, and so therefore is worse?

    As for cross-referencing, any app should allow you to click on a link and then simply use the back button to return to where you where. Additionally, the cross-references could include URLs to the wider internet, which would open up in a separate application, allowing you to maintain your place in your electronic bible. So you get the same 'functionality' as with your printed bible, but extended and increased.

    Finally, to address the 'tactile pleasure' argument is difficult, as an electronic device is a very different thing altogether which will never even try to replicate it. What I can say though is that the same sort of argument has been used for vinyl, tape cassettes, CDs etc. and now they're increasingly relegated to being almost solely for collectors.

    While I'm here though, I notice your reference to the NRSV edition - I'm curious on your views to its deliberate gender neutrality?

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