A Word

Column: Let's get biblical! by Jacqueline Alexander
First published in the Henley Standard newspaper

Did you know that the Bible is the most shoplifted book in the world? The irony of this will not be lost on many, especially those who have actually read it.

Despite the number of Bibles in the hands of thieves, more than 200 are sold to the more upstanding citizens of the world every minute so quite a number of people are aware that, according to the "good book", the thieves are destined for a challenging future unless they see the error of their ways.

This newfound knowledge of Bible facts came my way by accident. Having trawled the internet in search of a suitable subject for Web Watch in the weeks running up to Christmas, I stumbled upon many sites reporting on the controversy of whether or not our annual celebration of the birth of Christ should be renamed "Winter Festival", thus taking religion out of the equation.

This isn't the first year this debate has raged in various parishes and councils across the country and it won't be the last, but the mere suggestion of losing our traditional Christmas is enough to want to seek out a reminder of its true meaning which, as most of us know, is found in the Holy Bible.

The Bible Society exists to fight what it refers to as "Bible poverty". Its aim is to translate, produce and distribute Bibles to all those people who have never received a copy. It wants the blind to have access to braille Bibles, the illiterate to listen to audio copies and the deaf to receive their Bible in sign language. And, there are still more than 4,500 languages yet to receive a translation of the 773,692 words in the Old and New Testaments.

Whether or not the Bible is used as a sacred book, a moral guide, a history book or simply a good read is a matter of personal choice but it's a choice only open to those who have access to it. The society is, as part of its remit, trying to make sure as many people as possible are free to make that choice.

The wider issue of Christianity and whether or not its message is valid in today's world is also covered on the Society's website. The fact that the Bible is no longer used as a point of reference in everyday life is discussed, along with the difficulty facing Christians who lack the confidence to apply the Bible's message to daily life in a world that questions the relevancy of the teachings.

All these factors, and many more, make spreading the word a bigger challenge than it has ever been in the past. What is surprising is how the society is going about it. Rather than divide itself further from an unwelcoming world, it is embracing it. Not only is technology being used to deliver the message, the message is being delivered in a way that will spark interest in many readers that may normally fall through the net.

Twitter.com has gone from strength to strength since Stephen Fry came out in support of tweeting 140 characters to tell the world what he was up to throughout the day. It would have been easy for The Bible Society to set up their account to deliver verses from the Bible but instead it tweets interesting, shocking or simply intriguing facts. Facts about the Bible, facts about the world, and facts about the content of the Bible, all serve the purpose of rousing curiosity and encouraging a click of the mouse to find out more.

It's a plan that seems to be working as many are beginning to follow the society account - whether the motivation of the new followers is religious curiosity or in preparation for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? remains unknown but their clicks do show that, in terms of marketing, the society is right on the money.

Next: That 'uh-oh' moment

Audio: Jacqueline Alexander presents Web Watch with Phil Kennedy on BBC Berkshire and BBC Oxford:

Copyright: Jacqueline Alexander 2012

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