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How has the Bible affected my close community?
Surrounding the area of Gia Dinh in Saigon, Vietnam lies a spiritually active community hosting a multitude of churches, the entrance to Saigon for many migrants. Owing to the historic Gia Dinh church located in the middle of Ba Chieu market- literally a vibrant market outside its gate. This church was central to religious activities in my community . I also happen to attend Regina Mundi convent for my religious education classes on Sundays, another rustic but historically rich chapel in the city, unknown to most people. And the focal point of these organization is one object- the Holy Bible. Everyone in the church circle tries to follow it. The impacts are varied in a different selection of subjects I have talked to. And so, I have disembarked on a personal journey to find out more about this book, the impacts it can carry, in terms of lifestyle, decision and in thoughts. There is no right answers, only discovery, as the potential is unlimited.
Without a doubt, when a person thinks about the Bible’s influence, everyone who have at least heard about the Ten Commandments will all agree that the biggest bullet is on the individual lifestyle of people- and this too applies for my community. During my journey, I came to the Regina Mundi convent where I, as a child, have spent time immersed in religious education, hoping to find the answers that I need. Therefore, by simple logic, I have arranged a simple meeting with the Head Nun of Regina Mundi (formerly Couvent Des Oiseaux), Madame Gioan. Upon entering the specially built enclave for the nuns, I felt a definitely strong sense of formality, of worship while retaining peace and tranquility. Entering Madame Gioan’s room was even more gaping, but this was because I was inexperienced. One bare solid wood bed, an oaken closet, a mini garden on the side, that’s it! This was a world completely different from mine. She agreed to my request when I asked.
She astonished me. That’s all I could say, and here’s the fruit for curiosity, she have gotten from being a stranger to a Head Nun! Totally unexpected to my predictions: “ What could have motivated you to do such a big decision?!” was my question. She explained to me soon after that she was introduced to it by friends, who said there was a God in churches, but she herself could not see him. Furthermore, she was invited through the course of her own intuition; she was craving for the logic of the Bible. She didn’t come to be a nun immediately but rather, it took her years and years for her family was unfamilliar, a Gentile upbringing. Madame Gioan have also noted that her French tutors had come to pray in front of her, she found studying about the apostles and especially Luke very intriguing...I still wonder whether she softened the story down or not! It’s that mind-blowing! To think about the possibility of what she would become without the Bible’s influence is truly a very controversial topic. Madame Gioan said that the personal feelings/experiences that was reflected in the Bible and the historical Jesus have made that detour possible. Her conversion was definitely a major decision in her life. Her choice have been profoundly touched by the book. To that end however, it has yet to end here!
After interviewing Madame Gioan, I have also had chances to speak to other people too, and this time, it was to a completely different world from Madame Gioan. Coming to AIS (Australian international school), I spoke to Ms.Sally Neaves, current CAS and MYP coordinator of the school. It was by pure chance that I interviewed her, I never knew she took Theology for her Bachelor! In her office, there were signs of work everywhere, the familiar MYP learner profiles stuck around every corner of the room. I came to interview her for this journey of mine. I never expected she would be a religious person because she was so free-willed. She proceeded to telling me her story: “Back in Australia, each night when I was still a child, I would listen to my mother’s stories from the Bible, and she read the parables to me. I got her influence. However, the Bible have really made me think about its nuances.” To Ms.Neaves, the laws in the Bible is universal and it worked well with her rationale: “ Everybody is equal, that was one of the New Testament’s statements, and it was fair. The main important laws are universal through all times, regardless of any cultural differences.” Common-sense wise, I asked her about what influence that has had on her current roles as CAS coordinator. And my prediction was heading down the right path, she agreed: ‘The call to service is strong in biblical philosophy and I was raised doing all sorts of things for others in the community. Now I want all my students to do the same! ‘ Ms.Neaves and Madame Gioan, one drawn by the intuitive and personal powers of the Bible; and one by the rationality in it, two perspectives, two different worlds, two different lives. Even though this was only a part of my process, but these two interviewees were the most prominent contrast of the effects. The Bible is the driving force behind the motivations, the parables told to Ms.Neaves, the apostle Luke, the prayers, the commandments, these are entirely separate from the cultural Christianity. Their lifestyles transformed to what they are today under the influence of the book, their choices altered and a new door opened.
Beside the more obvious impacts on people’s life and their decisions, during my research I have also found a more subtle aspect of it, and I found it in the literature. In particular is the short story ‘The dream of a ridiculous man’ by Fyodor Dostoevsky, the short story itself is a monologue in an attempt to explore the deepest depths of the human heart. Fyodor tells the thought of a suicidal man contemplating about his actions; and he sleeps, from there his dream takes him to a perfect Earth. Following the course of the story, Fyodor mentions he corrupting the people in that Perfect Earth...Yes, stop there. This very point in the story was what so drawn me into analyzing it, it shows how the Bible have shaped Fyodor’s thoughts.
(1)Their faces were radiant with the light of reason and fullness of a serenity that comes of perfect understanding, but those faces were gay; in their words and voices there was a note of childlike joy
(2)Only perhaps in our children, in their earliest years, one might find, some remote faint reflection of this beauty
The above is Fyodor’s interpretation of the people of the perfect Earth, he described it as a sort of utopia, an ideal society. In page 13, 14 Fyodor continues on praising the imaginative creatures inside his writing, their ‘faces were gay’ and ‘remote faint reflection’, his description are very vivid. They are to be taken in the literal sense, in fact, his style of writing in page 13 and 14 were so articulate and magical that the reader can get a ‘high’ feeling from it:
(3)‘ Oh, from the first moment, from the first glance at them, I understood it all! It was the earth untar- nished by the Fall; on it lived people who had not sinned. They lived just in such a paradise as that in which, according to all the legends of man- kind, our first parents lived before they sinned; the only difference was that all this earth was the same paradise’
Here comes a small spoiler, this short story can also be viewed as a social criticism in the form of a monologue. However, the quote above is crucial to see the connection between this story and the Bible. Fyodor have used analogy, the Fall concept in the Bible’s Genesis, ‘The Earth untarnished by the Fall; on it lived people who had not sinned.’ This sentence has a religious connotation attached to it, instantly, he set up the tale of the Fall further without much notice. This is the first evidence of Genesis’ influence on his words.
(4)For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
Compare the above quote and the former, they have the same concepts, people have not sinned-yet. ’they felt no shame’ indicates a sinless state because they were pure, their minds are innocent children’s. From there, it is clear that he has taken inspirations from Genesis for his writing, mixed with his own thoughts about human innocence as children. Interestingly, the short story from page 13 onwards is similar to an altered description of the Fall, but from a different angle. Again, this is another hint to the Bible’s effects on his thought process.
(5)The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”
(6)so I contaminated all this earth, so happy and sinless before my coming. They learnt to lie, grew fond of ly- ing, and discovered the charm of falsehood. Oh, at first perhaps it began innocently, with a jest, coquetry, with amorous play, perhaps indeed with a germ, but that germ of falsity made its way into their hearts and pleased them.
(5) is the event when the Fall happens, and the couple seeks to hide themselves from God in Genesis. (6) is the description of Fyodor’s Fall in his story. ‘A jest, coquetry...germ’ is a very intriguing detail, it sounds similar to the action of eating the apple in Genesis, both came from someone/thing luring the people into the action. Here being Fyodor himself, from this point Fyodor delves into corruption and criticizing the power of Sin. ‘Germ of falsity’ connotes a widespread pandemic, similar to a plague, but a spiritual one- and this time it being pleasant. The concept of a pandemic of falsehood is similar to the cycle of sin:
(7)for when you eat of it you will surely die
(8)As they became criminal, they invented justice and drew up whole legal codes in order to observe it, and to ensure their being kept, set up a guillotine
In (8) Fyodor writes about a possible chain of events/effects that takes place after his dream’s Fall, that there were crime, capital punishments. (7) can be seen as an inspiration for this analogy, drawing social faults spawning from wrong choices and suddenly from a utopia, the world plunges into a death dystopia. Here now, it is quite crystal clear that Fyodor was possibly-heavily influenced by the Bible.
As a result, from a close analysis of the short story, the trends shows that Fyodor includes aspects of the Christian Bible in his creative works. His personal life in the foreword of the version I read revealing he was a stern, sometimes extremist Christian. This was a really staggering impact, the Bible was the mechanism behind the scene of the story. From this analysis, the Bible have the potential for considerable changes in a person’s thoughts and philosophy-in fact the book itself is philosophy!
Last but not the least, the most convincing example of the Bible’s impact would have to relate to myself. After all, throughout this journey, I have found much new reflections and thoughts on the Bible’s impact on my own life. As I was brought up in a religious family, who decided to send me to R.E classes and to receive Holy communion at the age of seven, without a doubt many would say I was profoundly shaped. However, to me, that point is only true partially, it was not until I was able to handle complex thinking that I truly dived into the subject:
“ When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens— 5and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground— the LORD God formed the mane from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
The passage above is one of the parts that aroused my curiosity so much, one day at R.E class, I was able to interpret the passage, which I thought originally as even being slightly pagan. Since Genesis was written well over 5000 years ago, the author had to make the language suitable for men back then to understand. The concepts of souls, a divine creator was too complex for early men to comprehend. As such, the image of a blacksmith using clay in his hand to weave his pot, was ingenious; the Jomon, the Minoans, etc. have used pottery extensively as an art, the image truly fits the context. The breath of life dictates to these early people that they depends on God for providing life, or what we call today, a soul. The intangible soul is complicated for modern people, so we can’t expect early men to grasp the whole idea fully. The image that the world was a void, without life before his intervention was also too hard for them to understand, again, the image of ‘no plant of the field’ ‘no shrub’ creates the image of an empty, scorching desert, and for these men, they were the definition of nothingness. There is plenty more of examples of metaphors like these, but they are so varied, that it would take plenty more pages to even describe them, let alone discuss.
Still, to me, it was the Bible that provoked and brought me to view the world in a more serious, analytical way, on the same path, carefree and freewill about my analysis. The previous interpretation of the passage from Genesis is one example of literary exemplary in the book, and believe it or not- this have lead to a very wide jump in my english skills. And it is evident when Ms.Colleu, my current english teacher, told me that my style used and depended alot on imagery, metaphors and slangs; and they were excellent for fiction, but not so much for non-fiction works such as an essay or a letter. From this, i realized how much the Bible have influenced my language use, going so far as sometimes unnecessary. Through this inner reflection and analysis, I have just obtained consciousness for a change wrought by the Bible in my personal life.
In conclusion, the impacts that the Bible has on myself and my local community, including explorations and new ideas I have collected are most breathtaking, unbelievable, thorough, just about any synonyms for any of those words. From taking Madame Gioan to a new road in life, from providing inspiration for Ms.Neaves to support others in her current role as CAS coordinator, to a multitude of others who I’ve interviewed who becomes a nun, or a R.E teacher, to awakening my thinking and guiding me to my passion of writing. And yes, the very reason why I have the motivation to make this personal insight, exploration and perhaps most importantly, the motivation that drove me to write this article to you, my fellow readers.