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Home > Media

Paul Riddell: Playing it by the book

26 April 2005

When students of Stirling University move into their halls of residence, one of the essentials they can expect to find waiting for them is a copy of the Good Book.

That may however, be about to change, as this week Stirling University Students' Association (SUSA) voted 15-1 (7 abstentions) to remove the Bible from students' rooms. They have decided it is 'presumptious' and potentially offensive to foist it upon all students, regardless of their beliefs, or lack

Paul Riddell is a journalist for the normally very level-headed Scotsman newspaper. When he heard about this secular development, agnostic though he purports to be, Riddell went totally berserk. Foaming at the mouth on Tuesday, Riddell wrote, 'It is deeply disturbing that students in a place of learning are attempting to ban a book. They'll be wanting to burn them next.' Then, speaking of learning, he tossed in a Milton quote: '[H]e who destroys a good book, kills reason itself.' Then, perhaps angling for a place at the Festival of Ideas, he slithered up inside his own canal.

Human stories, which the Bible is full of... help us to understand the world beyond our own sphere of existence, and hopefully make us more tolerant, if not sympathetic towards others. Without this tolerance/sympathy, the moral community we need to prevent a Hobbesian world in which life is "nasty, brutish and short" would be impossible. Oh, please. Paul. Shush.

None of this would be anywhere near as bad as it actually is if Riddell's argument made any sense whatsoever. Sadly, it doesn't, because the truth of the matter is, no-one is trying to ban anything. All the students of Stirling University are actually trying to do is attempt to put right an unnecessary and outdated disparity. They don't want to ban the Bible at all. They just don't want it left hanging around in students' rooms like the lingering smell of something in the latter stages of putrefaction.

And of course - in this day and age, when we can bring to bear a certain amount of scientific learning and necessary cynicism - there is absolutely no need for us to imagine that the Bible has any more importance than any other work of fiction or twisted history. So why disseminate the Bible to eager minds and not, say, the Koran or the Science of Self-Realisation? Come to that, why not The Confessions of Aleister Crowley or something properly Satanic? And while we're at it, why not La Recherche du Temps Perdu or one of those splendid Harry Potter tales? If it's human stories you're after, you can't go wrong with JK Rowling. From the moral superiority of his ivory fence, Riddell clearly believes that it's perfectly reasonable to continue pushing the Christian scriptures, not as a syllabus brick in a Literature or Theology course, which would be fine, but as if it were some blithe benevolent indispensable moral guide. It isn't. This is the 21st century, and the Bible is a nasty little book full of contradictions, lies and political manipulation. It isn't even well-written. And a good bit with a leper does not these myriad sins pardon.

SUSA will submit their proposal to get God off the campus next month. Under pressure from appalling traditionalists who cannot conceive of a life without religious shackles, Stirling University will reject it.

But things are looking up. There is a sweet smell of secularism on the spring air, and we hope - dammit, we believe - God's days are definitely numbered.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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