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Don't let religion hijack the Bible, says Richard Dawkins

Religion should not be allowed to “hijack” the great cultural resource of the Bible, according to the atheist scientist Professor Richard Dawkins.

Asked by the Labour MP Frank Field, chairman of the King James Bible Trust, what the Bible meant to him, he said: “I think it is important to make the case that the Bible is part of our heritage and it doesn’t have to be tied to religion.

“It’s of historic interest, it’s of literary interest, and it’s important that religion should not be allowed to hijack this cultural resource.

“You can’t appreciate English literature unless you know something about the Greek gods. You can’t appreciate Wagner unless you know something about the Norse gods. You can’t appreciate English literature unless you are to some extent at least steeped in the King James Bible.”

On Saturday The Times reported new research indicating that many people failed to recognise the origin of quotes from the Bible.

In a video posted on YouTube to mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, Dr Dawkins, geneticist and author of The God Delusion, said there were many phrases still in everyday use that people did not realise came from the Bible.

“Phrases that make echoes in people’s mind, they haunt our minds because we are a Christian culture, we come from a Christian culture. And not to know the King James Bible is to be, in some small way, barbarian.”

Among the phrases he listed were “east of Eden”, the “mark of Cain”, a “mess of pottage”, “amid the alien corn”, “stranger in a strange land”, “new wine in old bottles” and “shake the dust from your feet”.

Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, said that the King James Bible was “one of the most unifying texts ever made” and also described it as the “official text” of the British Empire, taken everywhere by representatives of Britain as they travelled the world. “Very few empires have founding texts like that,” he said.

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