Religion, according to Law

A self-confessed Catholic atheist, a politician who once called for a religious monument to be built on Mt Bartle Frere and an author is at home discussing Marcel Proust as he is bodily fluids.

All debating the Bible and whether reading it, is good for you.

In public.

What on earth could go wrong?

A whole bunch of things, according to Brisbane Proust-discussing, bodily fluid aficionado, author Benjamin Law.

“I find humour in discomfort,” Law said.

“And the fact that Germaine Greer and Bob Katter are on the same side, on the same team, I think is going to be just hilarious.

“I have a feeling that even though they are on the same team, they are going to contradict each other while me and [fellow debaters] Richard Holloway, Jacqui Payne and Rachel Sommerville just smile along smugly with our hands behind our backs.”

Whether the audience watching the Brisbane Writer's Festival Great Debate tonight shares that smug smile is yet to be seen, but Law said at the very least it opens the topic up for discussion.

“I quite like the Bible; I spent 12 years at a Christian school,” he said.

“I'm not religious myself, but it is an interesting book. I think that people should read it; I just don't think it is necessarily good for you.

“The debate topic is that reading the Bible is good for you and [my argument] is that it is good for you, but only if you have religious and theological authorities to put the Bible into context for you, to translate it as a guide for good modern living.

“If you just pick up the book and read it, which is how most people read text, it is not going to be necessarily a healthy outcome.”

Which brings Law to a topic close to many writers and readers hearts; context.

“Context is everything. You can't read Huckleberry Finn, or any of the books by Mark Twain now without coming across the N-word,” he said.

“These are really lovely books, but words which were acceptable then are not acceptable now and as a child, you can't just read Mark Twain books and come across the N-word and think that is OK.

"You do need someone explaining to you that these were written in a very certain cultural context in a very certain period in time.”

And the same goes for the Bible, he said.

“I think even if God looked down at the Bible now, he'd probably think it was a little bit dated and it was probably worth updating for the 2000th anniversary edition," he said.

“It is not just about providing context, it is about debating context as well, which is exactly what we are doing on Saturday night.

“I never think it is a great idea to say 'here is a text' and say 'here is how you must digest it, or interpret it, or apply it to your life'. There needs to be a level of free will and critical analysis too.”

As a member of Queensland's small but passionate author's club, Law is used to critical analysis, both of his work and his state.

But with the Brisbane Writer's Festival in its 50th year and the recent show of support for Queensland's literary scene after the axing of the Premier's Literary Awards by the new government, Law remains proud of his home state's “incredibly supportive and really tight” writing scene.

“One of the reasons I have stayed in Brisbane, even though a lot of my friends have moved on to Melbourne to become writers, is that there is a really great scene here,” he said.

“You'll go to book events or go down the street and there is Nick Earls and there's [brisbanetimes.com.au columnist] John Birmingham, some of the really great Australian writers out there and they are just so easily accessible.

“It has always been a really great supportive scene and even with an institution like the Premier's Awards being cut, the writing and the publishing community is robust enough to make an award of their own and I think that is a testament to the people's passion in this town for writing and literature.”

Which leaves Law feeling that writing and its Newtonian result, reading, is in a pretty good place in 2012.

“There has just been this glut of books, fiction and non-fiction, it has just been so good, internationally and Australian,” he said.

“There is nothing like reading a book and to me, it really doesn't matter if you are reading it is a paper back or reading it on your e-reader, the thirst for good writing hasn't diminished at all.”

More information on the Brisbane Writer's Festival can be found at the BWF website.

Benjamin Law's second book, Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East, is out now.

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