In my third year of grad school, I shared an apartment with an undergrad I'll call "Kate". Kate was an intelligent, pretty California girl who was double-majoring in English and economics. We didn't have a lot in common, but we got along well as housemates.

One afternoon she came home from class and threw her book bag down on the kitchen table.

"Fucker," she muttered under her breath.

"What's the matter?" I asked. I was curled up on the couch reading Dorothy Nelkin's Selling Science for a media class and trying not to nod off from the dry academic writing.

"My English professor. He gave me a "C" on this stupid book report because I missed this stupid reference to Samson and Delilah. Whoever they are."

I blinked. I was a second-generation agnostic. I had been to church just a couple of times with friends after they'd invited me and I'd thought it impolite to refuse. But I'd read the Bible out of curiosity as a kid, and I'd read or heard the story of Samson and Delilah in dozens of different incarnations as a teenager and adult. How had Kate lived her 20 years on the planet without encountering it?

"We shouldn't have to know stuff from the Bible," she continued. She said "Bible" like she'd just found doggie doo on her shoe. "That's religion. It doesn't belong in an English class. Stupid Bible freak."

I started thinking of the thousands of "stupid Bible freaks" across the ages who'd read the Bible, been inspired (whether entranced by the glory of God or enraged by dogma), and proceeded to create stories, novels, plays, paintings, songs and symphonies based on the tales and ideas therein. Writers and artists from Michelangelo to Shakespeare to Mark Twain to The Grateful Dead have created wonderful works that reference the Bible.

You surely don't have to be a Christian to appreciate them, but you do have to know a little something about the Bible verses and stories they're based on to fully understand them.

Listening to Kate the English Major complain about having to know Bible references was a little like hearing someone in med school complaining about having to know a little Latin and Greek terminology.

I tried to think of something tactful to say to her. "Well, you're going to run into a lot of Biblical references in English literature," I said. "So, you might want to give it a read sometime. I think I might have a copy somewhere--"

Kate cut me off with a look of pure death. "No way. It's bullshit, and I'm not reading it!"

I opened my mouth to argue further, then decided against it. She was an adult, and she'd clearly made up her mind. It was her grade and her education.

"Suit yourself. Sorry to hear the prof's being such a pain," I said, and went back to my book.

Cletus the Foetus says, "You know, a stronger argument would be that an atheist studying literature should be familiar with all mythology, be it Classical or Christian. I wonder if she thought of it in that perspective though."

No, she didn't, and at the time, I either just plain didn't think of taking that rhetorical tack, or I didn't think it would sway her.

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