Questionable Motives

February 20, 2010

The bible as literature?

Well, it is considered as such in Tennessee and Texas and now in Kentucky:

A Kentucky state Senate committee has approved legislation allowing the Bible to be studied as a literary subject in public schools, a move that means the state will likely follow Tennessee, Texas and a handful of others in bringing the Christian text into the curriculum.

The bill, put forward by three Democratic state senators, orders the Kentucky Board of Education to draw up guidelines for teaching the Bible as a literary work in the context of “literature, art, music, mores, oratory and public policy,” reports the Louisville Courier-Journal. The Bible courses would be elective.

We will hear the usual well grounded complaints about another self-interested group sneaking religion into public education and the usual counter-charges that the US is – with a bit of re-writing of history – a christian nation and that no amount of complaining will change that fact, but both parties at the extreme end of this debate miss what I think is the important point: students need to have a good working knowledge of the bible to better appreciate not only all the references made to it in our spoken and written language but understand its central role as an very important influence through the history of western civilization.

Like it or not, the bible and all its various liturgical interpretations have deeply affected our history and to forgo this influence is to forgo a proper and informed education whether public or private. My problem with the legislation is far more subtle: the bible as a whole is hardly an outstanding example of excellent literature.

Sure, there are a few parts of the bible that are beautiful and moving, like withing Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, some Proverbs and Psalms, but I think these pale in comparison to other riches offered elsewhere and of which our children learn next to nothing. As literature, the bible is a poor example but absolutely vital in understanding world history. It is the context in which the bible is to be studied that forms its historical importance and gives us reason to place it properly within public education curriculum and not its religious content. That belongs in theology class. My preference, then, is for its inclusion in comparative religions.

Some unthinking christian parents may assume that instruction in the religious teachings of the bible has a place in public education, in which case I expect these same parents will offer no resistance and actively support public funding for the teaching of content from other competing religions. I suspect I will be disappointed. To those who do think, I urge you to support courses in comparative religions and have faith that your son or daughter will come to make up his or her mind about whatever religious belief reveals itself to be the most sound theology. The risk, of course, is that young people may reject the whole kit and caboodle as nonsense and superstition, but if we want our kids to exercise critical thinking and come to own their beliefs honestly, then we are going to have to trust them to do so at some point. Why not arm them with the best information we can and let them apply their ability to compare and contrast in school; after all, isn’t that what learning is all about?


  1. I agree with you!

    Comment by 4amzgkids — February 21, 2010 @ 2:23 am | Reply

  2. I think there is a place for religion in school, but it should not be bible class, it should be religious studies and should cover a broad scope of religion, from it’s invention through to modern times – it should be secular in its teachings – i.e. without preaching, threats of going to hell and indoctrination – and the facts about religion should be taught – i.e. where it came from who wrote what and why.

    However, I doubt this would happen in reality – you would always get highly religious people trying to push children into faith through threats of hell – so it would need to be closely monitored and regulated.

    Religion is very dangerous in the wrong hands – that is one thing that is clear, both from history and modern events.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — February 21, 2010 @ 2:41 pm | Reply

    • It’s an interesting commentary that so many people I know who claim to be atheists almost all have no problem and in fact often support some kind of comparative religious study in public schools. If the believers are to be believed, these folk must be a highly unusual representation because apparently it is atheists as a single group who stop this from happening.

      Funny, that.

      Comment by tildeb — February 21, 2010 @ 3:05 pm | Reply

  3. Well I think it is a certain type of religious teaching – i.e. fact based, no praying, no silly rituals, no threats of hell and brimstone, no men in funny hats, no chanting, no eating sacrificial items or symbols, and the total unrestricted questioning and reasoning of faith, superstition and the supernatural.

    However, worship (i.e. the celebration of god) in schools – well that is a different matter, that should be banned today, I would not expect nor wish a school to teach allegiance to any one political party to any children, religion is the same thing.

    The issue arrives when the religious want to skew scientific facts with religious mumbo jumbo – that’s when religion crosses the line, and that is when atheists step in and successfully get court orders and prosecutions, to stop them – and rightfully so.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — February 21, 2010 @ 9:22 pm | Reply

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