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?

December 3, 2009

Should atheists be more humble?

From WEIT comes this answer:

Atheists have been “humble” for centuries (who was more humble than Spinoza?) and it hasn’t gotten us anywhere. It’s that crop of new atheist books that have finally created a climate in which atheists need not feel like pariahs. Like my confrères so maligned by Kristof, I think it’s time to try Mencken’s way:

The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous. Is it, perchance, cherished by persons who should know better? Then their folly should be brought out into the light of day, and exhibited there in all its hideousness until they flee from it, hiding their heads in shame.

True enough, even a superstitious man has certain inalienable rights. He has a right to harbor and indulge his imbecilities as long as he pleases, provided only he does not try to inflict them upon other men by force. He has a right to argue for them as eloquently as he can, in season and out of season. He has a right to teach them to his children. But certainly he has no right to be protected against the free criticism of those who do not hold them. He has no right to demand that they be treated as sacred. He has no right to preach them without challenge.

October 16, 2009

Why we are atheists – Review

Filed under: Atheism,Entertainment,Literature,Philosophy,Religion,Science — tildeb @ 12:18 pm

50 voices bookWow! A book about atheism and it’s not written by Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett or Harris! That might be how some people react given the media linking of atheism with these names.

So this book is welcome partly because it helps break that knee-jerk reaction. Atheism is far more widespread than that. But it’s also welcome because many of its contributors advance interesting ideas.

Read the review from Open Parachute here

October 1, 2009

The decline of the English Department

Filed under: Culture,Literature,Science — tildeb @ 2:03 pm

University and college enrollment figures:

English: from 7.6 percent of the majors to 3.9 percent
Foreign languages and literatures: from 2.5 percent to 1.3 percent
Philosophy and religious studies: from 0.9 percent to 0.7 percent
History: from 18.5 percent to 10.7 percent
Business: from 13.7 percent to 21.9 percent

Studying English taught us how to write and think better, and to make articulate many of the inchoate impulses and confusions of our post-adolescent minds. We began to see, as we had not before, how such books could shape and refine our thinking. We began to understand why generations of people coming before us had kept them in libraries and bookstores and in classes such as ours. There was, we got to know, a tradition, a historical culture, that had been assembled around these books. Shakespeare had indeed made a difference—to people before us, now to us, and forever to the language of English-speaking people.

At stake are the books themselves and what they can mean to the young. Yes, it is just a literary tradition. That’s all. But without such traditions, civil societies have no compass to guide them.

Read the entire article here.

If, as the earlier post indicates, our second chromosome contains the genetic makeup for understanding metaphor, and the main source of metaphor is literature, then the declining enrollment and reduction of English departments and staff carries with it a profound cost to the kind of wisdom explored within these texts that is a necessary foundation for learning how to pursue happiness – the enlightened kind. That is the compass, encoded within our genes and brought forth into action through understanding metaphor, without which we lose something fundamentally important to liberty and democracy.

September 28, 2009

Justice Theory

Filed under: Culture,Literature,Philosophy,Politics,Religion — tildeb @ 1:28 pm

Suppose three children—Anne, Bob, and Carla—quarrel over a flute. Anne says it’s hers because she’s the only one who knows how to play it. Bob counters that he’s the poorest and has no toys, so the flute would at least give him something to play with. Carla reminds Anne and Bob that she built the darn thing, and no sooner did she finish it than the other two started trying to take it away.

What is the most just resolution to this dispute?

From an article in The Chronicle about a new book by Amartya Sen, we are given yet another notion how to define what justice is – what it should look like in action.  “Reasoning,” writes Sen early on, “is a robust source of hope and confidence in a world darkened by murky deeds.” Indeed, I think it is the only source.

Blog at