Friday, December 06, 2013

The Bible in school? I'm fine with that...

Amanda Marcotte offers a good article about the various deceptive ways fundamentalist Christians assume what I call the "false underdog" position. I was with her until she reached this point:
The owner of Hobby Lobby has spent a fortune trying to get Bible study into public classrooms. He thinks by making it an “elective” course, that creates enough cover, but the Constitution is clear that the government cannot endorse any religion. Having a Bible study course is a clear endorsement of religion, something conservatives would immediately grasp if a school tried to start a Koran study course. But part of the religious right’s new definition of “religious freedom” is the belief that conservative Christianity is special and that its followers are entitled to foist their religion on people in ways no other religious believers get to do.
There's nothing offensive about the notion of an elective course in which students learn about the Bible and/or the Koran.

When I was in high school, I took an elective class in comparative religion. This course immersed students in the scriptures, art and practices of Jews, Christians, Hindus and Buddhists. I will always be grateful for that introduction to the Upanishads and various Mahayana texts. (The teacher, Mr. Friedman, ignored Islam. When asked why he did not include that religion, he would make a sound like a mistuned cello.)

The New Testament is an extremely important literary and historical artifact and deserves to be studied as such. I'd like to see our schoolchildren receive some hint of what actual scholars say about that collection of documents. This background might help young people avoid certain pitfalls.

When the topic turns to the NT, dimwits of two major types tend to commandeer the debate:

1. The fundamentalist ninnies who insist that the NT is inerrant.

2. The smirky, ill-educated atheists who, with jackass self-assurance, love to tell you that "scholars" believe that Jesus was a mythical personage.

In fact, scholars believe no such thing.

(And no, this position does not mean that academia accepts everything in the NT as true. Most scholars agree that Appolonius of Tyana was a real person, but I doubt that any university professor buys that yarn in which Appy fights a vampire.)

See my earlier post on the topic here; you may also want to go here and scroll down. Better still, read Bart Ehrman's book, Did Jesus Exist?.

I have no problem with the idea of kids taking an elective course on the Bible -- as long as that course is objective and scholarly. The class I have in mind would probably make the owner of Hobby Lobby cringe.

A high school class on the Koran also strikes me as a fine idea. But if it were done right, it might make many followers of Islam feel uncomfortable and angry.


Stephen Morgan said...

I went to a primary school that had us sing hymns in the mornings. Lord of the Dance, All Things Bright and Beautiful, Yesterday, Roll Out the Barrel, Alexander's Ragtime Band, and such. OK, not always hymns. I certainly remember a hymn-book, though. That wasn't a religious school, mind. My secondary school was Church of England, but had no hymns. It did have a Religious Education class, but all I can remember about it is that the lad who sat next to me cheated off me and got in trouble when I forgot what a yamulke was called and he ended up shouting out "Jew hat".

So I'm inclined to be totally indifferent to religious education. And, for that matter, to both religion and education.

If you want to reform education, ban homework. Start the day later. Give free milk to children, a pinta day. Teach them memory techniques. Reintroduce grammar schools. All things proven to have a positive effect on education and social mobility, unlike religious education.

Anonymous said...

Great point of view! Give the people knowledge and let them decide what to believe. It's far better than having a narrow-minded teacher force-feed vulnerable minds with a singular point of view. Too many "religious" teachers of doctrine seem afraid that their god can not inspire wisdom and understanding to a person seeking truth.

Gus said...

I disagree with your position on the historicity of Jesus, and I've read the Ehrman book (as well as at least one other of his books). I have a degree in Religious Studies, though I don't consider myself a scholar (I was very much wanting to be one when I got that degree). However, you are correct that the majority of scholars accepts the historicity of Jesus......his divinity, as you've pointed out before, being a totally different subject. In any case, I'm not going to challenge you on it, because I certainly can't convince you that he wasn't a real person, and this isn't really the forum to attempt it (and I am not convinced one way or the other anyway....I don't think it's possible to know for certain one way or the other).

However, I totally agree that teaching a comparative religion class in public school would actually be beneficial to the students. I just don't think you can have a strictly Bible focused class, as that would be favoring one religion over others, which would seem to violate the separation of church and state. An overview of all the most popular ones though, would seem to me to be a very sensible addition to a young child's education, since they have had such a profound affect on history (and it's hard to understand history without understanding religion). Of course, fundamentalists who want an elective bible study course in schools would not approve of the kind of class I have in mind, either.

stickler said...

Ah, there's the rub. Who teaches the class on religion? Who can be dispassionate and objective?

Somehow, I suspect that a teacher I might recommend would not be satisfactory to Mr. Hobby Lobby.

Anonymous said...

i like your point of view and i share your point of view.. however everyone nowadays seems to have an agenda and knowledge for knowledge's sake is not all that popular!

Anonymous said...

a comparative religion class would be great for anyone interested.. just being focused on one of the holy books seems restrictive!

joseph said...

1. The problem with teaching comparative religion is that you can't get involved with the historical accuracy of any religion without getting into trouble. Forget the questions about Jesus, there was no Garden of Eden, there was no Flood and there was no Exodus from Egypt. Any teacher pointing those obvious historical facts would get flak from somebody.
2. Teaching philosophical underpinnings, on the other hand, would seem to have a great deal of benefit. To teach things like the Catholic ideas of social justice and the Encyclicals of Leo XV and Pius the XI (who, by the way, I find way more interesting that Pius XII) might help young students understand what ethics is all about.

Joseph Cannon said...

joseph, as I recall, Mr. Friedman got past the questions of historical accuracy by approaching each religion from the standpoint of a die-hard adherent. When we learned about Hinduism, we WERE Hindus, for at least that one hour each day. So the story of the Mahabarata was told as if the events were unquestionably historical.

That's one way to go about it.

Stephen Morgan said...

Of course there was an Exodus and a Flood. Ok, maybe not exactly as in the Bible, but still.

Wooley's excavations at Ur found a layer of sediment several feet thick above the layer of the El-Ubaid culture.

And the Exodus probably happened too, although the links between orthodox Christian/Jewish Psalms and the prayer the sun of Akhenaten could, on their own, be coincidental.