Friday, August 19, 2005

Church and State

"Asking a biblical scholar if the Bible should be taught is like asking a chef if he likes to cook. I think students are well served to have familiarity with the Bible, and I think it's important to our cultural literacy. I also wish students got more exposure to the diversity of religions - in America and around the world. Now, more than ever, we need that."
Doctor Mark Chancey, biblical studies professor at Southern Methodist University's stance on Bible literacy courses in public schools.

Whether the Bible should be taught mightn't be the inflammatory issue it can be viewed to be. At the simplistic, it's simply an historical text, full of accounts, history, legend, and life lessons. As far as historical accuracy goes, it's a little off. Jericho didn't fall at the time listed in the Bible, but my history books have all been updated due to inaccuracies in the past. Why carp? It's not textually factual. Well, that's a matter of interpretation, don't you think? Is the Garden of Eden really being blocked by a flaming sword? Or is that flowery license to indicate that we're going to have to toil for our lives? Did Elijah really get swept to heaven in a flaming chariot? Did Jesus really miraculously get 5 loaves and 2 fishes to feed 5,000, or is it more like Stone Soup, where people started sharing what they had been hoarding? Who knows? As far as books go in Western Civilization, the Bible has had more impact than any other. Look at other significant documents used in schools, the Magna Carta, the Mayflower Compact, Homer's Odyssey (also a history book) - They are all documents that shaped western culture, to include American culture, over the last umpteen years. As far as that goes, logic would dictate that it's an important document as well, and thus should be included in curriculum.

The problem, as I see it, doesn't come from using the Bible as an historical document. that would be easily justifiable. The problem stems from the fact that it's not considered historical to contemporaries, rather, it's considered religious, something that the Odyssey is not. That's the difference. Were it possible in this country to include the Bible as a text, it would probably be OK. However, you can't bring the Bible into classrooms without the appearance or actuality of people preaching one religion over another. You bring the problem of different interpretation. You bring the problem of alienating non-Christian children. Like it or not, in this country, incorporating the Bible in school presents the image of favoritism of one religion over others. Our country has more or less adopted the doctrine of separation between Church and State. You can argue until you're blue in the face whether that should or should not be based on the writings of the founding fathers; I don't care. The fact remains that that is how we have run things.

Since that is the case, the possible solutions, as I see it are:
Teach the Bible in an elective class
Don't teach the Bible at all
Teach a world religion class that gives equal face time to (at least) the major religions, including, but not limited to Christianity, Judiasm, Muslim, Buddhism, Confuscianism, and Hinduism

I still think religion is a personal thing, and that it's ultimately up to the family to choose how and to what extent a child should be exposed to it. Religion isn't like Vitamin D, where you need to have the government provide milk at school to ensure there's enough. As such, I believe that it behooves us in this society at this time to refrain from providing Biblical studies in public schools.


Michelle said...

We have Bible studies in our public schools, just up until 7th grade. It just a basic Methodist teaching for 1 hr every week. Your child is not forced into going, parents are asked to make the choice. I am of a Methodist background myself, and i don't have the time for my daughter to attend Sunday School so opted for her to do it as i felt it at least provided her with some religous instruction :)

Cassie said...

That is so interesting. We are Methodist too. It's interesting that they would choose the Methodist denomination as the background for the teachings.

I think here in the US it's a mistake to even offer a Bible class in public schools. I think that a "religion" class like Steve mentioned would be fine, it's part of our culture and as long as it taught in an unbiased fashion and isn't mandatory, it would be ok. I think you're opening up a can of worms (and not the yummy gummy kind) by offering a class on the Bible by itself. We had an English teacher in High School who used the Bible as a piece of literature and studied the mythology and such that was in it. That's a little different. She also made that known to parents before it was presented in class. Kids are impressionable and if they really look up to a teacher they could take on certain ideas a teacher has. I would prefer my son to get his religious background from me and my church and I respect that parents who are Muslim or Hindu or any other religion might have the same wish.
PS this may be a little bit hard to follow but some short dude is yelling at me, seems he thinks he ought to eat. I'm a bit distracted. Off to the kitchen!

Michelle said...

Yes Cassie, i think Steve's idea is appropriate for the States.
I'm actually surprised that our system works as well as it does.
Just in relation to that, we had a number of schools scrap xmas celebrations....all that kind of thing because of religous differences. The Oz public stood up and said..."not good enough, we are the majority, it should stay", so it did. A few added other religon's into the celebrations.

Cassie said...

I know that there is no such thing as "Christmas" celebrations anymore in our local school districts. They are now "holiday" celebrations if they have any at all. The school parties are almost extinct here. I hate the fact that my son will not get to parade around in his halloween costume when he's in grade school or hand out valentine's day cards because someone might be offended. I am offended my mathematics, maybe they ought to quit teaching them! Seriously, the holiday celebrations in U.S. schools lost their religious meaning years ago. They serve as a break from the monotony, a little bit of fun to make school bearable for kids who don't like it and even the kids who do.

Bookworm said...

I took the "Bible as Literature" in college and, despite an abysmally bad teacher (this was, after all, one of the major American Universities), I still came away overwhelmed by the Bible's scope, beauty (we read the King James version) and wisdom. As someone immersed in British history and literature, I especially enjoyed the realization that so much that is beautiful in written English has its origin in the Bible.

Steve said...

One of the things that distinguishes your experience, Bookworm, is that you took the class in college, presumably as an elective, though if you attended a Baylor, SMU, Notre Dame type school it might have been mandatory. I think there is a lot that can be taken from the Bible. I believe it's an excellent source of morality, tells brilliant tales, and for those who don't follow judeo-christianity, it even provides excellent mythology as compared to their faith system.

The issue I have stems from having it as a mandatory course in a public school, either elementary or secondary. If you tell a kid at Harris County High School that they have to take a bible literacy class in order to graduate, then you are in effect showing governmental (the county government at the least) preference of one relegious set over all others. Like it or not, that detracts from others in a public setting.

I don't object to a Bible literacy class in general. I think that as an elective, it's a fine idea. I also don't object to a religions of the world class, as I think that would enlighten people as to different cultures. From my perspective, those are viable options, whereas a mandatory bible class in a public school is not.