Saturday, May 28

It's A Sin To Tell A Lie

David Gelernter in the LA Times: Why the Bible Belongs in America's Public Schools

I'm still unclear how the LAT wound up with a Yale computer professor writing op-ed pieces. Maybe his arguments are better in ASCII.

"Without knowing Scripture, kids can't understand literature or U.S. history," says the subhead. One might also ask how they're supposed to understand science while the same people pushing this stuff want them taught that the foundations of biology, geology, and astronomy are unsupportable guesswork.

The agenda isn't really hidden here. For one thing, it would be impossible to do so, and groups like the Bible Literacy Project feel empowered to openly promote religious training in schools these days anyway. Of course we get the standard disclaimers, and of course they are designed not to protect diversity or prevent trampling the Establishment Clause, but to see just how much Christianity they can force taxpayers to foot the bill for and still have a chance at winning court challenges.

"Because our public schools must not be used for preaching religion, they must teach the Bible purely as literature," writes Gelernter, in his one sop to Constitutionality. But both clauses are in error. Public monies can't be used to support an establishment of religion. That goes a long, long way beyond "not preaching". On the other hand, schools most assuredly can teach the Bible as something other than literature. They can teach it as the sacred text of Christianity, and they can teach the Old Testament as the foundation of Judaism, in comparative religion courses. What they cannot do is teach Christianity or Judaism, or Jainism or Zoroastriaism, or Shinto.

But without knowing the Bible, you can't begin to understand English literature or American history. And a recently published survey finds that American teenagers don't know the Bible well enough. (The study was commissioned by a group called the Bible Literacy Project, conducted by Gallup and funded by the John Templeton Foundation.)

We'll leave aside the idea that overtly Christian organizations should be the ones to decide what constitutes knowing the Bible "well enough", and we'll pass without comment the question of just how well most professed Christians know the Bible, because we're really fond of praeteritio. It goes without saying that the Bible has a great deal of relevance in the study of certain aspects, and certain works, of English literature, as do Greek mythology and paganism, for that matter. Can we really "not begin" to teach secondary students English lit without giving them a Bible study course first? I suggest that's why footnotes were invented. As for American history, first, I'd like to hear a defense of the Bible's importance that goes beyond catching a reference in Lincoln's "House Divided" speech or Truman's inaugural. Christianity, yes, is an important force in this country's identity. Knowledge of Bible stories is not. Second, the teaching of history in this country is generally a pathetic exercise in bowdlerized time wasting, and no amount of literary training is going to help students get much out of it beyond exposure to a few commonly agreed-upon myths.

Let's ask the question another way. Can students understand American history without a thorough familiarity with Hobbes' rejection of supernaturalism, of Hume's critique of miracles, of the Deist rejection of Christ? Can you "begin to know" American history by a familiarity with Bible tracts but without knowing why so many of the Founders were not Christian? Are we supposed to justify teaching the Biblical basis of Abolitionism, but not the Biblical basis of slavery?

I have no problem with the teaching of the Bible as literature, or the acknowledgment of its influence, provided what is taught is fair and accurate. I have to wonder how many Bible pushers feel the same. Do they really want an accurate portrayal of the Bible taught in public schools? Jesus' distain for wealth? Paul's distain for women? Abraham's pandering of Sarah, the destruction of Laish and Amalek (e.g.), the erotic poetry of Song of Songs? My guess is that it is religious people who are the most likely to be offended by such courses, who would, despite the insistence on their importance to basic understanding, scream loudest and longest if they weren't sufficiently coated with sugar.

Not surprisingly, for Gelernter the fault for this shocking lack of Biblical knowledge lies with familiar demons: activist judges who are hostile to religion, and the ACLU, which apparently is going around the country warning school districts that Biblical literature courses are unconstitutional. This worn-out partisanship has a tendency to undercut his argument. Or would, if he had one.


Anonymous said...

a few comments:

1) if you're going to teach the bible as literature, use the king james version. strong stuff. written during the time that shakespeare was writing, and i put his work and the kjv as #1 and #1a in english-language literature.

2) gelernter is jewish. why conservative jews wish to push the evangie agenda is beyond me; i'll wait for some suggestions below.

3) the unabomber tried to kill him with a bomb but maimed him terribly. it turned him into a moonbat.
i remember reading profile about him in usa today. the anger and hate from him came through strongly.
but to understand why is not to approve.

4) i can hear the commentary in left blogostan -- "why does kinsley give him space?"
why, dear blogostanis? to show what an ass he is.

Anonymous said...


These folks don't want the actual Bible taught in school. They want those Bible Stories books we had as kids. You know, those ones with all the white folks with beards holding big crooks and shepherding.

Having just read Genesis, Exodus and Matthew recently, I can tell you that these folks clearly haven't used their bibles for anything more than thumping lately.

Bora Zivkovic said...

It's not what is in the Bible but what THEY SAY is in the Bible:

Anonymous said...

The Good Book isn't a very good book, and America's greatest statesmen have always been Deists, haven't they?