Monday, March 19, 2007

LA TImes: We live in the land of biblical idiots

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-prothero14mar14,1,3102398.story
(The LA Times requires free registration to read the full article)
"...Biblical illiteracy is not just a religious problem. It is a civic problem with political consequences. How can citizens participate in biblically inflected debates on abortion, capital punishment or the environment without knowing something about the Bible? Because they lack biblical literacy, Americans are easily swayed by demagogues on the left or the right who claim — often incorrectly — that the Bible says this about war or that about homosexuality.

One solution to this civic problem is to teach Bible classes in public schools. By Bible classes I do not mean classes in which teachers tell students that Jesus loves them or that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, but academic courses that study the Bible's characters and stories as well as the afterlife of the Bible in literature and history. Last week, the Georgia Board of Education gave preliminary approval to two elective Bible courses designed to teach religion rather than preach religion. As long as teachers stick to the curriculum, this is a big step in the right direction. ..."

It's good to read well-reasoned arguments like this from prominent newspapers. I don't agree with all Prothero's assertions in the rest of the article, but I do concur that religious literacy is necessary to understand the forces that drive much of what is happening in the world today -- the good, as well as the bad.

7 comments:

Quotidian Grace said...

Here's another side to this story.

My daughters attended a public high school that had a lot of Hindus and Muslim students. Some of these kids who were their friends would come to our house and ask me to explain the Biblical references in their English literature classes. They had no background in the stories of the Bible, so it was very difficult for them to grasp the allusions that run through so much English literature.

Many "Christian" students are also woefully ignorant of the Bible, too. I would love to teach a Bible as Literature class in a public school. I think there is a great need for it--for a lot of reasons!

Denis Hancock said...

20 or so years ago I was in a Sunday School class with a history teacher at one of the area high schools.

He was bemoaning the fact that (at the time) no mention was made in the textbooks about the religious dimensions of the debate about Independence. Even mentioning it was considered an unwarranted intrusion of the religion into the classroom.

How can you teach people about the "Presbyterian Revolt" without mentioning religion?

Quotidian Grace said...

So true, Denis. Why is it we want to abridge our freedom of speech in the name of political correctness? I fear this kind of unthinking rigidity will be the death of our public schools.

Stushie said...

With the advent of the ipod & cell phones, people just don't want to read unless it's text-ed to them. It's not Biblical illiteracy, it's illiteracy in general.

And please don't blame it on the public schools - my teachers gave me text books - my parents ensured that I read them.

Denis Hancock said...

Thanks for the comments, Stushie. You have pointed out that this is more complex than simple Biblical illiteracy.

My son has a cell phone, but I somehow neglected to enable wireless internet and text messaging. [grin]. But that still doesn't stop him from using abbreviations in his writing.

When you and I were in grade school, it was a different world. Schools had a lot of religion built into the day, but that all changed when the Supreme Court started a process of defining the "Wall of Separation" which started as a good thing, but there are school systems out there that have chosen to define that as freedom FROM religion -- i.e. purging any and all religion from the schools. curricula and so forth. Since then, the Supreme Court has weighed in a time or two to mitigate the more egregious abuses, e.g. telling school systems that if they let some outside groups use school property after hours, then they cannot legitimately deny churches the same access.

It's not just the school systems, but they do share some of the responsibility for the state of education.

If I had to blame anything, it would be the tendency for schools to avoid religion, figuring that it would be easier than dealing with the ACLU or Americans for the Separation of Church and State.

I'm sure they wouldn't appreciate the comparison, but their reflexive reactions to any whiff of religion in the schools reminds me of the National Rifle Association's knee-jerk reaction to what I consider to be reasonable restrictions on the use of certain types of weapons or high-capacity magazines.

Denis Hancock said...

Actually, Stushie, your comments triggered a memory from a year and a half ago. There is a version of the Bible that is written using the abreviations typically used in texting. I had two posts on that back in October of 2005:

SMSBible -- which has a link to the software source

CNN.com - Bible group spreads word by SMS - Oct 6, 2005 -- This one has a broken link to the CNN article, with the first link goes to the source of the SMSBible.

Brother Martin said...

I would venture to add that one of the greatest perpetrators of Biblical illiteracy are churches themselves. It’s scary how some pastors in Evangelical churches have positioned themselves between their congregation and the Bible. What’s even scarier is that congregations let them get away with it. Come check out an article that I have written on the subject at www.twoinstitutions.org