January 27, 2006

Mixed feelings on the Bible in schools

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at January 27, 2006 6:45 PM

I totally don't know how to react to this NYT article: Democrats in 2 Southern States Push Bills on Bible Study

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26 — Democrats in Georgia and Alabama, borrowing an idea usually advanced by conservative Republicans, are promoting Bible classes in the public schools. Their Republican opponents are in turn denouncing them as "pharisees," a favorite term of liberals for politicians who exploit religion.

On the one hand, I don't have a problem with teaching the Bible from a secular standpoint in the context of its influence on Western literature, and if the article is accurate that's what these bills are proposing. I had a similar textbook my senior year at a public high school, although it wasn't the focus of the course, and it seemed like a worthwhile academic endeavour despite the fact that I had already developed my negative views of religion by that point. The fact is that a huge amount of literature contains Biblical references and it's important to understand them from a cultural literacy standpoint.

On the other hand, the Democrats pushing these bills are obviously pandering to theocratic Christians who want to see more state promotion of religion, and are just being clever by doing this in a constitutional way. Pandering to these sorts of people, or giving them any political influence at all, is bad on general principles. These bills themselves may be good policy, but if they're a big hit with the bible-thumpers I worry about what these legislators will do next.

On the third hand, Republican hypocrisy on this issue is completely hilarious:

"Their proposal makes them modern-day pharisees," State Senator Eric Johnson of Georgia, the Republican leader from Savannah, said in a statement. "This is election-year pandering using voters' deepest beliefs as a tool."

I know! Don't you hate it when politicians do that?
Saying he found "a little irony" in the fact that the Democratic sponsors had voted against a Republican proposal for a Bible course six years ago, Mr. Johnson added, "It should also be noted that the so-called Bible bill doesn't use the Bible as the textbook, and would allow teachers with no belief at all in the Bible to teach the course."

Johnson seems to believe that these are arguments against the bill, rather than reasons why it's within shouting distance of actually being constitutional.

Then it turns out that the origins of the textbook are slightly sketchy:

The textbook they endorse was the brainchild of Chuck Stetson, a New York investment manager and theologically conservative Episcopalian who says he was concerned about public ignorance of the Bible.


The textbook came to the attention of Democratic legislators in Alabama and Georgia through the advocacy of R. Randolph Brinson, a Republican and founder of the evangelical voter-registration group Redeem the Vote.

Mr. Brinson, who said he was working with legislators in other states as well, described his pitch to Democrats as, "Introducing this bill will show the evangelical world that they are not hostile to faith."

Some liberals are unhappy, however. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, argued that "The Bible and Its Influence" was "problematic" because it omitted "the bad and the ugly uses of the Bible," like the invocation of Scripture to justify racial segregation.

Timeo Danaos et dona ferentis.

Tags: Democrats, Politics, The Bible

Bah! We don't need no stinking textbooks! Just send the kids to Mason's Lego Bible Porn link. :D

Posted by: Justin | January 27, 2006 7:05 PM

I'd honestly be more interested in a course that studies, say, the Bhagavad-Gita or another minor religion in America. Or, even better, a general religion course. I think we covered some religion at NCCS, but I think it was in our anthropology class, which consisted of not so much learning as 45 minutes a day of reading aloud from a text. I'm not even joking. And everyone wonders why I bear grudges against Anthropology majors.

Posted by: Josh | January 27, 2006 9:32 PM

Justin: Excellent suggestion. In fact, Mason himself would make a good instructor for this course. Hey Mason, got any desire to move back to Georgia? :)

Josh: Oh, I totally agree: if I were in charge of public school curricula, there would definitely be some kind of comparative religion for high school students (maybe rolled into a history or current affairs course). And something I was thinking about but didn't put in the above post was that a full semester course seemed a bit much for the Bible as a literary influence; at NCHS we spent maybe a few weeks on this and it was a reasonable overview.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | January 27, 2006 9:39 PM

Hmmm, typically I was going to respond to this post anyway, but the prior responses certainly are going to change some of my phrasing.

First, in my 9th grade English class, we did read a couple stories that were based on the bible (beyond just having allusions and all that). The one that comes to mind was a pretty funny satire by Mark Twain called "Adam's Diary." Our assignment (and we had to choose to accept it) was to write a parody of that parody called "Eve's Diary". Mine was pretty funny, I have to say. This teacher was known to curse in class, so she appreciated my humor. (I had already been atheist for several years by this point, and I'm sure it occasionally showed in what I wrote.)

As for my teaching the bible, here's lesson #1: "A hotel room that contains two bibles is much better than those with one, as it allows you to prop open twice as many doors."

The lego bible porn is highly educational, though, and it even has nudity and violence ratings on all the stories so that you know which ones to look at first. Anyway, here's the link to my post on biblical lego porn.

As for returning to Georgia, the funny thing is that Georgia Tech is a sufficiently good fit for me academically that I would definitely consider going back if given the opportunity despite the fact that I didn't enjoy Atlanta. After all these years, my ambition still sometimes gets in the way of my happiness. I just can't help it. (Granted, if Maryland works out, then I won't have to consider them anyway because it's a better fit not only academically but in basically every respect. [[Crosses fingers]])

As for the teaching part, I think units on the bible as in literature are worthwhile. I don't think that necessarily has to have anything to do with religion, although I definitely see the temptations in that direction that might result. (Of course, it would also lead to spoilers for those of us who stopped at the old testament. "Don't spoil the ending, damnit!") I should say that that's where I was supposed to stop. I know I didn't read all that I was "supposed" to read. (I had a Bar Mitzvah to appease my parents even though it's all bullshit, so I read a bunch of stuff in the years leading up to that.)

Posted by: Mason | January 27, 2006 10:58 PM

First: Can we just let te south retroactily sucede from the union? As I and sure it amazing the southerners what passes for a republican up north (main socially liberal) It never ceases to amaze me what passes for a democrat down south.

As far as this course in concept its not a bad idea the bible is important in so far as it has had a profound affect on the world. But any course should poitn out both the good and bad effects.

That said I think comparative religon is a good course for all high school students to take. Especially since it applies to the would today and all its many conflicts. A few week should be spend on how religons are hyjacked in the name of war, torture, and injustice for all...

Posted by: shellock | January 30, 2006 6:58 AM

Oh, here's a story in case I've forgotten to relate it before. A couple of my mathematics colleagues (and staff members) at Georgia Tech would occasionally make references to "the War of Northern Aggression" (as they like to call it).

P.S. This particular comment includes no exaggerations.

Posted by: Mason | January 31, 2006 5:16 PM
Post a comment