This will end well

By Phil Plait | February 4, 2010 7:32 am

"Tennessee high schools will be getting guidelines from the state next fall on teaching the Bible as part of a secular curriculum".

Yes, it’s a comparative literature class. Yes, it’s legal. Yes, I would even approve of this… in theory. In practice?

Right. Read the title of this post again.

Still, in better news, you may remember the Mississippi anti-evolution bill I wrote about, submitted to the legislature there as an obvious wedge for creationism. Well, it died in committee, so the Magnolia State gets itself a reprieve. I’m glad; I didn’t have a "Mississippi: Doomed" graphic ready yet. But I’ll keep the draft waiting just in case.

Tip o’ the coming ACLU lawsuit to Fark.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Piece of mind, Religion

Comments (70)

  1. James H.

    You’re right about the in theory part. If this comparative religion class were truly that, it would give equal time to all religions, which would take quite a while really and could fill up an entire school year. More than likely it will end up favoring Christianity, and if it doesn’t, there will probably be a lot of parent complaints.

    It needs to be taught by someone who has no beliefs or biases toward any of the religions; a Jack Webb kind of “just the facts ma’am” person. I’d take that class, I’m really not that well versed in religions outside of Christianity(or even Christianity really). You don’t see many Jewish people in Texas, or Muslims or Hindus either. A class like this, taught correctly, would probably have the opposite effect of what the people who pushed for it wanted it to do: It will open minds to the idea that there are 4+ billion people on this planet, and not everyone thinks like you.

  2. Mandy

    Oklahoma is considering a similar bill: http://newsok.com/oklahoma-bill-would-protect-bible-class/article/3436973?custom_click=pod_headline_politics

    Just once I would like for my state to step aside from impending doomage and be a forward-thinking state. . .sigh.

  3. PlanetaryGear

    I had a class in high school called “the bible as literature” but besides making jokes with the teacher I can’t actually remember on what level we discussed any bible stuff… It certainly wasn’t masquerading as anything else and it probably helped to lay the foundations of who I am today in that it treated the bible as stories to discus rather than the immutable perfect word of god… Going through the bible as what it is, a bunch of stories, might really backfire on those thinking that it would somehow be a backdoor to teaching it as divine truth.

  4. My prediction for how this will play out: Most teachers will simply teach their classes about the literary structure of a few bible stories – no problem. A few however will try to abuse the law and use it to try to instill religious beliefs in their students. Of those some will get reported and quietly fired. Among the remainder, one or two will wind up somehow getting noticed by a parent who is not so happy to have a public school teacher acting as a religious instructor. The result will be lawsuit against the state eventually resulting in a repeal of the law or the passing of more laws to try and prevent abuse of the first. So, yes, it will end well…eventually.

    —————
    Don’t my word for it. I’m always Wrong.

  5. Strangely, I went to high school in the deep south but managed to avoid the whole creationism/biblical teaching nonsense.

    The closest we came to such things was studying a few passages from the Bible in a world literature class and the high point of that was listening to “Turn, turn, turn” by the Byrds.

  6. C’mon, we all agree that the bible isn’t science, but you can’t seriously argue that it isn’t literature.

  7. Don

    Texas might choose to teach from The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb. Illustrated and absolutely, detail by detail, an exact copy of selected in the Bible my Grammy gave me at birth. Lots of stuff in there that the students can appreciate more fully with illustration: incest (illustrated), killing of various sorts, lying, cheating, etc. Last evening I read Chapter 18, re the nuking of Soddom. The kids can get an idea of what God has in mind for men who lie with men from Chapter 18. They then could discuss why there is much less if any concern for women who lie with women. This would be a thoroughly biblical and thought provoking experience for the students. Lots and lots more deep questions raised in the Bible.

  8. Becca Stareyes

    I kind of hope that they play this one straight, with all the analysis of a good English class is brought to the Bible, complete with discussion of translation of literary works*, literary techniques, and so on — as well as use of Biblical allusion and retellings in other works**. You could also get a bit into Jewish and Roman history for context, and discussion of the apocrypha. Then if (when?) fundamentalist parents complain about the sacrilege of treating their holy book as a mere work of writing, you point to the course title and just smile.

    * How do you balance making it match the Hebrew/Greek/Latin as close as possible versus making it readable? And does something written in early-modern English like the King James translation lose meaning when read by a modern American compared to more recent translations — most people already can’t parse the difference between ‘thou’ and a singular ‘you’.

    ** Excerpts from Dante and Milton would be obvious choices here, as well as discussing what they took from the Bible versus what they made up versus what they took from popular beliefs of their time.

  9. @Matt Moore

    The concern is not whether or not it’s literature, but rather how it will be presented: as a discussion of literature vs. religious teaching.

  10. Cathy A

    I took a Bible class in college, not as a comparative literature class, but as a double knockout requirement for Core “theology/philosophy” and “multi-culturalism.” The course was titled, “The Bible in the Black Church.” It was one of the hardest classes I had, especially since it was crammed into 4 weeks, with class 3 hours a day, 5 days a week. (Wonderful irony in that the class was entirely white as well.) It was a good class, and we learned a lot, not just about religion, but about the petty arguments that have filled religious debates for millenia.

    That said, I do not believe I would have had the maturity level to appreciate it as a class in high school.

  11. Daffy

    I took a comparative religion class in college, taught be a Christian professor; the unintended consequence of that was I came out viewing ALL religions as equally silly. (Although I was quite taken with some Eastern philosophical thought.)

  12. This should be encouraged, even if it’s fraught with the possibility of misinterpretation and misuse and indoctrination.

    For better and for worse, the Bible has done more to shape Western thought and culture than any written work – *of course* it should be part of a high school curriculum.

  13. blf

    After reading the article, I’m not seeing much cause for concern. It would essentially be the same thing as several comparative religion courses you can take at any local Community College.

    “The state Board of Education approved the guidelines Thursday, implementing a 2008 state law calling for “non-sectarian, non-religious academic study of the Bible,” The (Nashville) Tennessean reported. The guidelines include a requirement that literature from other religions be available for students. Bible courses cannot be compulsory.”

    1) “Non-sectarian, non-religious” – So by law, you cannot preach the ONE TRUTH to your students while teaching this course. Some people might violate that but if they do they are breaking the law. School districts do not want the headache of a lawsuit so those teachers would be fired. Problem solved.

    2) “Literature from other religions be [made] available” — Comparative religion. So students will learn about everything (hopefully) under the sun with respect to religious beliefs. I’d think that at worst this would be a comparison between Christianity, Islam, and Judaism….but I would hope that it would also include various Native American tribal religions, pre-Christian European religions (Norse Mythology, Greek/Roman mythology, etc), and Eastern religions (Mithraism, Taoism, Buddhism, etc).

    3) “Cannot be compulsory” — And there you have it. You don’t want to take it? Don’t take it. Freedom of choice is a Good Thing ™.

    –blf

  14. Mark

    The last quote in the linked article sums it up well: “Whether these classes are constitutional depends on who teaches them and how they are taught. The devil is in the details.”

  15. @ Don:

    The kids can get an idea of what God has in mind for men who lie with men from Chapter 18.

    Many, if not most, serious biblical scholars consider the story of Sodom and Gomorrah a lesson in hospitality toward strangers, not men on men sex.

    In either case, it’s a pretty wigged out tale.

  16. Chris

    I went to Catholic school so I had all the religious classes. One good thing they did do is take a critical evaluation of the Bible. They didn’t do the rattling off verses you see with televangelists. They did point out the parts that contradicted each other. We joked that someone should have proofread the Bible. Western literature has been influenced by the Bible for centuries. The authors always seemed to have some hidden religious meaning in poetry or books. I can’t think of any now since it’s been over a decade, but I do think the students should have a historical context to put the book into and in that regard teaching the Bible can be a good thing. However if the teachers try converting students or haven’t done intense study (they’ll probably think they’re an expert because they go to church every week) then this can get very bad.

  17. StevoR

    @ 15. kuhnigget Says:

    @ Don: The kids can get an idea of what God has in mind for men who lie with men from Chapter 18. Many, if not most, serious biblical scholars consider the story of Sodom and Gomorrah a lesson in hospitality toward strangers, not men on men sex. In either case, it’s a pretty wigged out tale.

    & what followed with Lot and his daughters after they’d escaped Sodom was pretty weird and freaked out too! ;-)

    I suggest reading the fascinating and imaginative recreation of that & some other strange & little known Bible tales in a book called ‘The Harlot on the Side of the Road – Forbidden Tales of the Bible’ by Jonathon Kirsch if you can find a copy somewhere. Really.

    See : http://www.jonathankirsch.com/books.html & scroll down.

    Or via Amazon :

    http://www.amazon.com/Harlot-Side-Road-Jonathan-Kirsch/dp/0345418824/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1265299752&sr=8-1

  18. Daffy

    Chris, that was exactly my trouble with the Bible: that the God who created the entire universe can’t write a simple, unambiguous , declarative sentence. Huh?!?!

  19. I have no problem with that new Tennessee experiment. As some have already said, it wouldn’t be the first time an academic bible study course was offered, and most of the time no one really cares.

    As long as they don’t actually bring the preachers in to have sermons or put questions like “Is Jesus your savior?” on the final exams, I think a lot of people make too much of religion in the classrooms. Whatever they do, they definitely need to inform the parents BEFORE they do it, at the very least.

    I myself first read the Bible cover to cover in high school. Pretty much right after that I became an Atheist. :)

  20. bigjohn756

    This could have a very good effect if they actually read the entire Bible. Just imagine how shocked and dismayed most of the students would be when they found out what it really says.

  21. Pi-needles

    So lesse .. *This* could make for an interesting class discussion :

    Compare the following Biblical lines

    “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live!”

    *Versus*

    “Thou shalt not kill!”

    So … If you do catch a witch (no doubt by seeing if she weighs the same as a duck!) just what *are* you supposed to do with her?! Its forbidden to kill her but also verboten to NOT kill her! ;-)

  22. Lawrence

    Why just the Bible? I’m confused as to why it wouldn’t (in the title) include the other major religious works – such as the Quran.

    It worries me that this is just another way to backdoor religious teaching into public schools.

  23. Calli Arcale

    This sounds very intriguing. Many public schools have shied away from teaching the Bible in any sort of class (with the exception of the ones insane enough to think it belongs in science class), out of fear of raising controversy, with most comparative religion courses sticking to religions which are nice and safe and non-controversial because they are *dead* and completely unrelated to the “Abrahamic” faiths.

    That’s sad, because if nowhere else, it really belongs in a literature class. Like it or not, believe in it or not, it is part of our literary canon in the West. It informs a great deal of our literature, at least as much as Homer and Virgil, and probably more. It should be taught alongside the other ancient classics, as doing so would greatly increase students’ understanding of many more recent works — for instance, the works of William Shakespeare. Time is finite, of course, so there will be a limit to how much can be taught. It would be ridiculous to devote an entire semester to it at the high school level (though mind you, I did take an elective semester-length course on Shakespeare in high school, but then, that’s Shakespeare!) but depending on the focus of the course, one could have students perform literary analysis on certain excerpts. The psalms are especially worth studying, as they are the most easily accessed example of ancient Hebrew poetic forms, and as they are so heavily quoted throughout the canon.

    James H @ 1:

    You’re right about the in theory part. If this comparative religion class were truly that, it would give equal time to all religions, which would take quite a while really and could fill up an entire school year.

    It would be absurd to try to cover all religions that exist. For one thing, you can wind up in the same bind as media who try to cover “both sides” of the controversy — the principle of false equivalence. More interesting, in my opinion, would be to pick some set of religions which are related to one another and explore how they influenced one another. However, this may be too controversial for a public school. What would be really interesting would be to study the sort of religious web that extends from the eastern Mediterranean through the Mideast and into Asia (driven by conquest and trade). There is so much interaction, and so much *history* which can be understood through that religious/cultural interaction that it is utterly fascinating. Still, I’m sure there are many Christians (and probably also Muslims) who would find it offensive to remind them of where many of their sacred cows originated.

  24. @ Bigjohn756 (and other posters):

    Yeah, you’d probably see the bible-as-literal-truth brigade up in arms because one of their own wasn’t there to properly “interpret” the words themselves.

    I guess that’s why the Bible has been as successful as it has…one can read into it just about anything you want. Oh, that and the sword. And cannonball. And, sadly, high powered rifle sites. :D

    @ pineedles:

    Compare the following Biblical lines …

    I believe the standard explanation for that apparent contradiction is the misinterpretation of “thou shalt not kill”, which in modern terms should be translated more like “thou shalt not murder (one of your own).” That’s the handy loophole that allows mass murder of your enemy — defined as needed — while leaving the door open for righteous indignation where appropriate.

  25. Michel

    Religion has no place whatsoever in schools.

  26. Em

    The Bible was only discussed in a history class once while I was in school. It was counted as a sort of historical reference, but that was in that certain stories from it closely resembled those from other religious texts so my teacher said that there was a chance that something of that nature happened. But she also said that just because there were many accounts of such a thing happening, doesn’t mean it is true.

  27. BJN

    If classes indeed taught what’s known about the origin of biblical stories by scholarly research, including their historic context and how the Bible borrows from other cultural mythology, I think the people who want the Bible in schools would be up in arms. The more someone really knows about the Bible, the less they can reasonably consider it the unerrant and literal “word of God.”

  28. @ Todd W.

    It’s a class on comparative literature. I propose we take this at face value until proven otherwise.

  29. We need to pass a federal law to the effect that legislators can’t keep wasting people’s time and tax dollars attempting to introduce their religion into public schools.

    Start putting people in jail for this nonsense. Call it child endangerment or something.

  30. @ Michel

    Religion has no place in (public) schools, sure. But a class about the bible doesn’t have to be about religion since the bible is, in the end, just a book.

  31. Flying sardines

    My favourite essay on the Bible which I’d recommend as ideal supplemental reading here would be Isaac Asimov’s ‘Lost in Non-translation’ which points out how we totally misunderstand the Bible because of context. For instance, how today we mistranslate “Samaritan” as naturally meaning “good” when to Jesus’es contemporaries they were seen as a dispicable group of weirdos (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samaritan) and similarly why the “Moabite” ancestry of Ruth means nothing to us but would have made her a shunned outcast to the Israelites of the day. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moabites) It was simply brilliant – but I can’t find an online source for it, sorry.

    Thinking of the potential uses & misuses of the Bible reminds me of this :

    ***

    Actually, that reminds me of that well-known (true) tale of the man who wanted to ascertain God’s will for his life, so he decided to open his New Testament at random and apply whatever verse appeared. The passage selected read, “The Lord rebuke you” (Jude 1:9). Shaken, he decided to start over. This time it read: “Then he went away and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:5). And trying once more, he got, “Now go and do the same” (Luke 10:37). ;-)

    ****

    Which I found on the “slacktivist” blog deconstructing the dreadfullness of the apocalpyptic ‘Left Behind’ books :

    http://slacktivist.typepad.com/slacktivist/left_behind/

    (That’s there site link – the story here was in the comments on one of the articles … somewhere!)

  32. Religion has no place whatsoever in schools.

    If you want to produce stupid students, I would agree.

  33. Katharine

    Doug, I think what they’re talking about is ‘religion should not be seen to influence the curriculum. It should be mentioned in the context of history and its influences on the world, but it should not be foisted on students.’

  34. Katharine

    Also, we all know Mississippi is the worst state in the Union in most ways, amirite?

  35. Michel

    @Matt Moore
    Nobody will teach/indoctrinate my kids.
    Not on the bible, the koran or whatever.
    Religious people want freedom of religion. Fine. But I kinda want my freedom of those kinda religions. I leave “you” (religious people) in peace, so I simply only just DEMAND that they leave me in peace.

    Thank you very much.

  36. Michel

    @Matt Moore
    Oh, ok, just talking about those kinda books as some old books, like a lot of books are discussed. Fine.

  37. Jason

    Teach the Bible, fine. Now imagine the uproar if they had insisted upon teaching the Quran as part of literature. It is the same after all, it is a piece of literature that has greatly influenced not only our society but other socities around the world.

  38. Melora

    Personally, I think it’s fine to teach religious texts in public schools, as long as they’re only taught in elective courses to older students, which the Tenn. law seems to cover. Students that elect to take a religion or comp. lit. course obviously have an interest in that area, and hey, you can’t fight what you don’t know, so let kids learn how ridiculous religion is for themselves! Most teenagers have the intelligence to understand fact from fiction and science from literature.

    On another note, I think I may understand why this law explicitly addresses the use of the Bible.

    A few months ago a charter school in Idaho was told their charter would be revoked if they taught the Bible in a (most likely) religion course. The students would also be reading “the Koran, the Book or Mormon, Confucianism, Hinduism, the Epic of Gilgamesh, ancient Egyptian religions, Hesiod Theogony Works and Days (Greek gods), the Code of Hammurabi (Babylonian), Assyrian religion, Roman gods, Eastern religions, Mesopotamian religion, etc.”
    For whatever reason only the Bible was cited as the only offending text, even though the state constitution banned ALL religious (and bizarrely, all political) papers, documents, or books from being used in class.

    School administrators will arbitrarily interpret the law as it suits them (the school district that recently banned the dictionary, for instance), so sometimes you need to be explicit in the law. At my college, we used to call it law-writing for dummies.

    P.S. The article about the Idaho school is here:
    http://www.idahostatesman.com/118/story/884724.html

  39. Annalee Flower Horne

    I took a comparative religion course when I was a student at a public high school. All of us were perfectly mature enough to handle the subject matter, at least in the manner that it was presented to us by the teacher.

    It was an upper-level elective with a hard and fast rule against proselytizing. We studied the world’s biggest religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, along with other notable religions and spin-offs. We focused on history, core beliefs, holy texts, current geographic spread and influence, and any relevant current events.

    Personally, I learned a lot from that. It prepared me to better understand the people I live and work with every day, and provided me with a better context through which to understand current events.

    A class like this needs a good teacher, backed by a good administration willing to make and enforce anti-bullying rules. But while it’s a given that it’s a hot button that needs to be handled carefully, I don’t think it’s necessarily a third rail.

  40. harknights

    I’ve been thinking about this. If everyone at the school goes to the same church then this class will be bible study during the week.

    …but…

    If the kids go to different churches it will be impossible to avoid differences. first it will start “What do you mean all christians don’t believe the same thing? Then what do you mean all baptists don’t believe the same thing? Then did you know everyone at our church doesn’t beleive the same thing?”

    Becareful what you wish for Tennesse…you might get it.

  41. Michel

    Ok. You guys know the dutch word “apartheid”.
    Well in The Netherlands to this day we have what we call “verzuiling”.
    Look it up and learn.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pillarisation

    Works fine. You go to your school and I´ll go to mine.
    Same goes for shopping, football (not handegg) clubs, political parties, public broadcast etc.
    Everybody gets his own.
    Which brings us to another popular dutch word: tolerantie (tolerance).

    Dutch tolerance is based on this.

    You do your thing and I will not speak with you as long as you don´t speak to me and let me do my thing.
    Works.

  42. Scott B

    As long as it’s a non-compulsory course that looks at the Bible as an influential work of western literature, I have no issues. Could be an interesting course and would probably have the opposite impact the people trying to push religion into school would want. A view on how the “word of God” was put together, how it has changed over the years, the impacts on changing views on history, and how separate denominations interpret things differently would be enlightening.

  43. Actually, I would endorse mandatory teaching of religion in school, as many as possible…. if it was also mandatory to teach critical thinking and use passages from holy books as examples of failures of critical thinking.

    Somehow I don’t think that would go down well with the Religious Right.

  44. Michel

    @Will
    That was the teaching my parents gave me. No need for the school to do that.

  45. @Michel:
    Mine too, and my Mom was Catholic. (she’s better now)

    Unfortunately you and I are in the minority. This is why Intelligent design is not only believed in, but widely enough for our political leaders to have it and for people to be even considering it for our schools. It is why people distrust science. It’s why homeopathy exists. It’s why people believe the illogic of climate deniers without having the skills to figure out for themselves that it’s bogus.

    Critical thinking NEEDS to be mandatory. Unfortunately because it immediately leads to people rejecting things like goofy superstition and untenable but politically advantageous scientific ideas, it gets labeled as anti-religious or anti-American behavior and people think you have an intolerant or politically driven agenda. You can’t just tell the truth. People see it as bias whenever the truth deviates from what they believe.

  46. John Varsik

    I had a unit on world religions in senior honors English in high school.
    I still remember doing a paper on Zoroastrianism. I seem to remember
    that there was a rule that the paper had to be about a religion that
    was not one’s own, and I think we were assigned the subjects..
    Our teacher would have said that every cultured and educated person
    should know something about the major religions of the world. I agree.

  47. Justin

    I went to a public high school in the Baton Rouge, LA area, and I can’t recall running into any religious influence in the curriculum. We learned about evolution too!

    In my Honors World History class, we spent about a week discussing the similarities between the three “Abrahamic” religions in a completely secular manner. I think that was the most interesting part of the class.

  48. Darth Robo

    Why only the Bible? Where’s the rest of the religions? Then this can be legal.

  49. jh

    I’m from Tennessee.

    This is all predicated on a county that has multiple times gotten its wrist slapped for violations of the separation of Church and State. (Hi Wilson County!)

    I promise you, if this is allowed, it will turn into precisely what Phil is afraid it will.

    Students will “be allowed the choice to be religious on their own accord”, and since the school is not enforcing it, then it’ll just be religious education in public schools.

    Let me put it this way, a coworker who home schools their kids because of the lack of religion in schools is more than overjoyed at this decision.

  50. !AstralProjectile

    41. handegg: LOL! I’ve been looking for that term all my life.

  51. jh: “Let me put it this way, a coworker who home schools their kids because of the lack of religion in schools is more than overjoyed at this decision.”

    That bothers me more than anything else said here. Of course, I could be paranoid.

    On the other hand, maybe I don’t have enough tin foil.

  52. Steve in Dublin

    It will open minds to the idea that there are 4+ billion people on this planet, and not everyone thinks like you.

    Dude. Reality check. The rest of your post is absolutely spot on, but get with the programme on your stats. The last time the global population was at 4 billion was probably sometime in the late 60′s. We’re at 6.8 billion now, and counting.

    This is the future calling. We’d like to have our planet back, before it was overrun by humanity.

  53. I doubt it will end well. There are too many people in this country that view the bible as “the word of god”. This is just asking for trouble. Just imagine what would happen if a religious teacher has to use the bible in a comparative literature class.

  54. TheBlackCat

    Ok. You guys know the dutch word “apartheid”.
    Well in The Netherlands to this day we have what we call “verzuiling”.
    Look it up and learn.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pillarisation

    Works fine. You go to your school and I´ll go to mine.
    Same goes for shopping, football (not handegg) clubs, political parties, public broadcast etc.
    Everybody gets his own.

    To which I say:

    We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.
    Brown v. Board of Education, Unanimous opinion

    I agree with the assessment. “Separate but equal” is a contradiction. The very act of separating groups like this necessary implies one group of people ostracizing another group.

    Dutch tolerance is based on this.

    You do your thing and I will not speak with you as long as you don´t speak to me and let me do my thing.
    Works.

    At least according to your link, people practically have no contact except with like-minded people. That isn’t tolerance, that is the most extreme form of intolerence. You refuse to even associate with people who are different from you. You go to different schools, have different banks, organizations, sports teams. Everyone who doesn’t agree with your view is ostracized completely from these institutions. And anyone who can’t fit into one of the groups either is out of luck entirely or has to work within a group that does not represent them.

  55. What I always find funny/disturbing is that in these comparative religion classes, they snicker and make fun of the other religions for being so outlandish, but the bible stuff is true dosh gone it and just lap it up, not in the slightest realizing that it’s all the same BS recycled with a different dust cover.

  56. Jessica

    We read parts of Genesis in my 9th grade English class, along with the Oddessey, etc (come to think of it, most of that stuff wasn’t written in English). We discussed it like any other mythology literature, and there were students in the class from all different religious backgrounds. It worked out well. But then, this was a private school.

  57. quasidog

    Fictional or not, It’s all information, and there seems like a whole lot of censoring going on here. It’s still one of the finest pieces of literature known to man .. whether you believe in it or not.

  58. TheBlackCat

    We had a course with a comparative religion component in my high school. It was a mandatory freshman course. I am pretty sure we also had the rule that we couldn’t do our own religion, and we were assigned to groups randomly (I think we drew numbers from a basket, specifically). Each group had to learn all about the history and beliefs of the religion and do a presentation on it to the rest of the class. I had Buddhism, if I recall correctly.

    I am not actually sure what the religious beliefs of my teacher were, if any. He seemed pretty much neutral on the subject in the class. The actual point of the class, however, was to teach you skills necessary for studying, learning, assessing information, making decisions, and so on, so I suspect the point of the religion bit was to make people look at and understand the beliefs of others and see how others view your beliefs.

    This is what I would consider a best-case scenario for religious education, and as such would cause a riot in most parts of the U.S. Most parents don’t like their kids being exposed to different ideas or want them being forced to actually think for themselves, but those sorts of parents would never have sent their kids to my high school in the first place (it is a public school, but a “magnet” program).

  59. La Plume de ma Tante

    Thing is that kids who don’t know their Bible are at a serious disadvantage when it comes to studying literature. The Bible is a cultural touchstone of great significance in Western literature for justifiable reasons – and understanding it as a source of literary allusion is very important if one wants to study cultural products like film, drama, poetry, novels, music, etc. I appreciate this kind of study isn’t generally regarded with great import by many skeptics, but not everyone wants to study physics. In fact, it was my own arts education, with it’s emphasis on critical approaches to literature and other cultural products that led me to skepticism in the first place, mostly as a reaction to the postmodernism and cultural relativism that my university education tried to persuade me to value.

  60. Grand Lunar

    I suppose I could approve of this ONLY if other religious texts were included as well.

    I imagine this is a sort of back door for religion to work it’s way into public schools, though.

    In which case, I wonder if I can suggest “Lord of the Rings” in place of the bible.

    Or better yet, “Death from the Skies”.

  61. Sean

    @6

    Most literature doesn’t have chapters for things the audience isn’t supposed to do or threaten their readers on a regular basis. I’d consider Gilgamesh literature because there’s a single narrative story(well of the threaded translations we’ve had to combine) on it’s lonesome.

    That being said a basic understanding of the mythology of the Bible is required for a proper understanding of most pre-20th century poetry. There are a few poems from the 19th century that just sound like the writer asking to be raped/killed until you realize he’s talking about organized religion. But the Bible itself isn’t the only reference for Poetry, you’d have to read Gilgamesh, have a firm understanding of Roman History, have firm knowledge of Greek(and maybe Norse) mythology and private cults.

    The bible has it’s uses in law school though in order to argue constitutionality in front of a jury of hostile believers, the course could teach proper rhetoric in the hardest audience ever or accepting that sometimes it’s alright to take up a lost cause(the case, not the larger action).

  62. Dave

    I don’t think any sort of class that analyzes religious text should be brought into schooling. First off, it’s probobly only going to serve as some sort of mockery to religion, or, it’s going to force religion on the kids. That’s going to depend on the teacher. I think if teachers should just be allowed to bring any Bibilical information into classes as they wish, maybe compare it to things, ect… Things that keep a nuetral outlook. But don’t set up environments for any extremes. That even goes for evolution. Let’s teach it, but not force it. Actually that’s how all teaching should be, but…

    And the bible wasn’t written by God per say. It was interpretted from God by humans. So if everything in it doesn’t make sense, which most does depending on how you interpret it, that’s really becuase humans don’t completely make sense.

    Plus, I would imagine if God wrote a book we wouldn’t even be able to understand it. I mean, I’d imagine God knows a lot, and has thinking far beyond ours.

    But in the end let’s just keep Religion and State seperate….

  63. Slowly But Surly

    Unless there’s something fishy in the guidelines, this way overblown.

    A friend of mine took a “The Bible as Literature” in college about 20 years ago. The idea is to study the Bible just like The Iliad or any other ancient text. Should we be up in arms that our children are learning about ancient Greek texts as a way to push polytheist agenda?

  64. quasidog: It’s still one of the finest pieces of literature known to man .. whether you believe in it or not.

    No clear plot; one-dimensional characters; glaring continuity issues…

    Finest pieces of literature known to man? Which man? Tell me so I may avoid this moron.

  65. quasidog

    @ultraholland … um. ?
    No clear plot ? so …. (actually I sure the plot is about God or something vauge like that )
    One dimentional characters ? ….. not the way I read it. And it depends which character and writer you are talking about. continuity issues ? .. ?? what ? … depending on your point of view you can say that about so many other ancient texts. From a studious standpoint … it’s a book worth studying like any other. I smell bible hate.

    Even if those points were true…. who cares … Its old text, it full of poetry, it gives us insight into how people wrote years ago .. just like other texts from years ago ..

    … maybe you missed the point where I said .. whether its ‘fictional or not’.

  66. @quasidog: You must have the new “Modern edited” version. The only “plot” in the book is the vague (yes.. vague) notion of doing what the author (supposedly God) says. It was written by several people inspired by God, so we have chapters that duplicate each other and say things slightly differently, sometime they contradict each other (eg Genesis) making it hard to follow the story, but that’s okay because there isn’t much of a story.

    All of the characters in the book are either good or evil. There is no conflict in them unless it is to arbitrarily make a point, (this point being made with a sledgehammer) and then it is discarded. This is made more difficult because it is hard to relate to “good” characters who keep slaves and kill those who don’t believe in God and “evil” characters who just want to be left alone and do their own thing. It’s clear what the author thinks about them, but since there is no explanation WHY the author makes his judgments of good and evil, the reader is left with just a “do as you’re told” plot point with no independent way of verifying what “good” and “evil” really are and making it difficult to always do one and never do the other. It makes the actions of the characters seem without any ultimate goals, except the arbitrary one of “do as you’re told”.

    All in all, I found it muddled, contradictory and lacking in any real intrigue or mystery, except the rather impossible task of figuring out what point the author was trying to make.

    And it doesn’t give us insight into how people wrote years ago. It gives us insight into how religious nut-jobs wrote nine centuries ago. As a tool for archaeology and history, it’s not bad, although there are many more manuscripts of the time that explain what people were doing and thinking, and some of those were official documents and economic records that give us more information in an easier to digest form.

    As a work of fictional literature, it is below average. It isn’t even very original, since most of the events that supposedly happen in the book are found in earlier works with the names and places changed, so it gets few points for originality, continuity, clarity, and overall quality. If it wasn’t a holy book, it wouldn’t be on anyone’s “best seller” list.

  67. quasidog

    @Will .. well its not a Novel. It’s old writing. Your comment comes across as a typically dismissive anti-bible cliche. Thats a real superficial review of a very deep collection of stories, proverbs and poetry. I can’t see why any of your points would make me want to study it less than any other ancient writings, like the Koran or the works of Josephus. I smell more bible hate.

    ‘And it doesn’t give us insight into how people wrote years ago.’ .. it doesn’t? huh?

  68. quasidog: You seem to smell Bible hate everywhere. It’s Bible indifference you’re smelling. I read a book. I didn’t get it. What’s hateful about that? It’s a work of fiction, and it’s a below average work of fiction. I have books in my library that are worse, and I like them, so I don’t see this “hate” you’re talking about. My only point is that without it’s status as a holy book of the most popular religion in Europe (after they killed or imprisoned all those who didn’t convert of course) it would not even be considered for “best seller” status. That’s not hate either. That is a rational assessment.

    If you want to study the culture that lived at the time, there are far more insightful works out there that archaeologists have recovered that talk about people who actually left evidence of their existence behind and not just about what was at the time simply an unpopular cult. In fact we get more and more reliable information about early Christianity from sources other than the Bible.

  69. quasidog
  70. gameshowhost
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