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Comments

Erin

Do public schools not already teach world religions? If not, then they should. I believe many Christian and homeschools already do. Learning about other worldviews is big part of what it means to be educated. Frankly, I find it fascinating to discover how peoples' perspectives on EVERYTHING in life stem from what they believe about a few ultimate basics...or even more fascinating: the inherent contradictions within some belief systems.

eyesgogo

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Charlotte

Excellent post! As a radical Christian (think "going back to the roots where Christianity is thoroughly political and thoroughly liberal") coming from Europe (where we are taught to question everything, anyway), I really appreciate your thoughtful observations. The problem with today's religious right in the U.S. is that believers are not trained to think critically about what the Bible means in real life, nor that the translations/ canon of Biblical books with which they're confronted have themselves a political history. Instead, you get a mass of self-righteous cranially vacuous evangelbots chanting in unison, unable to apply whatever teachings come from the Bible to social action.

R

"I disagree profoundly with much of what the Bible contains but the fact is that it is a foundational text for western culture."

Totally! I was raised in an atheist/agnostic household, and didn't have any real contact with organized religion, growing up. When I got to college, I ended up doing a lot of work with biblical and extra-biblical texts, and was really impressed very early on in my readings and research to see how much of the stuff I was finding was echoed in later works of literature and other cultural artifacts that I was already familiar with.

Foundational text is a very apt description - I think anyone living in the modern West can benefit from some close reading of biblical texts.

ck

Conservative Christians would probably object, because there is disagreement over some facts, such as the dating of the NT Gospels, the way they were written (whether cobbled together from an earlier text and redacted to fit the early church theology...), as well as the importance of the surrounding culture as an influence of Christianity--like you cite, about Jewish/Christian eschatology. And that's just the New Testament.

If you're not giving early dates to the Gospels and dismissing the results of the Jesus Seminar, many evangelicals will not be happy. But "just reading" the text of the Bible is a poor way to study the origin of Christianity, because folks will bring a multitude of assumptions in.

I'm all for teaching religious studies in public schools, but it's a tough line to walk. Heck, just teaching the first chapter of Genesis would bring up the evolution controversy all over again, in most school systems.

BetaCandy

I think today's fundamentalists who call themselves Christian (sorry, if you're full of hate and fear, I don't think you're Christ-like in any sense) will stir up trouble about this, because putting the Bible into proper historical context raises questions about a lot of their claims as to the content.

Put more simply: real Christianity stands up to academic Biblical study. Example: yes, the parting of the Reed Sea is a natural phenomenon, but that timing - right after the Israelites walked through and before the Egyptians could - was pretty amazing, wasn't it? One might even say "miraculous". ;)

Whereas the fundamentalist bastardization of the religion tends to fall apart if you so much as question, "Where exactly does it say Mary's a virgin, if this Hebrew word here just means 'young woman'?" Because the fetishization of virgins - a perspective that comes not from Christianity but from a worldwide tradition in which virgin daughters were a better commodity in trade than non-virgin ones - is what really counts.

Fundamentalists in ALL religions are really just patriarchs co-opting the most powerful religion in their culture to promote their patriarchal values. That's why they will oppose any sincere attempt to educate the masses on the real basis for/meaning of those religions.

Reb

Hmm. I'm really conflicted on this. I do think it's important for students to understand the impact of religion on the world -- especially in western civ (which is basically what global studies is in this country). The bible/religion has had a huge impact on world history, how civilization got to where it is, and on the way people interact now. But I feel like studying it from that pespective is very different than actually studying its content: it would be important to seek out a main idea for religions (just the one wouldn't be enough in a historical perspective) for understanding of how they've changed the world, but actually teaching what the religion says would step over a line in my mind.

You summed it up when you wrote, "There will be some places where non-Christian students are made to feel profoundly uncomfortable in their own public schools." I was the only Jew in a small, otherwise entirely Christian public school. It made things uncomfortable for me numerous times that I can remember, even without it coming up in class; I really can't imagine that I'd have felt like I was in a safe environment if we had actually been studying religion in and of itself, rather than the way it had an impact on the world/culture.

Americans not being familiar with gospel or having read the Bible they believe isn't something I think should be remedied in schools. If it's problematic (and I do see ways it can be) that's something that I feel strongly needs to come from church and family, not public school education.

The Happy Feminist

Hmmmm . . . you make good points. I am now imagining some kind of ecumenical public education campaign encouraging people of all religious orientations to become literate in the major world religions.

Antigone

We read the Bible in my AP literature class, and the only people who objected were "Christians". The Bible, with or without context, is a really horrible book.

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