Monday, February 8, 2010

Public Bible Study

It has been brought to my attention that the Tennessee state Board of Education has approved a curriculum for teaching the Bible.

At this point, I urge you to read the article in its entirety, and perhaps guess how I feel about the matter:

NASHVILLE, TN - Tennessee's state Board of Education has approved guidelines on how to teach the Bible in public high schools despite concern that the curriculum could be challenged in court.

Legislation approved in 2008 authorized a course for a "nonsectarian, nonreligious academic study of the Bible" in public schools.

State officials said they tried to develop principles that are safe from legal challenge, but some say a state-approved Bible course could violate the separation of church and state.

The course will teach students about the content of the Bible and its historical context. It's an elective, meaning high schools can choose whether to offer it to students as a social studies credit, and students can decide whether to take it.
So, how “should” atheists feel about it?

I think the real question is: should atheists even care? The only argument I can even imagine would be “they could be learning something more useful.” Like what, Shakespeare? Come to think of it, I read all kinds of texts about gods and heros: Beowulf, the Odyssey, the Iliad, the Aeneid, as well as all sorts of Roman, Norse, Chinese, and African mythology.

Then again, I went to a private school that also allowed us to read from the Bible. It didn’t brainwash me or anyone I knew. If anything, it was my peer-pressure on friends that successfully deconverted people. The Bible is just not that powerful.

The article is too short, but there will be some problems with the school board’s plan. My main concern: which translation will be used? Which sect of Christianity will be marginalized? My schools avoided this by choosing scholarly translations (such as the Oxford editions), but I’m curious what Tennessee has decided.

Considering this atheist’s tolerance for legitimizing Bible study as a high school credit, maybe I can use this as an opportunity to leverage an issue dear to my heart: please remove “under God” from the pledge, or better yet just scrap the entire Orwellian practice of having children recite an oath they do not even understand.

So go ahead, teach the Bible in the classrooms. Let students see where some of societies strange prejudices come from. Atheists ought to be encouraging every believer to actually pick up a Bible and read it. Have you read it? It’s bat-shit insane.

This decision also gives creationists what they’ve been having wet-dreams about for decades: a chance to preach Genesis in classrooms. Maybe now they can shut up about teaching theology in science class. They can take their Biblical denial lessons in private, even if it is at tax-payer expense.

[story courtesy of Brittany at Small Dog. Big Stick.]


  1. Its interesting. Normally, this would piss me off. Because the key words are "historical context", this gives me some hope.

  2. Don't kid yourself, there won't be any actual history. Probably stuff about Christians being thrown to lions by evil Romans. I just know there's no getting around the fact that some people refuse to learn anything useful, so it's best to funnel it somewhere. I find religion to be a splendid candidate for accepting the mentally deficient.

    Think of religion as a sewer system. Sure it's not pretty, but it's a necessary component of society used for flushing away the refuse.

  3. Could be the control of my Canadian government and steady diet of health care related propaganda that is making me hopeful. You are probably right. I am sure that it will be chock full of JD like history- world was a barbaric mess of cannibals and baby killers until JC showed us the light.... Then, the church sanctioned killing began. But, that is okay.

  4. Ask any American for any historical event that occurred between 500 CE and 1400 CE. Half can't name one, the other half say "the Crusades." It's like a 900 year void stricken from the record of Western Civilization.

    This was when the Bible was the sole authority. It is called the Dark Ages, because the descriptions of what happened then will never see the light of day.

  5. JC?! Wow! I went to high school with that guy! He often came to class hung over from a night of Dionysian wine binges and was fond of sandals, typical JC! That guy always cracked me up.

  6. OMG Tristan, were you at that party where JC and his pals drank all the wine so he made more? That was hawt.

  7. Yes Tink, your "heath care" in Canada is so good that one of your province's Premiers has to travel to the United States to have heart surgery.

    So, the only logical conclusion is that propaganda has brainwashed you into being proud of something so obviously deficient!

  8. It's called medical tourism, and millions of Americans do it every year. If the best medical care you can afford is not offered where you live, it may be cheaper to go to another country. As a free market advocate, I would think you were aware that this practice is widespread, but I guess you're too busy cherry-picking news articles written with a conservative agenda.

  9. I am in favor of the free market, which is why I think government provided health care is wrong.

    As for the story you linked to, it really isn't relevant to the case of the Canadian Premier. Try again.

  10. Ginx,

    If the Bible is not that powerful, then why do you spend so much time treating it with such scorn? Not powerful? Really? Clearly you think it quite powerful. How else to explain your fear that people are inspired by it or take it seriously.

    I attended a very liberal public high school and there enjoyed a high-end English elective called "The Bible As Lit." It was a grand class, and no one enrolled in it turned into a fundamentalist -- or an atheist.



  11. Ginx,

    PS. As for Genesis, I don't see what you see. Genesis clearly teaches evolution, though not in a strict Lamarckian or Darwinian sense. But Genesis is far more sophisticated than you think. Bat shit? Not at all.

  12. On the actual topic of the post, I find myself agreeing with Bill. I have no problem with teaching the Bible in public school. What I actually have a problem with is public schooling itself, but that's another subject.

    As for Genesis and evolution, not sure I agree with you, Bill, but you might find this book interesting: The Genesis Enigma.

    I think the author stretches things a little thin with his interpretation of "Let there be light", but it's a good effort.

  13. Bill: I'm not sure I've said the Bible is not powerful. I just know that someone doesn't just pick it up, read it, and suddenly experience the divine. It is this experience which actually drives people to be religious, not myths, morality, or a search for meaning.

    I think you're mistaking my disdain for paranoia. I do not fear that people take seriously or be inspired by the Bible. I fear people who take the Bible seriously standing in the way of the pursuit of knowledge. Drown yourself in inspiration until your heart's content, but don't spill any of it on me.

    I think that was the thesis of my post, and an over-arching theme of my blog: religion is a marvelous distraction for the fools who would dogmatize and ruin other fields of study. Offering classes like this will allow those who wasted their time reading the Bible to actually do well in something (because math and science are just so hard).

    Genesis does have value, as literature... though not on par with the works of Homer or Shakespeare (or even Chuck Palahniuk, for that matter).

  14. Dear Ginx,

    May I quote you?

    Then again, I went to a private school that also allowed us to read from the Bible. It didn’t brainwash me or anyone I knew. If anything, it was my peer-pressure on friends that successfully deconverted people. The Bible is just not that powerful. [emphasis mine]

    So, you see, you did speak about the Bible not being "that powerful."

    And, of course, you may be right. People don't just read the Bible and believe. At the very least, they have to have a prior belief that the Bible is authoritative or trustworthy. However, I recall very much having an experience of the divine when I read the Bible in the middle of the night when I was a young man. I was not a church-goer; I was not what one would call a "believer." Surely I was not "saved." But the passages I read reached into me like few things ever have.

    What I've written, I know, means nothing definitive. I am merely countering some of what you said; there is much testimony of people like myself who have encountered something special -- really special -- in the texts of the Jewish and Christian bibles.

    Anything, Ginx, can be perceived as a distraction. I should think your argument that religion is a distraction is itself a distraction: how do you know you've not deluded yourself that your epistemology and ontology are not distractions? I've heard your argument from hundreds of people and perhaps thousands of sources; it is older than the Enlightenment. You seem to set aside your own skepticism to embrace the dogmatism of others, as your thoughts are not original to you, nor are they even unique. You might as well be quoting John 3:16.

    In fact, there really is such a thing as a dogmatism of disbelief. There are all sorts of hidden assumptions in your worldview, borrowed from others, unquestioned and accepted on faith.

    Yes, of course the Bible (particularly Genesis) has literary value. So does this blog, and so does TV Guide. But the Bible has infinitely more value than mere literature, and I could argue thus as an atheist: Its stories and moral tales, its ethics, poetry and aesthetics, have influenced COUNTLESS people who have themselves influenced -- profoundly and undeniably -- EVERY level of culture. The Bible is perhaps THE primary source for understanding the foundation of western society, the society in which you live. It could even be argued that your agnosticism or atheism CANNOT be understood without reference to the Bible: that you are reacting to a work of undeniable effect and influence. I might even say that Protestantism's many confused ideas about Christianity -- about truth, the place of the Bible in matters of faith, the individual and the sovereignty of God -- directly lead to modern atheism.

    I don't know what you mean: "Religion is a marvelous distraction for the fools who would ... ruin other fields of study." What? Did Pascal destroy science and mathematics? Did Bach ruin music? Did Michelangelo ruin art? Did T.S. Eliot or W.H. Auden ruin poetry? Did G.K. Chesterton ruin English letters? Did J.R.R. Tolkien ruin fantasy? Did Darwin ruin biology (he was a Christian theist when he explored the world)? Did Dr. Collins, head of the human genome project, ruin anything?

  15. Dear SE,

    Genesis is quite clear. All animated creatures -- including humans -- were created as vegetarians. Only later -- after the flood and God's covenant with Noah -- do we see that the earth's fauna splits into two new and distinct groups, predators and prey. Of course, herbivores remained. But Genesis is quite clear that a RADICAL EVOLUTION occurred in the biology of the earth. As I said, this is not Darwinian, but it represents a sophistication most critics of the Bible don't perceive, largely because they never even noticed this narrative.

  16. "Prostitution in towns is like the sewer in a palace; take away the sewers, and the palace becomes an impure and stinking place."

    ~ Saint Augustine

    Perhaps science is merely a distraction from the importance of religion. I am sure you will often come to appreciate the frivolous work of these many fools.

    There is nothing wrong with compartmentalizing and segregating sub-cultures of people, which is what offering classes of this nature (the original post) leads to. It is shocking it took TN this long to come around, frankly.

    Think Brave New World... us Betas are going to make fun of the Gammas because we have it better, but we're glad we aren't those Alphas who have to work so much harder...

    All groups have a tendency to look down on others. If I blindly opposed Biblical study, I would be taking my descrimination into the realm of prejudice by suggesting the imposition of my will through censorship. The poor kid who wasted his time memorizing what age every one in Genesis lived to ought to get some credit.


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