Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Teaching the Bible in School

Times Columnist David Van Bieman presents his case for teaching the (Judeo-Christian) Bible in Schools. While I differ from Bieman on some points (like his “faith in our country” pun, which confuses trust with presupposed belief), I would agree with Bible studies being offered as an elective in high schools or as part of a social studies course (depending on the schedule or course structure of a given school), given that the instructors are cautious not to voice their religious views in the class.

The course should be secular, describing textual examination of the bible, and its role in literary history. I’d also suggest some comparative study be done, particularly with the Qu’ran and the Mystery Religions of the Roman Empire.

Uncontroversial facts would about what the Bible (i.e. its contents) would be taught, instead of controversial beliefs (i.e. whether its contents are true). This course would be analogous to how they teach Greek Mythology. Instructors describe and assign questions about the myths, but don’t indicate that they’re true.

If you are a US Citizen, you ought to be concerned about the First Amendment and how Bible Study in school relates to this. If you are a decent citizen anywhere, you should be concerned whether Bible study in school is consistent with political secularism. As long as it is taught in the manner I described, it is.

Strict monitoring of Bible Study and comparative religion is needed to make sure proselytizing doesn’t occur. The potential for such courses to be abused have been made evident, especially in Texas where even clergy are used to teach such courses. I say keep the clergy out, they present a conflict of interest when dealing with religiously neutral courses on the Bible. Also, train the teachers on how to instruct a Bible course neutrally.

Despite the potential for abuse, Bible courses would serve well to give students some background and insight in literary and cultural matters, since the bible has influenced Western Culture. After reading the Bible they may even begin to think more critically about their religion.

While I agree that an elective (and nothing else unless it's part of an arts and humanities or literature class) on the Bible could work, hate against the book could be taught to students and that's a risk I don't think I'd want. It could happen just as preaching in favor of the Bible might happen. So you'd be better off not discussing it at all.
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