Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A really bad idea

This from the Herald-Leader:
Bill would let schools teach Bible literacy

Three Democratic state senators are pushing a proposal to give public schools the option of teaching the Bible as an elective social studies course.

The class would "teach students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry and narratives that are pre requisites to understanding contemporary society and culture," said Sen. David Boswell, D- Owensboro, the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 142.

Boswell, a Catholic, said the bill is intended to teach Bible literacy as an academic course, "not as the only religion," but opponents labeled the proposal an unconstitutional "back-door approach to teaching religion." ...

I don't think it matters which side of the issue you are on. SB 142 seems to me to be a stunningly bad idea. I'm not even sure what the intent is - althought, I must assume it is some form of heart-felt populist political pandering. Democrats love Jesus too.

If one is opposed to the bill on establishment grounds, fine. I suspect that reasoning will ultimately prevail.

On the other hand, it's not too hard to accept the argument that, in western society, "an educated person is familiar with the Bible." Coloquial speech in America is laced with Biblical references. In fact, Matthew 22 is central to understanding the secular/religious struggles that led to bloody European wars - and eventually, a new nation built on the principles of freedom of religion, freedom from religion (freedom of thought) and freedom of the press. But turning teachers loose to teach the Bible as literature?

Get this: In high school, books do not teach themselves so much as teachers teach them.

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that it is NOT the intent of Boswell, Worley or Carroll to have the Bible besmirched. Let's assume they merely wish Kentucky students to become more familiar with the Bible's literature. Let's assume they have no interest in "establishing religion" so there will be no effort to direct how the book must be taught, or what lessons should be taken from the text. Let's assume there will be no special requirements of English teachers teaching the Bible than there are for teaching Hamlet.

Just exactly how might that work in the classroom of a teacher who held no particular reverence for the good book?

To illustrate my doubts, I have borrowed from one of three books I got for Christmas: not the Visual History of the English Bible, and not the used New Testament college textbook my daughter handed down to me, but Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible by David Plotz. Plotz is the editor of Slate Magazine, who blogged the Bible.

I wonder, what might some random instructor's first lesson be?
Instructor: OK boys and girls, before our time is up, let's quickly review Genesis Chapter 34. As you will recall, it begins with the rape of Jacob's daughter Dinah by Shechem, the son of a local chief named Hamor. Shechem and Hamor visit Jacob and his brothers to resolve the mess. Hamor begs on Shechem's behalf: Shechem loves Dinah, he says, and yearns to marry her. Hamor and Shechem offer to share their land with Jacob's family and pay any bride price if only Dinah would be Shechem's wife.

Jacob's sons pretend to agree to this proposal, but they insist that Shechem and all the other men of his town get circumcised before the marriage. Shechem and his father accept the demand. They and their fellow townsmen get circumcised. Three days after the circumcision, "when they were in pain," Jacob's sons Simeon and Levi (who are Dinah's full brothers) enter the town, murder all the men, and take Dinah away. After this slaughter, Jacob's other sons plunder the town, seize the livestock
and property, and take the women and children as slaves. Jacob, who hasn't said a word in the chapter till now, complains to Simeon and Levi that other neighboring tribes won't trust him anymore. "But they answered, 'Should our sister be treated like a whore?' "

Wow. What a story! Now, let's discuss. Billy, can you summarize the actions and motivations of the characters in this story?

Uhhh. Well, ummm. The founding fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel lie, breach a contract, encourage pagans to convert to Judaism only in order to incapacitate them for slaughter, murder some innocents and enslave others, pillage and profiteer, and then justify it all with an appeal to their sister's defiled honor.

Great summary, Billy. Now, who can tell us the ethical lessons taught in this story that help us understand contemporary society and culture?


Oh, sorry, but we're out of time. Before you go, remember your homework is Leviticus Chapter 20 where the Lord specifies punishments for sex crimes. Remember to make note of the most popular sentence: "They shall be put to death."

Remember, execution is the price for sex between: adulterer and adulteress; man and stepmother; man and daughter-in-law; man and man; man and beast; woman
and beast.

Notice that a threesome of man, woman, and her mother is singled out as especially heinous: The punishment is not just death but getting burned to death.

Also make sure you can identify the punishment for marrying a sister and for sex with a menstruating woman.
This bill makes me wonder if the sponsors remember what all is in the Bible - beyond the most popular and frequently selected passages.

Do Boswell, Worley and Carroll hope to generate critical thinking in public school students on whether the Bible condones incest and slavery? In any case, Senate Bill 142 ought to be withdrawn.

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