Friday, September 11, 2009

Bible study in schools

Ron wrote this in an email:
The other night, I was at a backyard get-together, and several people were talking about how President Obama will be speaking to school children via the internet on the opening day of school next week. Several of them were pretty upset about this, and phrases like "I don't trust that guy," and "I don't want him to be talking to my kids without me being there..."

After this had gone on for a while, someone said something that reminded me of the recent news from Texas that the Bible will now be taught in all grades starting this year, so I asked, "What if the schools here announced they would start teaching the Bible to your kids, and it was a required course?" Amazing, all of those parents and grandparents thought that would be "just fine..." A teacher, with who-knows-what credentials and religious background, teaching your kids religion at a public school, and that would be ok, but a message from the President of the United States asking kids to stay in school and be a success in life is not.
I’m afraid most of that “Bible study” will wander around in the trees without ever getting a glimpse of the forest. I wish the Bible along with scriptures from other traditions were taught in schools to compare our dominant culture’s beliefs and mores in the context of other religions and cultures. I wish the Bible were taught to examine
• its illustration of evolving morality
• its factual history (the Israelites’ conquest of Canaan)
• its religious myth (the abiding theme of my writing)
• its spiritual power to sustain and uplift—e.g.,
You have been my guide since I was first formed,
my security at my mother’s breast . . .” (Psalm 22:11)
• its figurative poetry—e.g.,
Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
The calf and the young lion shall browse together
with a little child to guide them. (Isaiah 11: 6)
Few teachers understand these things, much less are able to teach them. How many, for instance, are aware that the Israelites of 3,000 years ago committed acts of genocide with no moral reservations and, indeed, attributed them to commands from God?
In Joshua 8:24-27 we read,
[Israel] put to the sword . . . a total of twelve thousand men and women, the entire population of Ai . . . and took for themselves as booty the livestock and the spoil of that city, according to the command of the Lord . . .
Similar accounts can be found in Joshua 10:17-26, Deuteronomy 3:3-7, Deuteronomy 20: 16-18, Numbers 31, and many more passages. Numbers 33: 51-52 reveals "the Lord's" reason for commanding genocide is god-jealousy:
When you go across the Jordan into the land of Canaan, drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you; destroy all their stone figures and molten images and demolish all their high places.
The "high places" were sacred worship sites for the indigenous people of Canaan.
Deuteronomy 22: 13-29 explicates the treatment of women. If a bride accused of not being a virgin cannot prove her virginity she is stoned to death. A woman has to marry her rapist “because he has deflowered her” but her father gets paid by the rapist for the crime. Pro-lifers who find feminist acceptance of abortion unfathomable should read the Hebrew Scriptures to understand deep-seated resentment against women being treated as property, as tools used for propagation.

The wrath of “the Lord” (his payback for disobedience) comes clear in Deuteronomy 28: 58-62:
“he will smite you and your descendants with severe and lasting blows . . . any kind of sickness or calamity . . . the Lord will bring upon you until you are destroyed.” Only the most reactionary moralist approves of such a God or of the Israelites’ violent, despoiling conquest of a native people. Such has been our evolution in morality and in our religious myth.

Well. I have to correct myself. I wrote the previous sentence yesterday, and today I realize that “the Israelites’ violent, despoiling conquest of a native people” comes painfully close to describing the events in Palestine during the past 40 years. Still, relative to Old Testament morality, we can say unequivocally that humans have evolved in moral sensitivity.

Would that Bible study included these elements.

Tom Stavros emailed this excellent response:
Bible study in schools has been proposed many times. It must include study of other religions as you state. And the instruction has to be impartial and not be part of the science curriculum. To find competent teachers and materials and monitor the process becomes difficult (and usually objectionable to those who are afraid of exposing children to other ideas and/or critique of their infallible bible).

Factual history is minimal in the bible. Religious myth as long as it is clearly identified as myth along with other religions' myths in non-judgmental ways is OK. Figurative poetry again should be taught in a literature class along with other poetry (i.e.—Omar Khayyam, etc.).

Spiritual power should not be expected of the teachers. Just presenting the material should be adequate. Spiritual power should be left to the student. Byron has spiritual power to uplift some but not everyone. This is true of all authors and writing (i.e.—Emily Dickenson, Rudyard Kipling, etc.).

2 comments:

Marilyn said...

Do you have any suggested actions we can take? Write too? Yell? Post?

I will add this to Facebook and other places, and have sent the article to friends. Look forward to your ideas for action.

Jeanette said...

I admit I don't have any ideas beyond yours--making noise about it.

Thanks for adding this to Facebook. I don't do very well in that medium and, I suppose, it could be one way to press this issue. I'm impatient with literal interpretations of biblical and doctrinal language but that doesn't help to break through the wall of misunderstandings.

Still, I've been working on these ideas for more than 20 years and I see great advances in understanding. So there is progress even if we can't always see much.