Richard Dawkins Voices Support for Bibles in School

It sounds controversial: The British Secretary of Education wants to give every state school a copy of the Bible:

Every state school in England is to receive a new copy of the King James Bible from the government — with a brief foreword by Michael Gove, the education secretary, to mark the 400th anniversary of its translation. In a move intended to help every pupil access Britain’s cultural heritage, every primary and secondary school will be sent a new copy of the 1611 translation by next Easter.

Right… for “cultural heritage.” Sure.

In any case, Richard Dawkins doesn’t know why he wasn’t asked to donate to make the initiative happen… because he fully supports it. In fact, he’s surprised all schools don’t have a copy already:

I am a little shocked at the implication that not every school library already possesses a copy. Can that be true? What do they have, then? Harry Potter? Vampires?…

His first reason for offering support is that, much like Shakespeare, there are allusions to it everywhere. You can’t really be an educated, learned citizen without understanding where those references are coming from.

Oh… and there’s that other reason:

I have an ulterior motive for wishing to contribute to Gove’s scheme. People who do not know the Bible well have been gulled into thinking it is a good guide to morality. This mistaken view may have motivated the “millionaire Conservative party donors”. I have even heard the cynically misanthropic opinion that, without the Bible as a moral compass, people would have no restraint against murder, theft and mayhem. The surest way to disabuse yourself of this pernicious falsehood is to read the Bible itself.

Whatever else the Bible might be –- and it really is a great work of literature -– it is not a moral book and young people need to learn that important fact because they are very frequently told the opposite.

Of course he’s right. There’s a reason so many churches and pastors ignore discussing the more immoral, disgusting, abhorrent parts of the book. They’d rather ignore it and pretend it’s not there. American Atheists’ Dave Silverman had this memorable line in a New York Times article a couple of years ago, making the same argument:

“I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people,” Mr. Silverman said. “Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.

Anyway, guess how the Daily Mail covered that story?

Look at our headline!!! (Oh and by the way here’s what he actually said…)

Even with the government’s intentions and Dawkins’ wishes, it’s likely neither is going to happen. Having one copy of the Bible in every school library isn’t going to allow all the students to read it from start to finish — and I find it hard to believe kids are just going to willingly come into the library to read a Bible they can find easily online.

But I love that the government’s ultimately-useless idea gives Dawkins a platform to talk about how awful the Bible actually is.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

    As Daily Mail  reporting goes that’s actually pretty fair, and not a million miles from the Guardian’s take of “Richard Dawkins the arch-atheist backs Michael Gove’s free Bible plan”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=22221095 Brandie Kay Cline

    I couldn’t agree with Dawkins more; reading the Bible cover to cover cemented my decision to not be a Christian and led me on a path that would eventually lead me to reject all the religions I studied, turning me into the shining example of agnostic atheism standing before you today. When I talk to religious people about the Bible they are usually not aware of the violence, sexism, approval of slavery, and condemnation of things that should not be condemned to be found in it. It’s sad; I would like to think that they would know more than me about their religion if they are attempting to convert me to it.

    • NickDB

       Same here.

    • Fortuna Veritas

       Really?  It wasn’t interacting with most of the ones you’d meet on the street or at a church?

    • Ncmnt2

       agnostic atheism? Isn’t that an oxymoron?

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        No.  It is also known as ‘weak atheism’ as opposed to ‘strong atheism’.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism#Definitions_and_distinctions 

        As for your bit about faith and morality and evolution, hogwash.  Morality predates the Bible.  Various animal species have evolved moral systems.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    What the heck is an ‘Arch’ atheist?  Is the Pope an ‘Arch Catholic’?

  • http://chris.tumblr.com Chris F

    There are decent reasons to have Bibles in every UK school, and it shouldn’t immediately be assumed as indoctrination; as much as we might want to move on from it, the UK’s cultural history is bound up in Christianity, and it’d do well to have it purely as a research text. I’d be surprised if there are many schools that don’t already have copies, though….

    • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.purser1 Jeff Purser

      I agree and the same applies to the US.  The cultural history of the US cannot be fully understood without studying the influence of religion.  Unfortunatley, the teaching of the history of religion in the US is a travesty.  The vast majority of people in the US believe the country was founded by people seeking religious “liberty” but what they do not realize is the “liberty” those people sought was freedom to worship their particular doctrine to the exclusion of all others. There were horrible examples of intolerance and persecution of those who did not conform.  The Constitution and the Bill of Rights were crafted the way they were in response to  the excesses witnessed by the founders in colonial america.

      • Chris

        Oh, of course. That’s just bad history teaching, though.

  • Kimpatsu

    it’s already happened, Hemant. The initial opposition came because Michael Gove (the UK Education Secretary) wanted to pay for the scheme out of taxpayers’ money. The Treasury vetoed that, so he god millionaire private Tory Party donors to chip in for a total of 370,000 GBP, which he then used to send this huge vanity project to every state school in the country. Gove has form for this; he also wanted to use millions in taxpayers’ money to buy Queen Elizabeth a new royal yacht as a jubilee present. The guy’s a jerk.

    • Pcranny

      Quite right – this is a project for the greater glorification of Michael Gove.

  • Patrick Houghton-Brown

    Like you say, this won’t present many children with a chance to read the Bible and understand its immorality. And I guarantee that any suggestion of reading and evaluating the book will be discouraged by the government. While We have some horrible institutions such as the monarchy and the state Church, Britain has long had a tradition of keeping religion a private matter. The current government is reversing that tradition in some worrying ways.

    • NickDB

       Listening to my mates in London, the general feeling is that will backlash badly against the government and the church. You push The Brits to hard in some areas, you can end up quite fu*&^d

    • L’Esprit de l’Escalier

      “Britain has long had a tradition of keeping religion a private matter.”

      That would have been news to the Protestants who were burned at the stake under Queen Mary and to the Catholics who were tortured under her half-sister Queen Elizabeth I.

      It would have astonished both sides in the Civil War. Or did you know England had a Civil War?

      Apparently History has been thrown out of British schools along with Religion.

      • oli kenton

        You are going back aways there. Mary and Elizabeth and the Civil war all happened over 300 years ago. Its quite feasible to have a long tradition that is less than three centuries old. Otherwise, the US of A would have no traditions at all.

  • Patrick Houghton-Brown

    And therein lies the problem. This isn’t a scheme to ensure every school has at least one Bible for reference purposes; instead it gives every school a Bible whether they want it or not. It’s an egregious overspend and a vanity project for Mr Gove and this reactionary government.

    • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

      As already noted, this isn’t coming out of government/taxpayer funding.

  • Patrick Houghton-Brown

    The headline may not be a million miles off, but how much do you want to bet the rest of the report contains some pretty reactionary sensationalism? It wouldn’t exactly be a surprise.

    • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

      Why would anyone ‘bet’ on the contents of an article that was linked to? You can just go read it and find out.

  • Joe Zamecki

    The Bible is the ONLY book I can credit with helping me become an Atheist. Merely because I wasn’t exposed to any alternative opinions at the time, and the Bible and Christianity are just that bad. It surprises me that there is a public school somewhere that has a library, but no copy of the Bible.  It’s been promoted that much. 

    Of course, we want Christians to realize how bad that book is, knowing that most of them don’t seem to want to find out if it’s bad or not, so long as that involves actually reading the thing.  But I hope no tax money ever gets used on a single Bible. Surely that never needs to happen, when there are so many aggressive Bible-pushers out there.

    Wherever a Bible exists in a public school library, I believe books from our side should be allowed on the shelves there as well.  Also, I’ve always felt that there should be a billboard campaign that urges Christians to read their Bible. No way to misinterpret that!

  • JaneRLeBlanc

    Couldn’t agree more with Dawkins.

    Btw, Hemant – your title here is similar to the Daily Mail title.

    • Gus Snarp

      Yeah, I liked the calling out of the Daily Mail for using a slightly deceptive, eyeball grabbing headline in a post using almost the same slightly deceptive, eyeball grabbing headline.

      • Annie

        But that’s exactly what Dawkins did… voice his support for the bible distribution.  I can’t really think of a more appropriate title.  I knew there must be a twist (or this was an onion article), so of course I clicked.  Honestly, I thought maybe he would support the bibles and then donate a copy of his Magic of Reality to each and every school too.

  • snoozn

    I need some advice on reading the Bible. I read parts of it when I grew up Christian, and I’ve read some of the bad parts that are often alluded to on atheist sites. Now I’d like to sit down and read the whole thing because I agree with Dawkins — it’s a culturally important book. One question — which is the best “edition?” First, I’m cheap, so it would have to be free or nearly free on a Kindle. Second, is there an edition that is the closest to the original, while still being easy to understand in English? Would that be the King James? What editions do fundamentalist types use? And do these contains distortions? Thanks for any assistance that can be offered!

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      If you don’t mind reading at your computer,  
      http://www.biblegateway.com/ lets you read many versions at once.

      Any thrift store will have multiple very cheap copies.  I have a leather bound King James from 1888 at a thrift shop decades ago for a couple of bucks.  Most churches would probably give you a free one.  The Church of Latter Day Saints will give anyone a Book of Mormon for the asking.

      I would suggest NIV is a lot easier for most us to read than King James.  KJV is nice to read specific psalms etc, but to get the content of the whole thing, NIV.

      • Beau

        KJV often reads as better literature to me.  It’s entirely possible I’m confusing antique language with good writing, but still. 

        But if you’re wanting to read for content I’d go with NIV.  It’s is a more modern vernacular and set up to be read by everyone.  I’d also look for one that is indexed and/or annotated.  The indexes are immensely useful later on when you’re looking for something (they index concepts and not just words a lot of the time) and the annotations, although obviously biased, can help you understand how many people today understand the text. 

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        Turns out that site has multiple text and audio versions, so you should be able to download the version of your choice to the ereader of your choice.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_MUIGGGWVZRPI7DRSO4ENSPPHCQ ConnorO

      I have to strongly disagree with recommendations to use the NIV. Get a study Bible, like the Harper Collins or the Oxford, which use the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version), or for reading online the ESV (English Standard Version). The NIV is so loose as to approach paraphrase at many points, and you won’t know this if you’re just reading “for the story”. One of the main problems with nearly all translations into English is that they “even out” the tone so that all the books read as if they were written in the same voice. A good annotated Bible will help you correct for this by illustrating difficulties or controversies in translation, all of which the NIV blithely ignores.

      For an understanding of the literary impact on English, the KJV is of course essential. It’s just not a very good translation where the emphasis on good English prose obscures literal meaning.* If you want to really read the Bible for a sense of what it meant to it earliest audience, you need a modern, scholarly annotated version.

      *There is really no such thing as a purely “literal” translation. My point here is that translations can still be more or less literal, and the NIV and KJV are among the least literal ones available.

      • David

        The KJV is the one to read. It is the closest thing to a literal translation. All new versions are based on corrupted manuscripts that have been rejected until the late 1800′s. Remember that much of the bible is a historical record of what man has done – and is NOT a record of actions “endorsed” by God.

        Also remember that the ultimate scandal in the bible is where Jesus (God in flesh) died to pay for you sins and mine.

        Before you judge the bible, you might want to look at your life, and all the things you have done you wish you could go back and change. Realize Jesus died to pay your debt. And that He loves you – even though you reject Him.

  • Jcr

    How about this?

    • Jcr

      Sorry, wrong place. Jcr

  • http://twitter.com/aynsavoy Anne Sauer

    I agree with Dawkins’ perspective, though I’m skeptical as others are that this particular initiative will have the desired effect.

    My sophomore honors English class in high school took a couple weeks to read the Bible as literature (this was a public school). We had a class set of bibles, I believe donated by Gideons (I remember joking with my teacher about her stealing bibles from every hotel room in the region), which was good for me since my family definitely didn’t own a copy. I don’t remember where students had to use the class books or if they could use any copy they wanted, but I’m leaning toward the latter. Anyway, I guess there’s no way to know, but I never got the impression that anyone’s views toward the bible’s accuracy changed due to this class.

  • Sqrat

    New idea for an atheist billboard slogan:

    Read the Bible!

    • NinjaFang

       “Read the Bible! … No, not just the bits with the “Thou shaltn’t kill.”, the entire thing. The murder, sexism, slavery, and incest/rape parts also.”

      • Ncmnt2

         Don’t forget the parts about consequences of one’s actions or the fact that there is such a thing as “right and wrong.” Morality is claimed by many, yet the foundation is only laid by theism. An atheist can claim morality, yet evolutionary theory only denies morality. It really boils down to chemical reactions and relativity?, Yes?  Faith has a foundation. Claim what you want, but you are not being consistent to your faith in atheism!

        • M J Shepherd

           >>”…yet the foundation is only laid by theism.”

          Prerequisite “which belief system?”.

        • Annie

          Ooh!  I’m so glad I caught this.  I was heading out the door to meet up with my non-bowler’s league.  I plan to also go to a non-book club. (We don’t read, but just skip right to the wine and gossip instead.)

          This argument that atheism is a faith is getting very old.  Who is our god?  Reason?  Intellect?  Skepticism?  And how do we get indoctrinated?  By reading?  Discussing?  Thinking for ourselves?  It requires absolutely no faith the not believe in something.  I’m sure you don’t believe in the tooth fairy, yet by your reasoning, that makes you full of faith.  Your faith in the non-tooth fairy!

          Morality has absolutely nothing to do with faith in imaginary beings.  In fact, I would counter that believing in imaginary beings makes you far less moral than me.  I do good for goodness sake, and you try to be good to avoid hell.  When I fail to do good (disappoint a friend, don’t keep a promise, or simply don’t give a worthy cause my all) I learn that I didn’t live up to my full potential and try to do better the next time.  What do you do?  Blame it on god’s will?  Or do you prefer to say that Satan got a hold of you?  Do you take any ownership of your wrong doings, or just assume that your god will (if he wants, of course) make you do better next time?

  • http://superstitionfree.blogspot.com/ Robert Madewell

    I think everyone should own a bible and every school library should have one.

  • http://northierthanthou.com/ northierthanthou

    Reading the Koran and the Bible were pretty much the final nails in the coffin for my religious days. And I do think people ought to know enough about it to get its many connections to history, literature, etc.

  • Tony

    Let me quote Thomas Paine :

    “Whenever we read the obscene
    stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and tortuous executions, the
    unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled it
    would be more consistent that we call it the word of a demon than the word of
    God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize.”

    — Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason
    (1792)

  • http://www.braintarts.wordpress.com/ MichaelL65

    I may not agree with the way Dawkins approaches things in many instances – he is far too bombastic for my liking, however, I agree with him here. 

  • Ruby O’Dent

    The best way to ensure a book is read is to ban it. 


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