I’m Stupid

Every once in a while, I try to post something non-controversial.  Hence this headline.

So last night I’m wandering through Facebook and come on discussion about whether the Bible should be taught in public schools.  Tony Esolen is making a persuasive argument to some atheist philistine (who maintained that us Smart People of the 21st Century don’t need none of that there Bronze Age mythology) that if you don’t know the Bible, you will be an absolute moron about pretty much all of Western literature and culture.  Hard to argue with that.  But still and all, I think there is a Christian case to be made against teaching the Bible in public schools.  So I referred him to a piece I wrote some years back arguing that.

Brandon Vogt then replies: “That awkward moment when Mark Shea doesn’t realize that the original article from Strange Notions is a re-posted version of the one he just linked to ;)”

So yes.  I am a moron, thankyouveddymuch!

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  • CS

    Ok, but where are the Official Totally Faithful Catholics Who Fraternally Correct Mark Shea to give an amen to your title???

  • The idea that the Bible, divorced from any other part of the Christian faith, and treated as some “literary” text to be analyzed using secular historical presumptions, is going to be extremely helpful in leading kids to Christ is dubious. It reflects a Protestant assumption that the individual can always be expected to puzzle out Scripture alone and unaided. Relatedly, for both literary and historical reasons, the translation chosen for such public school studies would almost certainly be the King James version. It was precisely to ESCAPE having the King James version forced on their kids that Catholic immigrants founded this country’s first parochial schools.

    • Imp the Vladaler

      Yeah, teaching in the Bible in public schools probably won’t lead kids to become Christians… but so what? Teaching physics in public schools probably won’t lead kids to become physicists, and teaching poetry in public schools probably won’t lead kids to become poets.

      The idea behind public education is to give students a basic understanding of what’s important to know to function in society. Given that the majority of Americans profess Christianity and that western civilization is chock full o’ religious influence, the foundational texts can be helpful. If our public schools could teach a Bible course that didn’t lead a single student to Christ, it would still be worthwhile to give the next generation an understanding of western history and culture.

      I’m uneasy about teaching the Bible in public school, though, simply because it’s going to be a political headache. I’m not even talking about the aggressive atheists. Given the limited time available and the capacities of the students, it’s not like the Bible could be taught cover-to-cover. So what do we teach? What’s important for a high school kid to know so that he has a working understanding of what Christianity and Judaism are about? Beyond John 3:16, there’s going to be tremendous disagreement. These sorts of disagreements happen all the time (if we only have time for one, do we teach Jane Austen or Nathaniel Hawthorne?), but fortunately the stakes are usually low. The decision about whether to include the Sermon on the Mount or the Sermon on the Plain is going to involve relentless fighting from people who care a lot.

      • That’s a very balanced assessment. My worry is that the legal requirement to teach the Bible in a way that assumes an entirely non-Divine history of its composition will lead students actively AWAY from Christ: “My folks say that God inspired the Bible, but at school we learned the truth, which is that it’s just the prejudices of a bunch of Bronze Age shepherds. I am so much smarter than my folks.”

        • I wonder if the solution is not to have some class devoted to “teaching the Bible,” but instead encourage teachers to incorporate it *where it is appropriate.* So, in literature classes, use different sections as examples of particular forms and genres, discuss the allusions to the Bible in later works, etc. In world history class, discuss the influence of the Bible and Christianity in general, and the Bible’s role in the history of writing and printing. In philosophy class, discuss philosophical ideas from the Bible. And so on.

          • Sounds like a very sensible solution.

      • DKeane123

        You can’t compare the bible to physics.

    • Faithr

      I just finished watching Dawn Eden’s interview on The Journey Home. She mentioned that one of the things that led her to the Church, though it took a long time and didn’t seem important at the time, was when in 8th grade her social studies teacher in a public school said that in order to be culturally literate the students needed to have an understanding of the Gospels. She said he explained how the gospels were eyewitness accounts and how that explained any conflict in their tellings of life of Christ. I myself once was babysitting children for a couple I knew to be atheists. We were reading something (I can’t remember it now) and it referenced Moses in the bullrushes and the children had no idea what the reference was about. So I think the Bible is part of our cultural heritage and it can be taught as such and you never know if it might be the one slender thread that may one day lead someone to Christ.

      • The example of Dawn Eden is indeed thought-provoking. I’m surprised her teacher was able to get away with telling the truth about the eyewitness basis for the Gospels. In the Northeastern public schools where I worked in my years as a teacher, the culture was such that I think a “Jesus seminar” viewpoint would’ve been required. Maybe it depends on the school, or the region.

      • We were reading something (I can’t remember it now) and it referenced Moses in the bullrushes

        Was it Huckleberry Finn?

  • bob

    To see how 21st century people approach things, see the laughable NPR interview with a Muslim (named Aslan; I got to get my irony where I can find it) who wrote a book on how Jesus has been *misunderstood* for 2000 years. Utterly illiterate drool from the public radio interviewer. I have zero confidence in the schools to teach anything useful about the Christian Scriptures. They are read in the *eucharist* for a useful context. Starting there and nowhere else. I also don’t think of asking NPR or the public schools about the liturgy. For their understanding you don’t have to see anything new, just read Pliny the younger.

  • DKeane123

    I think I would have loved a class on comparative religion in either HS or college. Although, I don’t think teaching just the bible would be the way to go as far as it’s influence on western culture. It seems to me that you could go the other way around and talk about a particular period of history and then show how the beliefs of the time (whatever religion depending upon locations and time) influenced things – rather than all bible all the time.