Tuesday, April 03, 2007


(Each "Question of the Week," an idea which I gleaned from A Republic If You Can Keep It, will remain toward the top of the blog until the next question appears. The previous Questions of the Week are HERE. Please scroll down for recent postings)

The April 2, 2007 issue of Time Magazine carried this article as its feature story. The blurb at the beginning of the ariticle:
Should the Holy Book be taught in public schools? Yes. It's the bedrock of Western culture. And when taught right, it's even constitutional.
Among those favoring Bible courses: Chuck Colson, the National Association of Evangelicals, the American Jewish Committee, the Council on Islamic Education, People for the American Way.

Among those with reservations or opposed: John Hagee, Wendy Kaminer, Joe Conn and Rob Boston of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

Lengthy excerpt from the article (emphases mine):
Miss Kendrick came ready, with props. The day's topic was the Gospel of Matthew. "You can divide all the Beatitudes into two parts," Jennifer Kendrick explained to her teenage audience. "The 'Blessed are the whatevers,' like 'the meek,' and then the reward they will get. So I've made some puzzle pieces here." She passed out construction-paper sheets, each bearing either the name of a virtuous group or its reward, in black marker. "And you've got to find the person who has the other half. What's the first one in the Bible?"

"The poor in spirit," mumbled a crew-cut boy.

"O.K. What goes with the poor in spirit?"

A girl in the front of the room replied, reading from her sheet, "For they will see God."

"Nope," chirped Kendrick. "O.K., find the person that matches yours. I'll take the roll."

By which she meant an official attendance roll. Because the day was Thursday, not Sunday. And the location was not Oakwood Baptist Church, a mile down Texas State Highway 46, but New Braunfels High School, a public school that began offering a Bible-literacy class last fall. The class has its share of conservative Christians. Front-row center sat Rachel Williams, 18, whose mother does teach Sunday school at Oakwood. But not 20 ft. away sat a blond atheist who asked that her name not be used because she hasn't outed herself to her parents. Why take a Bible class? I asked her. "Some of my friends are Christian," she said, shrugging, "and they would argue about, like, whether you can be a Christian and believe in evolution, and I'm like, Okaaaay ... clueless." Williams signed up for a similar reason. "If somebody is going to carry on a sophisticated conversation with me, I would rather know what they're talking about than look like a moron or fight my way through it," she says. The class has "gotten a lot of positive feedback," she adds. "It's going to really rise in popularity."

The same might be said about public-school courses on the Bible nationwide. There aren't that many. But they're rising in popularity. Last year Georgia became the first state in memory to offer funds for high school electives on the Old and New Testaments using the Bible as the core text. Similar funding was discussed in several other legislatures, although the initiatives did not become law. Meanwhile, two privately produced curriculums crafted specifically to pass church-state muster are competing for use in individual schools nationwide. Combined, they are employed in 460 districts in at least 37 states. The numbers are modest, but their publishers expect them to soar. The smaller of the two went into operation just last year but is already into its second 10,000-copy printing, has expressions of interest from a thousand new districts this year and expects many more. The larger publisher claims to be roughly doubling the number of districts it adds each year. These new curriculums plus polls suggesting that over 60% of Americans favor secular teaching about the Bible suggest that a Miss Kendrick may soon be talking about Matthew in a school near you.


SIMPLY PUT, THE BIBLE IS THE MOST influential book ever written. Not only is the Bible the best-selling book of all time, it is the best-selling book of the year every year. In a 1992 survey of English teachers to determine the top-10 required "book-length works" in high school English classes, plays by Shakespeare occupied three spots and the Bible none. And yet, let's compare the two: Beauty of language: Shakespeare, by a nose. Depth of subject matter: toss-up. Breadth of subject matter: the Bible. Numbers published, translated etc: Bible. Number of people martyred for: Bible. Number of wars attributed to: Bible. Solace and hope provided to billions: you guessed it. And Shakespeare would almost surely have agreed. According to one estimate, he alludes to Scripture some 1,300 times. As for the rest of literature, when your seventh-grader reads The Old Man and the Sea, a teacher could tick off the references to Christ's Passion--the bleeding of the old man's palms, his stumbles while carrying his mast over his shoulder, his hat cutting his head--but wouldn't the thrill of recognition have been more satisfying on their/own?

If literature doesn't interest you, you also need the Bible to make sense of the ideas and rhetoric that have helped drive U.S. history. "The shining city on the hill"? That's Puritan leader John Winthrop quoting Matthew to describe his settlement's convenantal standing with God. In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln noted sadly that both sides in the Civil War "read the same Bible" to bolster their opposing claims. When Martin Luther King Jr. talked of "Justice rolling down like waters" in his "I Have a Dream" speech, he was consciously enlisting the Old Testament prophet Amos, who first spoke those words. The Bible provided the argot--and theological underpinnings--of women's suffrage and prison-reform movements.

And then there is today's political rhetoric. For a while, secular liberals complained that when George W. Bush went all biblical, he was speaking in code. Recently, the Democratic Party seems to have come around to the realization that a lot of grass-roots Democrats welcome such use. Without the Bible and a few imposing secular sources, we face a numbing horizontality in our culture--blogs, political announcements, ads. The world is flat, sure. But Scripture is among our few means to make it deep.
The inset in the article mentions that certain Biblical allusions are necessary for understanding themes and nuances in the following list: Babel, Superman, Spamalot, The DaVinci Code, The Chronicles of Narnia, Pulp Fiction, One Tree Hill, The Matrix, and the Left Behind series.

The article concludes as follows:
[W]hat is required in teaching about the Bible in our public schools is patriotism: a belief that we live in a nation that understands the wisdom of its Constitution clearly enough to allow the most important book in its history to remain vibrantly accessible for everyone.
Read the rest of the article in Time Magazine.

Do you think that Bible should be taught as a course in the public schools? Why or why not?


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posted by Always On Watch @ 4/03/2007 03:00:00 PM