Friday, April 19, 2013
Why School Should Study The Bible
Education in the United States is pretty poor these days, and history fares no differently. I was thinking about my instruction in Western History and disturbingly realized I could not recollect being taught certain historical events prior to high school. I remember learning about the Declaration of Independence, the Civil War, and the New Deal in seventh grade. I can recall my sixth grade teacher lecturing us about the ancient Egyptians. I distinctly remember my fifth grade class; instruction about early colonialism in North America descending into anarchy because instead of tending to crops, dealing with Indians or any of those other items, our 'colonies' spent their time declaring war on each other. Our teacher finally put a kibosh to the whole thing after we made one of those perfect students cry because my group completely annihilated her groups colony. Finally, I remember that every February we had to study black history. I always elected to do my report on either George Washington Carver or Fredrick Douglass because they were truly exceptional men, but what I can’t recall -and this does disturb me- is being instructed about the Greeks, Romans or Christendom and the Bible.
There is a pretty good chance I did receive some tutoring about the Greeks and Romans but that it was so boring, compared to the awesome, illustrated history books my dad gave me every Christmas, that I nodded off for the entire lesson. It is hard to sit through a class that goes over the history in the most general of fashions while you were already reading the Twelve Caesars by Suetonius, so I don't want to claim that my K-8 education completely failed me. But even so, I cannot say I received any instruction in Christianity or the Bible.
Now there will be some individuals who will immediately say 'well, of course, Cogitans. Separation of church and state and all.' But that would be missing the larger point. The point isn't that I think schools should teach Christianity as the one true religion but that they should teach about Christianity and the Bible and the effect it had shaping Western Civilization. Like it or not, almost every person born in the West has Judeo-Christian values deeply embedded into their worldview. The reddittheist, reddit atheists, cry foul and generally froth at the mouth, but the thinking adults among atheists will concede that this is true. Christianity has deeply shaped and molded our worldview and because of that the Bible is essentially the book of Western Civilization. Liberalism, humanism, individualism and, yes, even progressives and militant feminism, have some connection to Christianity and the Bible. Being this is the case, and considering its historical and cultural importance, schools should study the Bible the way we study the Constitution, Magna Carta or any other important cultural piece of work.
This doesn't require that we teach the Bible as true, which would certainly conflagrate the idea of separating church and state in government funded schools, but that we should study it, analyze it and ask ourselves what sort of message is being delivered. Each story, parable and passage in the Bible is an allegory, an illustrative device, that is trying to teach us something about ourselves, or instruct us on how to behave as a people. For example, why is it that harems were culturally acceptable in many parts of the world, but that they were unacceptable to Christian Rome and Christian Europe? The answer is in the Bible, specifically the New Testament, my friends
Why is it that the West has led the charge against capital punishment or cruel and unusual punishment for prisoners? It's in the Bible
And this goes for many other parts of Western Civilization. The Bible, coupled with other ideas from Pagan Rome, the rule of law, and Greece, democratic government, shaped and molded us into the society we have today. I know there will be individuals that will point to one specific example in the Bible that illustrates a cruel punishment or point to the myriad of torture devices of Medieval Europe and use that as an example of why I am wrong, but they would be utterly missing the point. The point isn't that the Bible, or Christianity for that matter, is perfect since nothing written or organized by men is perfect. The point is that Christianity and the Bible influenced the direction our civilization took. If the West had remained pagan, and we continued worshiped Jupiter and the Pantheon of Gods, our civilization would be vastly different from what it looks like today.
If we want to understand our nation, our civilization and ourselves, then it behooves us to study the most fundamental parts of our society. And the Bible, the values and the worldview it imparts, is one of the building blocks of our society. This isn't to say we should teach the Bible as the 'truth', and I say that as a Catholic, but we should absolutely study it as a historical and cultural document.