Wednesday, October 4

Bibles in the Classroom

Courtesy of the Denver Post we get this little item about a new textbook entering high school classes this year called The Bible and Its Influence. The thing that's interesting about this isn't the topic, but that it's being used as the basis for the structuring of a course. It automatically sets off my intolerance alarms, wondering if these same school districts would allow for a class to be structured around books entitled The Koran and It's Influence or even The Influence of Buddhism on Western Theology. Somehow, I think not.

In the 1970's I remember how controversial it still was, 15 years after the Supreme Court decision allowing use of the bible in schools, that a course was being offered that used a text that included sections of the Bible as literature in it. Some protested that the biblical stories included were being taught as myths, others protested that it was even introduced in the classroom at all. When our teacher asked us for our opinion on the matter most felt, in context, the stories were just that -- stories -- and we didn't see the problem or conflict.

Indeed, perhaps that was the point, to present the biblical within the cannon of myths and legends in order to gain a perspective about the development of cultures around the stories it tells itself. I don't think any of us felt the core of our religious beliefs shaken or undermined at the time and I know many of us continued down the same secular and spiritual paths we were already on.

But to isolate a single text from a single religion and build an entire course, much less daily lessons, is another way of recognizing a single religion over all others and presents the image of bigotry. Those who claim this is a nation founded on Christian ideals, and thus justify the preservation of those ideals through classroom exposure, do not understand that the framers of our constitution were fighting not just the British but also Puritanical intolerance. Benjamin Franklin, elder statesman and editor of the Declaration of Independence, was clear enough on the subject of intolerance and religious pluralism, and I doubt he would like what he would have read in the Denver Post.

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