My Old Kentucky Homesite

Biblical Literacy: “I Thought I Would Go With That”

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 02/09/2010

Yet again, somewhere in the United States, a band of ignorant theocrats are trying to pull a fast one on slow children. This time, they’re in — where else? — Kentucky.

I didn’t even have to open my daily rag today to find the following headline, because it was on the goddamned front page, above the fold:
Bill would let schools teach Bible literacy
.

The three Democrats who are proposing this momentous educational reform do, of course, go through the motions to appease the few Kentuckians who have actually read the First Amendment. The sponsors claim that their class would

teach students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture.

Contemporary? Usually, these kinds of god-pushers make a vague, passing reference to the totality of Western Civilization, and how it’s impossible to understand history and literature without having some familiarity with the bible. That argument probably holds some water, because our culture is swimming in Christian references.

But here in Kentucky, even that lie isn’t necessary. When asked about — as the Lexington Herald-Leader so tendenciously put it — potential “criticism from those who would favor the teaching of other religious texts, such as the Quran,” the bill’s primary sponsor, state senator David Boswell, said:

Since the Bible has played such a big role in our literature, I thought I would go with that.

His response makes it sound as if Boswell, with the innocent aim of expanding our students’ vistas, sat down and made a fair-minded list of literary pros and cons, with columns headed “the Bible,” “the Quran,” and maybe even “the Vedas,” and “The Mahayana Canon.” Eventually, to his complete surprise, he exclaimed, “Well, would you look at this? Christianity wins!” But, of course, that’s wholly shit.

So is it even remotely possible to have a religion-neutral class on bible literacy? O me of little faith; I doubt it. Not here in Kentucky, anyway, where the bible-thumping is loud enough to drown out all other thought.

But at a bare minimum, public schools should be forced to adhere to the following rules for such courses:

  • God must always be referred to as “the god character in this section.”
  • No events in the bible may be taught as fact or truth.
  • A teacher of the course must not, either explicitly or implicitly, endorse the content of any biblical passage.
  • Morally abhorrent sections of the bible must be liberally included in the course.
  • For every passage of the bible covered, the teacher must relate it to either an important historical event or literary work to which the verses act as a reference.
  • The teacher must point out parallels to biblical stories in other works of mythological literature, as well as in folklore and fairy tales.
  • The teacher must refer to the “unknown author” (small “a”) of each book or passage studied, and analyze the writing critically in the same way that other texts would be treated.
  • For all quotes, incidents, and story fragments discussed or assigned, the teacher must use a textbook or other reference work, not his or her own personal copy of the bible. The volume used must not have been issued by a publisher specializing in religious materials nor by the theological arm of an allegedly religion-neutral publisher.
  • For comparative literary purposes, the teacher must point out obvious discrepancies between biblical accounts (i.e., the two conflicting versions of the creation of humans, the differing lists of Jesus’s genealogy).
  • No teacher of the course may wear any religious item of clothing or jewelry, or emblazon any public or personal object (including his or her car) with a phrase in praise of any deity.
  • No teacher of the course may attend any outside religious services at which a student in the class might make an appearance.
  • No teacher of the course may refer to his or her own religious beliefs, either directly or indirectly. Nor may the teacher allow classroom discussion in which students talk about their own religious beliefs.

While I’m on the subject, I’d also like to address the age-old mantra that the bible should be taught as great literature. Yes, there are some beautiful passages and interesting turns of phrase in various books, and any cultured person should recognize them. But students should be reminded repeatedly that the bible is a centuries-spanning anthology of books, each of which has been translated, perhaps inaccurately or misleadingly, from ancient languages.

And a lot of the bible is just inartistic crap. Could anyone read the dry-as-the-desert rulebooks Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and not be bored out of his or her mind? The first book of Chronicles is loaded with yawn-inducing lists. Dull minor prophets like Obadiah and Haggai? Who would even look at them today if they were collected in any other volume? The Gospel of Mark is mediocre writing at best. And some of those epistles, like Titus and Philemon, are on a par with junk-mail solicitations.

I’d normally be the last person to criticize school systems for trying to teach ineducable louts about important cultural achievements. I recognize that the bible is certainly one of those. Clearly, though, it’s by no means the only one. Nor is it the most important, unless you already come to the table with a predigested notion that every word was inspired by you-know-who. Lots of the bible is tiresome and/or repugnant — badly written, morally reprehensible, logically muddled, unhistorical hogwash. If our goal is to civilize our kids, we need to expose them to Greek philosophers, Shakespeare’s plays, Beethoven’s symphonies, Rembrandt’s paintings, and the actual texts of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. They may be shocked to learn that the latter contains a little something forbidding the government from establishing religion.

If the bill-sponsoring god-pushers from Kentucky were completely honest — which they’re not — they’d also be making a fuss that public school students are taught next to nothing about Greek/Roman mythology, world drama, classical music, fine art, and the history of science. Shouldn’t those subjects be mandated in the public schools as well?

So why are they worried specifically about biblical literacy? Anyone who spends even a small amount of time reading the drivel in newspapers and magazines, in best-selling novels and current biographies, and — yeah — on most blogs, anyone who cares at all about the written word, knows that many Americans are inept at communicating or understanding ideas in any form longer than a twit’s tweet. What we really need to teach students in this country is just plain old unadorned literacy.

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12 Responses to “Biblical Literacy: “I Thought I Would Go With That””

  1. I would start off with a reading from the 2 Kings 2:23-24 about the great prophet Elisha

    23 And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.

    24 And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.

    Of course, I would probably translate it into the local dialect:

    23 He ‘uz header fer Bethel, when along come some little city kids. They ‘uz all yellin’ and makin’ fun ’cause he ‘uz all ball-headed.

    24 So he turned round, flipped ’em a bird, and told ’em to go fuck theirself. Outta nowhere comes these two mama bears right out the woods, and tore ’em forty two new assholes.

    24a I reckon you all get the idea. Nex’ time one of you little peckers puts Ex-Lax in my coffee, all y’all is gettin’ smote.

    Or something to that extent.

  2. Des:
    I like y’all’s translation of the bible better’n ‘at King Jane’s version.

  3. yunshui said

    The Kentucky Bible. I can see that catching on, actually.

    Nice list of prospective rules, you crazy idealist, you. If the proposal passes, I’ll buy you a donut for every one of them that gets implemented. A solid gold donut, with diamond sprinkles, filled with jam from the Moon.

  4. Mmmmmm, Moon jam.

    I think the other fast one, aside from sneaking proselytizing into public schools, is trying to pass off preserving a bygone society and culture as “contemporary society and culture”. Kids don’t need to learn the Christian bible to understand contemporary society and culture. They eat, breath and tweet contemporary society and culture. THEY should be teaching these legislators wtf contemporary society and culture is, not the other way around, and there’s no need for knowing the details of the Christian bible when navigating the series of tubes we lovingly call the internet, or deciding who should be the next American Idol.

    Seriously, American public schools are woefully lacking in math and science education, and they ignorantly look at arts education as extraneous. In light of this, the pressing educational issue is making sure kids get a good education of the Christian bible? They should be fucking ashamed of themselves, and we should prepare ourselves to welcome our Chinese overlords when they eventually take over our ignorant, clueless nation.

  5. yunshui said

    Philly

    You’ll be wanting to memorise this:

    我们欢迎我们新的大师。 我爱面条。

  6. the chaplain said

    I don’t know why you’re so steamed, Larry. After all, Kentucky’s education system is ranked a respectable 32 out of 51 possible slots (50 states, plus DC – which is dead last). Surely, y’all can indulge in the luxury of adding a crucial course like this to your curriculum.

  7. Amen.

    (And I do think you and Yunshui and Desertscope need to start a blog translating the Bible into Kentuckyish.)

  8. GoingLikeSixty:

    Some might protest replacing the KJV or King James Version with the GJV or Grandpa Jones Version.

    YunShui:

    This would probably be more popular:

    没有共产党,就没有 新美国

  9. Yunshui:
    Maybe we should change “donut” to eggroll, sprinkled with jade powder and filled with bok choy from Mars. I think Philly‘s right, and we should all prepare ourselves for full-time Chinese cuisine.

    这将是美味,你从肯塔基州愚蠢的人

    Philly:
    In light of this, the pressing educational issue is making sure kids get a good education of the Christian bible?
    Actually, that’s only the second most important educational priority in Kentucky. The first, of course, is to make sure each school has a great basketball team.

    chappy:
    Surely, y’all can indulge in the luxury of adding a crucial course like this to your curriculum.
    Yes, we have a ways to go before we can earn the bottom slot.

    Going:
    … translating the Bible into Kentuckyish …

    An’ God he says, How ’bout some Laht: an’ sho’ nuff they was Laht.

    The truth is, that might be a little more Alabamese than Kentuckyish. It’s hard for us Northerners to tell, since them Southerners all sound pretty much like cats in an alley.

    Des:
    Some might protest replacing the KJV or King James Version with the GJV or Grandpa Jones Version.
    I’m in favor of the Good Ol’ Obsolete Basic English Revised version. For short: the GOOBER.

  10. I prefer the generic Southern accent. I moved from Arkansas nearly 30 years ago, then did the Southern tour, ending up in New Mexico. As such, the accents have all but melted together for me. I am told I occasionally slip into a little bit of a generic Southern accent after I have had a few.

    I did find this rather graphic animation of the Elisha story.

    Larry:

    GOOBER is good, but I was thinking of something with more of a Stars-and-Bars flavor like Confederate Revised American Pentateuch or CRAP. On second thought, that doesn’t really cover the whole Bible. And I can’t think of any “p” words that do. Maybe GOOBER will have to do.

  11. Des:
    Great video.

    I can’t think of any “p” words that do.
    How about Praybook? (As in: “That they bahbull-readin’ law, she comes raht out o’ th’ol’ praybook.”)

  12. […] My Old Kentucky Homesite has a nice essay post on the subject, including a good set of suggestions o… […]

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