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Saturday, April 30, 2005

All Bible, All the Time

FallenMonk has an excellent corollary to the post I wrote yesterday on teaching the Bible in public classrooms. I just want to make certain my point was clear -- there is no way the people pushing to teach the "Bible as literature" in the classroom actually want to do that, nor -- as he point out -- are they probably qualified to do so:
It's like this -- the Bible is a collected work of ancient writing full of parables, allegory, myth, mysticism and just plain fiction that requires a working knowledge of mythology, linguistics, theology, history, philosophy and archaic language to interpret at all credibly. Probably someone like Jane's father could be trusted to teach a course but I would doubt anyone with lesser background. Additionally, there should be prerequisite courses in comparative religion, philosophy eastern and western not to mention history. If you just turn over this dangerous book to a bunch of relatively ignorant and uneducated pheasants to use their superstition, petty jealousies and greed to interpret and use as they see fit -- guess what you've got American Fundamentalism.
He is right -- it's just another excuse to strip-mine a few quotes that support the right-wing social agenda and then use it as a political taser in schools. Do they really want to teach about the deeply flawed "great patriarchs" like Noah drunk and passed out on the ground, and the Hebrew puns that imply he had a hard-on to boot? No, they want to talk about how the flood carved the Grand Canyon.

And the notion that my dad would be a great one to teach this --oh, lord, I can feel the collective family cringe right now. Citing my father's credentials yesterday in favor of teaching the Bible in school was my own private joke. He was a rabid anti-fundamentalist, in reaction to growing up in the deep south in the Church of the Nazarene where Sunday school was dominated by topics like "do niggers have souls." He hated fundamentalists for their narrow-minded racism and bigotry with a zeal I don't think I ever heard him express toward anything else. He got fed up and left the ministry when I was very young for a career in business, but he never gave up his love of using his knowledge and intellect to express his complete and utter contempt for the fundies, and he loved to bait his opponents. He was a deep, deep contrarian and it was not unheard of for him to adopt positions diametrically opposed to what he actually believed just to show his disdain for the hypocrisy of those who might agree with him. I can virtually guarantee you that if a bunch of parents sent their kids to school expecting them to learn how "Jesus loved the little children" from my dad his head would be on a pole by nightfall.

But such is the fate of kids from fundamentalist backgrounds who actually study the Bible from a scholarly point of view -- fundamentalism becomes an impossible doctrine to defend and uphold. You don't find a big movement at Harvard of students demanding to be taught creationism -- oh, excuse me, "intelligent design." (On behalf of my late father -- fah!)

There seems to be some enthusiasm, at the suggestion of John Huffman, in reading as a group Harold Bloom's Book of J, and anyone is welcome to join in. I suppose there are things more ironic than a fervently anti-fundamentalist feminist Buddhist moderating a discussion of a book written by a self-described Gnostic Jew-slash-atheist on the Bible as literature, but I can't think of any offhand. (Bloom is the Sterling Professor of the Humanities at Yale University.) It sounds pretty fun to me -- The Book of J is a quick and easily read dagger of a book. If you would like to take part and have any suggestions, please let me know in the comments section.