Should the Bible be taught in high school? Time magazine features an article this week on that very subject, taking a close look at curriculum programs going on in a small number of schools across the country which strive to increase biblical literacy:
According to Religious Literacy, polls show that nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the Bible holds the answers to "all or most of life's basic questions," but pollster George Gallup has dubbed us "a nation of biblical illiterates." Only half of U.S. adults know the title of even one Gospel. Most can't name the Bible's first book. The trend extends
even to Evangelicals, only 44% of whose teens could identify a particular quote as coming from the Sermon on the Mount.
I'm of two minds on this sort of public school curriculum. As a former school teacher, I'm very wary of bringing religion into the school setting. I wasn't even a big fan of having Christmas trees in my school. This always surprised the staff members who knew I was also a youth pastor. "What's wrong with a Christmas tree?" they would ask. "It's not really a religious symbol." Of course, a CHRISTmas tree is certainly a religious symbol. The fact that my colleagues maintained that it was not reinforced my very concern about mixing religious symbols and practices with secular education to the point where these traditions hold no significant meaning other than as trappings of the popular culture.
Relatedly, it concerns me that those teaching these Bible courses may be teaching a brand of Christianity that is misleading or even uninformed. Do we really want to outsource religious education to the public schools and hope for the best? On the other side of the argument, all students, Christian or otherwise, could benefit from learning about the literature contained within the Bible, as it is referenced time and again throughout our culture. From the Time article:
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.
There is no doubt that the Bible has had a great influence on our culture, but is it really a good idea to teach the texts as literature and cultural artifact, bereft of theological interpretation? Do we leave the Bible teaching to the Church or do we call upon public school teachers to step in and give us a hand?