To the Editor:
Thank you for your insightful In Perspective article about schools’ efforts to teach the Bible from a nonreligious standpoint (“The Bible Makes a Comeback,” May 16, 2007).
I would, however, point out that almost no public high school in the United States can “cover the origins of Judaism and Christianity” in an academic way. To do so would undermine popular Christian beliefs, and any teacher who tries to present secular scholars’ historical arguments will likely have his or her head served up on a platter, much like John the Baptist’s.
For example, scholars have known for centuries that Moses (if he existed) did not write the Torah. Yet large numbers of Jews and Christians believe that he did, and an educator who taught otherwise would have an occupational death wish.
In his book Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—And Doesn’t, the religion professor Stephen Prothero states bluntly: “Public school Bible courses should not focus on biblical criticism. They should not try to prove that Moses did not write the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.” Indeed, the Bible Literacy Project, developer of the textbook The Bible and Its Influence, says: “Since 1999, we have stated that academic teaching about the Bible should not undermine the beliefs of those who accept the Bible as sacred scripture.”
So, public school teachers cannot point out popular historical understandings that are unsupported by current scholarship. They must remain silent about biblical contradictions and the text’s ancient codes of conduct that fly in the face of modern morality. The Bible’s pre-scientific worldview must be ignored, as well as the political process through which its scrolls were included and others excluded.
With none of this scholarly interpretation allowed, such a course easily becomes a steppingstone to proselytizing, a prospect that Mr. Prothero acknowledges and accepts. He even notes approvingly the contention from former Nixon White House counselor and convicted Watergate figure Charles Colson, now an evangelical spokesman, that studying the Bible’s “role in history, or as literature” in public schools can be the platform from which Christians can take the “next step” of converting young people outside of class.
The Teachers’ Press
A version of this article appeared in the June 13, 2007 edition of Education Week