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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Bible Elective

A school board in Odessa Texas voted recently to include an elective course on the Bible in its curriculum, CNN reports. Immediately, this set off alarm bells in my head -- but it also got me thinking. I've been all about freedom of religion and saying that Christianity isn't being oppressed -- is my reaction in part prejudicial precisely because we're talking about the Bible? If we were talking about a class dedicated to the influences of the Koran, would I feel the same? I find it possible that some might jump to the conclusion that Christianity is being assailed -- after all the only time we hear about religious practice being limited, it is usually practitioners of some form of Judeo-Christianity that are the 'victims' of such legislation. On the other hand, that's because the Christians tend to kick up such a fuss and Christianity is the only massively acceptable form of religious observance in this country that sheer numbers alone account for the majority of these conflicts. But that doesn't account for my near instinctive distrust of a Bible class in a little region of Texas. At Cornell, the University prides itself on having classes devoted to almost any study imaginable. An atheistic friend of mine took several classes in Religious Studies precisely so he could argue more intelligently against the Bible and other forms of Western organized religion. These were classes that examined the language and history of the Bible, that allowed the highly devout an opportunity to discuss and debate the content of the Bible in a secular academic environment with the highly critical and atheistic nonbelievers. The Bible, for all its religious symbolism, had a profound impact on Western civilization -- so much of our history and culture can be (for better or for worse) traced back to that book and interpretations of its pages. The study of that impact, and an objective and academic treatment of its teachings is, in my mind, a perfectly valid, even highly relevant field of study and I think it should be an essential class to anybody who calls themselves 'part of the faith' -- if your faith can't hold up to an educated conversation of Christianity's hyppocrisies and its roles in many of the world's horrors and tragedies, then you have no business believing, let alone trying to convert anyone else. The problem is that the Odessa Bible elective is likely to not be the kind of objective treatment that I am espousing. Frankly, and this is my own intellectual elitism talking here, I don't believe that a public school education can deal with a tricky subject like walking the fine line between college bible study and church bible study. I'm uneasy with the idea of a public school system offering any class that might end up teaching a belief in God rather than teaching about a belief in God. And I'm certain that, if and when I think the Odessa Bible elective crosses that line, that there will not be a system in place to deal with the resulting freedom of religion issues -- and the person getting screwed in the end won't be the parents, the teachers or the school board... it will be the students.

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