I don’t know if you’ve seen the ads, I don’t know if they exist on regular network television, but I’m presuming they do. I wouldn’t know because I’ve been watching nothing but TBN for about two months now. I don’t normally write about political issues because, well, normally I feel that I don’t’ really know enough about the topic to really pitch in. I have to admit that I don’t really keep up with current events the way the I ought to. But I was a little surprised at my reactions to the PSAs by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools that I’ve been seeing lately, starring Chuck Norris and his wife Geena.
When I first saw these PSAs endorsing the introduction of Bible curriculum I was angered. I thought it was indicative of the typical Christcentric thinking that seems more and more like an aberration on our culture. I’m not against Christianity, and I understand that “witnessing,” as it were, is a major component of the religion. Something about compassion.
If I’ve learned anything in the past few months of watching the Trinity Broadcasting Network it is this: people that haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as their savior are destined to the Lake of Fire, because no man is free from sin therefore no man gets to God but by Jesus Christ — or something like that, I wasn’t really paying close attention.
So witnessing and converting are seen as acts of compassion by those in the Christian faith. In a special called “Way of the Master,” Kirk Cameron compared it to rescuing children playing in the bottom of an elevator shaft from a falling elevator car. I’m pretty sure I’m getting that right. I am of course speaking as an outsider looking in, but I think that I’m being fair, and I am by no means attempting to make fun of the Christian dogma itself. If people really believe that I’m going to a real place called Hell if I’m not saved, then I don’t think it’s funny that they want to share their faith with me. I can recognize this is their love, or at the very least their compassionate concern for my soul.
Now that I’ve properly disclaimed myself, let me get on with the Bible curriculum. I think that introducing Bible education into the classroom is in great danger of becoming indoctrination because of the way the Western education system works. Students are rarely taught to question what they are learning (at least not until college).
Now I know what you are probably thinking, that I have no real means of qualifying this opinion other than my own experiences in school. But I used to teach English/critical thinking at a university, and I can tell you with absolute confidence that students believe pretty much anything you tell them in the setting of the classroom, and often times by the end of the semester they are still struggling with the concept of questioning any text. They pretty much believe that if it is in print, it must be true, and to question that is either extreme hubris, or absolute foolishness.
Knowing this about students in our school system I get a little afraid of the Bible being introduced as a text. And of course I also question why the Bible and not the Qur’an? Why not Buddhism and other world religions? It can be tempting to say to hell with everything else, I’m a Christian, I believe this is the only right way and it is my duty to subdue and dominate nations. But the secular humanist in me says that I know that is not right, and I can’t really fool myself for very long.
These PSAs were running for a few days, and I didn’t really get myself in too much of a stink because it is very hard for me to believe that the Bible would ever really make its way back into classrooms. And then Praise the Lord came on and Chuck and Geena Norris were hosting. They had a variety of guests on talking about why Bible education ought to be brought back into the classroom. And it changed my mind. Sort of.
It became clear that what they were advocating was the introduction of “Art, History, and Literature of the Bible” as an elective course at the high school level. Having been an educator it is hard for me to really say no to any kind of learning. I actualy think it would be quite good for students to have an opportunity to learn about something that, as many of the guests pointed out, has affected so much of our culture. Then I started to think that it probably should be required at the high school level as part of humanities, to understand the Bible, because a good 80% of people in the United States consider themselves to be Christian. There can be no doubt that the Bible has very much influenced our culture from our constitution, to our books, and art.
Proof of this is evident in the recent hoopla over The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown. I don’t know how the coverage has been on regular television, but on TBN it’s been an anti-DaVinci Code jamboree; I mean these preachers, pastors, and prophets won’t shut up about what a terrible pack of lies this work of fiction is. I know, I stumble over that line of logic, too. But I also started thinking how much my own experience of the book or the upcoming movie would be enriched if I had a better understanding of the Bible. Then I started thinking about how much my experiences of all kinds of art, from Shakespeare to Caravaggio, would have been enriched by a better understanding of the Good Book that was the backbone of the cultures that produced them.
However, this newfound enthusiasm for the Bible as an elective course was tempered by the sermonizing of Pastor John Hagee. Hagee is pastor of a very large church in San Antonio, Texas, and has written several religious books about world issues. I love watching and listening to Pastor Hagee. I will say this right now, he can preach the pants off ANYONE. I dare you to find a better preacher, let me help you, you can’t. I just wish that I could agree with half the things that he says, but he believes some very frightening things. I’m not sure if he coined the term “secular humanist” but he certainly makes powerful use of it, calling it a religion. Hagee claims that the agenda of the secular humanist movement is to sterilize the brain of any knowledge of God. I’m paraphrasing because I can’t do the man the justice he deserves. Pastor Hagee is a convincing public speaker.
If you’re not familiar with the term, a secular humanist is pretty much anyone that wouldn’t identify themselves as Christian, but believes in basic morality and a vague spirituality, basically most of the people I know, and most of the people you would find on a liberal college campus or living in a large city on either one of the North American coasts. Put another way, it includes those of us that live in areas where we’ve been exposed to people of different races, religions, sexual orientations, and so on for a prolonged amount of time. I feel no shame in being identified this way.
Contrary to what Pastor Hagee would have people believe, when I was an instructor I had no interest in changing the belief systems of any of my students. I had several Christian students that would use the Bible as a reference to support arguments in essays. I would indeed talk to them about how they used these references, but I never wanted to discourage them from using their faith as part of an argument where they felt their faith was an important part. I’m not saying it wasn’t difficult or tenuous, but it was possible and neither party walked away feeling diminished.
And this is what inspired me to write this, that up to a point the argument for the Bible in the classroom made sense to me, and my mind was willing to accept the very sound reasoned arguments being presented. But it was the emotional powerhouse of Pastor Hagee that put me off. I believe this is the fear of many when it comes to the idea of the Bible in the classroom, that it will also bring into the classroom the philosophy of blind belief without reason.
As an educator I’d like to believe that school is the place where you learn to reason and to think. It was once said that defending the Bible is like defending a lion, and I agree with that sentiment. Reason can only strengthen the arguments and doctrines set forth in the Bible. For this same reason I think that the Bible in the classroom would ultimately be a mistake, because you go to school to learn reason, to learn how things work. The Law of Gravity is morally neutral; why the Law of Gravity exists, well that’s a whole different story, and do you really want your high school physics professor teaching you about God? I certainly wouldn’t.