Seeing the headline on this week's TIME cover, "Why We Should Teach the Bible in Public School," I was prepared to become outraged. But after reading the article, and giving more thought to the subject, this unbeliever is all for more Biblical instruction.
Naturally it shouldn't be with an evangelical slant. The article's author, David Van Biema, says that the Bible should be treated as the bedrock of Western culture, not the holy word of God.
Other religious texts also should get wider exposure in schools. A few weeks ago I pulled up to a drive-in Dutch Brothers for a latte fix before speaking to a comparative religion class.
The guy on duty asked me how my day was going. I said, "Well, I need to stay awake for a talk on Taoism that I'm about to give." He responded with a "Taoism? What's that?" I offered up a 30-second summary after getting over my amazement that someone his age wouldn't know anything about one of the world's preeminent quasi-religious systems.
However, even more amazing is the fact that we live in the land of Biblical idiots. The United States is the most Christian-crazy nation on earth. Yet Americans know next to nothing about the Bible, as Stephen Prothero tells us in his book Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—But Doesn't
Blogger Wonkette shares some of Prothero's delicious ignoramus tidbits:
75% of adults believe the famed Benjamin Franklin saying "God helps those who help themselves" is one of the Ten Commandments.
50% of high school seniors believe Sodom and Gomorrah were married.
Only one in three Americans can name the four Gospels, while less than half can even name one of them.
As Van Biema notes in his piece, those Christians who support the death penalty with "an eye for eye, tooth for tooth" mentality either don't know about "turn the other cheek" or conveniently choose to ignore it.
There are many other examples in the Bible of contradictory or ridiculous teachings that demand active consideration by free-thinking individuals, not passive acceptance.
Bart Ehrman is a scholar who changed from a devout evangelical into an agnostic after learning so much about the history of the Bible, he realized that the words in it can't be trusted. Ehrman's book, Misquoting Jesus, definitely should be part of any public school curriculum.
I'm certainly no Bible scholar, but I know more about Christianity than most Christians. That's one reason I'm not a believer.
I know how little evidence there is that Jesus even existed. I know that the Gospels were written long after Jesus' purported death and resurrection, and have been heavily edited—both intentionally and unintentionally—ever since. I know that the books of today's Bible were selectively chosen from among a much larger collection of early Christian writings, some of which (like the Gospel of Judas) cast heresy in a new light.
So when it comes to teaching the Bible in public schools, I say "bring it on." Critically. Comprehensively. Creatively.
Personally, I don't find the Bible to be interesting or compelling reading. But I can take it in small pieces. In fact, now and then I even come across scriptural passages that, for one reason or another, seem eminently worshipful.