Two well-known religion-poisons-everything Atheists just wrote about Bible Literacy. Biologist Jerry Coyne wrote “Is the Bible Great Literature?” as a comment on biologist Richard Dawkins’s Gardian article called “Why I want all our children to read the King James Bible“. How do you feel about Biblical literacy?
As I got ready to publish this post, I thought, “Gee, haven’t I had already written on this subject?” And indeed I had, but the post was in my unpublished draft pile — so I just posted it. In that post you can see that I think saying “The Bible is a great literary masterpiece” is false on several levels: (1) The Bible is not homogenous, and (2) Many books of the Bible are certainly far from unique and many are worthless as literature. But in this post, as in Coyne’s and Dawkin’s articles, I address two different issues:
- What is the value of reading the Bible in order to understand Western literature?
- What is the value of requiring such reading?
These are two important questions to keep distinct. One is a personal question, while the other is a policy question. Public (government) schools must make choices on exactly what to teach children. But the number of classes are limited. Should Bible Literacy be one of those class — and at the expense of what other classes?
I am not in favor of the government’s role is saving orchestras, classical languages, ballet, Shakespeare, sports or the Bible. For me, all such efforts are stuffy parochialism. The world is a big place and always changing. Who is to say what should be preserved? Let people decide freely. Though I love religious literacy, I would not impose my pleasures on others. Religious literacy greatly improves my enjoyment of literature and films, but I disagree with Stephen Prothero’s book, “Religious Literacy“, where he advocates for more religious education in secular schools.
I agree that to deeply understand European and American literature prior to 1970s (* Sabio shamelessly pulls a date out of thin air), familiarity with both the Christian religion and its scriptures along with familiarity with Greek religion helps immensely. But so what? Is that a reason to require Bible classes in the first 12 years of a child’s education? The pertinent religious allusions in a novel can be explained during a literature class, students could then read more of the Bible on their own if they desired. No need for separate courses on the Bible.
To enjoy all literature deeply, much more than just Biblical literacy is needed. If you want to read any of India’s literature, familiarity with the Mahabharata and the Ramayana is essential too. Understanding many Japanese animes without understanding the Japanese mix of Buddhism and Shintoism means much of the story will go over your head. Confucian ideology is essential to really understand much of Chinese literature and film. The list goes on and on. Should we require all of these?
I love tasting new experiences, so my homework becomes daunting and is always incomplete! But I should no more demand all children to have my sensibilities than others should demand that my children learn to enjoy their favorite arts or past-times. People forget how parochial their education policies are.
Question to readers:
- What background reading is necessary to understand your favorite forms of fiction?
- Have you seen the value of knowing another religion’s literature in understanding any literature or film?
- Do you feel Biblical Literacy should be required teaching in children’s education in the West?