Thinking back to English literature in high school, I can’t help but wonder at the divided opinions concerning the use of the Bible in high school. It was required summer reading prior to AP Lit, along with Edith Hamilton’s ‘Mythology’, as a foundation of our literary culture. Yet there were those opposed to its inclusion on the grounds that unlike the stories of the Greek mythological canon, the Bible is still taught and practiced as a living religion (apologies to Nietzsche). With a still lively debate about religion entering the public school system, one can understand why some folks would reactively protest to public school students being required to read the Gospels.
Christians smiled that their Bible was going to enter the classroom and per chance shine light upon the unbelievers. Despite popular claims to the contrary it’s rare in most places for Christian teaching to be allowed so easily into a public school. But I have to wonder if those two groups shouldn’t have swapped opinions on the matter.
For starters, the Biblical books were being used in a literature class (in my case they weren’t actually taught, just required for background understanding to later works of more substantial literary merit). That very fact is a message to the students that the stories contained herein are going to be treated just like the other works of fiction. This is hardly an effective means by which to inculcate students with a belief system. Secondly I think its extraordinarily difficult in this age to read, say Genesis, Exodus, and the Gospels as we did, and from these readings alone independently develop a religious adherence. The works are freely available yet without the proselytizing efforts of current followers I have sincere doubts that the faithful would grow in number. The truth of the Bible is not, as adherents will profess, so self evident.
The examination of any literary work of course entails examining the themes and motifs the author weaves into the work, but also a more granular look at the narrative and characterization (the Bible uses dialogue to minimal extent), etc, etc, etc (why, I could have been the King of Siam). Doesn’t the critical literary analysis look at the development, change, consistency, and contradiction of all of these elements? Surely the Christian would deny that any such difficulties exist with the Bible, but considering the origin of such stories how could an unbeliever object to this content on the ground that it might color the minds of impressionable youth?
On today’s date in 1553, the physician and scholar Michael Servetus was burned at the stake in Geneva for heresy. He objected to the polytheistic nature of the trinity. His principle prosecutor was John Calvin. Even the Taliban drew the line before immolation.