Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bible in Public Schools Bill Approved Overwhelmingly by Tennessee Legislature

By: John Remy

I may actually agree with the state representatives of Tennessee in the following, though probably not for the same reasons:

A proposal that would allow the state Department of Education to develop a curriculum for the academic study of the Bible in public schools has passed the House.

The legislation sponsored by Rep. Mark Maddox was approved 93-3 Tuesday. The companion bill unanimously passed the Senate last week.

The bill would require school districts that elect to teach the course to do so with an approved textbook in a manner consistent with the state and federal constitutions.

The legislation prohibits the use of any religious test or association when assigning teachers for Bible courses.

There is quite a range of how “academic study,” “approved textbook” and teacher selection might be interpreted and implemented. I, personally, would positively delight in teaching the range of academic approaches to the Bible today, especially if I could use a primo text like Bart Ehrman’s The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. The techniques and theories used by even the most devout biblical scholars would challenge many assumptions held by your average Bible Belt Christian. For example, I think that most scholars could agree that the assignment of authorship of the gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is extra-biblical, and that New Testament wasn’t assembled until over 200 years after the death of Christ.

“Academic study” would imply that students would be introduced to competing claims, including ideas accepted by many mainstream Christians that the so-called five books of Moses actually had multiple authors, that Paul didn’t write some of the letters ascribed to him, and that there is overwhelming evidence that whoever wrote Luke and Matthew plagiarized off of the gospel with Mark’s name on it. Such impartial, non-sectarian academic study would truly encourage critical thinking and create an environment for more nuanced approaches to religious claims.

I’m not so naive as to think this is how things would play out. After all, 16% of US science teachers are creationists, and

Despite a court-ordered ban on the teaching of creationism in US schools, about one in eight high-school biology teachers still teach it as valid science, a survey reveals.

US courts have repeatedly decreed that creationism and intelligent design are religion, not science, and have no place in school science classrooms. But no matter what courts and school boards decree, it is up to teachers to put the curriculum into practice.

So much for trusting teachers to teach the approved curriculum. Instead of proper academic study, the high school students Tennessee will get Sunday School six days a week. There go my dreams of an enlightened, not quite so fundamentalist Christianity rising up from the heart of Clinton country.