28 May 2008

Should a class focusing on the Bible be taught in public school?

The Roanoke Times asks this question in an online "poll" to which, as asked, the only correct answer is "no". Why do I say that--I, who am an advocate of teaching the Bible as one of the great classics of western civilization? I who believe that all our classics are being sadly neglected in an educational system intent on supplying factory workers for the gigantic assembly lines of yesteryear? Especially when the class in question is to be taught by a "20-year veteran, properly licensed, one of our most praised and most valued faculty members," according to school board chairman James Stephens. "She has the good judgment to make sure she does not get into proselytizing and keep it in an academic format," he claims.

The answer: This class is based on the course put out by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, a known purveyor of fake history. Check out their website. Try the Founding Fathers page, for example. What do we find there? Well, first there's the bizarre assertion that "The Bible was the foundation and blueprint for our Constitution, Declaration of Independence, our educational system, and our entire history until the last 20 to 30 years." This is at the very least a considerable overstatement; in point of fact the Bible was neither the foundation or the blueprint for any of those things, ever. Not in the last twenty to thirty years, not in the last century, not at all. This is crazy talk--but not just crazy talk. It is far worse than that. It is Christian Nation talk.

Next we have a quotation attributed to Patrick Henry. No, it isn't the one I trashed the other day; this is a different one. "The Bible is a book worth more than all the other books that were ever printed," said Patrick Henry, according to this site. Well, not exactly. What Patrick Henry allegedly said of the Bible--and what we have is only a third-hand report--"Here is a book worth more than all the other books that were ever printed : yet it is my misfortune never to have found time to read it, with the proper attention and feeling, till lately. I trust in the mercy of Heaven, that it is not yet too late." This anecdote first appeared in William Wirt's Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry (1818; p. 402); his source, apparently, was a letter from George Dabney. In other words what we have here is not something actually written by Patrick Henry, but only something that somebody else said he said--and lacking the letter, we don't even know if Dabney heard this himself, or only reported what somebody else had told him.

After this we come to a quotation attributed to, of all people, Horace Greeley. Apparently it has somehow escaped the NCBCPS's notice that Horace Greeley was not one of the Founding Fathers. He was a newspaper editor who belonged to the Civil War generation, an anti-slavery advocate, a contemporary of Lincoln, the Let The Erring Sisters Go Their Ways guy. Still, what is he supposed to have said? "It is impossible to enslave mentally or socially a Bible reading people. The principles of the Bible are the groundwork of human freedom." Is this a genuine quotation? No source is given, either here, or in any of the other works quoting this that I could run down. It sounds like the sort of thing Greeley might have written. He liked the word groundwork and the expression human freedom. He was a Bible-reader from way back, having learned to read from it at the age of four. He was no doubt aware of the way the story of Moses was read by the slaves as a metaphor for their own liberation, and could well have had this in mind. But I couldn't find it, in spite of going through a number of Greeley's works. The oldest source I could locate (and this thanks to Google search) was an 1889 volume entitled Vital Questions: The Discussions of the General Christian Conference Held in Montreal, Que., Canada, October 22nd to 28th, 1888. On pp. 197-98 we read:

And so of our own and all other lands. Romish dogma we know to be a source of religious, social, and national peril. "But it is impossible," said one of the great leaders of public thought in America, " to mentally and socially enslave a Bible-reading people, for the principles of the Bible are the ground-work of human freedom."

The "great leader of public thought in America" isn't named, but Greeley would certainly qualify. However, neither this nor any other work that gave this alleged quotation gave any source, beyond attributing it to Horace Greeley. The burden of proof, remember, is on the person who would claim this as genuine.

Moving on, we have "I have always said, and will always say, that studious perusal of the sacred volume will make us better citizens." This is attributed to Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson, at least, actually was a Founding Father, but the quotation isn't much to boast of. In this case the source is known, thanks to Chris Rodda, and it is both misquoted (surprise) and second-hand. It appears in a letter written by Daniel Webster describing a conversation he had had with Jefferson a quarter of a century earlier. Supposedly Jefferson told him, "I have always said, and always will say, that the studious perusal of the sacred volume will make better citizens, better fathers, and better husbands." Unfortunately, that same letter shows Jefferson's opinion of church-state relations: he said that "Sunday schools ... presented the only legitimate means, under the constitution, of avoiding the rock upon which the French republic was wrecked." Not public schools, if you please, but Sunday schools.

Finally we have a few random assertions.

While President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson was elected the first president of the Washington, D.C. public school board, which used the Bible as a reading text in the classroom.

I'll let Chris Rodda handle this one:

This myth about Jefferson and the Washington D.C. schools was created by combining two things. One is that, in 1805, Jefferson was elected president of the Washington City school board. The other is an 1813 report by the teacher of one of the city's early public schools, showing that the Bible and Watts's Hymns were used as reading texts in that school. The problem with the story is that the school that these books were used in didn't exist until several years after Jefferson left Washington and the school board.

In other words, this one is just a plain, or garden, lie. Next.

There was a secular study done by the American Political Science Review on the political documents of the Founding era, which was 1760-1805.
This study found that 94% of the documents that went into the Founding ERA were based on the Bible, and of that 34% of the contents were direct quotations from the Bible.

Why people pay attention to preposterous statistics would probably make a fascinating study for somebody to undertake, but I'm not going to worry about it right now. Ninety-four percent of Founding era documents are based on the Bible? Come on...that's just not credible. The fact is that the study says nothing about ninety-four percent of Founding Era documents being based on the Bible--nothing. What the study actually says is that thirty-four percent of the citations in Founding Era documents are from the Bible. The study also says that three quarters of these citations are from printed sermons; if we leave these out of the picture, then the figure for Biblical citations drops to eight and a half percent.

The thing is, why should we trust a curriculum designed by people who use dubious quotations (and then can't even get them right), who think that Horace Greeley was one of the Founding Fathers, who get even simple facts wrong, and who cite preposterous (and bogus) statistics without any sense of shame? These people are either blitheringly incompetent, or shameless liars. Either way they have no business putting together a course on anything whatsoever, and no teacher, no matter how well-intentioned, ought to have to use such a steaming pile of horse manure. Selah.

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