Thursday, May 19, 2005

The circular "kids should know the Bible" argument (CONTINUED, AS PROMISED)

David Gelernter points out, in the Weekly Standard, that kids today don't know much about the Bible. The Bible is, as Great Books go, by far the greatest, the most important to Western Civilization and some others as well. So regardless of their religion or religiousity, young people ought to study the Bible. But the Bible cannot be studied as anything other than a religious document. Ergo, to study the Bible, you need to look at it not as the greatest of the Great Books, but as God's word. And since everyone's got to study the Bible, everyone's got to be religious. It's simply being ignorant of Western Civilization not to be a believer. Gelernter eagerly awaits a "Great Awakening" among--you guessed it--American college students. (That gives me three weeks to go if I'm going to get greatly awakened. Yikes!):

My guess is that our next Great Awakening will begin among college students. College students today are (spiritually speaking) the driest timber I have ever come across. Mostly they know little or nothing about religion; little or nothing about Americanism. Mostly no one ever speaks to them about truth and beauty, or nobility or honor or greatness. They are empty--spiritually bone dry--because no one has ever bothered to give them anything spiritual that is worth having. Platitudes about diversity and tolerance and multiculturalism are thin gruel for intellectually growing young people.

Argh! All anyone ever talks about at Chicago is "what is truth" or "what is beauty," though all everyone seems to agree on is that the latter isn't especially common among students here....

To be continued, post-TA session.


Mmm, the perfect blogging snack of black coffee and peanut butter M&Ms...

So yeah, I don't see how a discussion of truth or beauty must be a discussion of the Bible. While it's true that the Bible's had a huge impact on where we are today, the fact that for a while now many people have looked to other sources for their understanding of the world means that a move towards the Bible isn't embracing how things are but is hoping things move in a way that they wouldn't necessarily be moving in otherwise. To put it another way, if the Bible really were everything, kids today would already be studying it up the wazoo. Speaking as one of those dry-timber college students Gelernter can't stand the thought of, I think part of why college students get so much PC input from profs is that we are, in many ways, a conservative bunch. The debauchery of "I am Charlotte Simmons" or of most of the people I know at Chicago tends to be of the drunken heterosexual variety. (Is that just Chicago? I have no idea.) Students who want their heterosexual sex, their i-banking jobs, their post-college yuppie lifestyle followed by a house in the suburbs, get exposed to the counterculture by some profs, only to abandon it later, but the idea is, at least they've heard of liminal queer spaces, even if they never care to enter any themselves. So, what does all this have to do with the Bible? Hard to say, but it's a part of my aforementioned defense of political correctness...

But whatever may be the case at other colleges, here at Chicago the "intellectual gruel" is thick (as is the Pierce dining hall oatmeal, geez). As for whether we know about "Americanism," I, for one, didn't know that America had an associated "ism." Does he mean American history? Does he know what he means, or does that just make for a good socially conservative catchword? Regardless, the absolute last thing that should come as an antidote to the excesses of multiculturalism is a friggin' "Great Awakening." Like that's what will bring this country together.

FYI those were some tasty M&Ms.


Anonymous said...

Not that I ever took one, but there are college courses in "The Bible as Literature." That is the only way that I'd be able to read the Bible. I've been content with second-hand Bible references in Dante, Milton, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Joyce, Faulkner, etc. They are great enough for me. -- JM

Anonymous said...

"As for whether we know about "Americanism," I, for one, didn't know that America had an associated "ism."

Gelernter is fond of the right wingnut shibboleth of "American Exceptionalism", which is synonymous with "Americanism".

If you wanted to spend a week reading back issues of Commentary Magazine, all this would become as clear as an azure sky of deepest summer. Life, however, is too short to waste too much time parsing idiots.

Danæl said...

I think the Bible should be taught to school children. We can start by having kids read the Genesis creation story, where God sets the sun and moon in the "firmament" of the sky (the sky that keeps the waters above it away from the waters below it), and have them read similar, contemporary Babylonian creation myths alongside it.

Then we can teach kids about the laws, such as those condoning slavery and rape and degrading women, and put those in an ancient Near Eastern cultural context as well.

Then kids can learn about the multiple genocides detailed in the post-Deuteronomy historical books of the Bible, and how these genocides were done under the commandments in the earlier law section.

Oh wait ... we don't want kids learning about all the parts of the Bible that make it seem like it was written by bronze-age barbarians.

We could also have kids learn about how many of the founding fathers were Deists or atheists who rejected the Bible (Jefferson called it a "dung-heap") ... but then we don't want our kids learning that the founding fathers were anti-Christian.

I honestly think that when people like this fellow call for greater religious expression in public schools (i.e. greater exposure to Christianity), people like us should call their bluff. Let them teach the Bible ... the whole Bible, not just the Christian lite love-your-neighbors selections. Let them put up the Ten Commandments in the hallways ... and then put up the commandments from the very next chapter of Exodus, which detail how much you are allowed to beat your slave.

I would love to see the Bible taught objectively and historically in public schools. But I'm willing to bet that the Christian right would make a bigger ruckus about that than the ACLU.

P.S. I really like your blog! Thanks for the ranting space :o)

Maureen said...

I think the ACLU would actually be okay with teaching the Bible as a classic work of literature with disputed authorship.

Anonymous said...

Gelernter wants "Bible as Literature" classes in high schools so he can complain about the "Bible as Literature" classes in high schools.