1/08/2012 | Share this article:By Paul So ~
Before anyone criticizes this article based upon the title, I want to make a clarification: While I do think that the bible should be taught at school, I also think that the way the bible should be taught ought to be in a scholarly and secular manner. When the evangelical fundamentalists insist that the bible should be taught at school, they are actually advocating a conservative theological framework that interprets the bible from its own theological point of view; in other words, the bible is not the same thing as theology. Theology is a very old academic and ecclesiastical discipline that is largely responsible for formulating doctrines, dogmas, creeds, and tradition. While many theologians appeal to the bible as an authority, they also use the bible to support their own theological opinions in matters of Church, Morality, Politics, Philosophy, Marriage, etc. The interesting thing is that there are so many different kinds of theological views that use the bible to support their beliefs. These theological views often conflict with each other to the point that it often leads to schisms or sectarian splits as you would find between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.
The bible then is usually approached theologically by many laymen, clergy, and theologians. However the bible is also approached in a different way from biblical scholars, archeologists, historians, and other academic disciplines. In this respect the bible is “Theology-Free”, that is it is not approached theologically but rather it is approached by simply understanding how the bible was actually written based upon the best supported evidence.
Spinoza, a Dutch-Jewish philosopher, was considered by some to be the Father of Modern Biblical Criticism. What Spinoza did that made him infamous in 17th century Europe was that he argued that the bible is not divinely inspired by God through the prophets, but rather the bible like any other ancient literature was written by ancient men who had their own interests and agendas on how to write literature. He was one of the few to argue that the bible was not only written by people with their own interests or agendas, but they were also written by people who did not have a advanced understanding on how the Laws of Nature operated in people’s lives. Because of this people often mis-attribute amazing events as miracles performed by God. Spinoza was also one of the many intellectuals to point out that the bible had many contradictions, especially the relation between the New Testament and the Old Testament. Spinoza also pointed out that the Old Testament never taught immortality of the soul or immateriality of God, but rather the Old Testament did not believe in the soul, it was rather an alien idea to the ancient Hebrew minds.
Currently, many biblical scholars study the bible in similar ways that Spinoza did, except they use evidences and records from their knowledge on cultures, language, history, and archeology (and perhaps more!). Many biblical scholars come to a very different conclusion about the bible in contrast to the average believers. For example, many biblical scholars agree that the bible has contradictions, Moses didn’t write the Torah, the Gospels are not eye-witness testimonies, Historical Jesus may be different from the Jesus portrayed in the Gospel, etc. They came to these conclusions that are not based on personal theological convictions that are by nature biased, but rather the conclusion is arrived through researching independent sources that can provide evidences or clues as to how the bible was plausibly written. They also use independent sources to decide which accounts of the bible were historically factual or mythological (i.e., enslaving the Jews in Egypt probably never happened, since there are no independent historical evidence). So how the bible is being understood is almost absent of theological biases.
The irony is that the bible is actually being at schools: at secular universities, specifically in courses that teaches modern biblical criticisms held by biblical scholars and professors. There are, however, other religious universities with their own seminars to teach a certain theological view on the bible as well. Because these courses are usually advanced, they are not usually not being taught at high-schools. However, if anyone can reasonably teach an introductory course that can condense all these scholastic information into basic major points, then perhaps it is possible to teach biblical studies in high school.
So when I say that perhaps the bible should be taught at school, I am not asserting that theological preconceptions that most evangelical Christians have about the bible should be taught in schools; this would be a violation of the separation between Church and State. What actually should be taught is the bible itself along with the vast amount of knowledge that has been gathered through independent research. I remember when I first took the course on Biblical Greek, a professor (who is actually a feminist who argued for Churches to hire female clergy!) said something that did have an impact on how I articulate my views on the bible: “I am not teaching you to interpret the bible by imposing your own theological assumptions into it, but rather I am teaching you how to honestly read the bible without these theological assumptions.”
So let’s teach the bible at school but throw away all these theological ideologies as pretentious garments, and teach it in its naked essence that many conservative evangelical Christians would deem to be shameful and wrong. Let’s teach the bible at school where it is being analyzed and dissected, rather than being indoctrinated. This embodies true education that nurtures students to be independent thinkers, rather than passive imbeciles who only accept what authority says, even when the authority is plainly wrong.