Biblical idiots

Last week, Stephen Prothero had an op-ed piece that appeared in the Los Angeles Times, titled “We live in the land of biblical idiots.”

His point is that a basic familiarity with the Jewish and Christian scriptures–from a cultural, not necessarily a religious, standpoint–is essential in our society. Accordingly, he argues for the teaching of these scriptures in public school classrooms.

He makes a good point, I think. I’ve encountered far too many students over the last several years who don’t have a good enough background in the Bible to get the literary references in Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, for instance. Not that I blame them; they simply haven’t had the exposure they need.

Anyone interested in Prothero’s religious literacy quiz can find it here.

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2 responses to “Biblical idiots

  1. Yes, the Bible is very important for a variety of academic endeavours, even if not read in the religious sense. However, if scripture were taught in public schools, what of the teachings of the other major religions? They couldn’t very well be left out could they? Many areas of North America are not predominantly Judeo-Christian anymore..

  2. Hi Heather,

    thanks for the comment.

    I think Prothero’s main point, though, is not that we should be teaching Christianity or Judaism in public schools, but that we should be teaching the Jewish and Christian scriptures.

    And that’s a key difference, as I see it. The Bible is key for understanding Western history and culture in a way that the scriptures of other faiths aren’t, at least not at this point in history. I can understand Atwood, Shakespeare, Milton, and Dante, for instance, while being totally unfamiliar with the Quran, the Vedas, and the Upanishads. I can’t understand them–at least not fully–if I’m biblically illiterate.

    That’s not to say, of course, that it isn’t worthwhile to teach about other faiths as well–only that it isn’t as important for Western Culture and Civilization sorts of purposes. I was the lucky beneficiary of an excellent World Religions course in my public high school.

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