Re: [asa] Teaching religion in state schools

From: Robert Schneider <>
Date: Mon Mar 05 2007 - 11:08:21 EST

As someone who teaches NT literature at a state university, in a department of philosophy and religion, I can testify to the low religious literacy and lack of knowledge of the Bible. And the great majority of my students are evangelical Christians, the majority of them Southern Baptists! They tell me so at the end of the semester in an essay in which they describe how their understanding and appreciation of the NT has changed as a result of their learning in the course. Time after time students say something like this: "I've been to church all my life, and Sunday school and Bible study, and I thought I knew a lot about the Bible, but I found out that I knew very little." Their faith, they say, has been enhanced by what they learn in the course. Some bring this knowledge and understanding to Bible study and inform the other participants in turn. Those of you who know me would not be surprised to hear me say that I do not proselytize. I teach, and in simply taking them through a close reading of the texts, I open their eyes to its riches.

While most of them display considerable ignorance of the Bible (I quote from memory OT passages and they give me blank stares), all of them have empty minds when it comes to any theological concept beyond "Jesus died for my sins." I have to teach them the doctrine of the Incarnation, because what so many of them learn amounts to a Gnostic view of Jesus, or they hold the heresy of Apollinarius of Laodicea. I have so many "teachable moments" in the course that I can't begin to count them.

I am very concerned that we have reach a point in our culture where basic knowledge of the Bible and Christian doctrine is slipping away even among Christians. I think we already have passed that threshold, and that is sad for me. That is why I see my work as so important. But despite the discouraging moments, I agree entirely with Mark Noll that if those of us who teach at secular universities and colleges give the students the Bible and show them how to read it intelligently, it can have a profound, life changing, effect.

Bob Schneider
----- Original Message -----
  From: Randy Isaac
  Sent: Sunday, March 04, 2007 8:40 PM
  Subject: [asa] Teaching religion in state schools

  Today's Boston Globe ran a story about a book by BU prof Stephen Prothero called "Religious Illiteracy"

  He shows how little Americans know about the Bible and Christian faith and argues that the school system should teach religion, in a non-devotional sense. The article ends with this paragraph:

  "And it's not only church-state watchdogs and atheists who are skeptical about whether teachers can pull off the non-devotional tightrope walk. "My own sense," says Mark Noll, an acclaimed historian at Notre Dame who is an evangelical Christian, "is that the Bible is a pretty explosive book. If students read it carefully, they'd be changed in a way that public schools couldn't handle -- and appropriately so."

  We seem to have both low scientific literacy and low religious literacy in this country, if his statistics are right. No wonder we're having trouble communication the integration of the two.

  In the same issue (it's rare enough for the Globe to have one good article, but two in one day??) Jeff Jacoby argues for the separation of school and state. Now that would put science education in an very different situation! No more court cases. But the battles wouldn't cease, I'm sure.

  And completing an even more rare hat trick, the Globe ran this piece on the new book "The Human Touch" by Michael Frayn. You may recall his play "Copenhagen." One paragraph in this article is:

  "All this said, there are moments when the artist breaks free. We get a lovely claim for fiction rather than fact as our paradigm. Would Darwin's evolution have produced its revolution in our sense of the world, without Genesis to precede it? And, this amiably shrewd unbeliever writes: "We have to know that God made man before we can understand that man made God.""


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Received on Mon Mar 5 11:10:56 2007

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