Friday, March 1, 2013

Why Public Schools Should Teach the Bible

Roma Downey and Mark Burnett make the case that we can't be considered literate without a basic knowledge of the Bible as text in this Wall Street Journal editorial.
Have you ever sensed in your own life that "the handwriting was on the wall"? Or encouraged a loved one to walk "the straight and narrow"?

Have you ever laughed at something that came "out of the mouths of babes"? Or gone "the extra mile" for an opportunity that might vanish "in the twinkling of an eye"?

If you have, then you've been thinking of the Bible.

These phrases are just "a drop in the bucket" (another biblical phrase) of the many things we say and do every day that have their origins in the most read, most influential book of all time. The Bible has affected the world for centuries in innumerable ways, including art, literature, philosophy, government, philanthropy, education, social justice and humanitarianism. One would think that a text of such significance would be taught regularly in schools. Not so. That is because of the "stumbling block" (the Bible again) that is posed by the powers that be in America.
Read it all. Downey and Burnett, both TV veterans whose European educations included reading the Bible, came up with The Bible  docudrama for The History Channel to help demonstrate their point.

It is possible to dig into the Bible as a literary text, which I did when requested to read Genesis on my podcast. Granted, I occasionally would stray into personal commentary, but t'was all to the good since that's what I do for every book I read there.

The promoters didn't have a screener and I don't have cable, so y'all will have to give me your opinions after it airs. Here's the link for The Bible.

19 comments:

  1. "Rick Warren, Joel Osteen and Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, have all endorsed the work." That's one curious mix. No TV do I can't watch it. In lieu of that allow me to offer my opinion on something else, not totally unrelated:

    - - -
    I'll get killed by some Catholic for this admission but one of the reasons I appreciate the NRSV is that its translators viewed the sacred text as sacred but also as literature and were therefore careful to translate what we call the Old Testament as what it is first, the Hebrew sacred text. So yes, in some places we 'loose' the immediate chapter and verse Christological import, one the other hand, the original writers, Divinely inspired as they were, did not have a Christological view in mind.

    Also, since I'm on a roll, the NRSV is not as encumbered with meaning ported into the texts as other translations both Protestant and Catholic (and some really do go overboard). The translator notes and the carious study notes that choose the NRSV as their base (like the Oxford Annotated) are definitely more historical than devotional or, dare I say, sectarian. Anyway, I quite like it though in the view of some this may require extra years in Purgatory.

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    1. Hey, I may be punished also because I discovered that I like the New American Bible Revised ... Old Testament readings are infinitely more poetic than in the plain NAB. :-)

      If you click through to my Genesis reading on the podcast, what you'll see is that it is actually a reading of Robert Alter's translation of that book (with permission from the author and agent). I highly recommend any of Robert Alter's translations since he cares naught for the religious aspect, but completely for the best translation that conveys the Hebrew, in every sense. His notes are really wonderful and contain a wealth of cultural information also.

      You may enjoy Alter's books for the very reasons you enjoy the NRSV. :-)

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    2. "Rick Warren, Joel Osteen and Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, have all endorsed the work." That's one curious mix.

      I also meant to say that the "curious mix" may mean that it is good for general audiences, which is just what one would expect. :-)

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    3. The what?! NABre? Egad. I may be ostracized but you're doomed.

      Kidding aside, I was gifted an NABre in the swanky Little Rock edition and have been enjoying the whole thing. However, it would have been so nice to see the 're' update the NAB on this unsymphonic clash:

      "For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace." -Isaiah 9:5 (NAB)

      I am playing your Adler podcast episode 136 now and returning to the art easel.

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    4. I will say that Robert Alter is definitely easiest to read as an actual text, rather than listening once it gets into Genesis proper. The problem of the footnotes was one that I handled clumsily at best, settling upon reading the text, then rereading it with the footnotes inserted. :-)

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    5. [Sidebar comment: Since I blog with Wordpress I have been using my WP id and it's a drag that Blogger only allows for selecting send follow-up comments if I sign in with Google. I have to bookmark the page and refresh to see if there's any follow-up. This is true of all Blogger blogs + non Google sign-in when commenting.]

      Julie, I listened to the first podcast. You did a great job of hitting the footnotes. You are correct though, it takes focused listening which I can do while painting or drawing but yes I think the challenge could increase once into the biblical text itself.

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  2. The thing is ... as the world becomes more and more secular, the Bible is read less and less.

    It is now sadly fashionable to proclaim not to believe in God. It is more trendy to encourage others to follow the same path.

    God bless you.

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    1. Looking on the bright side of life, bully for the producers of this mini series getting the B.I.B.L.E. out there in the public square; no?

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    2. Very true, Victor. The thing that makes me smile is this ... reflecting upon how many have been converted through reading the Gospels simply as a book. And the fact that this program, simply by trying to promote the literary value, would get it into people's hands. :-)

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  3. P.S. Julie,
    have you read the KNOX? MB and I have been enjoying it - talk about symantec nuances blending with literary sensibility.

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    1. I have been reading it ... just dipping in now and then and really enjoying it.

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    2. He sometimes gets a little carried away with his own, then contemporary idioms but it is refreshing and surprisingly he often "agrees" with NRSV renderings. / "agrees" gets quotes because he precedes the NRSV by decades. / "surprisingly" because not a few, erm, shall we say fairly traditionalist Catholics give a thumbs up to Knox as a nice alternative to their daily intake of the Challoner D-R. These are the same folk who flip out in forums over the NRSV.
      For fun, compare:

      God, at the beginning of time, created heaven and earth. Earth was still an empty waste, and darkness hung over the deep; but already, over its waters, stirred the breath of God.

      In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

      Niether say "Spirt" (capitalized or not) which is often the litmus in that verse for veracity (even though breath/wind/spirit are all valid).

      As seen above (breath/wind not withstanding in Gen 1,1-2) KNOX is actually much freer than the NRSV throughout the Bible. However, doesn't mess with the convention of man/brethren/ even when the original is non gender specific so certain quarters given him the thumbs up.

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  4. The Bible is set up to record on my DVR (that sounds odd!). Can't wait to see it!

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  5. There's nothing new under the sun...

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  6. You're right. But even more important the Bible should be taught in the church. I've lost count of the amount of sermons, youth group meetings and morning devotions people describe that have no biblical content. We need it!

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    1. That is very sad! We are blessed in that our parish's homilies always are based solidly around at least two of the three readings. Often all three are called in, sometimes with the responsorial psalm referenced as well. I thank Gpd for our faithful priest and deacons! :-)

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  7. Living in the Protestant Bible Belt, I would not like the Bible being taught in public schools. Because of personal interpretation bias, Catholic children would be exposed to anti-catholic teachings and could be influenced easily at that age. As Catholic parents we are responsible for the teaching of the faith to our Children.

    I feel the same way as prayer in public school. Would you want a Muslim teacher leading your children in prayer everyday or an anti-Catholic teacher.

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  8. In reply to the above comment. I think the Bible should be taught...and it CAN be taught. The SCOTUS ruled that the Bible cannot be taught as religion, but it can be taught as literature. I am Catholic, but my reasoning for wanting the Bible taught in public schools is less to do with religion, but more with history. How does one understand history (especially western history) without reading the book that helped to shape so much of it?
    -E.J.

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  9. I saw part 1 of the Bible miniseries on TV. I didn't like it. It went too fast, skipped a lot of details and it tried too hard to be cool, trendy, and spectacular. I couldn't understand why Abraham, Sarah, Lot and his wife and everybody else had to be sweaty and dirty-looking. I thought Moses acted like a smuck. I did like the burning bush special effect, though. Maybe part 2 will be better.
    As for bibles, I like a lot of different versions: KJV, RSV, NRSV, NAB, NABRE, NEB, REB, JB, NJB, and the Challoner revision of the Douay-Rheims.

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