It is not often I agree with columnist Suzanne Fields. But I think her latest column, “As Literature, the Bible Towers”, is spot on. (Unfortunately, the column I’m referring to is not online yet, but will probably be posted here soon.) Her thesis is essentially that schools can teach Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey without violating separation of church and state laws – despite the danger that children will start to worship Zeus and Apollo. However, The Song of Solomon is arguably as significant a piece of literature as The Iliad, yet schools can’t even discuss it. In fairness, she does acknowledge the distinction between moribund religions and thriving ones, but she then dismisses it. And I agree with her.
I firmly believe the Bible should be taught as literature. It is arguably the most influential book in Western culture. I also think the Qur’an, the philosophies of Confucius and Buddha, and the Vedas should be studied. These are the cultures which define the world in which we live, and to ignore them would be a travesty.
However, I somehow suspect the same Evangelical Christians who are so eager to have the Bible resurface in the classroom, would be appalled at the notion of the Qur’an receiving billing on the same playing field. Not to mention the uproar which would ensue from the scholarly discussions of “Christian mythology”. Nor do I think the majority of teachers in this country could pull off an objective discussion of Christianity without making it sound like the “correct” answer. It’s too ingrained in our culture. Further, you can’t really have it both ways. If you want the bible introduced as history book and science text, you can’t also treat it as cultural literature.
So while I completely agree with Ms. Fields with regard to how the bible should be treated in school, I think the actual execution of such a strategy would be hopeless.