Saturday, February 13, 2010

Religious Pandering in the State Senate

Recently a handful of state Senators here in Kentucky have introduced a bill that would allow Bible studies to be added as an elective social science course in public schools. The bill's main sponsor is a Democrat by the name of David Boswell who's (coincidentally, no doubt) up for reelection soon. Theoretically Senate Bill 142 (the full text of which is available here) would only allow for the creation of religiously-neutral Bible study and would not allow for proselytizing, but anyone who thinks that this is anything more or less than a political ploy by an endangered incumbent is kidding themselves.

Perhaps more interesting than the creation of Bible study course is this little delightful addendum that read in part:
Any school council organized pursuant to KRS 160.345, or, if none exists, the principal, may the display of historic artifacts, monuments, symbols, and texts, including but not limited to the display of religious materials...

I think it's pretty safe to assume that this provision in the bill would result widespread placement of the Ten Commandments in classrooms for "educational" purposes. The Ten Commandments are a hot button issue here in Kentucky (perhaps even moreso than in the rest of the country thanks to Roy Moore), and the casual inclusion in SB 142 of a backdoor to place them in public classrooms is so shameless as to border on the ludicrous.

The most irritating part about this whole situation is that actual, honestly academic Biblical literacy courses, if done right, aren't really that bad of an idea. There's an old canard which goes "if more people read the Bible there'd be more atheists", and while I'm not certain that's the case, I suspect that if more people read the Bible from the textual critical viewpoint there would be a lot fewer foaming inerrantists roaming about. In any event, it's undeniably true that the Bible has had a profound effect on Western civilization, for good and ill. The exploration of the Bible's origins, the development of the NT canon, and the ongoing ramifications of the Jewish/Christian split are all interesting and intellectually rewarding areas of study.

The problem is that you and I both know that public school Bible courses in Kentucky would not involve discussions of the Documentary Hypothesis, higher criticism of the NT, or any talk at all about social construction - They'd consist of KJV readings of Genesis, John, and Revelation.1 Senator Boswell isn't looking to establish the intellectually rigorous teaching of the Bible as an historical document, he's looking to score cheap votes in what's likely to be a close state senate race in November.

1.) My sophomore year social studies class in high school (taught by the track coach) including a comparative religions unit which the teacher saw fit to preface with a statement of "We all know which one is true, but the state says we have to study this."

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