This essay is cross-posted at Rev. Dave’s Bible Study, Sixth Estate’s adjunct blog on religion.
Let’s suppose that an NGO was about to distribute a booklet in your child’s grade 5 class. The book contains admonitions that gay people should be stoned to death, that teenage girls who have sex with their boyfriends should be burned to death, and that while engaging in genocidal warfare against the next town over, you should feel free to abduct any attractive girls you find and make them your sex slaves. In fact, this booklet advocates that people be murdered for several dozen offences, ranging from masturbation to witchcraft to disrespecting one’s parents. Are you disturbed that this book is being distributed in your child’s class? Would it make you feel any more comfortable if the school sent home a permission form first, saying that if you wanted to, you could ask them not to give your child this book?
If you answered yes to the first question, or no to the second, then you are the sort of “dinner party ruining atheist” that National Post columnist Jonathan Kay thinks should just shut up and read the Bible like a good little Christian lad. If not, then you may feel some sympathy for PEI father Michael Arsenault, who is upset that his province allows the Gideons to distribute Bibles in elementary school classrooms.
Kay dismisses Arsenault as a typical leftist bigot in sheep’s clothing, and insists that everyone should read the Bible for the following reasons. First, it is the “literary cornerstone of the West.” Second, because if you can stand to read the old-fashioned King James Bible, you’ll realize that hundreds of aphorisms we use today — from “fly in the ointment” to “my brother’s keeper” were being used centuries ago, too, and occur in the Bible.
As it happens, I agree with these reasons. That’s why I’m reading the Bible and commenting on it, over at Rev Dave’s Bible Study. After about one month of blogging, I’m halfway through the first book of Genesis, and we’ve already sped through the following important stories: God ordering human sacrifice to “test” his followers, God helping his followers win slaves as profits from the sex trade (thus neatly killing two moral birds with one stone), God annihilating cities, God ordering the genital mutilation of infants, God scattering humanity because he did not want them to live in peace, God massacring almost the entire population of the planet, and God kicking humans out of the Garden of Eden because he was afraid they might live forever.
Now, it doesn’t terribly surprise me that midway through his diatribe about the importance of reading the Bible, Mr. Kay cheerfully and freely acknowledges that he hasn’t actually read it himself. It does surprise me a little more that he claims not to be a Christian. His children, he says, are much too young to be exposed to the horrifying legal codes and the manic calls for genocide liberally sprinkled through the opening books of the Bible. But Grade 5 students, he says, are definitely old enough, as he puts it, to “appreciate the source material.”
I have no problem saying that people should read the Bible. Saying that public school classrooms should become sites for the evangelical distribution of religious literature, however, is where I draw the line. I imagine that many conservatives, perhaps even the good Mr. Kay, would be loudly and rabidly agreeing with me if, instead of the Christian Bible, the Gideons were handing out the Koran. There is one circumstance in which I will accept the distribution of Bibles in elementary schools: if it is done the same way that these same schools hand out Greek myths. Hand out the Bible, tell students it is the primitive ramblings of an ancient people who thought we were living on a flat Earth overseen by a capricious and vengeful deity, and I will withdraw my objections to this very silly exercise.Tweet