BIBLICAL LITERACY OR A STUPID GOSPEL?
I have always put a premium on Biblical literacy at my school for reasons other than evangelical ones. As crass as it sounds, I do not get excited when I hear about my students becoming Christians. Actually, I get suspicious. For one reason, most of the children at my school who have "wanted" to become Christian mid-school year have "wanted" to become Christian when I am about to kick them out for felonious infractions. I have had students put on a "Christian" face as they or their parents tell me of the conversion they experienced the night before. You know the face: the exaggerated, happy eyebrows and the fabricated, maniacal smile they associate with televised Christian ministers or Barney. In my general opinion, in order to get out of trouble. Sue me.
Secondly, the currency of the education business I am in is not "Christian conversions." Conversion tends only to be a topic of interest when parents or students want to "change the subject" like when parents fail to pay ("The Lord is putting us through a trial." I don't care what the Lord is doing. You never cited the Lord as being responsible for your payments when you signed contract) or when a child has strayed far enough away from the law to exempt himself from being a part of my school ("The Lord is really working with our child." I don't care what the Lord is doing with your child. He wasn't doing it yesterday). I deal with a measurable currency on one hand (money) and measurable results on the other (test results).
Third of all, I already consider the children at my school to be "christian" enough for me to work with them. That is to say, we all have committed to a baseline of measurable ethics whereby adherence to it and infractions of it can be easily identified. I have had people fault me for this because they believe that a "Christian testimony" should be a requirement for entrance to my school else my student population become corrupted. What these people do not understand is that every human is like a cannister with a capability to hold only so much and only a certain kind of so much. I have had students not last the school quarter or semester or year because they could not hold what I was offering. Amongst that lot I am sure have been a few "unbelievers", but again, I am not a Sunday School and do not deal in gnostic currency.
What measurable relationship to religious upbringing I have found, however, has been a collective ignorance of Biblical literacy. For eleven years now I have found it necessary to spend August through December of each year teaching my students the extensive glossary of terms, concepts, and ideas I use the remainder of the year to teach the philosophy and skills sets of the courses my students are required to take. Each year I come across exceptional students, and the ones who remain with me year after year far surpass the knowledge and understanding of the new student who is drowning in the terminology and expressions I use in order to teach. The majority of my new students are woefully behind before they even begin the first day of school.
For example, out of ten new students, five will know the Bible's name for the first man (Adam), two will know the meaning of his name ("red" or "earth"), and none will know that his name is singular as well as plural.
Out of the same ten students, five will know the name of Adam's home (Eden), none will know the name meaning of Adam's home (delight), and none will know that Eden was geographically on a mountain.
Out of the same ten students, none will know that Adam's naming of all the creatures was the very reason he was able to recognize Eve (because he had already named "everything" and she hadn't been one of the things he had named), none will know that Adam's culpability is first seen in his apparent lack of suspicion of the serpent (he had not named the serpent though he had named everything else including Eve by that point), and none will know that when Adam and Eve are banished from Eden they are moving down a mountain.
Before students are out of the starting blocks of the first few chapters of Genesis, they exhibit an appalling ignorance of Biblical literacy though many of them authoritatively tell me what demons look like, how God acts, and how the end of the world will come to be. At first I used to bear up with these esoteric and aimless conversations until I had hard evidence that many of the stupid things my students believed actually inhibited their ability to grow into sensible people.
As I investigated, I roughly found the following to be true: only one out of ten students ever read the Bible on their own out of intellectual curiosity, nine of them (if they read at all) would read the Bible for either a church or school assignment, and the same nine read the Bible as a "special" book and with the assumption that the Bible was only as "special" as it was cryptic. However, all of them felt they could eloquently talk about faith.
As my students exhibit more and more of an ignorance and disinterest in the Old Testament and as "faith" was a relatively New Testament concept they felt they had a good grasp on, one day I had an outburst. During a Culture class, I tore my Bible down the spine between Old and New Testaments and tossed the Old Testament across the room. Every student instinctively sucked in air and squeezed their butt cheeks in horror. I held up the New Testament portion, waved it in their faces, and said "This part without that part is a stupid gospel! It doesn't make sense!" I think every student who was there that day remembers it well. After that point, I spent several months extensively going through the Pentateuch, teaching students the patterns and symbols of Scripture and their own Western culture. I designed charts. I drilled into them the parallels between Levitical case laws. I drilled into them the symbolic tabernacle rites. Until they got it. I knew they got it when I would ask them "Who was the last Old Testament prophet?" and they would respond "John the Baptist."
That was around the same time that I found a "Hermie" Bible at my school and almost blew my top. No one would admit it was theirs or how it got to the school (though I have my suspicions). Here was a Bible designed for a child whose guide was an animated worm with an inferiority complex that expounded every few pages from Genesis right through Revelation (He even left instructive comments in The Song of Solomon). Seriously. I about bit my tongue from saying... things.
It is clear that amongst "Bible-believing people" Biblical literacy takes second place to evangelical intent. The gnostic motive in evangelical culture is to "get everybody saved" so there are fewer people in Hell. Or the gnostic motive is to "get everybody saved" so our "christian" nation can be "Christian" once more. Again, I am not sure how to "measure" the ambiguity of such endeavors. Certainly "christianity" and "Christianity" are both rooted in what you do and definitely not only in what you think. The integration point between the internal life and the external life is action (T. Harv Eker). In this country belief tends to be associated with what you think. The funny thing is that the Christian does not do much Christian thinking about much other than to "know 100% for certain" that he is going to heaven. That is all the Bible seems to be good for in his mind (Oh, and to "live right"). Everything else is essentially superfluous.
I was reading BUSH AT WAR by Bob Woodward a few years ago and came across a particularly interesting section. In chapter five on page 58 & 59, Woodward explains that it was the joint job of Colin Powell and Richard Armitage to draft up a list of demands for Pakistan who was believed to be harboring Bin Laden, the designer of 9/11. Look at the list of demands they drafted. It immediately brought to mind a Biblical pattern I know well:
DAYS OF CREATION // U.S. DEMANDS ON PAKISTAN
1. Division of Light & Darkness // 1. Stop Al Qaeda operatives at your border.
2. Division of Above and Below // 2. Blanket overflight and landing rights.
3. Division of Land and Water // 3. Access to Pakistan, naval, air bases, borders.
4. Celestial Bodies // 4. Immediate intelligence, immigration information.
5. Calling of Swarms of Fish & Flocks of Birds // 5. Condemn September 11 attacks.
6. Formation of Land Animals & Man // 6. Stop Pakistani volunteers from joining Taliban.
7. Rest from Creation // 7. Break relations with Taliban.
Is this a coincidence? At one point in his life someone connected to the White House learned a relevant pattern and leveraged it (True, he or she could have made an intelligent guess). Whichever is true, this list prioritized a series of events that resulted in a decade-long war. If a Biblically literate pattern is reliable enough to prioritize a national move that cost (at this very minute) 7,240 lives and $1,199,204,500,000, then how much more is it absolutely important that we and our offspring put our full weight on it?