Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Teaching the Bible in School

I just read a profoundly insightful editorial-article in Time promoting the teaching of the Bible in public schools. The basic premise of this article is that:

"Simply put, the Bible is the most influential book ever written. Not only is the Bible the best-selling book of all time, it is the best-selling book of the year every year. In a 1992 survey of English teachers to determine the top-10 required "book-length works" in high school English classes, plays by Shakespeare occupied three spots and the Bible none. And yet, let's compare the two: Beauty of language: Shakespeare, by a nose. Depth of subject matter: toss-up. Breadth of subject matter: the Bible. Numbers published, translated etc: Bible. Number of people martyred for: Bible. Number of wars attributed to: Bible. Solace and hope provided to billions: you guessed it. And Shakespeare would almost surely have agreed. According to one estimate, he alludes to Scripture some 1,300 times. As for the rest of literature, when your seventh-grader reads The Old Man and the Sea, a teacher could tick off the references to Christ's Passion--the bleeding of the old man's palms, his stumbles while carrying his mast over his shoulder, his hat cutting his head--but wouldn't the thrill of recognition have been more satisfying on their/own?"

In other words, the Bible is one of the foundations of Western culture. And even taken from a purely literary and non-religious viewpoint, its impact on the growth of the culture that we all know and (mostly) love supercedes any other single piece of literature in the world. Sure, one could attribute plenty of wars and suffering directly to the Bible or interpretations of the Bible, but its impact on society has been a mostly positive one. Shakespeare essentially started modern literature, and has remained of utmost importance for hundreds of years; but the Bible has remained at the root of most of Western culture for thousands of years. Yet it would be hard to be processed through the public education system without reading one or two Shakespearean plays, and even harder to find an educationally sound teaching of the Bible.

The lessons it teaches are mostly good ones, too. After all, what completely sane secular philosopher would disagree with “Thou shalt not kill” or “Thou shalt not steal”? John Locke’s Social Contract, arguably the philosophical basis of the American government, said that the rights to life, liberty, and property – two of which (life and property) are central to the Bible – are self-evident and inalienable. Even Ayn Rand, Mrs. Objectivism and Selfishness, said people were not means to ends (in other words, although it’s important to be selfish, you shouldn’t take it to the extent that it harms other people). The Bible is the single greatest philosophy and morality handbook ever written, and, whether you like it or not, has at least an indirect influence on the vast majority of laws in the Western world. If Locke and Rand are crucial to a good education in philosophy, then why aren’t Matthew and Paul?

The Bible is also quite historically accurate. In many cases, it’s the most reliable historical source that exists about an event. It documents the entire history of a people – the Israelites – who rank up with the Greeks and Romans in terms of influence on our culture. If some form of ancient world history is a curriculum requirement, then shouldn’t the Bible be part of that? I know for a fact from my own experience that ancient history is the 6th grade Social Studies class in my school district, and is therefore required. As I recall, there was one section (a few pages) on Christianity, while there were whole chapters on cultures so distant to us as ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. There is clearly a problem here.

This Time article suggests that Biblical literacy classes ought to be offered in every school district’s high schools. It says that this can be done without trampling on the separation of church and state. After all, as the article says, in the Supreme Court decision that removed prayer and explicit religious teaching from schools (the 1963 Abington Township School District v. Shempp decision):

“[T]he exemption for secular study of Scripture was explicit and in the majority opinion: "Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment," wrote Justice Tom C. Clark. Justice Arthur Goldberg contributed a helpful distinction between "the teaching of religion" (bad) and "teaching about religion" (good).”

It is, therefore, possible to teach the Bible in school without going against the establishment clause. This same conclusion has always been accepted for other religions – schools teach about ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Eastern religions in Mythology courses.

But I see a lot of potential danger in creating a class that teaches about the Bible. Even if the class’s course outline dictates that it must be taught neutrally and without any preaching, I can imagine some difficulty in finding a teacher at every high school in the nation willing to do so. There would undoubtedly be cases in which a teacher would go too far in the “teaching about religion” and lapse into the “teaching of religion.” That is simply unacceptable – every student has the right to be in any class without being preached to.

The Bible also would also be out of place in a Mythology class. To be sure, the Bible, for the most part, would fit. It is a historical account with religious overtones, just like the vast majority of mythology. But there are two crucial distinctions: Firstly, the Bible is more historically accurate than most mythology. Secondly, the Bible is still believed in by a lot of people. While there aren’t many people in the world who would object to something like the Iliad being called a myth, there are billions of people in the world who would object to Genesis being called a myth. So the Bible can’t be taught as mythology.

The answer, I think, is to incorporate elements of the Bible where they fit into the established curriculum. Literature teachers should teach about the Bible’s literary significance. History teachers should teach about its historical significance. Philosophy teachers can teach about its moral and philosophical teachings. Mythology teachers, even, can incorporate it into their classes – as long as they’re careful not to explicitly call it a myth – and show students how similar the myths that they’re learning are to the Bible. This would all put the Bible into a proper educational context, whereas teaching it as a standalone class would not. It would also make it less likely for a teacher to turn their classroom into a Sunday school, as they would only be teaching the Bible in the context of their chosen area of expertise.

I am not a Christian. I do not consider the Bible to be a holy book, and it is not my moral compass. I would, therefore, be one of the first people to denounce something that goes against the First Amendment’s establishment clause. Secular teaching of the most important piece of literature in Western culture, however, does not do so. There is a thin line between teaching and preaching, to be sure, but I have faith in a teacher’s ability to secularly present the Bible as part of a course they’re teaching. Students would benefit form a greater understanding of the religious and social debates of the day, and if it led indirectly to more conversions to Christianity, then so what? The First Amendment, after all, says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” So let’s shape up, and get the Bible on that list of the top ten required readings in high school.

The Time article can be found here.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Announcement: I'm running for president!

My fellow Americans:

I come before you today to announce that I have formed a Presidential Exploratory Committee, and that I am looking into the possibility of running for the office of president of the United States. Many of you may not know who I am, but I promise, in the coming weeks and months, to make myself known to all of you.

If elected president, I promise to lead the American people with strength and determination. I will not stand down from what I believe. I promise that I will make my judgments without any consideration for such things as "reason" and "public opinion," but rather that I will stick to my beliefs no matter what. Washington is full of people who change their minds for reasons so trivial as evidence to the contrary and experience and being convinced by the other side's arguments. These flip-floppers have no place in American politics.

I promise to take the reins in the War on Terror. That is not a promise to go after Osama bin Laden and other top members of Al Qaeda, but rather to lead America deeper into the Middle Eastern quagmire, and closer to causing the entire region to burst into flames. To solve the Iraq dilemma, I propose we send at least 100,000 more American soldiers to the war zone. With these troops, as well as those already stationed there, we will annex the country, and claim it as a territory of the United States. It will be run under martial law by generals answering directly to me, until such time as we can quell the insurgency and convert all Iraqis to Christianity, the only true faith. It can then be a shining beacon of Democracy and Christianity in the midst of the evil Arab world. To this end, I will immediately more than double the annual budget of the Department of Defense to just under $1 trillion.

To ensure that our struggle against terrorism is a united front, and therefore easier, I promise to further reduce civil liberties in favor of security. I will push for legislation making it illegal to speak out against the war effort, or anyone with direct ties to the military, including the president. We will bolster our espionage and sedition laws. This noble fight may also require revocation of the First Amendment, so I will propose an amendment which overturns it. We must all remember that our lives, as well as the safety of our nation, are at stake.

I promise to follow in the footsteps of President Bush in strengthening the power of the Executive Branch. I will seek to amend the Constitution so that presidential vetoes cannot be overturned. Another amendment I will push for will allow the president to directly remove Supreme Court justices and appoint new ones, without any Congressional oversight. In appointing cabinet members and other positions in the government that are chosen by the president, I will not consider aptitude or experience, but rather how closely each person agrees with my opinions and my way of thinking. With these changes, I will create a unified and strong Executive Branch, impervious to the shifting winds of Congress and the Supreme Court, and immune to Constitutional considerations.

On social issues such as gay marriage, abortion, and stem-cell research, I will stand strongly Conservative. We cannot allow these sinners to get their way. I will propose yet another amendment to the Constitution, establishing Christianity as the state religion. In this way, all we shall have to do to make something illegal will be to prove that it goes against the Bible - an easy task. We can outlaw gay marriage, abortion, and stem-cell research now and for all time. Special care will have to be taken so that our rivals do not mockingly propose a law such as one that makes it illegal to wear two types of cloth at the same time; but since I will be able to veto anything without any chance of my veto being overturned, this shouldn't be a problem.

I promise to reform the economy. America must adjust to an increasingly global market, and the key to this is a strong stock market. The American stock market must grow steadily, and to this end my first economic proposal is a plan to increase investment. We should do away with all taxes to the top 10%, by income, of Americans. These people will surely invest this extra money into the economy. In order to offset the loss in tax revenue, we will increase taxes to all other Americans. If tax revenues gained from these increases are more than revenues lost from the first part of this plan, the leftover money will be split in two. Half will go to the Defense Department, and the other half will go to reimburse the wealthy for their contributions to the economy. In this way, our stock market can be strengthened.

Outsourcing is also a danger to the American economy, and must be solved. My second proposal for the economy is, therefore, a reinstitution of slavery. This will be possible once Christianity is the state religion, as slavery is sanctioned in the Bible. We will go to overpopulated Third World countries, and take custody of a few thousand people, every few months or so. Then, every American citizen who loses their job to outsourcing will be freely given two of these people as slaves. We will then subsidize plantation farming and manufacturing, and encourage people to either sell their slaves to plantations, or join group plantations with other victims of outsourcing. Those who lose their jobs to outsourcing, therefore, will be reimbursed for their troubles. Any leftover slaves will be sold to the highest bidder, invigorating the American economy. Third World countries will also benefit from the decrease in population.

We can strengthen America. We can make it a beacon of justice and morality. We can solidify our place as the richest nation on Earth. We can win the War on Terror. Stand with me, and I promise you all of these things. Thank you.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Some thoughts on life

Whenever I really get to thinking about it, one person's life isn't really all that significant in the grand scheme of things. The city/town I live in has around 100,000 people altogether. That's 100,000 individuals, each with their own personalities, aspirations, and actions. 100,000 people each at the center of their own universe. And even the whole city is only a tiny speck on a map of the world. The world itself, even, revolves around the sun, which itself is a tiny speck of light in our galaxy, which itself borders on insignificance in the vastness of the space around it. All of the actions and interactions and personality traits and thoughts and emotions of any single person could be brought together and added up, and in the context of all that is, it would be so infintesimally small that it may as well not exist at all.

You could easily consider this in a very grim and opportunistic light. If my life doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things, then what's the use in living it well? Why shouldn't I just work to serve my own interests, my own desires, my own entertainment? After all, no matter how horrible a deed I commit, when weighed in the context of the universe, it basically didn't happen. Chaos theory would say that that action can have consequences that have their own consequences, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, until the end product is something much more significant. But if every action starts a similar chain of events, then there are so many actions going on all the time and starting such chains that a single one of them is still insignificant. You could justify just about anything you do in this way.

The problem is that it's irrational in the first place to consider your life in the context of all that is. The human mind cannot truly imagine the vastness of even something so simple as the number of people on earth: 6.5 billion. That's 6,500, a thousand times over, a thousand times over, people. In the broader picture of the universe, scientists can only explain distances in light years, which are just under 6 trillion miles. The human brain is simply not capable of comprehending these numbers; that's why we have to break them down into units we can easily calculate and talk about: thousands, millions, billions, trillions. The simple fact that the units in all that is are so vastly different from the units involved in day-to-day life shows that you cannot consider the two together. You can either consider the whole universe, and not even think about each individual person (including yourself) at all because they're so insignificant; or you can consider each individual person, and not think about the universe as a whole because it so hugely dwarfs the individuals that you cannot clearly look at them. An individual cannot be thought of in the context of the universe any more than the universe can be thought of in context of individuals.

So we can only really think of ourselves in a context we can more clearly comprehend: Our immediate environment, and all the people we come into contact with. In such a context, I think it's worth it to try to live a good life. Who cares that all the good I could possibly do in my life isn't significant in the grand scheme of things? It's significant to my world, and it's significant to the world of each person who is affected by it.

If I impact a single person in a positive way, no matter how small it is, it's significant. The same holds true for negative impacts. And you really can't avoid having negative impacts on some people. I know I've hurt people in the past, and I know I'll hurt people in the future. That's just the way life is. But I'd really like, when I'm old and see death approaching, to be able to look back and see that I've left an overall positive impact on this world. I'd like to know I've helped people far more than I've hurt them.

My life will be significant, even if not in the context of the universe. I'd like it to be significant in a good way.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Some Poetry

Yeah, I'm really not all that terribly good at poetry, but from time to time I try. Here's some of my better attempts.

Just Ask

Just ask,
And I'll open my door.
My home is yours, if you want it,
And you can always sleep warm, next to me.
Just ask, and you can stay.

Just ask,
And I'll open my arms,
And give you a place you can go,
Whenever your life seems too much to bear.
Just ask, and I'll be there for you.

Just ask,
And I'll open my mind
To the thought of us together;
A future with you always by my side.
Just ask, and I'll think about it.

Just ask,
And I'll open my heart,
And let you into that deep place,
Where all my joys and sorrows congregate.
Just ask, and I'll fall in love with you.

Just ask,
And I'll open my soul,
And help you knit it to your own,
So no matter where you are, I'm with you.
Just ask, and I'm yours.

All you have to do is ask.

Will you forgive me?

Will you forgive me for loving you?
For thinking that you're beautiful?
Will you forgive me for wanting to be with you,
Or thinking you'd be worth the wait?
Will you forgive me for giving you my heart?
For pouring my soul out,
And praying for your approval?
Will you forgive me for knowing how impossible it was
For us to ever be together--
And still believing?
Will you forgive me for all my prayers,
Or every night I sat up thinking of you?
Will you forgive me for the warmth I felt
Everytime I thought of you,
And everytime you said you loved me?
Will you forgive me for feeling weak,
Yet stronger than I've ever felt,
Everytime you said something sweet to me?
Will you forgive me for wanting you to be happy
And wanting to be the reason?
Will you forgive me for wanting to fall asleep in your arms,
Knowing you'd still be there when I woke up?
Will you forgive me for my weakness?
For clinging onto you so desperately,
When any fool could tell you didn't want me anymore?
Will you forgive me for loving you,
And wishing you felt the same?

Just Like That

and just like that
my world is turned upside down
over and over
until i cant tell
which way is up
or down
or right
because it all seems so wrong
theres no lack of things
to worry about
will my life turn out
how i want it to
do i even know
how i want it to
no lack of things
to pick myself apart for
saying one thing
and doing another
thinking im better
than i really am
no lack of things
to despise the world for
the intollerance
the insensitivity
the "independence"
no lack of reasons to feel

My new blog

Well, if you're on here at this point, you obviously know I have a blog. You may not know, however, that it's a brand new blog as of today. You may also have no idea who I am.

So now you know it's a new blog. As for the knowing who I am... that's not something I feel up to writing about right now. If you really must know for some reason, go to my MySpace profile to find out.

This blog will eventually replace my MySpace blog that has hosted my writing for almost a year now. I feel like my writing needs a more professional and permanent home. I'll start by posting some of my writing that's currently on my MySpace blog...perhaps later tonight. Then I'll start writing more often like I've been meaning to do for months, and it'll all (or mostly) go up here.

Some of my writing will be about my life. Some will be creative writing (some poetry, and a novel I need to get back to...). The majority, though, will probably be editorial-type stuff: observations, opinions, commentary. I'll try not to be preachy, but it may sneak into it every now and then.