Critics of Arizona Bible law miss the point
The Arizona State Senate recently approved a bill that would allow public schools to offer an elective class teaching the Bible’s role in Western culture and its influence as a literary work. Critics have been quick to pounce on the bill, claiming that enacting it would equate to forcing religious indoctrination upon public school students. However, a lot of these critics are simply looking for a reason to bash Christianity, because many of their attacks are unfounded. If taught in an appropriate manner by well-informed teachers, the class created by the Arizona Bible law would be able to educate students about an important part of Western history without infringing upon religious freedoms.
The class outlined in the Arizona bill is not about preaching the Bible as a religious text—it is about teaching about the history of the Bible as a cultural and literary force and how it helped shape modern history. Regardless of your religious affiliation, developing an understanding of the influence of the Bible could help any student better understand political and cultural history in the Western world. From its use by Constantine the Great to help reunify the Roman Empire to its depiction in Renaissance art to its role in the spread of the printing press, the Bible as a historical object has had an enormous impact on our history. If taught by an informed, non-biased teacher, this class could actually be very beneficial in helping students analyze the complex history of Western culture.
Another very important element of the bill that critics need to consider is the fact that this class will only ever be offered as an elective. Many reporters and talk show hosts are quick to jump on the bandwagon and make claims of religious persecution and religion being forced on children in schools; however, the class will not be forced on anyone because it is an elective and therefore no students will ever have to take the class against their will. I understand that even an elective class should not ever attempt to indoctrinate students with any particular belief system. However, this elective should be looked at no differently than an elective on comparative politics or Chinese culture or European history. The Arizona Bible class would serve the same purpose as any of these other electives: attempting to give students a greater understanding of global culture by analyzing a particular area that has had a major influence on the world we live in today.
Parents and political critics are understandably paranoid about schools trying to indoctrinate their children with certain beliefs. Some conservatives fear schools teaching kids about homosexuality while some liberals fear schools teaching kids about religion. These are valid concerns in some cases where schools are forcing beliefs on students. However, when a school attempts to present controversial material in a neutral environment in order to let students form their own opinions and critics attack them for it, it discourages the schools from ever trying to teach their students about cultural diversity at all.