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March 26, 2007

Biblically Illiterate

Bibleliteracy To some extent, growing up reading the Bible put me at a distinct advantage in school, particularly in English class. I can remember this happening on occasions from elementary through college. I attended public schools throughout K-12, and a private, but not Christian college. 

In tenth grade, I explained to the rest of my class the biblical allusions in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and filled in spiritual blanks as we read Dante’s Inferno. In eleventh grade I enlightened my English class about Song of Songs, the biblical landscape that Toni Morrison borrows so much language from in her Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved.

In college, as an English major, my role as biblical explicator to a biblically illiterate community continued. Writing a paper on Robinson Crusoe, I explored how spiritual awakening represented an important crux in the novel. My professor was somehow ignorant of this crucial part of the plot and the allusions to biblical texts. He also seemed wholly negligent about taking into consideration Daniel Defoe's own strong Christian faith that would have colored his writing. Pointing out such things wasn’t braggadocio; it was simply that no one else in class had familiarity with the most important book in Western literature. I became a translator.


Time magazine’s cover story this week is on the topic of Biblical literacy. The Bible Literacy Project, started by Centurion graduate Chuck Stetson, is prominently featured. And the story focuses on the debate about whether teaching the Bible has any place in public schools. For me, there’s no question. Sure, educators need to be careful about how they do it, but my own public school experience highlights both the need for it and the dearth of knowledge about the best-selling book of all time.

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