To be culturally literate, educated Americans should know Bible stories, characters and ideas, argues the Bible Literacy Project, which just released a survey on what young people know.
Gadfly’s Justin Torres summarizes the results:
Almost three-quarters of students know that Moses “led the Israelites out of bondage,” while more than 90 percent know who Adam and Eve are. (Unfortunately, 8 percent “believe that Moses is one of the twelve Apostles.”) But . . . two-thirds of teens couldn’t identify the phrase “Blessed are the poor in spirit” from the Sermon on the Mount, while similar numbers were ignorant of phrases such as “the road to Damascus” or such stories as David and Saul.
The literacy project, which is endorsed by the ACLU as well as by church groups, links to a clip of of Jay Leno quizzing Angelenos about Bible knowledge. “Fill in the blank,” he says. “Cain and . . . ?”
“Cainan the Barbarian?” guesses a blonde woman.
David Gelernter in the Weekly Standard asks why the Founders were so sure of our country’s destiny, and explains the importance of the Bible in British and American history, politics and literature.
Winthrop, Adams, Lincoln, and thousands of others found a good destiny in the Bible and made it their own. They read about Israel’s covenant with God and took it to heart: They were Israel. (“Wee are entered into Covenant with him for this worke,” said Winthrop. “Wee shall finde that the God of Israell is among us.”) They read about God’s chosen people and took it to heart: They were God’s chosen people, or–as Lincoln put it–God’s “almost chosen people.” The Bible as they interpreted it told them what they could be and would be. Unless we read the Bible, American history is a closed book.
Gelernter concedes it’s very difficult to teach the Bible well in public schools, which are skittish about appearing to teach religious faith.
Do we have teachers who are up to the job? (With laudable foresight, the Bible Literacy Project is already developing workshops for teachers.) And let’s also keep in mind that, for most children, such courses can only be half-way houses. Children studying the Bible should learn their own religious traditions as precious truth, not as one alternative on a multicultural list.
Teaching precious religious truth is not what America’s public schools are for. Ultimately there is only one solution to our Bible literacy crisis. Our churches, our synagogues, and all other institutions that revere the Bible must do better.
When I was an op-ed columnist and editorial writer, I often used biblical references in my writing — until I came to believe that a lot of readers didn’t know the way to Damascus. So to speak.