Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | August 18, 2022

Why Bible Literacy Matters

The Keller Independent School District has pulled the Bible from library shelves — along with forty other books.

Jennifer Price, the executive director of curriculum and instruction for this Texas school district, issued the order to remove 41 books while they undergo a review. The reason cited is that over the past year these particular books were challenged by parents, lawmakers, and other community leaders.

This is not the first time the Bible has been challenged nor will it be the last. Regardless of what the Keller Independent School District concludes, the Bible will survive this current scrutiny much like an anvil outlasts the many hammers that beat against it.

The 1963 Supreme Court ruling that banned mandatory prayer in schools explicitly authorized academic Bible teaching. “The Bible is worthy of study,” wrote Justice Tom Clarke, “for its literary and academic qualities.” Regardless of whether you are a fan of holy writ, Clarke was right.

Bible literacy is important to our understanding of documents like the Mayflower Compact or Ronald Reagan’s “Shining City on a Hill” address or the references that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used in his inspirational sermons during the Civil Rights movement.

On the night before he was assassinated, Dr. King told his listeners: “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop . . . And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”

Without a knowledge of the Bible, students will fail to grasp the significance of King’s references to the mountaintop and the Promised Land and why he said, “I may not get there with you.”

When I was in school we were assigned Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” Dante’s “The Divine Comedy,” Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities,” and Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea” — all of which are better appreciated by those who have at least a basic measure of biblical literacy.

The tension between law and grace in Victor Hugo’s magnificent historical novel “Les Miserables” makes better sense when informed by the expression of these same dynamics in the Scripture. Cervantes’ unforgettable “Don Quixote,” the knight errant who went about doing good deeds and believing the best about people like Aldonza mirrors the capacity of Jesus to look beyond the actualities to behold the possibilities in the marginalized people of His day.

In his book “Cultural Literacy,” E. D. Hirsch writes, “All educated speakers … need to understand what is meant [by] a contest … between David and Goliath or … whether saying ‘My cup runneth over’ means a person feels fortunate or unfortunate. Those who cannot use or understand such allusions cannot fully participate in literate English.”

Hirsch contends, “Far from being illegal or undesirable, teaching about the Bible is not only consistent with our Constitution, it is essential to our literacy.” I agree. Those who insist on removing the Bible from school libraries and will not allow it to be used as an academic resource are unwittingly depriving children of a key component in cultural literacy.


Responses

  1. This is well said Omar, but I feel like we are having to dance around saying that we should believe in God, in order not to offend non-believers. I was glad to see that the Texas legislature has just passed a law that states that donated posters saying “in God We Trust” must be noticeably displayed in our public schools. What better place to learn about God than the Bible?
    For a country founded on trust in God and religious freedom about 250 years ago, we sure have taken a giant step backwards by banning Bibles in some schools.

  2. WOW! This is very well stated. Thanks O! I think of Luke 19:40 40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”


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