By Andrew L. Seidel
Freedom From Religion Foundation
The South Dakota Legislature is on a mission to convert as many schoolchildren to atheism as possible, and they want to use the public schools to do it. To further their atheistic goals, the legislature adopted a resolution “supporting and encouraging the academic study of the Bible in South Dakota public schools.”
As a concurrent resolution this bill has no legal effect, no force of law, but it is heartening to see that so many government officials are encouraging freethought in the young. After all, the surest way to become an atheist is to study of the bible, exactly what the legislature is “supporting and encouraging.” Sitting down to actually read, and especially to study, the bible, one cannot help but be impressed by how boring it truly is. Of course it is influential in art and other literature in ways that everyone should understand, but it is not a “good book” and it is an even worse moral guide. An honest reading or study of the bible would shake the faith of many an impressionable child.
The bible is littered with contradictions and inconsistencies. It contains over 2500 years of annexations, excisions, mistranslations, and editorial revisions. The first part, the Hebrew Bible, is the record of a barbaric Bronze Age tribe and its genocidal military conquest for territory. It is brimming with tedious “begats” and descriptions of a temple; saturated with the blood of sacrificial victims, from birds to children, and other innocent tribes who were audacious enough to live on the land of the chosen people; laden with barbaric, nonsensical legislation touching everything from diet to fashion to sex; and generally exhibiting a burdensome concern for livestock and herding.
The New Testament is little better with its contradictory accounts of the life of a short-tempered, self-deluded preacher with aspirations for a kingship who was tortured and murdered by the ruling government. This recent addition to the ever evolving manuscript also brought us, as Christopher Hitchens so cuttingly pointed out, the idea of Hell: “It’s only with gentle Jesus, meek and mild, that the idea of eternal torture for minor transgressions is introduced.” (Click here to listen to Hitch at 9:32.) Everyone should study the bible and discover this for themselves.
No doubt, the long history of the bible contributes to its incoherent character. The bible is translated into just about every language. There are multiple translations of the bible just within the English language (NIV, NRSV, KJV, NKJV, NAB, NASB, NLT, RSV, ESV, ASV, etc.). Each of those translations came to us through numerous translations from incomplete copies, none of which were original, over thousands of years. I used to play the game “telephone,” at birthday parties as a child. Children formed a circle and one person began by whispering a sentence into the ear of his or her neighbor. The neighbor whispered the same secret into her neighbor’s ear, and so on until it reached the final person. The great joy was hearing how the final message changed in transit. The message was different after only 15 or so contemporaneous transmissions without translations. It is utterly inconceivable that the bible has maintained any fidelity to its original message over three millennia and that is something schoolchildren should study and understand.
There is a catch with laws about bible classes; the laws are not genuinely meant to encourage an honest investigation of the bible. Under the Constitution, the bible may be permissibly taught as literature in public schools, so why are legislators pushing these laws? Because they know that, in practice, many of these classes will not be an academic study of literature but another chance to emulate the tobacco industry and “get ’em while they’re young.” That is why FFRF’s mission is so important. Schools are not necessarily going to police themselves and toe the appropriate constitutional line. Teachers will do as the legislature intends and inculcate rather than educate, and FFRF will be there to fight for the Constitution and the rights of those schoolchildren. So if you’re still reading this and you’re not a member, it’s time to join the fight by joining FFRF. If you are a member, thanks for your support!
Andrew L. Seidel is FFRF’s first Constitutional Consultant. He has read the bible from front to back and is disinclined to believe believers who claim to have done the same.
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