A new report from the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund details how a pilot high school curriculum developed by Hobby Lobby’s president Steve Green is loose with the facts and flouts constitutional boundaries on religious instruction in public schools and is loose with the facts.
TFN’s report [PDF], authored by Southern Methodist University religious studies professor Mark Chancy and released today, details the numerous ways in which the Green-backed curriculum tried to “promote particular religious viewpoints” in its presentation of the Bible, closely following the teachings of “some, but not all, conservative Protestant circles.”
Chancey writes that the curriculum, called “The Book: The Bible’s History, Narrative and Impact,” “builds its case for this view on oversimplifications, misrepresentations, logical fallacies, and outright mistakes,” and takes its “cues from the literature of conservative Christian apologetics rather than academic scholarship.”
The report details how Green’s curriculum plan credits the Bible for ending slavery and bans on women voting, while also citing Albert Einstein in an attempt to confirm Creationism and favorably comparing the neo-Confederate film “The Birth of a Nation” to the biblical book of Exodus.
Contrary to the claims of many Religious Right activists, neither the Bible nor prayer are banned from public schools. However, schools are not allowed to write or organize prayers, and similarly cannot use lessons on the Bible to promote or discourage religion.
The curriculum, however, follows Green’s lead by strongly affirming the Bible’s complete accuracy. For example, it presents Adam, Eve, and all other biblical characters unambiguously as historical personages. It frames stories of God’s interactions with various characters in such a way as to suggest that those passages, too, reflect historical events. (“Was Moses mentally unstable? No. His titanic swings of emotion and behavior sprang from his special call to stand in the gap between God and the people.”) “Travel through Time” sections found throughout the book encourage students to read biblical passages not only as reflections of the ancient cultures that produced them, but also as accurate historical accounts. The book also unquestioningly affirms traditional claims about the authorship of biblical books (i.e., Mosaic authorship of the Torah) without alerting students to the fact that much of the scholarly community as well as many Jews and Christians reject such claims for many books.
At one point, Albert Einstein makes a surprising appearance to shore up a biblical story’s seeming inconsistency. To reconcile Genesis’s description of the creation of light on the first day of creation with the fact that the sun is not created until day four, the book appeals to the Theory of Relativity: Because “energy and mass are equivalent and transmutable” and “all matter is also energy,” then “could it be that creation begins with the advent of energy?” Such reasoning, it suggests, “seems to correlate nicely with the Big Bang Theory of creation, a mighty explosion releasing tremendous amounts of energy.” The section closes by asking, “Could it be that light on day one refers to the initial energy [of the Big Bang] released into our cosmos?” This is obviously an impossible interpretation to attribute to the authors of Genesis or to any readers before 20th-century scientists developed the Big Bang theory. Its function is to attempt to reconcile a six-day creation and modern science, an urgent concern for religious communities that associate the Bible’s authority with its complete accuracy.
The curriculum argues similarly, suggesting that the Bible is the source of women’s suffrage, abolition, freedom of the press, and equal rights. Juxtaposing American freedom with the denial of civil rights elsewhere (“in some nations, women … are not even allowed to drive a car or go outside their houses alone”), it urges, “Let us hope that winds of change will continue to bring to these countries the loving example of a thirsty rabbi,” that is, Jesus. The implication is that equality in America is not only a fully accomplished project but also one for which the Bible deserves primary credit, practically to the exclusion of the rest of the Western philosophical tradition (particularly Enlightenment thought). Such comments tend to mask the unfortunate fact that in both the past and the present, the Church has all too often not lived up to the egalitarian ideals the curriculum attributes to Jesus.
Constitutional issues aside, many of the book’s remarks and mistakes are simply odd, often in ways that reflect only superficial knowledge of the matter under discussion. For example, is its passing observation that first-century CE Samaritan women could not vote meant to imply that democratic rights were widespread elsewhere in the ancient world? Elsewhere, the course wrongly defines the Jewish Sabbath simply as Saturday, rather than from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Its brief discussion of the American Civil War rightly names slavery as a principal cause, but a nearby caption instead characterizes the issue as achieving “civil rights” for southern slaves, an understatement of slaves’ needs if ever there were one.
On a related note, many film buffs will not miss the irony of the curriculum’s blithe suggestion that the Book of Exodus, which tells the story of the ancient Hebrews’ deliverance from slavery, “could be titled The Birth of a Nation (like the American film classic).” D. W. Griffith’s 1915 movie about the Civil War and its aftermath famously portrayed freed slaves as brutal, uncivilized, sexual aggressors. Originally known as The Clansman, it lionized the Reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan and helped spur the creation of the modern Klan. The movie concludes its approving portrayal of violent Klan suppression of African Americans with a hopeful vision of a peaceful, heavenly future for whites under the watchful care of Jesus. Needless to say, the curriculum’s passing comparison of Exodus to this movie is an unfortunate and inadequate introduction for high schoolers to this particular episode of film history.