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Bible Belt Bravado: The Beat Goes On

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Tennessee has thrown caution, and reason, to the wind, deciding to use taxpayer dollars to indoctrinate children in public schools in the ways of Jesus Christ. The quaint notion of separating Church and State be damned. A curse on the prohibition of governments establishing religion. Who needs the First Amendment when we have the Lord?

Not to be outdone by the Texas State Board of Education (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-schweitzer/descending-again-into-dar_b_437882.html), the counterpart in Tennessee doubled down with a state-approved curriculum to "teach the text" of the Bible under the guise of literature rather than religion. The stated rationale is "to enable students to acquire an understanding and appreciation of the Bible's major ideas, historical/geographical contexts, and literary forms."

But the thin veneer of religious zeal and the real motivation for this decision by the Tennessee Board of Education are laid bare by the recommended "biblical readings" that are officially part of the curriculum. What the Board means by the "Bible" is the "New Testament." If the Bible is to be taught as literature ignoring the Jews is a bit of an oversight. Other than Genesis, which of course cannot be passed over since that is where Creationists look to refute evolution; all other readings are from the New Testament: Psalms, Matthew, Mark and Luke. Nothing is included from Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, or Numbers. And only the first two chapters of Genesis are on the menu; the remainder 48 chapters are ignored.

If fundamentalists keep insisting that we teach the Bible in school, then I say here again let us teach the book in all of its bloody, misogynous, murderous, fratricidal glory. Let's teach our impressionable children the following facts about the word of god:

• Exodus 21:20-21
It's OK to kill a slave, because he is nothing but property, but only as long as he does not die from a beating until at least one day later.

• Exodus 21:7
If in need of a little extra income, a father could simply sell his daughter. And of course a female slave is worse off than a male slave; a male slave is automatically freed after 6 years; the woman is never freed.

• Exodus 21:17
The penalty for cursing your parents is death. Perhaps this is not such a bad idea...

• Deuteronomy 22:21
If a woman presents herself as a virgin but is not, on the wedding night, she is to be taken to her father's house and stoned to death. Notice that men do not suffer such a fate. Coincidentally, only men wrote the 66 books that constitute the Bible. Women might have fared better with a bit more gender diversity in authorship.

• Leviticus 20:13
Of the exclusively male homosexual acts prohibited by the Bible, the penalty for any transgression is death. (Nothing in the Bible prohibits lesbian sex).

• Leviticus 16:1-34
God seems to kill people simply for disobeying his word; to get on his good side, these passages in the Bible tell how to sacrifice bulls, rams and goats to atone for sins and please god.

But don't think only the Old Testament is nasty and brutish. The Tennessee curriculum carefully avoids sections of the New Testament that paint an uglier picture of Jesus and Christianity. Let us not deprive our children of the truth. Let's give them the real Bible.

• Matthew 10:34
Jesus is no man of peace by his own words: Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I come not to send peace, but a sword.

• Matthew 10:21
Jesus will tear families apart: brother will kill brother, father will kill child, and children will kill parents. That is all OK because it is more important to love Jesus, as we learn next:

• Matthew 10:36
A man's foe shall be they of his own household. Jesus tells us here that if we love our mother and father more than him, we are not worthy. Now there are some family values!

• Matthew 11:20-24
Jesus condemns entire cities to dreadful deaths and eternal damnation because they did not like his sermons

• Mark 7:9-10
Jesus supports the Old Testament view that disobedient children should be killed, and then criticizes the Jews for not following that law.

• Luke 12:5
Jesus says that we should fear God since he has the power to kill us and then torture us forever in hell; classic effort by religion to frighten people into belief

• John 3:36
If we didn't get the point in Luke, John tells us here that if you don't believe in God, you will feel his wrath forever in hell. Again, not a loving God, but one to be feared as mean and spiteful.

Let us also teach our kids about the amazing inconsistencies in the Bible about critical issues. The many authors, none of whom ever met Jesus, can't even agree on when Jesus was born.

• Matthew 2:1
Here Matthew claims that Jesus was born when King Herod was alive:
"Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king..."

Matthew goes on to say Joseph and Mary only returned to Egypt with their infant son after Herod died. The timing is unambiguous.

• Luke 2:1-5
Luke claims that Jesus was born when Cyrenius was governor of Syria, which did not take place until at least ten years after Herod's death.

He specifically mentions the time Mary is pregnant with Jesus when Caesar Augusts imposes a new tax when Cyrenius was governor of Syria; but he did not become governor of Syria until at least 10 years after Herod died.

So even with the most generous interpretation, Matthew and Luke differ by more than 10 years on the year Jesus was born. That diminishes the credibility of both given that they cannot even get correct this basic bit of biography.

Genesis is equally confusing, giving us two completely different accounts on the creation of man between two passages just a stone's throw apart one chapter away. On the one hand we are told god made Adam, anesthetized him to extract a rib from which he made Eve, and sewed him back up, completing the world's first surgical procedure. We are then informed that no, in fact god made Adam and Eve at the same time. Specifically,

• Genesis 1:26
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

But wait, that is not quite right. We are told just a few passages later that god made only Adam first, and then Eve.

• Genesis 2:7
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

• Genesis 2:19
And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept; and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; and the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.

The Bible cannot even get the story of creation right. If Adam had his rib removed for nothing we could be witnessing the first case of medical malpractice.

If we are going to teach the Bible in public schools, then let's go for the gusto and teach the entire Bible. None of this selective reading of just the fluff. No rationale can be presented for teaching Matthew 8:28 but not Exodus 21:7, that is if the goal is to understand history and literature.

Reading the first two chapters of Genesis is hardly a sop to the Jews since anybody promoting a Christian agenda could ill afford to disregard the only source on which to base the claim that the earth was made in six days, an absurd idea but one so essential to the fundamentalist world view. And any effort to point to the paltry selection from Genesis as proof the School Board did not focus exclusively on the New Testament is the literary equivalent of putting up a small menorah in a sea of Christmas trees, wreaths, Santas, reindeer, and Nativity scenes - condescending pandering at its worst, a token effort not worth further mention.

What Tennessee proposes is blatantly and transparently in contradiction to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Let's review: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Unless Tennessee spends equal time on the Koran and the Torah, forcing kids to learn the Christian Bible is unabashedly the "establishment of religion."

If Christians want to teach their kids the Bible and brainwash them with silly stories and ridiculous myths, great; do it in Sunday school at a local church. But nothing can excuse their efforts to foist their medieval views and reactionary ideals on our kids, using our taxpayer dollars. The School Board in Tennessee is an embarrassment to all Americans.

I wish so dearly we could stop this nonsense, but the fundamentalists just keep coming back, like a bad rash. So we must keep fighting, as tiring and annoying as the battle may be. Teaching the Bible has no place in public schools. Unless you live in Iran.