Sunday, May 29, 2005

Teach the Bible

David Gelernter is professor of computer science at Yale and a cultural thinker all of us on the right ought to know. First, his technical bonifides:

From Digerati: Encounters With the Cyber Elite by John Brockman: “David Gelernter, a leading figure in the third generation of artificial intelligence (AI) scientists, is highly regarded for his parallel programming language Linda, which allows you to distribute a computer program across a multitude of processors and thus break down problems into a multitude of parts in order to solve them more quickly. There are lots of clever computer scientists; David Gelernter is one of the few who is wise. He understands the need to interact with people rather than computers. He is a historian, social commentator, and sage with a snicker.” Gelernter’s writing for the general population includes Mirror Worlds (1991) that foresaw the World Wide Web and was "one of the inspirations for Java."

On the personal side, Gelernter was critically injured in 1993 opening a mailbomb sent by Theodore Kaczynski, the “Unabomber." He recovered from his injuries and chronicled the ordeal in his 1997 book Drawing Life: Surviving the Unabomber. Gelernter is a member of the National Council of the Arts, a senior fellow in Jewish Thought at the Shalem Center, Jerusalem, and a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.

Gelernter is clearly a brilliant fellow, but why is he important? Well, let me quote some passages from one of his recent opinion pieces in the 5/23/05 issue of The Weekly Standard.

Scripture begins with God creating the world, but there is something these verses don't tell you: The Bible has itself created worlds. Wherever you stand on the spectrum from devout to atheist, you must acknowledge that the Bible has been a creative force without parallel in history.

The King James Bible, says Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, “has influenced our literature more deeply than any other book--more deeply even than all the writings of Shakespeare--far more deeply.” Lincoln called the Bible "the best gift God has given to man. But for it we could not know right from wrong."

Here is a basic question about America that ought to be on page 1 of every history book: What made the nation's Founders so sure they were onto something big? America today is the most powerful nation on earth, most powerful in all history--and a model the whole world imitates. What made them so sure? What made Abraham Lincoln call America “the last, best hope of earth?” They read the Bible. Winthrop, Adams, Lincoln, and thousands of others found a good destiny in the Bible and made it their own.

Evidently young Americans don't know much about the Bible (or anything else, come to think of it; that's another story). But let's not kid ourselves--this problem will be hard to attack. It's clear that any public school that teaches about America must teach about the Bible. But, you don't have to believe in the mythical "wall of separation" between church and state--which the Bill of Rights never mentions and had no intention of erecting--to understand that Americans don't want their public schools teaching Christianity or Judaism.

The idea that the Bill of Rights would one day be traduced into a broom to sweep religion out of the public square like so much dried mud off the boots of careless children would have left the Founders of this nation (my guess is) trembling in rage. We owe it to them in simple gratitude to see that the Bill of Rights is not--is never--used as a weapon against religion.

John Locke is often described as the most important philosophical influence on the American Revolution. Locke believed in a "social contract" in which citizens swap some freedom for a civilized life: Everyone's freedom is curtailed, and everyone benefits. The results are civil society and the state. Locke relied heavily on the Bible. For Locke, writes Richard Ashcraft (1987), "the Bible was the primary source for any endeavor to supply a 'historical' account of man's existence."

In modern times the Bible was no less important as a shaper and molder of American destiny. Woodrow Wilson, another intensely biblical president, spoke in biblical terms when he took America into the First World War--on behalf of freedom and democracy for all mankind. Harry Truman's Bible-centered Christianity was important to his decisions to lead America into the Cold War, and make America the first nation to recognize the newborn state of Israel--to the vast disgust of the perpetually benighted State Department. Reagan's presidency revolved around Winthrop's Gospel-inspired image of the sacred city on a hill. George W. Bush's worldwide war on tyranny is the quintessence of a biblical project--one that sees America as an almost chosen people, with the heavy responsibilities that go with the job.

There is no agreement whether God created the world, but the Bible's awe-striking creative powers are undeniable. Secularists don't see it that way; but the Bible's penetration into the farthest corners of the known world is simple fact.

So David Gelernter is an important man because of the brave things that he says. A report just issued by the Bible Literacy Project suggests that young Americans know very little about the Bible. Forty-one teachers took part: "a diverse sample of high school English teachers in 10 states." All are reputedly "among the best teachers in their subject." These teachers are convinced that students ought to know the Bible and don't … and that "Bible knowledge confers a distinct educational advantage."


Blogger Stephanie said...

I'm going to homeschool my son next fall and plan to frame the curriculum with something called the Principle Approach - a kind of Biblical civics. It should be fascinating and I expect I'll learn just as much, if not more, than my son. :-)

8:52 PM  
Blogger Sarah Jenislawski said...

Thank you for posting about the Bible Literacy Report. To read the entire report at no charge and learn about how to teach about the Bible in public schools, visit

11:04 AM  
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