Thursday, October 26, 2006

Zeus Just Told Me You’re A Loser

There’s a debate going on concerning whether or not it’s appropriate to teach the Bible in public school. And if so, then in what context should you teach it: a sacred glimpse into the mind of God? A collection of mythology; an important piece of literary history; an important piece of history history? Or maybe literal, word-for-word description of what God expects people to do.

I used to teach literature in a public school myself, so my advice for all teachers is to stay as far away from the Bible as you can unless you’re in a school district filled with people who expect you to talk about the Bible, in which case you need to stay far away from that whole area. Anything you could possibly say about the Bible is offensive to either an atheist, a religious non-Christian, a religious Christian who views the Genesis story as a metaphor, or a religious Christian who thinks Genesis describes the literal beginnings of our 6,000-year-old world. Say anything Biblical you wish: among those four groups, at least one will contain people offended by your statement.

That’s not to say that teachers should avoid mentioning religion at all. No, school teachers — especially when they cover literature or reading — are perfectly free to discuss the mythologies of ancient Greece and Rome. And ancient Egyptian gods like Osiris and Ra, if they ever come up in the course of a lesson. Odin and Thor from the Viking days are safe, too. (On second thought, maybe not. Some neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups use Norse mythology in their ravings, so the wise teacher avoids Vikings and their gods whenever possible.)

Basically, the rule is: never say anything remotely about or connected to any religious belief unless its followers have been dead for a minimum of 1,600 years. Once a religion reaches that happy milestone you can say anything you want.

Suppose there were still a number of Americans who believed the Greek myths? Then you'd have geography teachers getting in trouble after devout Zeusian parents complained: how dare you show our children photographs of Mount Olympus topped by ice and snow rather than the palaces of the gods! Your talk of “science” is no excuse for contradicting the deeply cherished tenets of our beliefs.

Other Zeusians will be furious because Zeus is a good, decent god who would never disguise himself as a swan just to have sex with a human woman, and how dare you pay attention to those parts of our religious texts which suggest he’s ever done this? And of course religious and non-religious non-Zeusians alike will be furious that Zeus was ever mentioned at all.

19 Comments:

Anonymous NoStar said...

So your opinion is that the one thing that christian, pagan, atheist, wiccan, zeusian, Odinite, zoroatrian, budhist and agnostic have in common is that were are intolerant.

We are all vehemently offended by this and are upset that you would dare to bring up the subject at all. You may expect an e-mail campaign to Blogger. WE'LL HAVE YOUR BLOG ON A SILVER PLATTER! This time Jennifer, you've gone too far.

9:06 AM  
Blogger Windypundit said...

God bless you for such a wise posting, Jennifer!

I mean, if you think there's a god, or a God, and a blessing from him, or her, or it, or them, would be something you would see as a good thing...

11:09 AM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

On second thought, maybe not. Some neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups use Norse mythology in their ravings, so the wise teacher avoids Vikings and their gods whenever possible.

Actually, there are some of us who are not neo Nazi nor white supremacists who are basically followers of old ways. I've worn a Thor's hammer amulet for over 12 years. However, you can't offend me much, so I guess it's ok.

11:20 AM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

....who would never disguise himself as a swan just to have sex with a human woman

Forgot to add...what kind of woman has sex with a swan? Oh, sorry, now I remember, I saw it on the internet someplace...someone was nice enough to email it to me I think....

11:21 AM  
Anonymous NoStar said...

Gee Moose,
Why didn't you provide a link?

12:19 PM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

If you want to piss off some religious right types, assert that God is Pro-Choice. It's right there in the Law of Moses, Exodus 21:22

If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.

Clearly, the punishment for causing an abortion is up to the family (or the husband, with a strict reading).

Since this is right in the sectiion defining details of capital-punishment cases, it is very clear that the God of Moses did not consider abortion to be murder.

12:24 PM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

@a moose: "Forgot to add...what kind of woman has sex with a swan?"

The same kind that has sex with a bull, or a sunbeam. Ol' Zeus, he got around.

12:26 PM  
Blogger rhhardin said...

So here is something to teach ...

``When there was as yet no shrub of the field upon earth, and as yet no grasses of the field had sprouted, because Yahweh had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the soil, but a flow welled up from the ground and watered the whole surface of the earth, then Yahweh molded Adam from the earth's dust (adamah), and blew into the nostrils the breath of life, and Adam became a living being.''

There's a figure of speech in there, blowing in the breath of life, and what is it figurative for?

It figures the beginning of literary effects ; which, arguably, is when man begins.

You can figure out this trope, as Harold Bloom writes, and yet are forced as well to literalize it.

The lesson would be that the Bible is better written than it appears.

Emmanuel Levinas (_Difficult Freedom_ and elsewhere) thinks religion is the poetization of ethics, and goes through the OT and Talmud translating back.

So it's not as if there's nothing there unless you believe in fairies.

1:02 PM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

Gee Moose,
Why didn't you provide a link?


I might be having a dense moment here, but to what?

5:24 PM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

The same kind that has sex with a bull, or a sunbeam. Ol' Zeus, he got around.

Ok, a bull....testosterone to the extreme in the old world, and also physically more adept at doing the deed, and there are the anectodtal stories of women and horses, etc. Sunbeam, well, there are taoist practices that I won't speak of here in metaphorical ways that deal with energy. A swan, however? I'm not aware of the swan being associated with any form of virility, nor being particularly able to complete the deed physically.

Not that it's anything but a complete diversion to the point of the original post, which was sound. There is a subtle underlying predjudice to our ways that the Judeo Christian, and to a certain extent out of guilt, Moslem, religions are 'good and proper' and 'real', while others are not.

Religion is all about the playground anyway. It gives you a framework to understand the unexplainable. Things which one can experience but not explain (DeMello's "Scent of a Rose" analogy is great to help understand this...then again, he got excommunicated for what he wrote in "Awareness" also). Once you experience them, you don't need to have the playground experience any more.

5:30 PM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

There is a subtle underlying predjudice to our ways that the Judeo Christian, and to a certain extent out of guilt, Moslem, religions are 'good and proper' and 'real', while others are not.

It's not so subtle, nor very surprising. Western culture, for better or worse, is undeniably the product of "Monotheism: The Curse from the Desert". It's a particularly virulent meme.

6:58 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

I think one could teach the Bible and get away with it, provided the teach stuck to Numbers, II Kings, I and II Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah. Those are history books, containing the dullest stories ever recorded with a religious purpose. Numbers is of course part of the Torah, so there's an outside chance of offending Orthodox Jews, but they almost always send their kids to private religious schools, and I can promise that no kid will stay awake long enough to remember anything you said about the other books.

Another option might be to teach the minor prophets, which in the case of Micah is really pretty (that's got one of the "swords into plowshares" verses and "What does the Lord require of thee, oh Man, but to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.") and the rest are so strange that only the diehard stoners in the class would even begin to understand.

7:17 PM  
Anonymous Stevo Darkly said...

Anne O'Neimaus said...

"If you want to piss off some religious right types, assert that God is Pro-Choice. It's right there in the Law of Moses, Exodus 21:22

"If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.

"Clearly, the punishment for causing an abortion is up to the family (or the husband, with a strict reading).

"Since this is right in the sectiion defining details of capital-punishment cases, it is very clear that the God of Moses did not consider abortion to be murder."

That intrigued me, Anne, and I had to look it up. Alas, it's not so clear as you say. In fact, it looks like you're wrong.

The New American Standard Bible translates the text as so:

And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no [further] injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any [further] injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.[1]

However, the word translated as "miscarriage" here is not "nelep" -- "miscarriage" or "abortion" -- but "yasa," which is not normally translated as "miscarriage" when used elsewhere; it means "to come forth" and the phrase in the passage more literally means "the child comes forth."

Also, "further" in "further injury" in the passage was taken to be implied in the translation above but is not literally there.

Therefore, the passage might also be translated as what reparation is owed if men scuffle, hurt a pregnant woman and induce a premature birth, because the child is likely to have health problems and and be more difficult to take care of ... but if actual injury is inflicted (whether to the woman or to the child is not specified), harsher penalties apply, up to death for a death.

Hmm, in fact, I just looked further, and it appears that most of the current translations of this passage (even the most updated version of the NASB quoted above) do now translate the phrase in question as "give birth prematurely" or a more vague "her child come out" -- not as "miscarriage."

Have a looky at the various translations here.

10:27 PM  
Anonymous Stevo Darkly said...

As for the main topic at hand, it's a damn shame if a text as influential can't be taught in schools, but it's such a minefield it's impractical. Even if you teach it, as I think would be best, along the lines of an impartial "this is what some people believe," you're still screwed, because you'll run afoul of how different sects interpret the text.

At least you can't teach it in public schools, where sending your kids is not entirely voluntary, and taxpayer support is mandatory. Which means that every constituent can claim violation of his rights if his money is used to promulgate, or his kids are taught, interpretations of the text that don't fit his own beliefs. (The fact that all consituents are coerced, and that violations of their rights in a pluralistic society are unavoidable, is yet another reason to abolish public schools.)

10:42 PM  
Anonymous Wild Pegasus said...

There’s a debate going on concerning whether or not it’s appropriate to teach the Bible in public school.

Who cares? The more important question is whether or not it's appropriate to steal in order to pay for education. Answer: no.

- Josh

1:26 PM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

I actually had a one-semester "bible as literature" course while I was in High School, in California. The class was indeed mostly taken by "devout" Christian types. But, while it did deal with the life of Abraham in quite a bit of detail, it was mostly about the styles of poetry and literary mechanisms in the Psalms and Proverbs. Not particularly religious in nature, and I am thankful that I had that experience.

To Jennifer's point, I must say that my public school education definitely contained far more Greek Mythology than Judeo-Christian, and no Buddhist or Hindu. I can't say much about Buddhist mythology, but the Hindus have stuff that holds its own against the Greeks very well.

4:43 PM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

Thanks for the link Steve. It definitely provides fresh insight. However, I'm still not so sure I'm wrong. In Jewish law, a baby is not "a person" until after (I believe) 5 days. This was probably mostly a way of dealing with high infant mortality, but still it would imply that "mischei" doesn't apply to the child, but rather to the mother.

4:51 PM  
Anonymous NoStar said...

Moose,
I was hoping you'd find and share the link to the picture of the woman making it with a swan.

8:36 PM  
Anonymous stevo darkly said...

Anne -

That's interesting, because a lot of modern insurance companies won't cover an infant (except for a token amount, like $100) until the kid is a few days old (seven or 14 days is typical, I think) either. Interesting parallel.

11:42 PM  

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