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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A Good Book for all: Secular study of Bible beneficial

February 14, 2006

The Bible, like it or not, is an integral part of American culture. By not addressing the Good Book in school curricula, Georgia's school systems are doing a disservice to students who were not raised as Christians.

I know I'm one of them.

Phil Skinner/AJC

Although the Bible was an important source of inspiration and information to me during my upbringing in a Unitarian Universalist congregation, it wasn't the only religious ideology I drew from. I spent my childhood learning a little about many different religions and philosophies. As a result, my understanding of Bible specifics was minimal.

I know what many of you are probably thinking: religious teachings should stay in the churches and in the home. Both the First Amendment and I agree with you. Faith shouldn't be state-sponsored. But the academic benefits of learning the Bible as history and literature shouldn't be ignored.

Not knowing all the Bible facts wasn't an issue for me during my public school years until I took Advanced Placement English my junior year at Collins Hill High School in Suwanee.

Some books we studied Milton's "Paradise Lost," Dante's "The Inferno" were inspired directly by the Bible. I knew from the start I'd be behind some of my fellow students during these discussions. What I wasn't prepared for was how often biblical symbolism would crop up in nonreligious texts.

Picture: Sarah Kohl is a magazine journalism and history student at the University of Georgia.
Sarah Kohl is a magazine journalism and history student at the University of Georgia.

Many of my school peers were much more versed than I in the Bible's words. Often, I was clueless when discussion turned toward Christian symbolism found in Shakespeare's plays or 19th-century poetry. Already shy, how could I ask about a subject some of my peers had spent a lifetime studying? I can't imagine I was the only student in this situation.

Opening the Bible in the classroom could enrich the education of non-Christian students and not just in English classes. Could a Hindu art student with no Christian background understand the religious symbolism of Renaissance-era paintings as a Catholic student might? You bet.

Today, Georgia's history classes are overloaded with information and students can learn about religion only superficially. An elective social science course on all the major religions would help solve this problem if it is presented in a secular, purely educational manner.

I saw this done when I took a religion class last fall at the University of Georgia. The instructor and the 30 students in the classroom made no attempt to turn our survey of Judaism, Christianity and Islam into religious rampages. If college-level teachers can handle this responsibility, why can't high school teachers?

As immigrants from all over the world bring new cultures to Georgia, new religions or new interpretations of familiar religions are brought into the state as well. Letting students learn more about these new religions or more about their own religion in an objective, educated manner will help Georgia youth understand more about their own culture, the nation and the world.

2006 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


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