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a bible in every school?

May 16, 2012

So Michael Gove (Education Secretary) is sending a copy of the King James Version bible to every school in the UK. The news has been greeted with a less than enthusiastic welcome, with many people commenting that a “religious” text like the bible has no place in a (presumably) secular education system! – or that other religious texts should have an equal place.

The justification is that the King James Bible (so called because `authorised` the translation which dates from 1611 is a timeless classic that is important as English literature, as important as Shakespeare. The evidence for this is that phrases from it are often quoted in common English. But this is not evidence that it is necessarily a great piece of literature, simply that it has been widely read. Surely we are not going to argue that the Sun is great literature just because it has 5M readers? or that every school should have the Harry Potter books donated?

The bible is an amazing book, but to limit it to being read in the largely inaccessible 17th century language of the KJV is to miss the point. It contains timeless stories and covers all of life, but surely a modern translation will make those stories more relevant to school children.

Then we come to the thorny issue of whether allowing people to read the bible is indoctrinating them to Christian belief? First I have to make the disclaimer that many people (within Christianity) read and understand the Bible differently. Some see evidence for a somewhat violent, woman hating, homosexual abusing, Slave owning Patriarchal God – others see quite the opposite! But that aside the majority of those who object on these grounds, whether they are atheists, humanists, agnostics or whatever – argue that the modern scientific world has moved on and has no place for such `fables`. Hold on – what is science? If we are serious about science we are prepared to look at any theory or evidence with an analytical mind. That is we do not bring our pre-judgements to the task. So to be consistent with this viewpoint is to accept that we cannnot bring a prior belief (the bible is Myth) to our reading of it, rather we can – indeed should – read the bible without prejudice and allow it to speak on it’s own terms. If in doing so the reader encounters God speaking, great, if not, fine!

The last issue to unpick is that of whether other “religious” texts have an equal place in schools? Of course it is a good point to note that despite a secularist trend, and the presence of significant numbers of people of other faiths in the UK, that we are still a society based on Christianity. Call it post-christian if you will, but lets not have the nonsense that we are a faithless society. Faith stands at the heart of who we are, it forms the foundation for our tolerance of others; democracy is based on the Christian value of  our respect for others, our justice system is based on the jewish/christian system found in the bible, our welfare state is founded on the work of Christian institutions who provided health care, education and support for the poor.

By all means have texts from other religions if you want, but the bible – preferably in a modern translation – should be at the centre of our education system. Well done Mr Gove

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