Shane received a $500 scholarship from FFRF for his third-place entry in the 2010 High School Essay Competition.
Most people in my county are devout Christians. I grew up in an atheist household, and both of my parents have suspicions about religion, as do I. In elementary school, when the first hints of social hierarchy begin to grow, I always felt ashamed and inferior for not being able to believe what the others did. I thought I lacked some sort of virtue.
In the early years, I thought I wasn’t intelligent enough to see the bigger picture. Over the years I got thicker skin and got used to being “the different one.” It took far too long, but one day I understood that the opposite of what I had perceived was true. Religion and intelligent, critical thought are near-opposites, and if education seeks to encourage intelligent, critical thought, it must be separated from religion entirely to prevent conflict of interest. I have seen an example of what happens when religion fuses with public school in less comfortable ways than the typical after-school club or “under God” Pledge of Allegiance. I have experienced a high school course devoted entirely to the study of the bible, and this is where I must make my stand and reflect on the strongest, and last, personal intrusion of religion into my K-12 schooling.
I was halfway through my senior orientation and in line to get my schedule for the year. The woman at the front desk handed me my paper, and I gave it a quick glance to confirm whether I had gotten my academic courses and electives. I found one clear error listed: an all-year elective called Introduction to Bible. I had discussed three possible choices (none of them Introduction to Bible) for an elective with my guidance counselor months ago, and asked the woman at the desk if I could change my schedule at this point. She said no, unless the issue was insufficient credits for graduation.
Never did I suspect that a course studying the bible existed in public school, and that I would be reluctantly taking it for the entire year — one semester for the Hebrew Testament and one semester for the New Testament.
On the first day, my instructor said that the course was not meant to teach religious doctrine as fact, and that we would study the bible as literature and for its influence from past to present in the West. Most of the students were not seniors, and the teacher gave us a long list of 56 biblical allusions used in the Advanced Placement English language and composition test, which some juniors and sophomores took to earn college credit.
He insisted that knowing the allusions would help us do better on the test. But I had taken the test the year before and hadn’t found one biblical allusion on the test, on or off the teacher’s list. I have yet to see solid proof that knowing the bible will improve one’s score on a test for understanding English language in rhetoric.
I still wanted to give the course a chance. The textbook devoted a full chapter to promising the book didn’t have a religious agenda, and that was a good sign. But then I opened one of the bibles from the set provided by the school district. God’s Game Plan (the title) was a bright orange and cheaply made bible specifically for Christian athletes. I opened to Genesis 1, and from then on I couldn’t flip to a page without facing a bombardment of outlandish asides asking questions of the readers.
One went something like this: “Genesis says that God created Eve, the woman, as a companion for Adam, the man. What do you think God thinks of homosexual relationships?” One from the tale of Noah and the ark used the same kind of loaded question to explain that God created the Grand Canyon instantly through the flood, and therefore the Earth is not as old as geologists claim.
If I were going to read the bible to study it from a neutral perspective, it wouldn’t be with God’s Game Plan. The irony came in full force when I read declarations in the New Testament of falsifiers who twisted the word of God to make their own message, and the punishment they would receive after death. By the end I had concluded that Introduction to Bible tried to insert Christian values into the school system, and I was disgusted.
My school board opens every meeting with a prayer to God (at least it’s not a prayer to “Jesus Christ our savior for all eternity amen” like the city council meetings). The board has yet to admit to wrongdoing in the settled lawsuit over forcing third graders in Webster Elementary School to sing “In God We Still Trust,” with such lyrics as “Now there are those among us, who want to push Him out, And erase His name from everything, this country’s all about.”
The superintendent claimed the board pulled the song and canceled rehearsals as soon as they heard the complaint, but those filing the suit said nothing was canceled until the suit was filed. Introduction to Bible is clearly not an academic, secular class. Students should not have to tolerate this kind of deception to get a public education.
Spirituality is important for some people but not to me. I wish only to not have it invade my life. I find organized religion and its oppressive agenda a threat to the intelligence of an improving society. Every faith, from major religions to local cults, is a creeping fungus in a world of potential freethinkers. Religionists maintain only their view is true and reject all others. Such closed-minded thinking is not in the mission statement for my public high school.
Religion and logical thought do not mix because of religion’s stealthy agenda. Hebrews 1:11 defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The reward for faith, whether it be prosperity on Earth or in some afterlife, comes from not understanding, and the purpose of school is understanding.
Shane Hall, Saint Johns, Fla., is a graduate of Bartram Trail High School. He will major in English at the University of South Florida in Tampa. He’s interested in writing fiction and directing.