Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Long Article on NCBCPS Curriculum

The Faces of Faith in America News Initiative, a project of the Carnegie and Knight foundations, has a long and detailed article about Bible courses around the country, especially the NCBCPS curriculum and the controversies surrounding it. The crux of the matter:

And while legal precedent supports offering such courses, it also compels freedom from sectarian bias.

“The key questions will be about whether there’s room for critical argument about [biblical] passages,” said Christopher Eisgruber, provost of Princeton University and co-author of the recent “Religious Freedom and the Constitution” (Harvard University Press, 2007).

“Does the curriculum make it possible for students to criticize, to propagate a religious view to the extent that there are multiple perspectives? Does it help them understand or does it pick one?”

And you have to love the obvious cognitive dissonance of the woman behind the NCBCPS curriculum:

Ridenour, who had worked as a commercial real estate broker and paralegal before founding NCBCPS, became interested in the legality of Bible curricula when she met a North Carolina educator whose “school had been duped by the separation of church and state,” she said bitterly. Her subsequent research inspired an ambition, advertised on her Web site and in promotional materials: “to deal with the moral crises in our society, and reclaim our families and children” through high school Bible classes.

When they’re accused of using the course to push belief in the Bible rather than objective and scholarly study of it, they feign such outrage at being accused of that. Yet they bluntly declare that the whole point of it is sow belief in the Bible in order to solve moral problems and “reclaim” our youth. You can’t have it both ways, folks.

The article of course mentions Mark Chancey’s comprehensive report on the curriculum:

One of the most outspoken critics is Mark Chancey, assistant professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Chancey, an expert in New Testament studies and early Judaism, says he is likely the first professional Bible scholar to have seen the curriculum, entitled “The Bible in History and Literature.”

He reviewed a 2005 copy for a report published by the Texas Freedom Network, an organization that identifies itself as “a mainstream voice to counter the religious right.”

“There was nothing remotely scholarly about the first version I saw,” Chancey said. “It was riddled with errors, extensively plagiarized. There were whole pages cut and pasted off the Internet.”

In his August 2005 report, published by the Texas Freedom Network, Chancey noted that the curriculum does not explicitly urge students to become Christians, but he said that it presents the Bible from one theological perspective–that of a conservative Protestant believer. The curriculum treats the Bible as a divinely inspired book whose historical claims are completely accurate, he said–a view held passionately by evangelical Christians, but not held by all Christian denominations or by Jews.

One example: The version Chancey read suggested that “documented research through NASA” proves the story in Joshua 10 that the sun stood still so that Israelites would have enough time to defeat the Canaanites. Chancey explained that a folklorist named Jan Harold Brunvand traced the legend of the lost day from 1890 to its latest incarnation, born in the 1960s, and he pointed to a page on NASA’s own Web site that debunks the myth.

The NCBCPS changed the curriculum after Chancey’s report came out, but it didn’t do much to help:

About a month later, the NCBCPS released an updated curriculum that addressed many of Chancey’s objections. Gone was the mention of NASA’s research regarding the “lost day” legend. Gone was the description of the Bible as a collection of 66 books–a description that applies to the Protestant Bible but certainly not to the Jewish Bible or even the Catholic Bible.

While Chancey said he believes the revisions are a baby step in the right direction, he hardly deems them sufficient. He also noted in his report, for example, that NCBCPS fails to name the authors, unusual for an academic curriculum. Further, while the NCBCPS claims to have courses in 37 states, it refuses to reveal the names of all but a handful of those districts–Brady, Tex. and Forsyth/Winston-Salem, N.C., among them…

Debatable material remains in sections such as “Unit 17: The Bible in History,” concerning in part the founding of the United States. Using language reminiscent of a thesis paper, the teacher’s guide makes the claim that the Bible inspired “34 percent of the direct quotes in the political writings of the Founding Era.”

It goes on: “The fact that the Founders quoted the Bible more frequently than any other source is indisputably a significant commentary on its importance in the foundation of our government. In fact, some have even conceded that ‘historians are discovering that the Bible, perhaps even more than the Constitution, is our Founding document.'” The quote is not attributed to anyone.

But this isn’t just debatable, it’s flat out false. And while they may not post a source for this claim, I know what the source is. It’s Donald Lutz’ study of published materials from the founding period of the country, which has been completely distorted by the religious right since the moment it came out. Most of the documents in Lutz’ study were published sermons, for crying out loud, and they had little or nothing to do with the founding of the country. And they never cite the part of his study focusing on 1787 and 1788, when the Constitution was written and ratified. Lutz wrote of that period of time:

The Bible’s prominence disappears, which is not surprising since the debate centered upon specific institutions about which the Bible has little to say. The Anti-Federalists do drag it in with respect to basic principles of government, but the Federalists’ inclination to Enlightenment rationalism is most evident here in their failure to consider the Bible relevant.

They don’t quote that bit from Lutz because it shows that they’re lying about what the study actually said and what it was based on. I doubt those who put the curriculum know that, of course. They merely repeated a common Christian Nation lie, which is why they don’t cite the source for the claim. And that is all the evidence you need that this curriculum does not meet even the most minimal standards of scholarship. It was written for one purpose, as a propaganda tool.