The Atheist Academic: Muahahahahahaha!
I was so nervous to teach the Bible as Literature. I love teaching electives, and the Bible is one of the two most alluded to texts in English literature, so I know it’s important. And I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school, so I know my Bible. But my main concern was showing my derision in the middle of class. Would the kids be able to tell that I didn’t believe a bit of what I was teaching them? Would they try to argue with me, try to convert me, sic their parents on me? I just didn’t know.
I shouldn’t have worried. I made sure at the start of the school year to let students and parents alike know that I was teaching the Bible AS LITERATURE. It is against the law for me to show any favoritism about any religion in the class. Therefore, I have to teach it as though there is a person from every single religion in my class — in other words, like I had no agenda, religiously. Parents seemed to be receptive to this. The Christian parents assumed that I was being forced to be neutral, and that a sweet girl like myself MUST be a Christian (I even got invited to join a Bible study!). The non-Christian parents… well, they just didn’t care. They assumed that their students wouldn’t get anything shoved down their throats.
As the semester went on, this class of amazing students became my favorite. Many of the students are close friends from a scary Christian afterschool cult/club. It seemed to me that this club was more about the group of friends than about religion. In class, we would read certain sections from the Bible — Old Testament first — and we would discuss the text as though it were a story (which it is, but I couldn’t say that…). Students were shocked: “Wait… the Bible really says THAT? That’s disgusting!” I would nod and say, “Well, that’s how I would interpret it…”
When we got to the New Testament, the students commented, “Oh, this is where it gets more familiar. We know the Gospels.” So we read Matthew, and I showed them how the book is really just a link between the Old Testament and the New — how many themes are repeated. And by looking at themes, and taking the cull of church away from them — and from not picking and choosing which parts I wanted them to focus on — these super religious students got a good view of what the Bible was all about.
And here’s when it got interesting. This class of mostly super-religious students took a step back. Once they actually READ the BIble, they weren’t as religious as they thought they were. Suddenly, the Bible wasn’t all about love and sharing — it was about death, and destruction, and anger. Other students in the class would mention how it seemed that the authors of the Bible had a certain agenda when writing it. But I was neutral. All I did was have them read it — I broke no laws.
A few students would hang back after class and say to me, “I don’t think you’re religious, are you?” One, a proclaimed atheist, will catch my eye and wink at certain sections. I keep a mask on — no one needs to know what I believe or don’t believe. But I love how neutrality is seen as atheism. I love that asking students to read the whole Bible unhitches their beliefs. What would happen if every Christian actually read the Bible? Would religion disintegrate even more quickly than it is already? I have another Bible class next semester, and I’m curious to see if I have the same results.