The Atheist Academic: I Did Not Proselytize!
As many of you know, I got the opportunity to teach a Bible as Literature class last semester, As a rather outspoken atheist among my colleagues, I (and probably a lot of other people) thought that I was an unusual choice. Still, I’ve never been one for backing down from a challenge, so I agreed to teach the class.
Many of my co-workers had taught the class before – I got the feeling that it’s been passed around, like a bad cold – and so I went and talked to them about what to expect. I walked back to my classroom carrying a huge pile of binders, my head filled with advice. Teach it in conjunction with literature. Teach it like a history class. Don’t bother with the literature part. Teach it like an English class. Make discussion a big part of the class. Make the class very serious.
I found a syllabus online and grabbed a set of The Bible As/in Literature, by Scott Forsman, out of the book room. I procured a set of NV BIbles and poured through the suggestions from my co-workers. By the time the first day of class rolled around, I was ready.
As the semester went on, I bumbled along. We read the Bible and read some accompanying texts. I had a non-practicing Jewish girl in the class who knew a ton about the history behind the Old Testament. I had some gung-ho Christians in the class who studied the Bible in their spare time. We all worked together to read the Bible, but not to interpret it beyond what it actually said.
I threw in lots of writing and lots of art, The kids made Play-Doh figures when they read Genesis. I found cheesy pictures of Bible verses online, and they colored the pictures and then wrote about the Bible verse. I gave tests over basic information. And through it all, I made sure that no pro- or anti- religion statements were made by anyone — especially me. Over and over, I stressed that this was just about the LITERATURE of the BIble.
Students still, somehow, would come up to me after class, wink, and say that they knew I was atheist. I felt bad; I was trying to be neutral. But, after a while, I realized that they took my neutrality as atheism. Apparently, since I didn’t proselytize, they interpreted that as my advocating for no religion at all. And, in this case, it was true — but it doesn’t always have to be that way.
A new semester is beginning; I get to have a new Bible as Literature class. This time, I’m teaching it my own way. The suggestions from colleagues were awesome, but now I’ve got a handle on it. I know what I’m doing, and I think it’s going to work out well. I’m actually excited about teaching the class. I’ll let you know how it goes!