The Wall Street Journal’s recent editorial has the bold title: “Public Schools Should Teach the Bible: Westerners cannot be considered literate without a basic knowledge of this foundational text”.While I certainly support the idea that students should be better informed about world religions, I vehemently oppose giving special preference to the Bible over other faiths.
The WSJ op-ed’s argument is that America is a Western nation with the Bible as its foundation. This is a racist assumption which ignores that for most of its 10,000 year history America was unknown to Europeans and was inhabited by the Native Americans, originally from Asia. OK, I agree that today we are where we are, and must deal with the practical reality that Europeans dominated this land for the past few centuries after “emptying” it of the natives — a euphemism for getting rid of them by various means. But the very same pragmatic view also suggests that by 2050, whites (i.e. people of European or “Western” descent) will be less than half the population of America. Going forward, we are not going to be a Eurocentric nation, but a microcosm of the world’s diverse peoples. The premise of being a Western nation must be re-examined.
The majority of the world’s population is neither European nor Christian. In a global society, our future generations must be better equipped to deal with the diverse religions and cultures of all nations abroad and of all citizens at home. Inevitably, a white kid in the next generation will have “non-Westerners” in her life — as classmates, doctors, colleagues at work, bosses, business suppliers, customers, or even as spouse. “Western” chauvinism is rapidly becoming obsolete, being often a politically correct substitute for “white Christian” supremacy.
A better idea is to teach the world’s great classics that ought to be selected for their value as sources of ideas and inspiration. Why not also teach Patanjali’s yoga text, Buddha’s and Gandhi’s philosophies, the world’s first and still most comprehensive grammar (of Sanskrit) written by Panini prior to the time of Jesus, and a whole library of such great non-Western texts. Aryabhatta’s famous mathematics and astronomy influenced later European developments. Kautilya’s political thought anticipated Machiavelli and other Europeans by more than a millennium. Bharata’s multi-volume natya-shastra must be appreciated alongside the Greek writings on aesthetics.
T.S. Eliot, one of America’s foremost thinkers, was a Sanskrit scholar all his life, and remarked that compared to the Sanskrit classics the greatest Western philosophers “look like schoolboys.” Indeed, the library of major works from India alone is far greater than the Greek and Roman classics combined, and one must add to this the classics of other civilizations such as China. My point is that we must raise kids to be world citizens with a broad foundation of the greatest ideas from every corner.
The WSJ op-ed is also plain wrong in citing that the movie Star Wars was inspired by the Bible. In fact, Infinity Foundation sponsored a research book in the 1990s that traced Ramayana (a Hindu text) as the source which had inspired George Lucas. Lucas acknowledges that he got his ideas from Joseph Campbell who had interpreted Indian narratives as a student of Sanskrit and Hinduism. The book that came out of this project, titled, The Jedi in the Lotus, gives details of how various characters and stories from Ramayana were incorporated into Star Wars.
The authors of the WSJ op-ed want to play the game: “XYZ would not have existed in America without the influence of the Bible.” But by the same token, I would point out that Christopher Columbus would not have found America had he not been sent by Queen Isabella of Spain to look for a sea route to India. India and China were known as the centers of world manufacturing and as the source of goods that were highly sought after in Europe. But once the Ottoman Empire captured the land routes from Asia to Europe, these Asian goods became very scarce in Europe. Queen Isabella invested in a risky venture with a huge potential payoff – finding a sea route to import Indian goods and thereby bypassing the Ottomans. Thus, India is the reason for the existence of what later became the United States of America. Certainly, this bit of history should be taught in every American school.
Published: March 3, 2013