Thinking outside the box. Literally!

The power of thought is not a new discovery. “All we are,” said the Buddha twenty-five hundred years ago, “is the result of what we have thought.” Most people understand that our thoughts create us. And when thoughts become beliefs, they define us. They make us Christians, Democrats, Liberals, Muslims, Socialists, Republicans, and Communists. Thoughts can also bring us great happiness, or complete despair. The good news: we can control our thoughts(Whew!).

Last year I sent out a survey question to hundreds of prominent people. The question was simple: What (if anything) should public schools teach children about religion? One response came from the bestselling author, Dr. Andrew Newberg. Newberg is a neurologist and the Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University. His area of expertise is in religion and the brain. Here is an excerpt from his response.

“Given what we know about the human brain, one of the best things for brain function and health is to challenge our beliefs and thought processes… the brain is that part of us that tries to understand our world. With this in mind, each of us has different ways of looking at the world, and every person must be treated with compassion and their ideas must be respected. Hopefully this will enable a student to develop a clearer understanding of their own beliefs and traditions, challenge their intellect, and enhance their compassion for others.”


As an educator I respect Dr. Newberg’s statements about “challenging our beliefs” and “challenging our intellects.” As a teacher I want my students to become critical thinkers, and I frequently ask them if they ever “think about what they think about and why they think about it?” I also try to help them understand that the first step in being able to challenge their own thoughts is to become aware of how their thoughts are generally more spontaneous than deliberate; they can surface and grab hold without our permission in ways that bring discomfort and limit our understanding of the world.

To illustrate this to my students I draw nine dots on the whiteboard (see below). I then tell them to draw the dots in their notebook and to connect all the dots with four straight lines without lifting their pencil from the paper once they begin. I also tell them they cannot back track over a line. Give it a shot.

In about a minute the students begin to express their frustration and belief that it cannot be done (examples of their failed attempts are illustrated below). Despite their frustrations, I remind them that it can be done and that a five-year old can do it. This, as you can imagine, only adds to their frustration.

When it is apparent to me that no one knows how to connect the dots with four straight lines I show them, and jaws begin to drop (see below).

Many students, explaining why they failed such a simple task, confess that they automatically approached the problem as they did as children connecting dots. In other words, a line ends at a dot before a new line is started. They also admit they spontaneously – without any deliberate thinking – thought the nine dots were a box. And once this thought took hold they could not think outside the box (literally!). I doubt if this is where the phrase “think outside the box” comes from, but it certainly applies in this case.

Dr. Newberg’s statement about challenging our thoughts to promote brain function and health remind me of another statement of the Buddha: “Do not accept something because it is in accordance with your beliefs.” In other words, challenge your own beliefs. Allow yourself to disagree with yourself. Don’t immediately assume an idea is “true” or “correct” because it fits nicely into your paradigm of thought – don’t let your thoughts create a box to be trapped in. Don’t let your mind limit itself to one perspective.

The great challenge in all of this is to put our own intellect and beliefs under the lens of critical self-examination. This requires great courage and focus (and some humility), but to not do so is to run the risk of staying trapped in the nursery of egocentric childhood thinking and reasoning where the brain’s health and full potential is stifled. A mind is a terrible thing to waste!

For more information about Dr. Newberg, see his webpage(see below).

Girls dressing like boys, no problem. Boys dressing like girls, problem!?

Several years ago at Red Wing High School a boy was sent home for wearing a knee-length dress. Question: Why has it become socially acceptable for women to wear traditional men’s clothing but not acceptable for men to wear traditional women’s clothing? Is there a subconscious unspoken assumption in our male-dominated culture that says it is understandable and tolerable for an “inferior” to want to impersonate a “superior” but not the other way around? Any answer goes to the core of our cultural psyche. But whatever the answer may be, it most certainly is wrapped up in our religious traditions and history, and possibly (and more specifically) the story of Adam and Eve.

The Adam and Eve story is by far the most influential story in our social history. It is the story that has justified the mistreatment of women for thousands of years. And, more importantly, it is the punishment of Eve that needs to be understood. Eve’s punishment from God for her disobedience in the Garden of Eden was twofold: 1) pain in child bearing, and 2) her husband shall rule over her.

The Bible makes it very clear that women are to be inherently punished by being ruled over by men, and this punitive part of the Adam and Eve story has been the basis for sexism in American culture for most of our history. The apostle Paul wrote the following words.

“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing.” 1 Timothy 2:11-15

As a father I want my three daughters to have equal opportunity and respect, and I am grateful they are not living in the world my parents and grandparents grew up in, a world where women were expected to be homemakers and subservient to men. To illustrate this point, let’s go down amnesia lane and look at a few ads from the not-so-distant past.


battleship-retro coverart sexist



You would have to be totally ignorant to not know that women in America have fought long and hard against biblical traditions to gain equal rights, and It is not surprising that the states voting against the nineteenth amendment(women’s suffrage) were all from the Bible Belt.

So who should we thank for women gaining more rights? My first vote goes to Charles Darwin (yes, you heard me correctly, Charles Darwin). I tell my students that Charles Darwin may have done more to advance the cause of women’s rights than anyone else. This typically evokes a lot of consternation in my classroom, and rightly so; Charles Darwin is never mentioned in the history of the Women’s Rights Movement, but he should be. Why? Because it is not a coincidence that women started to gain true opportunities and rights precisely at a time when science and human evolution were weakening the grip of biblical thinking on our culture. Our cultural acceptance of Charles Darwin has turned the story of Adam and Eve into an ancient myth, and in the process greatly eroded the foundation and justification for the unequal treatment of women, thereby opening a window of opportunity for new legislation and civil liberties for women. In other words, Darwin unintentionally debunked the historical and biblical rationale for the oppression of women.

The “war against women” is still being fought by ultra conservatives who want a return to a more traditional bible-based society where women are “ruled over” by men, where the punishment Eve brought upon all women can be legislated into laws (as was clearly the case before the Age of Reason and scientific thinking). And, more importantly, I need to stress that the war can still be lost if we are not vigilant; there are numerous examples in history were secular societies have digressed back into the dark ages of religious fanaticism.

Sexism and sexists attitudes are obviously not dead in America (just pick up a copy of Maxim Magazine if you don’t believe me). Although women in America are no longer considered property of men, as was the case in biblical times, they clearly have not been culturally elevated to the same level of dignity and honor that men enjoy. Yes, we have come along way, but as long as a boy can be sent home from school for dressing like a girl we still have a way to go before truly becoming a culture where womanhood and manhood are honestly viewed with equal respect.

I’ll be the first to admit I may be wrong in my analysis. And so if you have a better explanation as to why our culture generally allows girls to dress in traditional boy’s clothing(pants) while recoiling when boys dress in traditional girl’s clothing (dresses), I would love to hear it!

Guns, Jesus, Chuck Norris, and the perfect gift.

The holiday season is once again upon us. The spirit of Christmas can be seen and felt in every small town across America. It is, for all Christians, a time to commemorate the birth of the baby Jesus, the “Prince of Peace.” And, for any fans of Chuck Norris who are gamers, I know the perfect gift (see below). But first, a quote from Chuck:

“The baby born in a manger 2,000 years ago was not only a Savior, but a God of war. But, even more, he is a Prince of Peace who spiritually waged war on our behalves to bring us peace with God and a promise to live forever in heaven… The fact is, Jesus does support war… There is no contradiction between Christ’s commandments for us to turn the other cheek and defending our lives… The situation warrants the weapon – sometimes its love; sometimes it’s Smith & Wesson.”

Seriously, this might be the first time in human history that the words “baby born in a manger” and “Smith & Wesson” have been used TOGETHER in a single argument – I’m dead serious, I can think of no other!

Most people know that Chuck is a conservative evangelical Christian and a member of the NRA. And most people know the above XBOX game is not real. But given the popularity of Chuck and his ideas – and his image of Jesus (“God of war”) – I can’t help but wonder if there would be a market for “HALO Holy Combat.” For those who celebrate Jesus, militarism, and video games, this might be it – the perfect gift! Finally!

Hmmm… I wonder. Would people really purchase this game?

Oh, and if you are interested, Chuck’s entire argument can be read by clicking on the below link. In the article (2007) he explained why he was supporting Mike Huckabee for President. One of the reasons given by Chuck was that Huckabee (at the time) was the only governor who had a permit to carry a concealed weapon, an obvious good reason for many, right?

Masturbation as a ‘borderline homosexual activity’?

Let’s begin with a quote:

…Masturbation can be a form of homosexuality because it is a sexual act that does not involve a woman. If a man were to masturbate while engaged in other forms of sexual intimacy with his wife then he would not be doing so in a homosexual way. However, any man who does so without his wife in the room is bordering on homosexual activity.

Huh? The idea that privately masturbating is “borderline homosexual activity” is about as crazy as it gets. What’s even crazier is that this quote comes from one of America’s most popular and influential ministers in America, Mark Driscoll, senior pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle Washington. Driscoll is a New York Times bestselling author, and his credentials are impressive. According to the Mars Hill website, Pastor Driscoll is…

“… the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, and is one of the world’s most downloaded and quoted pastors. He and his wife, Grace, co-authored Real Marriage, which became a #1 New York Times best seller. His audience, fans and critics alike, spans the theological and cultural left and right. He was named one of the 25 most influential pastors of the past 25 years by Preaching magazine in 2010, and his audio sermon podcast is regularly #1 on iTunes’ Religion & Spirituality chart and has been among the Top 50 of all podcasts at times. His hour-long sermons received 10 million plays and downloads in 2011, with another 5 million views of his sermon clips on YouTube and other channels.”

And, if you are wondering, I pulled Driscoll’s quote from his free online book. The link is below for those who want to read more. Enjoy.

Out of curiosity I went on line to find out if there is any scientific evidence to support Driscoll’s claim. I found none. None! What I did find out is Driscoll is not alone; many churches associate sex and masturbation to “original sin” (see image below), It is, however, a well-known fact that many churches condemn same-sex intimacy (see image below), but heterosexual alone-and-in-private masturbation… as borderline homosexual activity? Really? Oh, and I should point out, Pastor Driscoll views homosexuality as sinful, not surprising.


Church sign - I kissed a girl

Here is my question: Why would religion care about masturbation? Why in the world would religion want to tie the natural feelings of sexual desire – and acting on it alone and in private – to sin? Perhaps Dr. Darrell Ray has an answer.

Dr. Ray is a contributor to my book (for more information about my book, see archives and click on “One question. One Book. Many answers”). Ray, a bestselling author, suggests that connecting sexual desire to sin has been a long practiced strategy by some religions to keep people feeling sinful, shameful, guilty, and in need of salvation. Ray is also the author of Sex and God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality(see below).


The following excerpts are from a lengthy essay Ray sent to me several months ago in response to the question, “What(if anything) should public schools teach children about religion?”

“While many would say that children should be taught a wide range of things about all religions, I would propose that a significant portion of teaching should be about religion and sex, especially to high school students. Sex is the elephant in the living room. Every major religion is concerned with your sex life and tries to force adherents into a particular religious sexuality – what you can and cannot do with your body. Teaching a course in comparative religions, without examining religious sexuality is like teaching a course in biology without studying microorganisms. Sex and sexuality are critical to most religions, yet is rarely examined critically and in detail.

[students] should be taught that sexual preference was not a concern among the religions of some of the Plains Indians, and that many religions in the past and present in Greece, Africa, Polynesia, and South America, were and are, quite tolerant of homosexuality and masturbation. High school students should be given the basic teachings of the various religions, including each religion’s teaching about sex. What is a religion’s teaching on marriage, masturbation, premarital sex? What are the differences among religions and the reasons for differences? Why are patriarchal religions so misogynistic when matriarchal religions are more sexually free? How is it that many so-called “primitive” religions survived for thousands of years without strong sexual restrictions?

Finally, high school students should be taught the basic psychology of religion. They should be taught about the guilt cycle – the psychological method by which a religion creates loyalty and commitment. This is most easily illustrated by the simple observation that a person can only receive forgiveness for religiously taught guilt from the religion that taught it to them in the first place. Muslims do not confess to Catholic priests, Baptists don’t confess to Muslims, etc. The psychology of religion helps people approach religion with open eyes and recognize that sexual guilt is a key component of many religions, especially patriarchal ones.”

In all honesty, I do not mention sex very much in my world religion class. But after reading Pastor Driscoll’s views on the matter, and after reading Ray’s views on the matter, perhaps I should. I’ll just need to get past the blushing part of having to talk about masturbation. No problem…I think. Ugh!

One question. One book. Many answers.

Last year I decided to send out a survey question to America’s most distinguished writers and thinkers. I asked them one simple question: “What(if anything) should public schools teach children about religion?” I was unsure if I would get any responses. But within weeks I had my answer, and I discovered that I had hit a nerve with many people. Within a few months I had an impressive collection of over one hundred and forty letter responses (some hand written), forty written by national, international, or New York Times bestselling authors! The responses, an average of eight hundred words in length, reflect an amazing range of thought and opinion, and many of those who responded shared very personal stories. To name just a few:

Jimmy Carter
(Former President and recipient of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize)

Bernie Siegel
(International bestselling author and world-renowned physician)

Susan Herman
(President of the American Civil Liberties Union)

Dan Millman
(International bestselling author, Way of the Peaceful Warrior)

Michael Shermer
(National bestselling author and Founding Editor of Skeptic Magazine)

Jeff Zaslow
(National bestselling coauthor, The Last Lecture)

Jon Kyl
(United States Senator and Republican Whip, Arizona)

Stephen J. Dubner

(National bestselling coauthor, Freakonomics)

Last spring I gathered the essays into a book, and I currently have a New York book agent working on my behalf to get it published. Right now it is being reviewed by two publishers, one being HarperCollins. So…if you need to get in touch with me, have your people get in touch with my people (Ha ha ha). Just Kidding!

Over the next month or two I will use excerpts from the book as the focus of my posts. My goal is to generate some good discussions by examining the varying viewpoints of those who have contributed to my book. These people who come from all walks of life: mega-church pastors, atheists, politicians, Hollywood actors, highly reputable scientists, university presidents and professors, Pulitzer Prize winning journalists, filmmakers, Humanists, and prominent thinkers from all the great religions (including a witch or two). My hope is to spark a national dialogue on the important role that public schools can play in combating religious ignorance and bigotry, along with the role schools can play in helping kids rationally understand religion and “Why People Weird Things” (the title of one of Michael Shermer’s books that I use in my class).

Michael Shermer, the Founding Editor of Skeptic Magazine, is one of many distinguished contributors to my book. His credentials are too numerous for me to list and too impressive to go unmentioned by people with an inclination to approach life rationally, scientifically, and skeptically. The link to his “About” page on his website is below.

As a public school teacher teaching about religion and what the great religions believe I am obligated by law to approach the subject of religion objectively, not religiously. Hence, I subscribe to the “Shermer method.” In other words, I expect my students to critically examine and scrutinize all ideas that make up all belief systems. This, among other things, has made me very unpopular with local evangelical parents and pastors, and explains (in part) why most conservative Christian parents do not allow their children to take my class out of fear that their child’s faith will be destroyed.

I have used Shermer’s books as part of my curriculum since 1996 when I first started teaching the class. Needless to say, my students find it “very cool” that he chose to reply. His response is as follows:

What (if anything) should public schools teach children about religion? Either absolutely nothing about religion or absolutely everything about religion. That is to say, if religion is going to be taught at all it should be a year-long course curriculum on comparative world religions that includes the evolution, history, anthropology, sociology, and psychology of religion and covers all the world’s cultures and societies and their many religious faiths in each one, plus all the secular movements (e.g., secular humanism) that have actively tried to replace religion with another belief system based on natural instead of supernatural forces.

Such curriculum already exist at the university level so it would be easy to modify it down a notch to middle school or high school student levels, and give students the broadest possible education on religion. Anyone who is confident in their faith should not be threatened by such a proposal. Anyone who objects to this proposal on the grounds that their religious faith is being lumped in with all those fake faiths, should do some serious soul-searching and mind-expanding reading of other faiths because to an anthropologist from Mars the world’s religions are mostly indistinguishable in the big picture.

If such an educational program could not be implemented, and if there were any attempt whatsoever to favor one religion over the others (oh, say, just pulling an example out of the hat randomly here—Christianity) then the program should be immediately canceled and students should receive no religious instruction whatsoever in public schools.

Thanks Michael!

A ‘burden’ to be ‘avoided’?

Several years ago one of my evangelical students gave me a little statement-of-beliefs booklet published by The Assemblies of God Church( an image of the actual booklet is down below).

The Assembies is one of largest and fastest growing churches in America and claims 60,000,000 members world-wide, and that number is growing.They also interpret the Bible literally, speak in tongues, and are die-hard creationists. When I started reading the book I was already familiar with their basic beliefs, so I expected nothing to really surprise me…until I came to page twenty-nine. The passage is as follows (the crucial sentence is the last sentence).

“Assemblies of God believers hold that the Genesis account should be taken literally. Admittedly, there is progression in God’s creative work. But each step was concluded: “And there was evening, and there was morning.” This points to a specific measurement of time. The most natural reading of the creation account therefore is to place it in parallel with a seven-day week. By doing so, the burden of determining time frames and development for various components of creation is avoided.”

I remember reading this and feeling somewhat miffed. “Whoa, wait, ‘burdened’?” I thought to myself. “Why would scientific research and inquiry be seen as a ‘burden’ to be ‘avoided'”? I wondered. Did the author really mean to imply that the “burden” of having to think and critically examine evidence can be “avoided” by reading the Bible literally?

Atheists and secularists are often very critical of biblical literalism. Literalists are sometimes portrayed as “non-thinking” people who are unwilling and/or unable to understand scientific evidence and reasoning. They are often belittled by liberals for “taking the easy way out.” Comedians such as Bill Maher and George Carlin have been especially punchy in their treatment of literalists, and religion in general.


Those who embrace biblical literalism are always quick to deny the charge that they have taken the easy way out. Instead, they vehemently argue that they are people of faith defending God’s Holy Word, the Bible. This may be true. However, subscribing to biblical literalism because you believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God is one thing, taking a literal approach to “avoid the burden” of scientifically “determining time frames and development for various components of creation” is something entirely different!

Several years ago Pew Forums published research data showing a correlation between biblical literalism and postgraduate education among Christian denominations. The results show the Assemblies(and other biblical literalist churches) down toward the bottom in postgraduate education, not surprising. I should point out that the below data lines up nicely with the survey results that I talked about in my post “A stop-and-think survey”(see archives).


“Men love to wonder, it is the seed of science,” said Emerson. The wonder and awe of scientific research and discoveries are exciting and thrilling, but only to those who are encouraged (and allowed) to see it that way. As a teacher (and parent) I would never encourage a kid to “avoid” discovering truths about the world we live it no matter how “burdensome” or challenging the journey may be. It makes no sense to me.

Does your body have a soul, or does your soul have a body?

My students are always surprised to learn that Chutes and Ladders(the game) is a spiritually-watered-down version of Snakes and Ladders, a Hindu game about reincarnation, karma, and the soul’s journey to God.

In some ways the two games are similar. Both teach lessons in “cause and effect.” In Chutes and Ladders if you do positive things you move positively forward; do negative things and you move backward – such is life. The game teaches values, but has nothing to do with God, heaven, or the soul.

Hindus place great emphasis on the soul. The great Hindu spiritual leader Mohandas K. Gandhi is commonly known as Mahatma Gandhi. The word Mahatma means “great soul,” and Hindus attribute Gandhi’s greatness to his soul rather than to “him.” This emphasis on the soul is a distinguishing feature of Hinduism that sets it apart from Christianity.

In my introduction lecture to Hinduism I ask my students this question: Does your soul have a body or does your body have a soul? My Christian students always answer by saying “the body has a soul.” Their answer is very Western. Why? Because in Christianity the emphasis is on the body rather than the soul. Traditional Christian theology says that what happened to Jesus, his bodily resurrection, will happen to all “true believers.” Hindus disagree.

Hindus see the body as nothing more than a vehicle for the soul. The soul is eternal, but the vehicle is mortal. Consequently, the soul out lives the body and must move into another one after the body dies. “Worn out clothes are shed by the body, worn out bodies are shed by the soul,” says a Hindu text.

The Hindu game Snakes and Ladders is more than a game, it is a tool to teach young Hindu children about karma and reincarnation. Karma is a kind of spiritual law of nature, and we cannot escape its influence any more than our bodies can escape the influence of gravity pulling us down a slide. In a nutshell, this is how it works: if you screw up in this life you will be reincarnated in a less fortunate life. For example, if you live a life of luxury but are selfish, greedy, and never help those in need, you will come back in a less fortunate life – maybe as a homeless person – so your soul can experience lessons in compassion, charity, and humility. In other words, life is a training ground for the soul so it can learn, evolve, and return to its source: God

The soul’s journey (training) can take thousands of reincarnations, and you get endless chances to “move forward” toward heavenly deliverance from rebirth and death (square 100, see below).


Snakes and Ladders beautifully sums up Hindu theology and cosmology. Unlike Christian theology, Hindus believe that souls migrate from animals to humans. The game begins with all players putting their tokens on square thirty-six rather than square one. Square thirty-six symbolizes that moment in soul development when the soul moves into a human and becomes “humanly conscious” and able to determine its own fate.

It is important to note that there is no permanent hell in Hinduism, the soul always gets another chance to “play the game” and move toward union with God. My Christian students find this strange and odd. But to Hindus the idea of a loving father-like God allowing his “children” to burn in a torturous lake of fire for eternity as punishment for a limited amount of mistakes made in a single life time is incomprehensible as it is cruel and evil. The idea of hell is hard to imagine, but it appears that some people have tried (see below).

As a father I love my children. And, yes, I believe they should be punished if need be. But fire? Really? Forever? As a loving father I will always give my children another chance. I will always give them another chance to correct their behavior and learn from their mistakes. I will always give them endless chances to become better people because my love for them is endless, and I can honestly say my approach to parenting is much more in line with Snakes and Ladders than it is with a Father who ultimately gives up on his children and sentences them to eternal pain and unbearable suffering. But… that’s just me I would love to hear what you have to say!

What am I?

Every semester a large number of my students are greatly surprised to learn that there are labels that describe how they think and believe. The words “agnostic,” “deists,” “atheist,” “theist,” and “monoist” are just a few of the labels and terms used in discussions about religion and faith.

Part of my job, as I see it, is to help my students understand the language and terminology of religious studies. The language and jargon of spirituality and religion can be confusing, and to help my students understand the vocabulary I have them take a simple quiz. The quiz is intended to help the test-taker understand the general label that is connected with their own unique thoughts and feelings. Today I am having my students take the test, and I encourage everyone who has an interest in “knowing what they are” to take the test. The link is below. (just underneath the below photo). Have fun! There are numerous other quizzes that can be taken. “Belief-O-Matic” is another good one, I highly recommend it (it is the second link at the bottom of this post).


A stop-and-think survey

One of the most amazing surveys that I share with my students comes from the work of sociologist Jeffery Hayden. In 1982 Hayden sent a survey out to 10,000 Protestant ministers and pastors, of which 7,441 replied. The results are rather incredible. Keep in mind these are Christian pastors and ministers answering basic questions pertaining to Christian theology! I’ll let you draw your own conclusions, and I would love to hear what your conclusions are.

Was Jesus born of a virgin?

60% of Methodist pastors said, “NO”

49% of United Presbyterian pastors said, “NO”

44% of Episcopalian priests said, “NO”

19% of Lutheran pastors said, “NO”

Was Jesus the Son of God?

82% of the Methodist pastors said, “NO”

81% of United Presbyterian pastors said, “NO”

89% of Episcopalian priests said, “NO”

57% of Lutheran pastors said, “NO”

Is the Bible the inspired Word of God?

82% of Methodist pastors said, “NO”

81% of United Presbyterian pastors said, “NO”

89% of Episcopalian priests said, “NO”

57% of Lutheran pastors said, “NO”

Does Satan really exist?

62% of Methodist pastors said, “NO”

47% of United Presbyterian pastors said, “NO”

37% of Episcopalian priests said, “NO”

33% of American Baptist pastors said, “NO”

14% of Lutheran pastors said, “NO”

Did Jesus physically resurrect from the dead?

51% of Methodist pastors said, “NO”

35% of United Presbyterian pastors said, “NO”

30% of Episcopalian priests said, “NO”

33% of American Baptist pastors said, “NO”

13% of Lutheran pastors said, “NO”

These survey results were printed in Christ for the Nations magazine in the 80’s.

That’s in the Bible? Wow!

Every parent, teacher, and school district has a policy to deal with unruly children, and the Bible does offer some advice.

“If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death.”

Deuteronomy 21: 18-21

Yes, this may be one way to cut down on class size and disobedient children, but no rational person with an ounce of compassion or sense of justice would ever advocate such a horrific and murderous way of dealing with difficult and rebellious children. My students are shocked to learn that this is in the Bible. And a few, rather comically, have expressed their great gratitude for not having lived in Biblical times.

One of the first things I do on the second day of class is help my students understand that all the “holy books” from all the great religions were written by people who had some very different concepts of “right and wrong” and social justice. Consequently, the argument that we should do something, such as executing unruly children, solely because it says to do so in the Bible is nothing short of insanity. Yet, people often use this kind of Biblical rationale in hopes that their audience will be unaware of the fallacy of their argument. For example, Christian conservatives cite the Bible as the main reason behind their condemnation of homosexuals. But the argument that we should condemn homosexuals BECAUSE it says so in the Bible is no different from the argument that says we should stone our children if they become too unruly. See my point?

People often think that I am attacking the Bible and endorsing the homosexual lifestyle in my lecture when I bring this up. I am not! I am doing neither. I am simply attacking a foolish argument, not the Bible. I say “foolish” because it is foolish to think that we would be better off if we literally lived in accordance with everything in the Bible, and certainly anyone foolish to try would be at risk of ending up in prison or a padded cell with finger paints. Keep in mind, the Bible does say in Deuteronomy that when “two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand without mercy.”

It is a well-known fact that people often cite holy books to justify their own prejudices, biases, and personal agendas. Slave owners in the south were notoriously quick to point out how the Bible condones slavery. And they were right, it does, but this is certainly no reason for the return of slavery.

These Biblical “outdated ideas” and practices are often the subject of scorn by groups wanting to discredit the Bible and religion. The below billboard is one example.


Another example of an outdated Biblical idea can be seen in Deuteronomy 22:28-29. It reads as follows:

“If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her.”

Forcing a young rape victim to marry her attacker is wrong on so many levels I don’t even know where to start, and I should not have to, it’s pure insanity and absolutely offensive to our sense of moral justice. However, this was patriarchal justice in Biblical times.The rapist was “court ordered” to pay the girl’s father and to care financially for his victim the rest of his life. For most sane people this kind of “Biblical wisdom” is incomprehensible and clear evidence that the entire Bible cannot and should not be trusted as a moral compass. Oh, and it should be noted, that a man could have many wives in Biblical times, but women could not have more than one husband.

Despite these “totally wacko ideas” (my student’s words) in the Bible, I do go to great lengths in my classroom to make it very clear to my students that the Bible and other holy books have great value after you separate the outdated unusable parts from the usable wisdom-for-modern-day-ethical-living parts, but this requires a commitment to read and critically examine literature, which can be a daunting task. And I have a feeling that people – especially the young and uneducated who are under the influence of religious and political leaders – often accept holy books as they do online license agreements; they never really read them, but rather scroll down to the bottom and click “agree” to the whole darn thing. This might be okay when adding software to a computer, but it is a deplorable way to approach holy books and religion, and I think every public school in America needs to help children understand this.