The Original Gay Marriage

According to this article on religious literacy in USA Today, “50% of high school seniors think Sodom and Gomorrah were married.”

I think this is funny. I don’t think it’s a particularly good thing — I’d be happy to have our teenagers have a basic literacy in the Bible, along with the religious texts of other major religions — but I do think it’s funny. Now we need to find out how many, thanks to The DaVinci Code, think Jesus was a married dude.

Incidentally, there’s a simple solution to the problem of teaching the history and literature of religions in public schools without “accidentally” tipping over into, you know, proselytizing: Have atheists teach the classes. Yes, that will go over swell, I know. I’m just saying.

(The betting pool is on, incidentally, on how long it will take for someone to snark in the comment thread that this would be like having creationists teach biology. I’m betting on the fifth comment. Fortunately, I suspect the sixth or seventh comment would point out the flaw in that particular formulation. That’s right! I’m leaving it to you folks to do all the heavy lifting! Have fun.)

56 thoughts on “The Original Gay Marriage

  1. HAHA I beat Chang to the first comment.
    BUT…
    This is funny. I know I revamp the comparisons between Austrian and American culture but this was a topic I was discussing yesterday. Not Sodom and Gomorrah per say, but how Religion is taught in the public school system in Austria. This means all public schools attend (as a field trip I guess) Catholic church masses. They also get education in biblical history. I do not think this is a bad thing. After all some World History exists in the Bible.
    What is also interesting about this topic (because you mentioned The Davinci Code,) is I just came from Burgenland. And in particular a village called Frauenkirchen (Ladies Church). In the village center there is the chapel. And in this chapel behind the alter there is a very large painting of something like the last supper. The painting is dated in the 16th century and it is VERY clear that the person sitting next to Christ is a woman. Mary Magdalene I would have to guess.
    Now I am looking out my window and see Venus and hear the Vienna church bells. So with that I say goodbye and I think that means its worship and drink some of this fine wine from Burgenland!

  2. A: That’s like having creationists teach biology!

    B: No it’s not. Having atheists teach religion would be like having biologists teach creationism, not like having creationists teach biology.

    A: Wait a minute. Isn’t it more like having creationists teach atheism would be like having biologists teach religion? Or is it like having atheist creationists teach religious biology?

    B: You sound like you’re contradicting yourself.

    A: Am not. I’m contradicting you.

    B: You are not. What you’re saying, it’s all nonsense.

    A: Is not.

    B: Is too.

    A: Is not…

    Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

  3. I am an atheist who’s led Sunday School singing, and taught classes about the Bible. When my town was smaller, the only possibility for social interaction was either to go to bars or go to church. I chose church (now I have the internet, so it’s irrelevant). In my experience, Bible history is already taught in public schools. I helped some students understand history terminology one day, and the lesson was over Abraham. This was in a standard textbook. A student said, “I thought we couldn’t learn about God in school.” I replied, “This is the history of a group of people. Religion was important to them, but at the moment we’re studying history.” As an atheist who has thus taught Bible history in the public schools, I feel eminently qualified to do it more. (The Sodom and Gomorrah thing is hilarious).

  4. Gomorrah was the giant turtle, right? Oh, no, wait, that was Gamera.

    “Gamera is really neat,
    filled with lots of turtle-meat,
    let’s all cheer for Ga-me-rah!”

    BTW, is Richard Dawkins a fundamentalist Atheist?

  5. Third?

    And is the server not on DST yet?

    And what do the atheists have to say to the theists about DST?

    And have you changed your clocks yet?

    That is all!

  6. * Maybe the server just switched time zones…

    * Obviously, religion isn’t supposed to be proselytized in public schools. It’s supposed to be taught in a neutral manner. So someone who has no faith in any religion (an atheist) would be the best at teaching it in that manner.

    Creationists wouldn’t be very good at teaching Biology in a neutral manner. What’s more, the “Scientific Method” is usually encouraged, and I suspect a Creationist would have problems with some of that.

    * As someone who believes in G-d, and would like to believe in Abraham, the idea that any school would teach about Abraham in a *history* class bothers me. I learned by Bible in public school through a Literature class, and I feel that is the proper place. Freshman year we studied Greek Mythology in literature, and Sophomore year we studied Judeo-Christian Mythology in literature.

  7. One problem with having atheists teach religion is that this would effectively be discrimination against non atheists. They wouldn’t be able to get jobs teaching religion. I don’t think discrimination on religious grounds is compatible with the constitution.

    That said, having religion taught in school by people who have studied comparative religion in college rather than by people who went to seminary strikes me as a good idea.

  8. Hmmm. I don’t know if I agree that athiests would make the best teachers of religion in high school. After all, they would have a bias as well. Wouldn’t the best teacher be one who knew what he was talking about, and was able to present the information in a way that showed he cared about the subject, without trying to convert his students. If an athiest is more qualified, they should get the job. If a religious person was more qualified, they should get the job. Of course, an agnostic would be the best person to teach, if they knew what they were talking about.

  9. I may be an atheist, but I’ve read the entire Bible. I wonder how many “qualified” teachers can say the same?

    A course in history of religions should be taught in our high schools, but so long as we are more concerned with test scores than learning, it’ll be a cold day in Hell before that happens.

  10. I took a class on the Bible in college taught by an atheist/agnostic who was edging towards Judaism… It was great, we covered a lot of the stuff in Kings that I never see mentioned. Israelites up on their walls: “Yaaaaah!” Diplomat from ensieging army: “You bastards will be drinking your own piss soon enough!”

    And the death of …Jezebel, I think? Too proud to run, so thrown out a window by the usurping army, run over by a chariot, and then left to be eaten by dogs… Kind of thing fitting in one of the more hard-hitting fantasy novels.

    Not that this stuff is generally relevant to life; I think it edged into college under the flag of “comparing Biblical accounts to archaeologically-detected accounts” or maybe “literature”. But it was certainly entertaining.

  11. Sodom and Gomorrah were officially sister cities. So, if they were married, we’re talking incestuous lesbian marriage…which fits with the whole “evil, must destroy” thing.

    But seriously, folks.

    Actually, (at least in America) we’re probably too touchy to have anyone teach religion without pissing off someone. There’s so many different sects of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and everything else, that no matter who you choose, he’ll bring his own set of baggage to the show.

    Example: If you had a Hasid teaching the bible, he’d say that Jews are not allowed to wear garments that combine linen and wool.

    See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shatnes

    All Hasids would agree with him; many (or even most) Orthodox Jews would agree; most Conservative Jews would say, “but, yeah, we don’t bother with that one anymore”; and most Reformed Jews would say, “WTF are you talking about”? I have no idea what Reconstructionist Jews would say since I haven’t the first concept about where they stand on anything.

    Likewise, (and more self-evident), Sunnis and Shiites read the exact same text, yet believe that the others are wrong enough about its meaning to warrant a death penalty on the other.

    Sadly, I don’t see any workable solutions to having children educated in comparative religion without starting a firestorm somewhere.

  12. Side note: In college, my roommates and I had two fig trees which we named Sodom and Gomorrah J. Fig. (Adam and Eve were considered as names, yes. But it lacked punch.) I should also note that I went to a church-owned college and absolutely I knew that S&G were cities, not people.

    Madeline F: I was a bloodthirsty child and the whole story of Jezebel was one of my favourites. My parents gave me this illustrated Bible with engraved pictures, and sure enough, the engravers usually picked the most lurid stories to engrave. So there was Jezebel at the window, and Jael in her tent, getting Sisera drunk, and Joshua and Caleb sneaking into Jericho via Rahab’s house, and one of the kings of Israel–I forget which one–getting smothered in his sleep. I could tell you ALL the lurid hair-raising stories from the Bible before I hit ten. And man, this was all stuff that if it appeared in a kid’s book these days, people would be up in arms. (I mean, the whole story with Lot and his daughters? That’s kinda squicky for our modern sensibilities.)

  13. I was lucky enough to attend an AP Literature class in high school that was called World Religions. We studied and compared the major world religions and some of the more interesting non-major ones.
    I loved that class. Of course, this was back in the 80s.
    Now, religion really interests me. Because of that class, I continued to read about it my whole life.

  14. You know the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is one of the best arguments against religon in the bible. It’s basically about how Lot is the most honorable man in town but when the Angels come down to talk to him, he shows off how honest and good he is by encouraging an unruly mob to gangrape is daughters. Later after the cities have been destroyed he has sex with his daughters.

  15. What this says to me is, the Christian right is obviously not doing nearly as good a job of religious education as, say, the Catholics did! If they can’t even get the Bible message across, which is their whole reason-for-being, what good are they? Man, we (Catholic-school kids) didn’t get past 6 grade without knowing what Sodom and Gomorrah was.

    Joking aside, it’s pathetic how little emphasis is placed on what used to be called Humanities or Western Civ. I’m sure those same HS students have no idea about Sparta or the Magna Carta or the Napoleonic Code, either.

    (New visitor, by the way — also a writer (poet) — really liked the Dylan Hears A Who thing!)

  16. I would think having atheists teaching bible class in public schools would be a whole hell of a lot better than what you can find on teh intraweb.

    While I do know the history of the biblical story, some of the gems I found via Google search were: *sorry for the lack of links, but I’m sure if you search yourselves, you’ll be able to find of what I’m speaking*

    Women of Sodom and Gomorrah: Collateral Damage in the War against Homosexuality?

    God killed His own children, who dwelt in Sodom and Gomorrah, because they were sinning, as the Bible tells in chapters 18 and 19 of the Book of Genesis. But just what sin were they committing, in order to generate such a violent action? How can this episode be applied to children’s education?

    WELCOME TO SODOM AND GOMORRAH, U.S.A.

    and my personal favorite:

    Was that unfair to Mrs. Lot or what?!! All that that poor lady did was stop to look back for a last glimpse of the towns where they had been living: to get one more look at the mall, I suppose, maybe to see her spa one more time, to take a last glimpse of the country club, the school her daughters had attended, the cemetery where her uncle was buried.

    Goes to show you that someone who actually knows the bible, religious or not, is more fit than to send our high school seniors out to find the information themselves in some cases.

    Double Yikes.

  17. Agreed. Leaving religious education to religious people is ceding too much ground to fundamentalists. There’s a huge hole in education where comparative religion classes should be.

  18. emily xyz

    it’s pathetic how little emphasis is placed on what used to be called Humanities or Western Civ.

    Yeah. My introduction to Zen Buddhism came from my (Public School) HS World Civ class where it was OK to talk about religions in the context of the course. Even Christianity.

    I’m sure those same HS students have no idea about Sparta

    Yeah. I’m wondering if, when they all go to see Frank Miller’s “300″ this weekend, they’ll think the subject of the film is fiction. Or, as some attendees of a German Film Festival thought, it’s a recuitment film for the War Against Islamists.

  19. No, but they will leave thinking the Spartans were heterosexuals.

    Jesus married a dude named Simon?

    That’s what the sin of “simony” refers to.

  20. For many years now I’ve seen reports of various surveys claiming that many American students fare poorly in literacy, geography, history, maths and science. Now it seems they don’t know squat about religion either.

    If these reports are to be believed the U.S.A. should by now be in a dire state economically, socially and politically. It’s environment should be collapsing, it’s infrastructure in disrepair, social divisions should be widening and violence should be endemic. The political and business landscape should be dominated by greedy short-sighted fools. Fear and loathing should be running the show.

    Clearly all these surveys must be wrong.

  21. Chang,

    Defendant to his lawyer: Hey, what’s with the guy in the Ronald MacDonald outfit?

    Attorney: Don’t worry. There’s always at least one per jury.

  22. David S.
    I am not sure if you are serious or sarcastic in your posting. But either way it made me chuckle in a depressed kinda way..
    Good one!

  23. “For many years now I’ve seen reports of various surveys claiming that many American students fare poorly in literacy, geography, history, maths and science. Now it seems they don’t know squat about religion either.”

    I’d like to know, exactly, when this golden age of knowledge in American schools was. Until the Gulf War, most high school kids didn’t know where or what Baghdad was. And I’ll be the first to admit I knew next to nothing about the Arab Peninsula aside from where Saudi Arabia, Isreal, and Lebanon were. And Lebanon only because of the Isreali invasion.

    Go back another 25 years. Most high school grads didn’t know where Vietnam was until they got sent there or Dan Rather told them from the field.

    How about 15 years earlier? Most of the first soldiers fighting the Korean War knew there was China and Japan in that area.

    And before that? Before WWII? Well, most people knew where Berlin and Paris and London were. Unless you were of Slavic decent, you couldn’t count on them to find Warsaw. Or The Phillipines.

    Someone recently put out a book describing why our civilization is in decline. (I’d have said it’s the obsession over Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, plus couple names like Brangelina, but people stare at me funny when I say that.) It cited anecdotal evidence of people calling up Triple A and asking how much to take the bus to Hawaii. It happens, but it’s always happened, and it always will happen.

    There is some truth in there somewhere, but most of it is to fill up cyberspace and 24 hours of air time on news channels.

  24. Jim, I hear ya. When Iraq invade Kuwait I told my office mates about how they had better fill up their gas tanks at lunch (I heard the news on the morning commute, just in time to turn into a station and top off). Most people had no idea why I said that, but the youngest (an intern) just didn’t get it.

  25. Jim Winter

    when this golden age of knowledge in American schools was

    It never was. People pay attention to, and retain, that which interests them and they (sadly) discard the rest.

    I could easily give a high school algebra test to 100 random people of my generation (I’m 53) and the vast majority will fail it. (It’s likely I could do it here as well).

    And the vast majority of people do not know much about science. It’s amusing to me when I find someone who believes in evolution, anthropogenic climate change, and astrology all at the same time. While they correctly grok that evolution is an accepted scientific theory, they can’t tell you what it is that distinquishes it from “creationism”. And because that is true, they think anthropogenic climate change is on the same footing as evolution among scientists. Some within this group also think that astrology is science while most recognize it isn’t but believe it anyway.

    And it ain’t just Americans I can tell you that.

  26. CoolBlue:

    “And it ain’t just Americans I can tell you that.”

    Indeed, one suspects general ignorance is, well, general.

  27. CoolBlue: I can never believe in Astrology because of Douglas Adams, and the aliens who wanted to get their fortunes told by Earth’s most famous astologer. After all, the stars looked COMPLETELY different in their sky. (Ditto the Five Sisters in Foundations Edge. See, science fiction is good for derailing pseudo-sciences.)

  28. as a commited atheist who has taken an “elective” bible class in private school i have to point out that when dealing with religion in schools DON’T!
    there is no reason to worry about it when we should be worried how we let religious folks teach sex-Ed and do a poor job o preparing students for adult life.

    as a side not i had the great pleasure to argue the “pro choice side” against the majority of my “pro-life” classmates in a Law/debate class. In my own opinion we won but that’s another news story.

  29. I think religion has to be taught in at least in european history class. Granted, I went to a private school, and one which was predominantly Jewish, which is probably why Mr. Stweart decided to give us a crash course in the basics of catholicism. Otherwise Martin Luther and that Henry guy knealing in the snow wouldn’t have made much sense.

  30. I may be an atheist, but I’ve read the entire Bible. I wonder how many “qualified” teachers can say the same?

    I feel for you. I’ve tried on 3 occasions, but couldn’t do it. But then, I’m a lazy athiest, I guess: I couldn’t do Gravity’s Rainbow, either.

  31. My theory is that Americans are so generally ignorant of the rest of the world, languages, religions, etc because of politics and geography. Nearly all Americans alive now were born in the time when the American economic and military hegemony was a fact of life. We live in a huge country with only two neighbors – one a collection of moose-loving hosers we treat like a little brother and one which we treat like a fairly stupid domestic. In other words, we don’t think they matter.

    Europeans know multiple languages because people who speak them primarily or solely live very close. What goes on in those other countries affects them so they have to take notice of them.

    Too many Americans simply don’t think they need to know other languages, other countries, or other points of view.

    When stationed in bella Napoli in the 70s I was riding a bus to Rome and a fresh-caught American dependent said “Boy those look old” (referring to the aqueducts along the road). when told that they were, in fact, old she said “Yeah, I bet they have been there for at least 200 years!”

    Where do you start?

    old Jarhead

  32. While the YouTube video is humorous in its way, it’s not as disturbing as other surveys. As its quite understandable. The humor is over students not knowing the definition of an archaic word that isn’t used much today, as opposed to understanding a concept — different issues.

    They may well have been taught in school, and may well know that women got the right to vote in 1920 in the US. They may be able to name some of the key women who fought for that right. The fact they don’t know the word ‘suffrage’ doesn’t mean ‘suffering’ is pretty irrelevant.

  33. As a preacher’s daughter, I would have hated having to study Christianity in school too. But I would have like to study other world religions, especially Islam. People should have a basic understanding of all the major world religions. I think we touched on Hinduism one year in English, but that was about it. That was the Bible belt though, so I guess I couldn’t expect much.

  34. Then what’s perjury?

    Slandering the quality of a farmer’s produce, from pear and the French jurer to swear (as in obscenities). It now refers to any kind of false statement made under oath, but that’s a carry-over from a primarily agrarian culture.

  35. OT for the thread, but not the blog: Family Guy just did a 30-second bit on writers pretentiously bringing their laptops to the coffee shop.

  36. Atheists teaching religion? Yeah, that could work as long as we give religionists equal time to teach atheism.

  37. I agree, Bruce.

    Personally, I don’t agree that our schools should be teaching christianity exclusively. Our students deserve to learn about all beliefs, atheism included. Christians shouldn’t be prevented from teaching atheism any more than atheists should be prevented from teaching christianity, or any other religion.

  38. My high school Biology teacher was in fact a creationist; she taught evolution because it was part of the required curriculum, but she let us know that it wasn’t her personal belief. We had some interesting arguments after school (I was a science nerd; I hung out in the labs after school), neither of us convincing the other, of course…

    Aside from this one quirk, she was a great Bio teacher.

  39. My Sunday School teacher also so happened to be my Physics teacher in high school. When I began to bring up some items from the Bible that seemed inconsistent and/or hypocritical to me (such as Lot’s treatment of his daughters), he decided to widen my outlook a bit, and asked me to do some studying of other religions, especially Islam. This was quite an eye-opener for me, showing me just how much most religious works are parables/fictions that are meant to make points about what constitutes moral (or at least God-sanctioned) behavior, and that what behaviors are included in the list changes over time and culture. He was always open to discuss/debate any issue I’d bring up – but only in Sunday school. When it came to his teaching in Physics class, religion was definitely not on the plate, even though there were some obvious potential tie-ins, from Galileo’s ruckus with the Church to Einstein’s “God does not play dice”.

    One of the best teachers I ever had, but such paragons are in darn short supply.

  40. If memory serves, I took a couple of philosophy classes in high school, both of which centered on eastern religions. on the other hand, the school also offered an English class in “the bible as literature”. moderately schitzoid behavior, eh?

  41. I’ll confess, I’ve often thought that religion should be taught as an etiquette class. Textbook “How to be a perfect stranger” and just teach people how to behave respectfully, rather than matters of dogma.

  42. “It’s basically about how Lot is the most honorable man in town but when the Angels come down to talk to him, he shows off how honest and good he is by encouraging an unruly mob to gangrape is daughters.”

    Hmm, not quite. First. ‘Just Lot’ meant Justified, as in Saved, or a true believer in Jehovah God. It certainly didn’t mean sinless, or perfect like Job (perfect in the sense of all confessed up with the proper repentance and sacrifice). It is clear, to use modern terms, that Lot was back-slidden (as was his wife, to her destruction). Lot compromised with the world, starting from pitching his tent towards Sodom, to living in the city, to becoming a prominent citizen (seated in the gate), to behaving as they do (the bit with the daughter, and even the daughters after he escaped the city…)

  43. Personally, I don’t agree that our schools should be teaching christianity exclusively.
    As someone who was never a Christian, even in theory, I agree. As someone who finds the ethical philosophy of Buddhism very attractive, I agree again. And as someone who doesn’t believe in organized religion*, no matter what flavor it is, I also agree with you. And what I tell you three times is true.

    * Organization is to religion as meetings are to painting.

  44. OK, so why is it we assume English teachers can teach Romeo and Juliet without advocating teen murder-suicide pacts, history teachers can cover the Second World War without turning their students into eliminationist anti-Semites with a yen to invade Poland all over again, but think The Bible is a text worth serious attention whether you’re a Christian or not and you’re some Bible Belt boob who want to hold an exorcism in the science lab and burn the library down?

    By coincidence, I’m reading Andrew Motion’s biography of (infamously agnostic) poet Philip Larkin who was in the habit of reading a page of the King James Bible while shaving “purely for the prose”. Not a bad idea, I think.

  45. Someone recently put out a book describing why our civilization is in decline.

    Because we stopped wearing hats. Nothing to tip or remove when entering a building. Nothing to clutch in your hands in a dramatic way or fling across the room in sheer abandon. No feathers/flowers/veils. No hatband in which to store your press credentials or a useful piece of paper.

    I blame this decline on the singularly horrendous hats in The Philadelphia Story.

  46. That last, late comment was me, not Anonymous. I could never hope to write as well or horribly as that guy/girl.

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