Magazine article Free Inquiry

Preventing School Violence: Is Religion the Answer?

Magazine article Free Inquiry

Preventing School Violence: Is Religion the Answer?

Article excerpt

The killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, last spring have produced another round of religious breast-beating. Gary Bauer, religious Right presidential candidate, has argued that if the Bible and prayer were returned to the schools, the violence would cease. National columnist William Raspberry claimed the killers were "lacking in religious faith," while columnist Ken Hamblin argued that we need to put God back into America's public schools. Other religious fundamentalists are echoing this theme. But would the Bible and prayer stop the violence?

I attended school in conservative Boise, Idaho, in the 1950s when the Bible was read over the public address system every day and the teachers led us in daily prayer. Children were expected to attend Sunday school every week and abortion was unheard of. Homosexual acts were punishable by imprisonment. In my family, like most others, my father worked and my mother was at home with her children. In those days parents tended to side with the teachers on any disciplinary actions.

So how well did this system work? By the time I entered junior high school, many of the boys were carrying weapons, usually switchblades, occasionally wristpins (steel cylinders sometimes filled with lead), or brass knuckles. Fights occurred almost every lunch hour and often after school. Drinking, cigarettes, and fast cars soon followed. At least one student carried a semiautomatic pistol. The conclusion I reached long ago was that it takes more than prayer, the Bible, and banning abortion and homosexuality to keep teenagers from misbehaving. In fact, a case could be made that the Bible turns people to violence.

The Bible is full of episodes of mass murder, some ordered by God (see Joshua, Numbers, Samuel, and Esther). In Psalm 137:9 we are urged to smash babies' heads against the stones. In Exodus 32:27 we read, "Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour." In Psalm 46:8 we read, "Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth." Sounds eerily like what happened at Columbine High School.

One can't dismiss this promotion of violence as coming from an ancient and archaic Old Testament god because in the New Testament we find Jesus telling us that he came not to send peace but a sword (Matthew 10:34), and he urged his followers to buy swords (Luke 22:36). Baptist preacher Reverend Fred Phelps, who picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, the young homosexual Wyoming man who was killed because of his sexual orientation, clearly understood his Bible when he declared, "You can't preach the Bible without preaching hatred."

Isaiah 45:7 and Lamentations 3:38 tell us that God created evil. If the Bible is literally true, then a case could be made that God is responsible for what happened at Columbine High School. Certainly he could have stopped the killers if he had wanted to. If a belief in God and regular prayer could stop violence then there would be peace in the Middle East and Northern Ireland.

Religionists, with their Bronze Age myths, have had almost two thousand years to eliminate evil from Western civilization--and they have failed miserably. What is needed now is an objective, human-based search for solutions using the best minds in the behavioral and physical sciences. …

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