Freedom to Be Illiterate; We've Gone Nuts in Fear of Faith

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 6, 2005 | Go to article overview

Freedom to Be Illiterate; We've Gone Nuts in Fear of Faith


Byline: Suzanne Fields, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

In a recent meeting of the Board of Education in the city of Artichoke, Alabama, it was decided to ban the reading of Homer's 'Iliad' and 'Odyssey' in the classroom. The grounds given for the exclusion of these towering masterpieces of ancient literature is that reading them in public school violated the First Amendment's guarantee of the separation of church and state.

- Lee Harris, "Philistines at the Gate," www. techcentralstation.com

The deadpan author continues: "Wallace Nobrainer, the attorney for the Artichoke school system, explained that the Homeric text 'should be looked upon in the same light as the reading of the Book of Psalms in a public school.'" This sentiment is echoed by Debra Klewless, who chairs the Board of Education: 'We don't want taxpayer dollars being spent in order to proselyte children into praying to Zeus and Apollo.'"

Gotcha! Lee Harris, author of "Civilization and Its Enemies," is a rare contemporary philosopher with a sardonic sense of humor. His satirical passage is authentically Swiftian because it rings true with a crucial kernel of reality - we truly have gone nuts in our fear of faith. There is no Artichoke in Alabama, but Artichoke, like Swift's imaginary land of Lilliput before it, exposes contemporary society's absurd pieties and the size of the minds that begot them.

Satire aside, the only thing that saves the Greeks as fit for the public schools is the fact that we regard their stories as myths. The glorious tales of Athena, Aphrodite, Hercules and Hermes inspired an earlier civilization of true believers, but they speak to 21st-century students within the limits of secular truths. If Judaism and Christianity were moribund like the Greek religions, their stories would no doubt be in the curriculum.

We need not worry about teenagers getting carried away with Dionysian orgies; Greek polytheism is dead. Fraternity beer parties serve the same ritual purpose, but they're secular and do not pretend to offer ethical lessons. The Song of Solomon and the Sermon on the Mount, which have inspired creative genius for centuries, are denied to students in public high schools because the faiths from which they spring continue to thrive.

"If we were all atheists," says Mr. Harris, "then the Bible would become as 'harmless' to read as the poems of Homer." But with true believers in our midst we keep Biblical wisdom hidden away lest it teaches ideas that a dead white male like John Milton gave the world. …

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