4th place — Tricity Andrew: Bibliolatry sabotages education

Tricity Andrew

FFRF awarded Tricity $750.

By Tricity Andrew

Bibliolatry at many Christian schools sabotages students’ education.

Evangelicalism flirts with anti-intellectualism, maligning reason as lacking faith and rewriting science or history when in disharmony with the bible or its interpretation. This anti-intellectualism causes subpar education, especially for girls, due to sexist biblical interpretations. My Christian private school’s teachings and attitudes sabotaged my education, but growing intellectualism allowed me to relearn topics.

Our curriculum often presented religious beliefs as scientific fact and practiced massive revisionist history. Our Earth science textbook taught Young Earth Creationism, stating that the Earth received no rain before Noah’s flood, which was presented as fact. We never learned that scientific dating methods show the Earth to be much older, nor that the geologic record contains no evidence of a worldwide flood.

Evolutionary theory was not only denied, but also grossly misrepresented. We were taught that evolution was “just a theory,” as if “theory” meant conjecture, rather than scientific consensus supported by much evidence. Our history textbooks contained misinformation, if not racist, sexist, xenophobic undertones. Instead of teaching how important religious freedom and separation of church and state was to our Founding Fathers, textbooks taught that they sought to establish a Christian nation, ignoring the fact that some were deists and many early immigrants were fleeing religious persecution. Since slavery is in the bible, we were taught that slavery was not necessarily immoral, just practiced incorrectly in America.

Our texts justified separating Native American children from their families, stating that they needed to be re-educated into Christianity. World history covered ancient cultures, but chapters always indicted their practices as evil; however, the Crusades were whitewashed as “trying to save sinners.” Textbooks were motivated by belief that the bible is inerrant — science that casts doubt on biblical stories cannot be true; history that teaches of different cultures without stressing how evil they were might lead astray Christians. It was often difficult to discern if we were reading fact, misinformation or opinion.

In college, I needed to relearn certain topics to catch up to my peers. In my evolutionary biology course, all the information was new to me, whereas my classmates already knew the basics of evolution. I still lack knowledge in topics such as world history.

For girls, the educational sabotage was greater because of our school’s understanding of “traditional gender roles.” My school implied that colleges — if they were not Baptist — should not be a primary goal since they had a liberalizing effect on students, and girls’ education need be only enough to raise and potentially homeschool their kids. Boys would one day choose careers that interested them, but girls were to primarily focus on homemaking. These sexist views came from tradition and bible passages praising women for well-organized homes or well-behaved children.

Sexism stemming from tradition was defended with bible verses declaring the man the head of the household or Pauline epistles telling women to submit and be quiet in church. We were discouraged from science and math and encouraged to only take the minimum three math classes required for graduation. I was discouraged from taking more math because “precalculus would be too hard.” I was later shamed for a high math test score because it would intimidate boys and cause difficulty dating.

To move beyond bibliolatry, we need to become comfortable critiquing religious texts while still respecting believers. Evangelicalism encourages insularity, compounding bibliolatry’s educational sabotage. I had no non-Christian friends and few non-Baptist friends. The teachings and anti-intellectualism seemed normal and even reasonable. Difficult questions that could raise doubts were either not discussed or were dismissed as lacking faith. In adulthood, I developed friendships with people from diverse backgrounds. Their friendships prompted me to reassess my faith.

I no longer believe in the divine inspiration of the bible, but I still recognize how well-intentioned or intelligent many believers are. I see the bible as a reaction by Bronze Age people to harsh, unpredictable lives. Bibliolatry defends itself with anti-intellectualism, but we can combat bibliolatry with intellectualism. While developing friendships with nonbelievers, I allowed myself to be interested in previously forbidden topics. Learning about the actual mechanisms of evolution taught me that evolution was not a far-fetched idea, but a reasonable scientific theory with much evidence. Increasing intellectualism led me to a more accepting, less dogmatic form of Christianity until I eventually left Christianity entirely. Intellectualism, along with friendships with nonbelievers, can combat others’ bibliolatry.

Tricity, 27, from Raleigh, N.C., attends North Carolina State University, where she is working on a Ph.D. in applied mathematics. Tricity graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013 with a B.S. in mathematics.