Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Jack Summers - An American Hero

Jack Summers is my new atheist hero and I fully support his stand against the compulsory teaching of only the Christian Bible within the dubious context of a mandatory “English Literature” class at a public High School.

This position is reasonably supported, in my view, because the entire book isn’t even one literary work that can be fully quantified as a particular “kind” of literature to study or compare with other books.

It is a collection of assorted texts, fables and mythology (some purportedly plagiarized from other older cultures) that is without any specific identification of authors to compare.

More to the point, this particular text asserts in unambiguous terms that it is literally “The Word of God” and not mere literature written by anonymous men to be contrasted with the mortal greats of Dave Barry, Voltaire or Mark Twain.

All humor aside, these collections of approved stories via Roman authority aren’t even English literature. They were translated into English from either the original Aramaic or Greek (depending upon theological authority and opinion). With this in mind, I suppose the Bible could be offered in a Middle Eastern literature course and have about as much comparative value on English Lit. as any other sacred religious text from that region.

That none of the other religious "literary works" were covered in Jack's class, however, speaks volumes and is the primary legal nuance that must be addressed in this case.

The common hue and cry that has proceeded from others regarding Jack’s noble stand is that he must learn the Bible in the context of important English literature in order to reject it as an atheist or be publicly branded as “willfully ignorant”.

Of course, it is obvious that such a charge is a rather blatant ad hominem and a red herring of epic proportions.

One doesn’t need to be taught and quizzed on scripture, verse and tenets to understand the contributions the Tanakh, The Bible, The Qur’an or even the Book of Mormon have had on western history for better and for worse.

That said, it should be made completely clear, this wasn’t a History course at all or even a Comparative Religion or Mythology course offered as an elective presented with secular and pedagogical interest alongside all others.

Furthermore, a reasoned, prompt and polite rebuttal letter to the editor from Marjorie Summers after a bigoted twisting of the facts by a journalist who interviewed her son, indicates that he is well-studied in biblical stories and has taken an interest in the comparative studies of other world traditions and cultural themes as well.

Marjorie Summers Responds

"Jack discussed at length with the Newton TAB reporter his respect for learning about other cultures and world religions, and specifically cited the repercussions of 9-11 in support of his belief that one should learn about how religious beliefs effect cultural, military and economic events, regardless of their also having any possible literary significance. He even cited his having read parts of Genesis last year, in conjunction with a unit which included creationist stories of the Greeks, Romans and Chinese. In fact, Jack has also read Mahabharata, the Epic of Gilgamesh, Beowulf, the Aenid, the Iliad and the Odyssey, among other classical works in history and English classes, but always in connection with a historical period and in conjunction with other historically relevant texts. (Not all of this work was done while he was attending Newton Public schools). Unfortunately this pertinent information was omitted by the newspaper. The reporter instead chose to make the story about Jack’s preference to avoid reading religious texts currently used as dogma for living religions."

My own children, Ryan (15) and Erin (13), have been taught educational segments regarding the assorted and varied comparative religious claims and traditions as a part of "Eastern Hemispheres" and "World History" in their classes at Biloxi Public Schools starting in the 7th grade.

They even brought the respective religious texts from our home library with them to school to share with the teacher and the class. None of these religious worldviews were necessarily singled out as uniquely special or beneficial over any of the others. They were presented as chronological, regional cultural systems and ideologies within the secular interests of teaching the diversity that exists in this world.

The Summers family has our utmost respect for taking a courageous stand and facing the standard callous mockery, misleading bias, character assassination and outright lies that usually proceed from the bully pulpit when atheists merely express their human rights, personal values and freedom of conscience.

Marjorie, you've shared with us the value of responsible, intelligent and participatory parenting and you are sincerely appreciated.

It is good to see a generation of our future be so reasoned, polite and rational when addressing these issues with adult authority and, for that, Jack is another personal hero of mine.