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College students need biblical education to appreciate the humanities

Luther Ray Abel is getting tired of his Lawrence University classmates knowing next to nothing about the Bible. Not because he fears for their souls, but because it’s hindering their education.

The Navy veteran, who is interning for National Review, argues that a lack of knowledge about the Bible has impeded an understanding and appreciation of the humanities.

Students need to know the Old and New Testament as well as they know Harry Potter so that class time isn’t wasted explaining basic biblical facts, which allows for less time for discussion, Abel says:

When a class must stop at almost every biblical reference in the poetry of Emily Dickinson — so that a student or the professor can explain who John the Baptist was or why the Book of Revelation is kind of a big deal — the quality and pace of instruction decline. Emily Dickinson was influenced mightily by her Calvinist roots, and though somewhat heterodox in her theology, she could not help but use Christian imagery and biblical allusions throughout her writings. When a majority of the class is unfamiliar with the Crucifixion, it makes for a long, and value-deficient, class.

Abel does not argue that students must be Christians or take literally what is in the Bible. Students do need to know the stories and symbolism in the Bible, however.

Students “need not believe that Noah existed” but they should at least understand a dove with an olive branch represents a “symbol of peace and salvation throughout the Bible and Western literature,” he says.

Biblical literacy separates students from their professors, even when the latter are not particularly religious:

The older generations, while eschewing organized religion, still recognize and trade in biblical metaphor routinely. Those my age and younger, on the other hand, have entirely secular replacements. The Harry Potter series is often the choice for simile for many my age or younger. No longer is an evil man ‘the devil’ or ‘anti-Christ,’ but a ‘Voldemort.’ An agnostic college student 60 years ago would have been more likely to recognize many of the Catholic virtues and allegories in Tolkien’s and Lewis’s fantasy stories, respectively. Today I very much doubt the same could be said.

By contrast, though few humanities professors at Lawrence (and nationally) are practicing Christians or Jews, “it’s rare that a professor will fail to recognize a lamb, lion, or strong man’s haircut as some sort of reference to the Bible,” Abel says.

“Part of this is doubtlessly because of their familiarity with the text, their formal training, and related research.”

Read the essay.

IMAGE: Dennis Owusu-Ansah / Shutterstock

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