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Genesis in Georgia

April 02, 2006

SHAKESPEARE'S WORKS AND THE BIBLE are both among the great texts of Western civilization. Shakespeare, of course, has long been a standard feature in the nation's high schools. The Bible just makes a lot of teachers nervous.

They have their reasons. Too much court time and legal maneuvering have already been invested in proving the obvious: Creationism and intelligent design have no place in science classrooms. The wise among us know it is foolish to mix public school and proselytizing.

But which of us is wise? The Bard and the Book both tackled that slippery topic. Can you tell which of the following quotes came from which source?

\o7A. "Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him."

B. "The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool."

That's not to say that the Bible, as well as founding texts of other religions, doesn't have a place in a well-grounded literary curriculum, even in public schools. If Georgia remains true to the wording of education legislation passed this week, newly funded high school elective classes in the history and literature of the Bible would be devoid of religious indoctrination, a place where atheists would feel as comfortable as Christian missionaries. But wavering from true intent is part of the human condition, which is why truth is the subject of so many classic quotations.

C. "To thine own self be true."

D. "The truth shall make you free."

There's little doubt that religious fervor led to the Georgia vote. Democrats and Republicans were stumbling over themselves to look good to voters in the Bible Belt with a legally defensible course on the Bible. That's all right. The fractious national debate over religion in the schools will have been worthwhile if it leads to more high-quality courses in the classics. Like all great literary works, the Bible delves into universal issues -- love, death and our relationships with the world, with the divine and with each other.

E. "Keep thy friend under thy own life's key."

F. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend."

The Georgia experiment bears careful watching. Even the most conscientious teachers will find it hard to keep literary discussions on target if evangelically oriented students are bent on a revival meeting. And even the most scholarly students will find it hard to learn about literature if evangelically oriented teachers are bent on proselytizing. Perhaps the ultimate test for the Georgia Legislature is whether it would consider courses on other great classical texts of world literature, such as the Koran or the Bhagavad Gita. That would be the most fair and just approach.

G. "Justice, justice shall you pursue."

H. "First thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."

(Answers: The Bible: A, D, F, G. Shakespeare: B, C, E, H.)

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