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Dangers of fundamentalist schools.

America's fastest-growing educational movement during the past two decades has been the fundamentalist Christian day school and its closely related ally, home schooling. Fueled by a discontent over the increasingly multicultural and religiously pluralistic public schools, these sectarian separatist institutions aim at insulating their students from modern life and culture.

Their primary raison d'etre is a desire to protect conservative Protestant youth from the diversity of contemporary American society. This is accomplished intellectually by the textbooks used and the visions of reality they impart. The two primary textbook publishers for the "nondenominational" fundamentalist schools are Bob Jones University Press, Greenville, S.C., and Pensacola (Fla.) Christian College Press. The world view they promote is distinctive and quite unlike the values, attitudes, and historical interpretations of mainstream textbook publishers. These books promote sectarian separation, religious intolerance, anti-intellectualism, disdain for the scientific spirit, and right-wing political extremism.

William S. Pinkston, Jr.'s 1991 Biology for Christian Schools admits at he beginning, "The people who have prepared this book have tried consistently to put the Word of God first and science second." This negative attitude toward science pervades the text. Students are urged to disregard facts and conclusions widely held in the scientific community. "If the conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong no matter how many scientific facts may appear to back them."

A negative bias against science itself appears early on and is linked with the fatalism and acceptance of human imperfectability that pervades the entire Bob Jones University series. Thus, readers are told, "There will be sickness, suffering, and death until Christ returns for His thousand-year reign on the earth. Man must now earn his bread by the sweat of his brow because of God's curse upon the earth. The Bible teaches that things are getting worse and that God is the source of all that is good."

The scientific method is seen as limited. "It is important for the Christian to realize what science is and the limitations of science so that he can see the proper relationship between science, God, and His Word." Moreover, "Although some people attribute godlike capabilities to science, science is actually little more than what man can sense around him." Finally, "Not only does science have many limitations, but also man is a sinful creature and cannot perfectly rule the earth," and "It is wrong for a Christian to think that scientific achievements will replace faith in God. ... Science cannot save a man from hell."

Evolution is condemned repeatedly, and Christians are warned that they must reject it. Those who accept evolution are not true Christians because "One must believe all the Word of God or believe none of it." Further, "A person who believes that God directed evolutionary processes is a theistic evolutionist and is in error. When the Bible states one thing and, in an attempt to be scientific, a person believes something else, he is setting up scientific theory as more authoritative than the Word of God. ... A person who rejects any portion of the Bible has placed himself above the Bible. The Bible is accurate in everything ...," it states.

The book affirms, for example, that the world can be no more than 10,000 years old. In conclusion, students are told: "Biblical creationism is accepted by faith. A creationist, however, should not feel that science contradicts his faith in God's Word. Rather than being disproved by science the Scriptual concept of a young earth is actually verified by science."

Pinkston's second volume for biology courses continues in the same vein, telling students that "Satan is in control of the physical world around us." A fatalistic world view can be seen in the phrase, "War is not a desirable event, but in this world it is often necessary." Pinkston roundly condemns hypnosis, sleeping medicine, and psychology. "The Bible teaches us that God controls sickness and health and works His will through both. Sometimes He accomplishes His will through healing, other times through death.... If God wants to heal miraculously He will."

Sexual behavior is linked to disease and divine retribution. God "demands sexual purity" and sexual sins "are a transgression of God's commandment and defile the body and mind." Therefore, "The diseases that may result are a reminder that God punishes sinners." Abortion is "the killing of an unborn child" and never can be acceptable. "People may try to redefine the terms and may pass laws to the contrary, but abortion is killing a human - and that is murder." There are no exceptions, even for probable physical deformity. "God has ordained what we call handicapped or deformed. When it comes to deliberately killing a human that we feel is not physically or mentally |normal,' we are ignoring the Bible's teaching about the sovereignty of God and the sanctity of human life." Nothing is said about rape or the possibility of the mother's death.

Rejection of biological evolution is a keystone in several fundamentalist textbooks. Glen Chambers and Gene Fisher's 1982 United States History for Christian Schools maintains that "Darwin's theory, or modifications of it, have gained wide acceptance, despite the fact that the key premises are unsupported by scientific law or investigation.... The main selling point for evolution is not that it has abundant support, but that it explains the universe without referring to God, and so it relieves man of any responsibility to his Creator."

Michael R. Lowman's 1983 United States History in Christian Perspective echoes this assessment. Charles Darwin's discoveries are called "pseudo-scientific ideas" that "tore away the moral foundation of the European nations." Raymond A. St. John's 1991 American Literature for Christian Schools, Book 1 claims that "Darwin's Origin of Species brought more attacks against the Word of God than did any other source."

Related to this disdain for science is a pervasive anti-intellectualism. In subtle and not so subtle ways, students are warned against pursuing the life of the mind. They constantly are told that the intellectual leaders of society - writers and scientists especially - often are in the forefront of apostate movements that challenge or deny the Gospel. Even clergy are more likely to betray the faith than the simple-minded laity. Secular colleges and universities are portrayed as centers of apostasy, as in this reference from Chambers and Fisher: "Because colleges tend to exalt knowledge and reason above faith, they are often the first social institution to experience religious decline."

Disparaging minority


These texts express ambivalence toward religious liberty, glorify the Puritans, exaggerate the historical significance of revivalism, and wax eloquent over Prohibition. They tend to ignore or disparage the achievements of African-Americans and Native Americans.

The treatment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is far from friendly. Chambers and Fisher write: "Because he couched his speeches in peaceful terminology, he gained a reputation as a man of peace; he was even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. ... King had become a symbol of civil rights; his death brought violence and destruction in several parts of the country. Like Kennedy, he was viewed by many as a martyr for human rights; his increasing shift to the left, especially in the last year of his life, was soon forgotten."

The civil rights movement of the 1960s is dismissed. "Encouraged by Kennedy's promise of support, Negroes began demanding equal social rights.... During Kennedy's administration civil rights leaders made steps toward gaining better treatment for Negroes, but the demonstrations increased hatred and bitterness among many. ... As violence increased, the leadership of civil rights organizations became more militant." The authors also remind students that "the Bible does not specifically condemn slavery."

The same volume has this to say about the religions of Native Americans: "The concept of sin was foreign to the Indian culture; discipline was intended to teach children to survive rather than to make them moral. This amoral philosophy was often discouraging to Christian missionaries, who found it difficult to teach Indians the difference between right and wrong.... The Indian culture typified heathen civilization - lost in darkness without the light of the gospel."

Rachel C. Larson and Pamela B. Creason, in the 1988 The American Republic for Christian Schools, state, "The Indians who terrorized the miners and cowboys terrorized the settlers too. Disgruntled over the loss of their lands and the destruction of the buffalo, the Indians were quick to go on the rampage."

These texts have their own version of political correctness - Republican, conservative, and far-right. Those who study American history in fundamentalist schools receive a novel view of the nation's political development. They are told that every Democratic president departed from constitutional principles of limited government, instead preferring to advance the behemoth of the secular state and a socialist economic system. Even those presidents universally regarded by historians as great or near great receive short shrift.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, still an admired and beloved figure to most Americans and historians, is labeled a failure in texts used in most conservative Protestant schools. David A. Fisher's 1986 World History for Christian Schools says, "In retrospect the New Deal, as Roosevelt's programs were called, did more harm than good.... Roosevelt's policies, which were often ill-planned and experimental, increased government spending and the power of the federal bureaucracy."

Larson and Creason reiterate this theme: "The New Deal was giving the federal government wide powers over industry and commerce, areas that were not government's rightful sphere. Roosevelt's agencies were replacing the free enterprises of capitalism with the government regulations of socialism."

Chambers and Gene Fisher admire Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R.-Wis.): "Many of his accusations were indeed true ... but the liberal media soon discredited him." John F. Kennedy's death is treated harshly: "His popularity had been declining rapidly. Civil rights leaders were not satisfied with his support of their programs; liberal leaders sought greater federal spending; conservative leaders were especially concerned by his failures in foreign affairs. Yet after his assassination, he became the virtual hero of the age." The Vietnam War is praised and the U.S. defeat blamed on the liberal media. "Limitations placed on US. military personnel by their own government, held virtually hostage by a hostile press and the constant threat of riots, made winning the war impossible."

Lowman's American history volume praises FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover because he "understood the importance of maintaining America's traditional moral values." Meanwhile, labor unions repeatedly are condemned in these history and civic texts. Chambers and Gene Fisher are emphatic in their claim that "Most of the major labor strikes in our history have been immoral."

These books wax eloquent when discussing Republican presidents who also had evangelical religious convictions - i.e., "great" leaders like James A. Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Calvin Coolidge. Laurel Elizabeth Hicks tells readers of her 1982 New World History and Geography in Christian Perspective that "William McKinley, the President of the United States, was a devout Christian who attended the Methodist church regularly. He took a courageous stand against liquor, swearing, and the telling of dirty stories, and he was known for his personal purity."

The literature books developed by the two primary publishers for fundamentalist schools have a decidedly negative view toward writers, American and British. With few exceptions, the most prominent authors in both heritages roundly are accused of despair, pessimism, and religious apostasy. The writers routinely are judged not by established literary criteria, but by their adherence or non-adherence to conservative Protestant values.

The selection of essays, short stories, poems, novels, and plays is skewed toward pious, didactic writings and frequently to mediocre authors deemed religiously safe. There is a clear preference for Protestant authors, especially those of the Puritan and Victorian eras. Extravagant and nonscholarly assertions and generalizations abound.

St. John's 1991 American Literature for Christian Schools, Book 2 is typical. For example: The "modern writer typically does not hold anything to be absolute," "questions all philosophical and religious beliefs," and "has little respect for traditional literary forms." "He rejects virtually all restrictions," and "tends to portray all actions no matter how vile and all words and thoughts no matter how crude or blasphemous." Having rebelled against Christianity and its promise of heaven or hell, writers "lived only for the fleeting moment." They also "rejected the past" and "revolted against family and church, and against small-town life and its traditional values." Some "made art their religion." A few even rebelled "against life itself by choosing suicide as preferable to living."

Distorting religion

It is in the area of religion that these texts are most reprehensible and judgmental. Larson and Creason set the tone when they call the U.S. "a society where God is commonly rejected," even though 95% of Americans say they believe in a Supreme Being and have a higher church attendance rate than any other large industrial nation.

Attacks on all religious traditions other than conservative Protestantism are routine and pervasive. St. John condemns religious pluralism forthrightly: "All these false versions of true religion and worship contribute to the growing theological anarchy of a nation whose people do merely what seems right in their own eyes."

Religious liberalism, according to Larson and Creason, "hardened many Americans in their sin," while St. John claims, "Religious liberalism is only a modern form of the paganism of Christ's day." Christian Scientists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Mormons are called "cults that denied Biblical truths" by Larson and Creason. Unitarianism is labeled by Lowman a "false religion" that "ignored man's need for forgiveness of sin through the blood of Christ and said that men should simply follow the teachings of Jesus and the dictates of their own reason." Larson and Creason call Unitarians "an unbelieving religion" and "an unbiblical philosophy." David A. Fisher asserts that "Common to all foes of Christianity was a spirit of humanism - the exaltation of man above God." Mormonism is "a cult," according to Larson and Creason, while Quakers are "unbiblical" in the mind of Chambers and Gene Fisher. Eastern Orthodox Christians teach "beliefs contrary to Scripture" and "have virtually turned icons into objects of worship," David A. Fisher writes.

Even the Episcopalians and Anglicans receive constant criticism in history and literature texts. Anglicans and Episcopalians repeatedly are denounced as effete, corrupt, and much too Catholic in these fundamentalist school texts. Ronald Horton's 1982 British Literature for Christian Schools: The Modern Tradition, 1688 to the Present sets the tone when he says the Anglican Church is "dead in ritualism and rationalism and serves mainly a ceremonial function."

David A. Fisher blames Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus: "The Jewish religious leaders, whose blindness and hypocrisy Jesus had denounced, sought to put Him to death. They brought Christ before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, charging that Christ had disputed the state.... Although Pilate found no fault in Jesus, he desired to maintain the peace. Giving in to the Jewish demands, he sentenced Jesus to death by crucifixion." In addition, "God used the destruction of Jerusalem to separate the early church from its Jewish environment and to scatter Christians throughout the Roman Empire."

While Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus also are ridiculed, the bete noire of fundamentalist textbook writers is the Roman Catholic Church. In history, literature, geography, and science texts, Catholic-bashing is an acceptable and seemingly indispensable method of instruction.

In world history, the students only are informed about the features of Catholic faith, culture, and practice that are deemed objectionable or heretical by fundamentalists. There is no attempt made to understand the historical development of Christianity or the mutations it underwent as it emerged from Palestine to become the dominant force and culture of European civilization.

Students learn nothing about the writings of early church fathers; the rise of the Papacy; conflicts between church and state; development of religious calendars and holy days; basilica architecture; theological controversies; development of a cult of honor accorded to martyrs and confessors; liturgy; or church government. What is taught is essentially caricature.

David A. Fisher calls Catholicism "a perversion of biblical Christianity," claims that Catholic leaders are "blinded by superstition and ignorance," as they control a church "sunk deep in moral corruption." "During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Roman church destroyed more Bibles than the pagan emperors had destroyed during the first five centuries of church history. Thus, the Roman Catholic system ensured the people's intellectual and spiritual ignorance by depriving them of God's infallible Word and placing in their hands instead the traditions of fallible men."

Chambers and Gene Fisher portray the French and Indian War as a "war for religious freedom" and an effort "to preserve a biblical Protestantism in America." The same text makes the absurd charge that one factor in the Civil War was the South's desire to retain its Protestant identity.

They also maintain that "Immigration aggravated labor unrest" and "immigrants were widely resented, for a number of reasons." The primary reason was that "many immigrants, especially those from southeastern Europe, were Roman Catholic, a fact that aroused fear and resentment among Protestants and others who feared the potential political power of the Roman church." Meanwhile, in Lowman's U.S. history, Catholicism is described as "a distorted Christianity that had largely departed from the teachings of the Bible."

Students who receive their entire educational experience in schools that use these books will absorb visions of reality abhorrent to the vast majority of Americans, especially those whose religious faiths are slandered and distorted. Many of these schools and their advocates and patrons are seeking public funding on both the state and Federal levels. In concert with other private and religious schools, they are mounting political pressure so that all American taxpayers will be compelled, under various choice and voucher schemes, to subsidize the world views promoted. This trend must be resisted. No public funds should be given to schools that inculcate religious prejudice.

Mr. Menendez, director of research, Americans for Religious Liberty, Silver Spring, Md., is the author of Visions of Reality: What Fundamentalist Schools Teach.
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Author:Menendez, Albert J.
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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