Mark Bauerlein, senior editor of First Things, spoke Tuesday night on bib­lical illit­eracy and edu­cation in America. Julia Mullins | Collegian

“People interpret the Bible dif­fer­ently,” said Mark Bauerlein, senior editor of First Things mag­azine, during a speech at Hillsdale College. “This is an inescapable fact of our fallen and partial per­spec­tives, of our human interests, and of our varying for­mation which leads us to debate, espe­cially over any pow­erful texts.” 

Stu­dents and faculty gathered on Nov. 6 to hear Bauerlein, a pro­fessor of English at Emory Uni­versity, discuss the issue of bib­lical illit­eracy in America, for a talk hosted by the Dow Jour­nalism Program. 

Bauerlein dis­cussed the faults of purely secular edu­ca­tional systems and defended the need for bib­lical lit­eracy in order to have a deeper under­standing of American culture. 

Bauerlein said many people do not know the Bible. He cited examples of political figures like Howard Dean and media reporters who were ignorant of bib­lical references. 

“It’s embar­rassing. It’s humil­i­ating,” Bauerlein said. “They didn’t have any bib­lical edu­cation; they didn’t have any good, solid American history edu­cation; they haven’t had a good American lit­erary education.” 

Despite this rising bib­lical illit­eracy, Bauerlein said bib­lical under­standing and ref­er­ences can be found every­where throughout American history.

“The most referred to book in the debates leading up to the passage of the Con­sti­tution was not Mon­tesquieu, it wasn’t John Locke, it wasn’t Hobbes; it was Leviticus, where you have the fullest impression of the Ten Com­mand­ments,” Bauerlein said, “Not to have bib­lical lit­eracy is to be ignorant of a lot of American culture and American history.” 

Bauerlein attended graduate school at UCLA, where he said he received a very good edu­cation, but he never read or dis­cussed the Bible. 

“I was par­tially edu­cated in this world,” Bauerlein said. 

It was not until he came back into the Church and joined First Things that Bauerlein said he noticed the presence of bib­lical allu­sions within literature. 

“Reading bib­lical mate­rials makes your expe­rience of American culture today a richer, deeper one,” Bauerlein said. 

Sophomore Mary Car­oline Whims said she read Genesis and studied some rab­binical com­mentary on it during her Great Books I class with Pro­fessor of English Justice Jackson. 

“We’re looking at lit­er­ature, and we’re looking at the Bible,” Whims said, “The Bible is part of what makes lit­er­ature beau­tiful and good, and we have to rec­ognize that it is the truest thing in all literature.”

Bauerlein is on the board of the Core Knowledge Foun­dation, an orga­ni­zation which develops cur­riculum designed to build reading skills by giving broad back­ground knowledge in history, pol­itics, and lit­er­ature, he said. 

“So much of reading is based on your back­ground knowledge of what you’re reading,” Bauerlein said. 

In order to give that broad back­ground of knowledge, Bauerlein said the cur­riculum must be reli­gious. However, he said some schools will not adopt the cur­riculum if religion is incorporated. 

“Religion is con­tro­versial,” Bauerlein said, “so we have to present core knowledge without religion because of the secular bias against any religion.” 

Bauerlein said stu­dents in public schools today are receiving half of an edu­cation. Stu­dents at Hillsdale have an advantage over those students. 

“Kids who receive a reli­gious instruction in America today actually have a wider scope; they have a broader horizon of expe­rience, and they know more about American history,” Bauerlein said. “They are able to read Lincoln’s speeches and rec­ognize some­thing like ‘a house divided.’”

Whims said she is grateful she attends Hillsdale for this reason. 

“I am able to have the full picture of every­thing, all the influ­ences that have shaped our culture,” Whims said, “We’re not leaving things out because they’re not polit­i­cally correct, and because of that it’s a richer education.” 

Bauerlein shared several findings from the Bible Lit­eracy Project about bib­lical lit­eracy in public high schools. According to the survey, only 8 percent of teenagers in public schools reported that their schools offered any elective course on the Bible. 

Bradley Conrad, a prospective student who attended the lecture, is a junior in high school from Alabama, who is home­schooled and takes online courses from Liberty Uni­versity. He said the Bible is part of his cur­riculum but also noted Liberty is a Christian university. 

“I was def­i­nitely sur­prised by some of the ref­er­ences he made,” Conrad said, “I’ve heard dif­ferent things about people not believing in the devil and how that’s affecting culture, but I hadn’t heard a ton about the actual illit­eracy of just dif­ferent random pieces in the Bible.” 

Whims said she was grateful for the oppor­tunity to meet Bauerlein. 

“It’s exciting we can have someone like this on our campus,” Whims said, “This gives Hillsdale stu­dents an oppor­tunity to connect with him, to think about their future, intern­ships, and writing.”