Cultural literacy is something I try to keep in mind as I go about this job of teaching my children. I want them to be aware of current trends, and great books and movies of their generation (and the classics of mine, too!). I want them to feel comfortable walking into a group of peers knowing they can feel capable of joining the conversations. But does this idea of ‘cultural literacy’ extend to teaching bible stories, in my non-religious home?
I have been told numerous times that I MUST teach my children bible stories or they’ll grow up to be completely culturally illiterate. But…must we? I mean, why should a non-religious family be concerned with the stories of a culture or faith that they are not a part of?
In the circles I run in, this topic can get a bit heated and dare I say, a little divisive. I want you all to know, dear readers, that I am really going to try to offer up both sides of this discussion in the gentlest way possible. I do have my (very strong) opinions on this, and I’m sure that will make itself clear as I write, but I do respect that there is more than one way to answer this question.
I am not here to tell you what to do, or to decide what’s right or wrong – but I do think that this is a conversation worth starting.
What Is Cultural Literacy – And Why Is It Important?
Being culturally literate means that you can understand and participate in the culture you find yourself in. So, being able to keep up with discussions in a group setting. Understanding literary references or movie references. For our kids, it might mean getting the punchline of a joke someone tells or being able to gush about the newest Harry Potter book. Every generation, and every culture, will have its own components of cultural literacy.
So why does it matter? For our children, I think it helps them to feel like they are a part of the larger conversation of their generation. They can feel included and part of the group.
It’s also important in our children’s education because as we are watching movies or reading books, there are a TON of references to myths and fables and Shakespeare, and yes…even Bible stories. The discussions we can have as a family or in a lesson can be so much more robust when we all understand the deeper themes and can recognize the similarities between things
Bible Stories – Necessary to Cultural Literacy?
There isn’t a clear answer to this, no right or wrong. There are a lot of people who feel very strongly that yes, we all should know the ‘basics’ of the Bible stories so that we can catch the references in literature and movies. Case in point, my partner and I really like a television show on Netflix called “The 100”. The basic premise is that a community of humans has been living on a space ship called The Ark, in orbit around earth while the planet was uninhabitable. The story starts with a group of 100 young people heading back to earth to see if it’s safe to return, after a LONG time on the ark.
Now, the show is interesting and a good watch in its own right. But, I remember saying to my partner “Ohhhh that is so cool how they kept this whole Ark storyline and connection going!” And having been raised in a non-religious home, he didn’t know all the ins and outs of the Noah and The Ark story. I felt like I was able to see a much deeper theme and storyline and could almost predict what would come next because I knew the story from the Bible, and the writers seemed to be sticking (relatively) closely to it. It benefitted me to know this story.
But did it diminish my partner’s enjoyment of it because he didn’t know the story of Noah? Not. One. Bit.
Bible stories show up in all kinds of television, movie, and literature – even in our day to day vernacular. Cain and Abel, Moses down the river, and on and on. When you know the origin of these references, you can be better able to join the conversation.
But is it necessary? Some say yes. I say not so much.
The Problem With Teaching Bible Stories in a Secular Home
What I hear the most whenever this convo comes up is this: “Well just teach it like any other mythology – like you would Norse or Greek stories”.
That’s all well and good, but here are my two cents on that idea. When my children are taught “this is what Christians believe, but its just a story” – and then they go out into the world (particularly in this homeschooling world) and are bombarded by the idea that other people live their lives as though these “myths and stories” are true.
There are curricula out there that teach Biblical history as fact. So if I read from a resource like that and then say “well, this is what some people believe but not everyone” it totally undermines that resource. I have a child who will immediately discount and disregard any material that is neutral or faith-based. So if I say ‘well but….” then he doesn’t trust that resource, and worse – he doesn’t trust ME.
When I teach Greek mythology, we approach it as a collection of stories that show us how the ancient Greeks attempted to explain their natural world and their human existence. But my kids aren’t surrounded by people who still believe in Greek gods. It’s not in their face time and again that the Greek gods are the right path to follow, it’s not a cause of judgement against them when my children say “I don’t believe in Zeus”.
We can’t treat Christian stories in quite the same way that we can treat the mythologies of cultures who are no longer in existence. Christian mythology is not the same as Norse or Greek or Egyptian mythology.
Further, I almost only ever hear this sort of thing when I’m complaining about a resource not being secular, or having too much Christian influence. Usually, it’s being said by a Christian and is well intended, i think. The same people who keep telling me to keep the Bible in my homeschool, however, tend to be the first to eschew any material that has any bit of ‘evolution’ – because, they don’t want to teach their children something that goes against their beliefs.
So, Should We Use the Bible in a Secular Home?
My short answer here is – do what ye shall. I will say again, I am not here to say one way is wrong or right. Just offering up some food for thought about this topic.
I don’t teach Christian stories or much about the Christian faith – I don’t need to, we are completely surrounded by it in our society. If something comes up, I may just mention “oh that reference is about ‘x’ story in the christian bible”.
Will I ever study Christian mythology with my children? Yes, probably. I think a deep study of bible stories is a fascinating experience with older students – and we plan to delve deep in the late elementary and high school years when they are older and more able to look at this subject clearly.
So what say you, my faithful readers – do you teach the bible stories in your secular homeschool? I’d love to know your thoughts on this subject of cultural literacy! Comment below, or reach out to me on social media or email.