Some Personal Reflections on Religion, Academia, and the Evil Atheist Conspiracy®

I’m at it again, haranguing a mob with all my fancy lernin’…

Yup, I will be delivering a NEW AND IMPROVED version of my Calgary C.F.I. paper here in Lethbridge

On the Job of Not Practicing What I Teach.
Some Personal Reflections on Religion, Academia, and the Evil Atheist Conspiracy®

Tuesday, March 27 at 7:00 p.m. in Turcotte Hall on the U of L campus.

And Now the Blurb:


The secular, academic study of religion has always been controversial but also badly misunderstood. On the one hand, people typically think that Religious Studies trains people for the clergy and that such courses reinforce a faith’s essential doctrines and teachings. Believers frequently see academic studies that challenge religious truths as illegitimate, misguided, and deliberately antagonistic. Indeed, they are often perceived as part of a secularist conspiracy against religion.

While maintaining that Religious and Biblical Studies cannot serve the interests of the Church and Synagogue, Dr. Linville argues these disciplines should not be regarded as an instrument of the so-called New Atheist Movement. Instead, Linville argues that Religious Studies has a rather different agenda and can often challenge the portrayal of religion and different religions in the popular atheist literature.

Through stories and personal reflection, Dr. Linville highlights what can be gained through taking a more sophisticated outsider’s perspective on religion and religions and suggests that secular courses in world religions be mandatory parts of school curricula in Alberta. Dr. Linville argues that, while our highly pluralistic society is founded on principles of freedom of speech and religion, we are wrong to mistake this as a freedom to control or limit speech one encounters about religion, especially in educational contexts.


Most of the changes are motivated by the great uproar on the website of the Lethbridge Herald after I published a “Public Professor” column about different translation possibilities for Genesis 1:1-3 on Feb. 4 THere were only a handful of comments on the online version. There were, however, two letters sent in that were printed. The first seemed to miss the theological implications of the translation, preferring to get all preachy:

I do not see that any of the three translations Mr. Linville [KJV, NRSV, NJPS] quoted in any way contradict each other. For example, when Martha Stewart baked a cake, the batter was shapeless until she put it in a pan and baked it. This in no way infers that Martha never mixed the cake or that it appeared in her kitchen as only the evolutionists know how.
Concerning Mr. Linville’s comments about the wind – God always speaks to us in a language we can understand. The Spirit of God is much like the wind. John 3:8 says, “The wind bloweth where it listeneth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and wither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit.”
In Psalm 19:1-3, the Bible also tells us there is no speech nor language that cannot understand the testimony that the heavens and the earth give to the glory of God.

There were almost 60 comments attached to this letter and these quickly digressed into shouting matches. While a few people made some rather sensible points, others claimed that Kabbala was demonic..  A second  letter expressed  shock that I called the biblical creation account “mythology” (12 comments on this one):

I was very surprised to read the opening remarks stating, “the Bible’s creation myths,” by a professor of religious studies (Lethbridge Herald, Feb. 4).
Darwin’s theories are classified as so-called scientific proofs and the Bible account becomes a “myth.”
In the different translations quoted on the page, there is an order of happenings.
1. God created the heaven and the earth.
2. Let there be light
If the New Jewish Publication Society translation states “the formless void,” I understand void as not valid, and formless as not being able to observe, meaning: nothing. I am interested in finding a different meaning of that statement.
By comparing different translations, done by different scholars from different scrolls and adding Greek philosophy to come to the conclusion that the Bible is filled with a myth, I consider that shortsighted from a teacher of religious wisdom.

Now, nowhere did I make the case that because the theory of evolution is true the Bible is myth.

Really what is missing here – besides the implication of the different punctuation and meaning of some key Hebrew terms, is an appreciation of what Religious Studies and critical biblical studies is all about. I am hardly a “teacher of religious wisdom”, and don’t think that that is even an occupation worth envying. In response to some of these misunderstandings, I will try to describe what Religious Studies is all about and why there is a need for a technical terms like “mythology” to address cross-cultural phenomena even if those terms have a somewhat different meaning in common usage.

I’m also going to editorialize on the fate of Alberta’s new Education Act that sought to enshrine human rights and values in all kinds of schools, including home schools. THere was an absolutely ABSURD backlash from religious homeschooling groups in Alberta and beyond against what they claimed was government interference in private conversations in the home. The Government caved, and edited the preamble to the bill. From the Calgary Herald:

Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk says misplaced outrage over Bill 2 – the Education Act – prompted him to amend the act to assure home-schoolers the bill doesn’t take away their rights to teach their children their views on ethics, religion and morality.

Thomas Lukaszuk

The amended preamble for the bill includes a phrase that parents have paramount responsibility and the right to educate children with regard to religion, morality and ethical standards, Lukaszuk said. He said the change should relieve some of the angst among the home-schooling public.

The bill and the amendment were getting a rough ride from opposition members in the legislature Wednesday afternoon.

“I disagree with a government that bends over backward to offer choice for education,” said Liberal Laurie Blakeman. “Why aren’t we defending public education? That’s what we’re here to do. Why should we be opening the door for anybody who wants to do a different education? Private education is not public education.”

Read more:

Here is part of the uproar from the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSDLA): (Bold added by yours truly).

The new Education Act (Bill 2) proposed in Alberta will force political correctness on parents in their own homes when teaching their children.  Under this powerful new legislation, all homeschooling, including all material and teaching, must meet these requirements. It essentially makes parents subject to the Alberta Human Rights Act when they interact with their own children in their own homes. Furthermore, it requires this communication to promote understanding and respect as set out in the Alberta Human Rights Act:  the same Act that has been responsible for repressing virtually all forms of religious expression that have come before the Human Rights Tribunal. How then, is a parent to read the bible to their child, or pray with them, or share any of their own religious beliefs without fearing the political correctness police.

What hyperbole! “Virtually all forms of religious expression?” What churches have been closed? What prayer meetings raided? And how would the education act censor all interaction in one’s home? Would it not only impact what is being taught as part of the required school curriculum? Apparently not…

The American “news” site, , in an article called ‘Alberta Readies to impose ‘diversity’ education on homeschoolers‘ quotes Paul Feris of the HSLDA:

“Basically what it would mean is all learning that goes on in the home, all material that goes on in the home, would essentially be subject to the Alberta Human Rights Act,” Faris explained.

“At least when the child leaves the school and goes home it no longer applies, but for a homeschooling family they never get away from this,” he added.

“All material that goes on in the home? How is this even possible? The article continues:

Kenneth Noster, father of six and director of Wisdom Home Schooling, said the Education Act would grant the government “quite a long reach of the arm into the home.”

Section 16 of the Act, he says, “essentially means that in order to run a school in the province you must be politically correct or you could risk being shut down.”

But, he said, “everything that they can impose on a school, they can impose on the home.” For homeschoolers, “getting up and doing morning chores and doing morning prayer and stuff is all part of your structured learning,” he noted. “So essentially, you could say, for all of that there has to be politically correct material.”

“At the same time, [the government] could insist that non-politically correct material such as Scripture and the [Catechism of the Catholic Church] could be deemed as offensive and not useable,” he added.

But how are the Catholic Catechisms and the Bible part of the government mandates school curriculum anyway? I think the government should get a backbone and toughen curriculum standards so there is less wiggle room to avoid issues of human sexuality, science, ethics and religion  in cross-cultural perspectives, and so on.

Now, I’m all for censoring or vetting material when it comes to little kids, but certainly older children need to learn how to act towards others and they need to know about the world they will be entering as adults. And the deserve the best distillation of current positions in science, social sciences and humanities that can be produced for young learners.  Insulation is NOT education. I will not deal much with the Bill 2 fiasco in my presentation at any length, however, but I will bring it up in my  case that world religions should also be taught in all schools, public, private or at home, at least for older students.

Anyway, I hope I get a good sized and civil turnout!

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