The editors of the Associated Press consider it newsworthy to report that the “tourist mecca Notre Dame” is “also revered as [a] place of worship.” Imagine their surprise when they learn the origins of the word “mecca.”
At least the Associated Press reported a religious reality, albeit an obvious one. The New York Times was forced to issue a correction yesterday when it bungled a report on a basic elements of Christian doctrine. Fr. Jean-Marc Fournier ran inside the burning Cathedral of Notre Dame to save the “body of Christ” from the flames, which reporter Elian Peltier imagined entailed the hero priest's hauling out “a statue of Jesus” rather than the Blessed Sacrament. In today’s New York Post, Mark Hemingway recounts several other embarrassing occasions of religious ignorance on the part of the Times.
In 2013, the Gray Lady reported that Easter commemorates Jesus’ “resurrection into heaven” rather than his resurrection from the dead. The following year, it described the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as “marking the site where many Christians believe Jesus is buried.” That reporter holds a masters degree from Cambridge University, which he appears to have earned despite never having read the New Testament. If he peruse the Gospel, he missed the point of the story.
This embarrassingly ignorant reporting reveals a crisis of religious education throughout the West. Such widespread ignorance imperils not merely the future of the faith but the very civilization that Christianity crafted. How can we expect students to appreciate Hamlet if they do not first understand the story of Cain and Abel, Purgatory, or the theological debates at the heart of the Protestant Revolution? How much meaning can the Gettysburg Address convey, with its peculiar diction and repeated references to ‘dedication,’ ‘consecration,’ and “devotion,” without the context of the King James Bible? Why did John Adams warn the Massachusetts militia that “our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people” and that “it is wholly inadequate to the government of any other”?
Three months ago, President Trump endorsed elective Bible literacy classes for public schools. At least six states have proposed laws that would permit such classes. “The Bible is an integral part of our society and deserves a place in the classroom,” explained North Dakota State Representative Aaron McWilliams. He’s right, though he downplays the Good Book’s significance. Not only is the Bible integral to our society, it constitutes our society’s literary bedrock.
In 1962, the Supreme Court’s decision in Engel v. Vitale outlawed prayer in public schools. The following year, the Court decided in Abington School District v. Schempp also to ban Bible study, which had formed the basis of American education since the Puritan era, from public schools. The ensuing decades have witnessed the dumbing down of several generations, each more ignorant than the next. Now the highly “educated” writers at the New York Times can’t tell a crow’s ear from a crosier.
We laugh at the religiously illiterate journalists, but far more foolish were their forebears in the 1960s who imagined they could educate students without teaching them the most important book in the history of the world.