Monday, 24 September 2007

US teacher dismissed for urging pupils not to take Bible literally

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Steve Bitterman, a teacher at Southwestern Community College, Red Oak, Iowa, was fired after he urged his pupils not to take the story of Adam and Eve literally. Bitterman was teaching a western civilisation course and often used extracts from the Old Testament as part of his lessons, but urged students to look beyond a literal interpretation of what he views as an "extremely meaningful story", believing such a reading would miss much of the poetic, metaphoric and symbolic content. After class, he also made the mistake of referring to the story as a "fairy tale" during a conversation with a student.

The class was being broadcast to a second college in Osceola, Iowa, and it was a group of students from this class that reported Bitterman for "denigrating their religion". Bitterman's college has refused to comment on his dismissal, which it described as a "personnel matter".

Speaking to Iowa newspaper the Des Moines Register, Bitterman said: "I'm just a little bit shocked myself that a college in good standing would back up students who insist that people who have been through college and have a master's degree, a couple actually, have to teach that there were such things as talking snakes or lose their job."

Clearly endorsing the good work of his former employers, he concluded: "From my point of view, what they're doing is essentially teaching their students very well to function in the eighth century."

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34 comments:

Interested said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Interested said...

How can we ever overcome the absolute stupidity of religion?

Anonymous said...

That's just absolute insanity. The man didn't say anything that controversial. In fact short of the word fairy tale it's basically what I learned in a catholic grade school.

KeaponLaffin said...

We can overcome the stupidity by talking about it.
I was an on-the-fence atheist/agnostic for awhile before reading stuff like this and becoming more aware. Now, I wouldn't call myself an activist, but I am more active.
I talk about Rationalism and Reason more, I write letters and emails to lawmakers, I call talk shows, etc.
Making people aware of things like this gets people's blood pumping. It gets people to actually DO something, even if it is only posting comments and emailing their Senator.
And have no doubts..it is, and forever will be a, never-ending battle. When we finally get AI, some group is going to insist (really believing in it..not like the Church of Google) that the AI is some spirit or somesuch.
Worshiping the Ghost in the Machine.

jfRi said...

People are just afraid that they're being taught things that aren't true. Imagine if all your life, your parents told you that 2 + 2 is 4. Then you get into university and they teach you that 2 + 2 can be 3 or 5 if you look at it another way. You'd probably be questioning the merit of what you were being taught. Maybe the educator is full of crap. Maybe you don't want to accept that 2 + 2 CAN be 3 or 5. The only difference between being taught questionable math and being taught questionable religion is that THIS has a political grounds because religion is so heavily sewn into our western governmental and social politics, whereas theoretical math isn't so present in either.

You couldn't really bring a case before any judge or committee saying, "Hey, I think this mathematical* theory is wrong, even though they explained it pretty well and seem to have a fairly logical reason behind it. The thing is, it's just not the same as what I believe. Please dismiss the teacher." But substitute the word religious* in there and you've got yourself a case.

What I'd like to see is an absolute separation of faith and education--not in the curriculum, but in the minds of the students, faculty, and parents. It's time we grew up as a society and started realizing that when you're in a science class, you're going to be taught scientific theories that don't agree with everyone's faiths. When you're in a social history class, you're going to be taught social theories--including religious ones--that don't agree with everyone's faiths. That's just how education has to work, otherwise school would just be nothing more than religious propaganda (that still ends up offending whoever isn't part of the majority religion).

Anonymous said...

It's sickening, isn't it.

What blows me away is that every (I mean EVERY) Philosophy 101 class, which is usually considered generel ed., teaches you to question religion. Seriously, Philosophy's first and oldest argument is the argument for/against god. This is where most people get their first taste of atheism.

There was this period of time called the dark ages, where no advancements in science or society was forced by Christians. Then this period called the Renaissance came where religious prosecution stopped. How can we avoid another Dar Age? How?!?! We're allowing Creationism to be taught, we're not using stem cells.... we're going to go backwards in time. I don't want this.

Michael said...

I saw this earlier in the day and tried to leave a protest on the college's Web site. They had taken the "contact" links down for administration, although it was still possible to contact building maintenance. ;o) We may try to interview him later in the week.

felipereyesl said...

genesis is a fairly tale, it's not a mistake to say it...

Anonymous said...

Religion should be taught in schools, but only as a way of showing the different belief systems of the various people of the world, never as "This is fact" - R.E. should always be taught by a humanist in my opinion.

Betty Carbuncle said...

I'm speechless, this way there's no hope anybody currently in school is given a chance to learn free thinking, and THEN, maybe, decide if the Bible was right or wrong. What are they afraid so much of? It's just so stupid and wrong and so amazingly sad in 2008. :(

Nuclear Moose said...

The United States is becoming a fundamentalist theocracy. By comparison, Iran under they Ayatollahs is ALSO a fundamentalist theocracy. So, what is there to distinguish one from the other? Interesting is it not, that the US frowns upon the religious restrictions that are placed onto the lives of ordinary Iranians. When teachers/professors worry about losing their job because they don't extol the virtues of a dogma imposed by the majority, then you have no right to claim that your country is actually "free".

One commenter talked of a new Dark Age...well at one time that was virtually world-wide when Christianity dominated the globe. Now it may only be the US that enters a Dark Age. So much for the American Dream, folks. The founding fathers are spinning in their graves.

Anonymous said...

I feel your pain, man. Consider making the entire college staff read this.

David said...

everyone should read Ken Wilber's Integral Spirituality.

HollowMarkeD said...

America is in danger of being left behind technologically by the Bush leadership's lame duck leadership. In no other country of the western world is there even this debate on Creationalism.

You Americans have the choice, its up to you.

LSM said...

America is breeding a race of morons who will be willing to accept anything their leaders tell them.

Oh, wait...

LSM said...

"everyone should read Ken Wilber's Integral Spirituality."

Why shold everyone read it? Looks like the same old apologist nonsense.

calidelacruz said...

i think that it is only fair that the teacher was dismissed. i firmly believe that God created the universe in 6 literal days. i believe that the Bible is true in its entirety. I am born again and want to serve God with my life. I am also a TAX paying AMERICAN. If we cant say anything derogatory about Muslims then why should someone be aloud to talk badly about Christianity or Creationism. All the Christians are asking is to be treated fairly. I understand that not everyone will be Born again Christian but just don't call us ignorant and we wont call you ignorant just because we don't agree.

Anonymous said...

The bible was written by Man, not God.

sam said...

that's strange, i had several college professors who really were full of $h!t (mostly philosophy and history profs, btw), and they still teach as far as i know...

also, to the dark ages guys, they were called the dark ages because we have relatively few written records of that era. if you look at their scientific and engineering progression, though, it is clear that the development rate was actually pretty good.

also, religious persecution didn't really stop during the renaissance...

Anonymous said...

"i believe that the Bible is true in its entirety. I am born again and want to serve God with my life."
Where does the Bible say anything about reincarnation?

"If we cant say anything derogatory about Muslims then why should someone be aloud to talk badly about Christianity or Creationism."

He didn't actually insult the religion, just stated that a certain part of it is a bit far-fetched.


"All the Christians are asking is to be treated fairly."

All this man is asking for is to be treated fairly.

"I understand that not everyone will be Born again Christian"

Again, where in the Bible is reincarnation actually mentioned? Bear in mind that I haven't read it.

Frank Amies said...

There was a trial in a southern state of the USA in the 1920s which echoes the published article. It is comforting to read the USA is marching confidently towards the seventeeth century with all that century's religious intolerences

Thomas Enever said...

As President Ahmadinejad talked about how they don't have homosexuality in Iran, we have an American teacher fired for describing Adam and Eve as "a fairy tale".

Tell me there are not some concerning similarities here...

Anonymous said...

"You Americans have the choice, its up to you."

Actually, the only real choice we have is to leave the country or not, and even that is becoming more and more difficult.

"All the Christians are asking is to be treated fairly."

We'll treat you and your cultists fairly just as soon as you start treating us fairly.

"don't call us ignorant and we wont call you ignorant just because we don't agree."

You won't call us ignorant, you'll just kill us like you did in ages past and, in some parts of the world, still do.

Mark said...

Ok, discussion aside (I really can't be bothered reading it all), but in regard of the firing of this teacher - what is the next step in American (or at least Iowainian :-/ ) elementary school education? The teaching of "Woman-from-rib-of-Man" in biology?? Jeebus Chrispies!

Anonymous said...

"i think that it is only fair that the teacher was dismissed."

This is because your bizarre religion has given you a warped sense of right and wrong, as well as a fundamental lack of understanding regarding basic human rights.

"i firmly believe that God created the universe in 6 literal days."

And you do this in spite of mounds of evidence to the contrary, which shows your unwillingness to perform one of civilizations rudimentary functions- to LEARN.

"i believe that the Bible is true in its entirety. I am born again and want to serve God with my life."

Pathetic sheep.

"I am also a TAX paying AMERICAN."
That doesn't mean you and your demented cohorts should be able to inflict your asinine beliefs on the rest of us by hijacking the education system. You want to learn about the fantasyland of Adam and Eve, do it on your own dime.

"If we cant say anything derogatory about Muslims then why should someone be aloud to talk badly about Christianity or Creationism."
Criticism is not derogatory. When I say that American Christians are thin-skinned and ignorant, that's a criticism. When I say they're worthless, disgusting mutants, that is derogatory. Learn the difference.

"All the Christians are asking is to be treated fairly."
No you're not. You're asking to replace facts with fiction because your holy book cannot be reconciled with reality, and you feel uneasy about that.

"I understand that not everyone will be Born again Christian but just don't call us ignorant and we wont call you ignorant just because we don't agree."
But you ARE ignorant, and we don't agree because you are FUNDAMENTALLY INCORRECT.

RK said...

While I was not in the specific class referenced here, I did take a Western Civ class with this specific professor at one point in my college career (hey, community college is a cheap way to get worthless Gen Ed classes out of the way). This was upwards of 3 or 4 years ago, but I recall him because I did not much care for his class. Not because I was ever offended by anything he said, but by the amount of time he spent pontificating about history. It was fairly easy to side track him with questions that appealed to his knowledge, but it was obvious that he liked to think he was having an impact because of his 'superior' teaching methods. Now, I mean no disrespect to the man as an educator, but his style was certainly a bit pompous and dry. That being said, I am a self defined atheist who in no way disagrees with the statements he reportedly made to that class.

What I will point out, however, having lived in Iowa all my life (and in that particular area of Iowa while attending that school) is that there are a LOT of Christians in that area who feel that the bible is the literal word of God. I recall being unable to have a civil conversation about religion (or politics for that matter) in any class I ever had there, as the other students would invariably misconstrue criticism of a belief system as a personal attack (or were just to thick to debate anything intelligently).

Also, I find it an odd coincidence that I was randomly surfing the internet and happen to stumble across an article about someone with whom I have had personal experience.

Jim said...

A complete regression of knowledge, Genesis 1:16 states that the moon creates its own independent source of light, as does the sun. "The word of God is fact, science is theory" Thats the new educational mantra, if you teach against it then you are subjugating someones Christian belief and are subject to reprisals. This is just the beginning. Please note that only Christian values are sacred and true, but no other religions count.

Anonymous said...

Looks like a bit of misinformation is being spread here. He wasn't fired for "urging pupils not to take Bible literally." He was fired for being abusive towards his students. It's a shame that so many self-styled humanists have abandoned common sense for the satisfaction of self-righteous indignation. Alas, you've come to mirror the very faults you find in Christianity.

Gerry said...

Take heart!
Everywhere science advances/d, religion retreats/d.
This has always been so.
Soon they will be out of their comfort zone.

Creative Spirit said...

We all know that not everyone believes the same religion or even subscribes to one at all. He believes the book of genesis is a fairytale, and that's his right as an american. Plain and simple.

Anonymous said...

I really don't understand what it's all about...

I mean, religion brought mankind to where it is today, and without it, we wouldn't have gotten so far, we've got weapons that can wipe thousands off the face of the earth in one blow, but we just can't settle down with ONE opinion or at least accep that in such cases, everyone has his or her own opinion, which are all just as "right" or "wrong" as your own one...

we won't get any further if we continue like this...

this teacher did the only thing I've ever thought was right about what stands in the bible:
it was once a manuscript that was supposed to teach people morality and keep them from roaming the street stabbing people, and even today, we can learn A LOT from it, but you can't take it literally, it won't make any sense at all!!
jesus himself said in the bible that one who calls others fool truly is a fool himself and shall burn in hell... in fact, jesus himself said that word very often...

satan only killed 6 people in the bible, but god several thousand...

who's the one you would worship, if you looked at it with logic? I said it wouldn't make sense...


we are truly on the zenith of our existence, and it will only go downwards from here, if we don't take drastic changes... leaders of states begin a self-righteous war in the name of liberty, peace, and god! in fact, those selfish acts will be the thoughts that will kill us all!

take the war in Iraq: even as I type this, people are dying there just because Iraq had wmd... no, wait, did they? I doubt it... and the people that are REALLY fighting for freedom of thought are being dismissed as terrorists!! all they wanted was to be left alone... was Hussein anything like totalitarian? was he a leader that lied to his people in selfish thought about fuel "reserves". did he begin war? did he at least DIE with dignity?!

he was found as a miserable shadow of himself in a little hole, unwashed, unshaven, and absolutely terrorized. is THIS the society you would want to live in?

I don't.

Matt said...

My favorite part of Philosophy 101 was that on the first day. Lots of people (I presume Christians) would end up getting in fierce arguments with my teacher Lee Archie. And it was probably because he mentioned the words (open-minded or different standpoint). How he puts up with that, I have no idea.

Anonymous said...

Now don't get me wrong.I do agree with the teacher on the fairy tale thing.Howver, just for safe measure I would have kept that thought to myself.You can be a non-beleiver and still be respectful of other people's faith.But, I do have a huge problem with teaching Creationism in school all of a sudden.Not, just b/c I'm an athiest but, b/c not every student is a Christian and some students come from foreign countries and have different beleifs.Therefore, why should these kids be forced to learn the story of Creation and why does it take an entire school year to teach it.I can teach anyone the story in less than a minute.

kurt said...

any man regardless of past future or present is entitled to his beliefs from my sight he was not projecting he was not forcing his view he simply acted on his beliefs in a unassuming unprovocative way. this to me seems to be an apparent right violation being denied a job due to personal values. to clarify(arguments are nine times out of ten ignorance over intelligence)he acted as he though he wasnt converting anyone he was merely talking with the slight bias of belief as religious affiliates are constantly amended for. he has the right to belief.