The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Chipping Away at the Historical Record

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Since the nineteenth century, secularists have been gradually chipping away at the historical record, denying the impact Christianity has had on the development of the moral character of the United States. In 1898, Bishop Charles Galloway delivered a series of messages in the Chapel at Georgia’s Emory College. In these messages he noted that “books on the making of our nation have been written, and are the texts in our colleges, in which the Christian religion, as a social and civil factor, has only scant or apologetic mention. This is either a fatal oversight or a deliberate purpose, and both alike to be deplored and condemned. A nation ashamed of its ancestry will be despised by its posterity.” [1] That was more than 110 years ago!

The 1980s saw an even greater expurgation of the impact the Christian religion has had on our nation. So much so that even People for the American Way acknowledged that religion is often overlooked in history textbooks: “Religion is simply not treated as a significant element in American life—it is not portrayed as an integrated part of the American value system or as something that is important to individual Americans.” [2]

A 1994 study of history textbooks commissioned by the federal government and drafted by the National Center for History in the Schools at UCLA concluded that religion “was foolishly purged from many recent textbooks.” [3] In 1990, Warren A. Nord of the University of North Carolina wrote:

What cannot be doubted is that our ways of thinking about nature, morality, art, and society were once (and for many people still are) fundamentally religious, and still today in our highly secular world it is difficult even for the non-religious to extricate themselves entirely from the webs of influence and meaning provided by our religious past. . . . To understand history and (historical) literature one must understand a great deal about religion: on this all agree. Consequently, the relative absence of religion from history textbooks is deeply troubling. [4]

The removal of the topic of religion from textbooks is not always motivated by a desire to slam Christianity. Textbook publishers fear special interest groups that scrutinize the material for any infraction, whether it’s religious, racial, sexual, or ethnic. For example, “the 1990 Houghton Mifflin elementary series first made special efforts to include material (and in state hearings received savage criticism from militant Jews, Muslims, and fundamentalist Christians).” [5] The easiest way to placate these diverse groups is to remove all discussion of the topic, even if it’s historically accurate. Whether this deletion of material is outright censorship or else a reluctance to fight ideological wars, failure to deal factually with the past distorts a student’s historical perspective. This has happened to such an extent that even when religious themes are covered “their treatments are uniformly antiseptic and abstract.” [6]

A study of the historical record reveals that religion played a major role in the development of the public school curriculum. “Textbooks referred to God without embarrassment, and public schools considered one of their major tasks to be the development of character through the teaching of religion. For example, the New England Primer opened with religious admonitions followed by the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the names of the books of the Bible.” [7]

The textbook series most widely used in public schools from 1836 to 1920 was William Holmes McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers. More than 120 million Readers were sold during this period. The Readers stressed religion and its relationship to morality and the proper use of knowledge. In an introduction for a reissue of the Fifth Reader, historian Henry Steele Commager writes:

What was the nature of the morality that permeated the Readers? It was deeply religious, and . . . religion then meant a Protestant Christianity. . . . The world of the McGuffeys was a world where no one questioned the truths of the Bible or their relevance to everyday contact. . . . The Readers, therefore, are filled with stories from the Bible, and tributes to its truth and beauty. [8]

Competing textbooks of the same era contained varying amounts of biblical material, but McGuffey contained the greatest amount—“more than three times as much as any other text of the period.” [9] Subsequent editions of the Readers—1857 and 1879—showed a reduction in the amount of space devoted to biblical material. Even so, the 1879 edition contained the Sermon on the Mount, two selections from the book of Psalms, the Lord’s Prayer, the story of the death of Absalom (2 Sam. 18), and Paul’s speech on the Areopagus (Acts 17). The Bible was still referred to as “‘the Book of God,’ ‘a source of inspiration,’ ‘an important basis for life,’ and was cited in support of particular moral issues.” [10]

Textbook publishers are opportunists. They need to make money to stay in business. There is nothing wrong with this. Religion will once again find its way back into textbooks because certain special interest groups will demand it. Christians may cheer at the prospect of finding more religion in textbooks. The results, however, may not be to our liking because these “neutral” textbooks will give all religions equal treatment. Public school children will come away with the perception that there are many religions out there to choose from. Christianity will be viewed as one religion among many, no better or worse than any other religion. The study of religion will be done in terms of the smorgasbord approach: take your pick of any religion that suits your taste or pick nothing at all (the better and more rational approach).

Because evolution is the core of the public school curriculum, religious beliefs are treated as a part of evolutionary development. As man evolves so will his ideas about religion. Evolution is pure materialism. This means that religion—especially the Christian religion—and evolution cannot coexist. Their views of reality are antithetical. As religion works its way back into textbooks, the subject will only be taught as history, similar to the way erroneous scientific theories are now taught. As the curriculum gets more secular and consistent with its Darwinian presuppositions, religion will be characterized in a way similar to that of spontaneous generation: People once believed in spontaneous generation, but now we know better. There was a time when even scientists believed the sun revolved around the earth, but now we know better.

Religion, like many pre-modern scientific theories, can no longer be validated in terms of the present naturalistic worldview. Christianity, therefore, will be taught as what an ill-informed people used to believe, but now we know better.

There are many good Christians who are determined to save the public schools. While this process takes place, however, another generation of students is sucked into the vortex of humanism. For more than thirty years Christians have been working to reform public education. What’s been gained? Test scores are down and murder is up.

Christians have been straining towards compromise and funding of anti-Christian education for too long. Christians seem content to rally around the flag for Jesus outside the classrooms one day a year while the school curriculum teaches a worldview that is against Christ and His Word. We are paying for our own destruction while the humanists laugh at our puny efforts. What will we do when we no longer have the freedom to say no to public education? By then it will be too late.

  1. Charles B. Galloway, Christianity and the American the American Commonwealth; or, The Influence of Christianity in Making This Nation (Nashville, TN: Methodist Episcopal Church, 1898), 15.[]
  2. O. L. Davis, Jr., et al., Looking at History: A Review of Major U.S. History Textbooks (1986), 3. Quoted in Joan Delfattore, What Johnny Shouldn’t Read: Textbook Censorship in America (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992), 85.[]
  3. This is the conclusion of the editorial writers of the Marietta Daily Journal: “History needing revision” (October 30, 1994), 2D. The National Standards for United States History have called for the restoration of the role religion played in the founding of America while pushing a “politically correct” agenda in nearly everything else. See Lynne V. Cheney, “The End of History,” Wall Street Journal (October 20, 1994), A24.[]
  4. Warren A. Nord, “Taking Religion Seriously,” Social Education, 54:9 (September 1990), 287. Quoted in History Textbooks: A Standard and Guide, 1994–95 Edition (New York: American Textbook Council, 1994), 32.[]
  5. History Textbooks: A Standard and Guide, 1994–95 Edition, 32.[]
  6. History Textbooks: A Standard and Guide, 1994–95 Edition, 33.[]
  7. John W. Whitehead, The Rights of Religious Persons in Public Education: A Complete Resource for Knowing and Exercising Your Rights in Public Education, rev. ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, [1991] 1994), 41–42.[]
  8. Henry Steele Commager, Preface, McGuffey’s Fifth Eclectic Reader. Quoted in Whitehead, The Rights of Religious Persons in Public Education, 42.[]
  9. John H. Westerhoff, III, “The Struggle for a Common Culture: Biblical Images in Nineteenth-Century Schoolbooks,” The Bible in American Education, eds. David L. Barr and Nicholas Piediscalzi (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1982), 32.[]
  10. Westerhoff, “The Struggle for a Common Culture: Biblical Images in Nineteenth-Century Schoolbooks,” 28.[]

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