Saint Patrick and the Texas School Board

This article was published in the On Faith section of the Washington Post in 2010, coincident with the publication of my book, The New Enlightenment.

So, I’m having my glass of Guinness and thinking of all things green (the color of Ireland as well as the color of hope) when I make the strange connection between Saint Patrick and the Texas School Board.

Saint Patrick came to mind, of course, because he is an icon of manipulated education.  Because of many “Texas School Boards” over the years, he has been hijacked into becoming the Irish saint who drove out the snakes.  Never mind that he was not Irish – he was Roman, “Patricus;” he is not a canonized saint – he converted the Druids to Christianity, but in the process adopted some of the pagan customs which greatly antagonized the Roman Church; and he did not drive out any snakes – “snakes” being a metaphor for the devil and the Druids. Most importantly, he was a truly great historical figure.  He, along with Columba in Scotland, created the chain of monasteries that copied and saved a huge portion of our Western literature and historical record from the invading, and library-burning, Vikings and the like.  Now, I will drink to that! But no one learns this because our school books are often filled with myths.

Now comes the Texas School Board.  They want to rewrite national textbooks and teach our children “what is right,” which, as with St. Patrick, is often not right at all.  Part of their efforts center on America as a “Christian Nation.”  They put forward the view promoted by the late Sam Huntington at Harvard that America is “Christian, but tolerant” (few are so politically tone-deaf not to hear the fingernails scraping across that blackboard!).  It is interesting that their fellow Texan, Karl Rove, when asked on Hannity last week if he viewed America as a Christian Nation, said no, America is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society.  And the historical record is clear: Jefferson, Washington, Franklin and other leading founders (all students of the Enlightenment) were clear that America is founded on a belief in God and the dignity of the human spirit which ennobles our politics and policies; but, to tie America to any particular doctrinal religion is a highway to tyranny (a word they always used in this context).

To me, as a writer on religion and politics, the Texas School Board situation is filled with unintended irony.  In the fourth century, the Council of Nicaea under the direction of Constantine – the Texas School Board of that era – voted on most of the issues that were then written into the modern New Testament (the “textbook” that promotes what we think of as contemporary “Christianity”).  To create political peace, they incorporated much pagan myth into the doctrine, hence the day of worship on a day dedicated to the pagan Sun god.  So, much of what the Texas School Board members learned from birth, and strongly believe is “right,” does not hold up well to the historical record.

The bottom line is that the Texas School Board should figure out what is “right,” and at a minimum stay true to the founding fathers by abandoning the divisive and transparently “wrong” view that America is a “Christian Nation.”  Let’s prepare our children for the very challenging 21st century, and not fall into the trap of the Taliban and others, who prepare their children for the 5th century.

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