Alleged Public School Bible Class "Ten Commandments Fable" Raises Concern
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Feb 16, 2008 at 11:47:43 AM EST
Today I received an email concerning a strange short story- which may have been satire but it was impossible to tell for sure -that, it was suggested, had been presented, in a history and literature of the Old Testament class, to South Carolina public school students. As the party who emailed it to me wrote, "Many of you will be glad to hear that religion is once again being taught in our public schools. Bible courses have been approved in Texas, Georgia, and other states of the union. But is the following material a proper writing assignment for a History and Literature of the Old Testament course in South Carolina? Wouldn't our young students be confused upon hearing this material  read aloud in class? Perhaps we should rethink the idea of teaching religion in these schools. All conservative Christians should printout and read this two-page short story and decide for themselves. The name of the author has been omitted. Students should be protected from harassment no matter the cause.". Inside is the story in question...
"Johan Lehrer, a very good man, was brought up in the 1920s in a modest little community in Southwest Germany where he attended a school which displayed a copy of the Ten Commandments on the classroom wall. As a youth, Johan, a very good boy, had, in his innocence, violated the 2nd Commandment prohibition against graven images by making a wood carving of God, depicting him as a wise looking bearded old man. He was later mortified when he found out that he had done such a terrible wrong. To make matters worse, Johan, a very good young man, later experimented with an eastern religion when he was in college, and in this process violated the 1st Commandment prohibition against putting other gods ahead of the most important god. Johan later realized his mistake, straightening his life out by returning to the God of his parents and of his country.

     In the 1930s, Johan became a teacher in that very room where the copy of the Ten Commandments was still posted on that same wall. He had vowed to live a very good and moral life. This was proving to be difficult, as there was bad behavior all around him, including the actions of his shrewish wife Hedda, who was becoming increasingly intolerant of some Germans, the ones who she felt lacked proper racial purity. In fact, during one of her verbal tirades against those she deemed tainted by blood, Johan, a very good man, suddenly blurted out, "Gottam dem! Hedda! Listen to yourself!" thus violating the 3rd Commandment prohibition against taking the Lord's name in vain.

     Again, Johan had commited another terrible wrong, and fell into some despair. Johan would have been even more exasperated with Hedda had he known she was conducting an illicit affair with the local SS commander, Heinz Fleischer, who also had attended school as a child in that classroom which had that copy of the Ten Commandments posted on the wall. It was this same Heinz, along with two other soldiers, who cornered Johan in his toolshed one fateful Sunday afternoon. This needs some explaining.

     Across the street from Johan, in a handsome dwelling, lived his neighbor Wilhelm. Despite himself, Johan, a very good man, wished he lived in such a fine structure as Wilhelm's, thus violating the 10th Commandment prohibition against coveting anything that is thy neighbor's. Wilhelm was a history professor at the local university, and was considered to be an intellectual. Some of his ideas, such as fair treatment for everyone, were controversial, and he was considered by many to be an enemy of the state.

     Wilhelm knew this put him in danger, so he had arranged for himself and his family to flee the country. Unfortunately, the logistics of their escape did not allow them to bring along their housekeeper, Marica, whose existence was also threatened. She was known as a "wanderer," a group of people who were becoming increasingly persecuted.

      Wilhelm had earlier told Johan of his plans to leave, and asked help in protecting Marica -- just for a few days -- until Wilhelm had time to arrange for her to also escape. Johan agreed, telling no one of this conversation except his parents, who he felt he could trust.

     After Wilhelm and his family had successfuly fled the country, Johan, without Hedda's knowledge, had hidden the lovely Marica in the toolshed behind his house, where he was only too happy to bring her food, water, and encouragement.

     So it was on a Sunday afternoon, three days after Wilhelm's departure, that Heinz and the two soldiers burst into Johan's toolshed to find Johan and Marica together. During the subsequent questioning, it became apparent to Johan that his own parents had turned him in. This caused Johan, a very good man, to curse his parents under his breath, thus violating the 5th Commandment admonishment to honor thy father and mother.

     Johan vainly tried to protect Marica by falsely claiming that she had refused the opportunity to leave because she loved her Fuhrer too much and couldn't bear to part from Germany. During this telling, Johan, a very good man, violated the 9th Commandment prohibition against bearing false witness aainst thy neighbor by sticking to a previously agreed upon story, portraying Wilhelm as an unpatriotic lout of little moral worth, and further denounce him as a man who had never loved his country.

    The situation was getting desperate. Johan wasn't overly concerned for himself, but Marica would surely be deported to one of the camps and perhaps cease to exist. Johan had been getting very attached to her. Catching one of his captors in an unguarded moment, Johan acted quickly and boldly, wrestling a rifle away from one of the unfortunate young Nazi wariors. During the ensuing commotion, he unavoidedly shot and killed the other soldier.

     Thus, Johan, a very good man, had, with one swift action, violated two more Commandments; the 4th by not keeping the sabbath day holy, and the 6th, which forbids killing. He then further contaminated the sabbath by sending Heinz sprawling from a well-place rifle butt smashed against the SS commander's jaw. Despite these unholy activities, Johan and Marica somehow managed to make an improbable escape.

    They made their way into the surrounding countryside, and, with great difficulity, were able to avoid being captured. Invariably, only a short time later, they fell in love. This caused Johan, a very good man, to violate the 7th Commandment, which prohibited adultery.

     Johan and Marica suffered through much hardship as they made their way south towards the Swiss border. At times, Johan, a very good man, was forced to steal food or warm clothing, thus violating the 8th Commandment prohibition against theft. This may have been wrong, but he had to take into consideration Marica's survival.

     Johan and Marica were spotted by an army patrol just before reaching the border. In the ensuing chase, Marica managed to escape to safety, but Johan was shot and seriously wounded only a few yards short of neutral territory. This was, perhaps, divine retribution for his moral failures, but, then again, it could be possible that he was just unlucky to have been at the wrong place at the wrong time. None of this really mattered to Johan at that point, because he was now lying helpless on his back in the wet snow,

     When the young Nazi approached, revolver in hand, Johan's eyes focused only on the soldier's belt buckle. It contained the last image Johan would ever see. A fierce eagle was embedded in the center, wings spread wide, grasping a Nazi swastika in the left talon. Semicircled just above, engraved in large letters, were these words: GOTT MIT UNS (God with us).

                            * * *

     Johan, a very good man, who violated every one of the Ten Commandments, is currently in hell, writhing in agony for every split second of eternity.

    Marica went on to live a long and productive life as a relief worker for the International Red Cross. Her afterlife is yet to be determined.

    Heinz, the former SS Commander, managed to escape to the United States. As a manufacturer of industrial chemicals, he was able to accumulate great wealth. He sent for Johan's troublesome widow, Hedda, and they lived a stormy, but profitable, life together.

    Unlike Johan, a very good man, they did not go to hell. They gave their lives to Jesus (at a Billy Graham rally) a scant two hours before both were killed in an automoble accident. They are now residing in heaven. Heinz is double-blessed by having led a wealthy life, and then afterwards having the privilege of spending an eternity with Hedda.

Display:'s just another of those stupid "urban legend" SPAM letters of the fundie variety. You can see scads of these at

by razajac on Mon Feb 18, 2008 at 02:40:25 AM EST
And I thought it was quite blackly funny but also instructional. Was it a hoax ? Was it true ?  Who wrote the story ? Does the answer even matter ?

I actually don't think the answer to either question has much bearing, if any, on the questions raised. The general point, above all, really illustrates how difficult it can be to teach about the Bible (and especially in a class devoted exclusively to the Bible) or any other religious text, for that matter,  in a non-sectarian manner. That point is rather relevant to the sort of issues Talk To Action addresses ; it was one of the central problems considered in Supreme Court decisions that led to the current Lemon Test.

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Feb 18, 2008 at 03:44:06 PM EST

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