When Rosie O’Donnell wasn’t urging the Googling of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident on ABC's "The View" on Monday, she was boasting of her knowledge of the Old Testament, based on her weekly private Bible study. She told Elisabeth Hasselbeck she could whip her in Jeopardy on the Bible.
The topic was teaching the Bible in public schools, as discussed in newspapers (and in this week’s Time magazine cover story). Like many secular journalists, Barbara Walters asserted "I know nothing about the Bible, and I think most people don’t." Joy Behar insisted "you can’t teach it as nonfiction. You have to teach it as fiction in many ways." When challenged about how the Bible could be taught, Behar blurted out: "People masturbate anyway."
Justin McCarthy transcribed the long exchange, a window into how America assesses the Scriptures:
ROSIE O’DONNELL: We are back and we were reading in the paper today, there is an interesting article about should Bible, the Bible be taught in school? Yeah and it's an interesting discussion. Of course, in the country we have separation of church and state. So in public school I would probably say no, because, you know, we have a separation of church and state.
JOY BEHAR: That's why we have religious schools.
BARBARA WALTERS: But the example- when I first read the headline, I thought no. But then it said that it was, I think, an optional course. And I thought I wish I'd taken it. I mean, I know nothing about the Bible, and I think most people don’t. And I think if it's an optional course, especially if it's in high school, then I think that's fine. It's one more thing that you're learning. It's not necessarily imposing a particular religion.
ELISABETH HASSELBECK: What if it's the part of like a larger study of, you know, different books?
BEHAR: The Koran.
HASSELBECK: If you did your own objective study.
WALTERS: If you do comparative religion and you have the Bible and the Koran.
BEHAR: Well, I think you should, you have to teach the Bible as, you can't teach it as nonfiction. You have to teach it as fiction in many ways. Because it was written. It’s written in stories.
WALTERS: Many people disagree with you. I mean people, many people believe, many people Evangelicals and, and Orthodox Jews believe that what is in the Torah, many believe was written by God and that this is not fiction. So, I mean, that's very disputable depending upon your religious beliefs.
BEHAR: I read the Bible as a kid because I was Catholic, we read the missal.
WALTERS: There are people live their lives following every word of the Bible.
BEHAR: I know, but do people really believe that Noah actually had that boat with those animals?
HASSELBECK: Yes and, I mean, just from a literary stand point alone this is-
BEHAR: Yeah, literally?
HASSELBECK: But hang on. Wait a minute. Listen to me.
BEHAR: It's a wonderful animal story about a nice man who brought the animals. Who did the pooper scooping, I don't know, but besides that it’s a great story. Why does it have to be exactly? It’s metaphorical.
HASSELBECK: Just from the literary standpoint alone. I mean, this is the best-selling book of all time, probably the most influential. If it were "The Secret"-
O’DONNELL: Bigger than "The Secret."
HASSELBECK: Yes exactly. Now they want to put this into high school studies. I'm sure people are talking about every other best-seller and those make their way into the curriculum. This would be something that probably warrants it just based on a literary perspective.
BEHAR: Well then in a literature course maybe. In college it should be taught. I don't think that it should be taught in high schools as truth.
WALTERS: But Joy, that's your opinion. To many people, everything- the virgin birth, I mean, it is faith and what is in the Bible, there are many, many people in our soci- who believe, who live their lives because it is in the Bible. You don’t happen to agree.
BEHAR: I understand that. But if I'm a Muslim, I don’t happen to believe in the virgin birth. I'm not a Muslim. But if I were. So I take the position of a Muslim right now. I don't want my kids learning –
HASSELBECK: Even if you’re a Muslim though. Don’t you want the information?
WALTERS: They don't have to. It is optional.
HASSELBECK: If you wanted to argue against the Bible on any, on any plane, wouldn't you want as much information on what you're arguing against? I think this could actually enable people into a very intellectual conversation.
BEHAR: But what I’m saying is teach it in a literature class, not a religion class, that's all.
HASSELBECK: You were a teacher right? So what if it were in the curriculum to teach the Bible and you feel as you do now? How would you handle that?
BEHAR: I would teach it as interesting stories that people wrote over many years and we can learn many morals. Some of it are incorrect. Some might be correct.
HASSELBECK: So I think the problem in terms of teaching the Bible-
WALTERS: We are still having problems --
BEHAR: Onanism's in the Bible. People masturbate anyway. [laughter] That's Onanism. That was something in the Bible. So what?
HASSELBECK: Look at the faces out there.
O’DONNELL: Joy, I've just got to say, I’ve just got to say, that was just like my mother-in-law. You can be talking about one thing and out of nowhere -- I don't think the Bible should be in it because people masturbate. What the Hell?
BEHAR: Because if you listen to what I said, and the reason I got an applause, is because the audience understood me. I got an applause.
WALTERS: Because you were funny.
HASSELBECK: Half of them applauded and half of them passed out.
O’DONNELL: Say one thing and I have a give away, go.
WALTERS: One of the biggest discussions today in the 21st century is whether evolution is real and exists or does not and that everything was planned in seven days by God. At this point, it is still one of the most divisive subjects in this country.
O’DONNELL: And I have been studying the Old Testament for four years once a week in private study, just so you know. I have because I didn’t know anything about it. Again, Catholic, you just read the missalette.
HASSELBECK: I’m impressed you’re reading more than I am.
O’DONNELL: I know, and I could probably go on "Jeopardy" and beat you in the Bible column.
For the record, it should be noted that O’Donnell was wrong to imply that if you just read a Catholic missal or missalette, you don’t have any reading of the Old Testament. Every daily and Sunday mass includes a reading from the Old Testament, not to mention a psalm.