Thursday, December 22, 2005

Time for a Comparative Religions Elective in High School?

You know I've heard variations of this idea for some time now:

A new and wiser school board is planning to do just that by removing intelligent design from the science curriculum and perhaps placing it in an elective course on comparative religion. That would be a more appropriate venue to learn about what the judge deemed "a religious view, a mere relabeling of creationism and not a scientific theory."

For most of the time I've been hearing this idea, I have thought it a mistake, just another back-door opportunity for fundamentalists to force religion back into the school and onto the populace whether they want it or not. Sure, the class is "elective", but imagine the liberties school boards across the south and midwest could do with that little fiction. Before long, an "elective" and "comparative" religion class becomes a mandatory class on fundamentalist dogma run by some Focus on the Family offshoot. And then were back to the same problem of where maybe in one community, one or two families don't want their kids subjected to this, the families are ostracized, blanketed with religious hate mail for being atheistic commies because they object to religious indoctrinization, and so on.

Hey, if you want your kid to learn about religion, send him or her to church, and go your self so you can learn about it, too.

But now I'm reconsidering.

Why? Because you really don't learn religion in church. What you learn in church is how to do church according to that religion; you don't learn anything about religion in general. And you only learn those parts of the bible that fit your church's orthodoxy. To the extent you learn about any one else's religion, it's likely to be a highly inflammable, polemic version that provides little if any true description of that religion, not to mention any logic or analysis.

So maybe it's time to ensure that our children learn about everyone's religion, and learn it in an objective, even-handed, "fair and balanced" manner.

How would this work? Well, I don't know how fixed the rules for such an elective course could be, but why not make it that if you want to offer such a thing, you have to have a traditional catholic come in to teach about traditional catholicism, you have an evangelical come in to teach about evangelicalism, a Methodist to teach about Methodism, a Mormon to teach about Mormonism, a Jewish person to teach about Judaism, a Muslim to teach about Islam, and so on. I think you get the idea. That way, everyone's views get presented by an expert in that religion (instead of having, say, a protestant teach about catholicism).

Would this fly? I doubt it. There'd be an uproar about every aspect of the course, no doubt, in just about every community. Complaints that no matter how well qualified, the presenter on Catholicism wasn't Catholic enough, the Methodist not Methodist enough, the Evangelical not evangelical enough, etc. When the evangelicals presented the catholic kids would get to hear their leader referred to as the anti-christ, and their church as paganistic. The evangelical kids would get to hear how their church is committing heresy because they don't submit to the Pope, and so on.

Lots of fun for the whole family. But if evangelicals want to get religion in the schools, this is what they should know they are getting into. It's all or nothing. Evangelicals typically like things that are all or nothing, so maybe this would appeal to them. But my guess is most evangelicals and orthodox Catholics, Mormons, Adventists won't want religion in the schools under these terms. They want their ideas presented and their ideas alone. Which is precisely the problem.

But I'm open to the idea. It could do a lot to broaden everyone's horizon's, hold up each denomination's claims to greater scrutiny, make us all better informed, and maybe make us all a little more tolerant.

If we don't kill each other in the process.

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