I got a confession to make. For years, I avoided reading the religion sections of weekend papers. The stories were uncritical and dull. They were about children lighting candles or people praying for peace and love.
That’s not why I read stories about religion. Good stories were about social conflict, individual sacrifice, and theological demands. They were about Jews vs. Muslims in the Middle East or Catholics vs. Protestants in Northern Ireland; Mother Teresa helping the poor on the streets of Calcutta; and disputes over what happens in abortion clinics and people do in their bedrooms. For lack of better words, religious stories were not only exciting but also complex.
Since contributing to GR, I now read the religious sections in weekend newspapers. Yet my main criticism of them, for most of their stories anyway, still stands. Take this Washington Post story by Jacqueline Salmon.
The story was about non-Christian religions that teach children their values and beliefs on Sunday. It was really two stories rolled into one, both of which were uncritical celebrations of religion.
The first story was about four religious groups that hold Sunday school for their children:
In the Hindu faith “there is nothing in the tradition which mandates Sunday as particularly sacred,” said Vineet Chander, a spokesman for the Hare Krishna movement. Formally known as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, it is a branch of Hinduism.
But in the United States, Sunday “becomes a practical choice,” Chander said.
Later we read:
The Jewish faith offers Sunday school, even though its Sabbath runs from sundown Friday through sundown Saturday. For Reform and Conservative synagogues, as well as some Orthodox ones, Sunday mornings are a time for younger children to learn about their religion and the Jewish culture in preparation for their bar or bat mitzvahs. …
Sunday religious programs for Muslim children are also a well-established tradition in the United States. The All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS), one of the largest mosques in the D.C. area, offers morning and afternoon sessions for 500 children at its Sterling location, ADAMS spokesman Rizwan Jaka said. Along with studying the Koran, the children learn Arabic, socialize, play sports and do community service work. The usual Islamic day of worship is Friday.
Let it be said that this information is interesting; I did not know each group held Sunday school. But it is not news. As Salmon notes, each group has held Sunday school for years. So why are we presented this information now? It’s confusing.
The story also skirts an issue. Each of the three religious groups presumably changed its days to educate children. None worship on Sunday. Yet now they hold school on Sunday. Were there any dissenters over this change? Were there disputes?
The second story is about secular humanists expanding their number of Sunday schools:
In May, the American Humanist Association announced the launch of the Kochhar Humanist Education Center in Northwest D.C. to develop a curriculum for the humanist equivalent of Sunday school.
Children, and eventually adults, will learn about the history of secular humanism; the basics of critical thinking; values and virtues like humility, empathy and courage; the basics of evolution; conflict resolution; human rights; and the separation of church and state.
They’ll also receive a solid grounding in the world’s religions, said Bob Bhaerman, education coordinator for the Kochhar center.
At the Washington Ethical Society, a humanist religious community on 16th Street NW with about 300 members, Sunday school is already well established. Children start in nursery school and progress through high school.
The overarching goal: “Children learn to be kind and fair and get an opportunity to create a better world for all,” Sunday school director Peggy Goetz said.
Unlike the first story, this story was news. Yet it, too, is uncritical. Are secular humanists likely to succeed? Are they tapping into religious needs that traditional religions ignore? The story needed a scholar or academic.
No good religious news story is read before bedtime. It’s the type of story that can be argued over at dinner .. provide such a thing is allowed of course.