What (if anything) should public schools teach children about religion?

I recently received an email seeking my contribution to a book wherein people prominent in various fields answer the question, “What (if anything) should public schools teach children about religion?” Among those who have already submitted their answer are former US President Jimmy Carter; John Hennessy (president, Stanford University); Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; Katharine Jefferts Schori (Presiding Bishop, Episcopal Church USA); Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion); Bernie Siegel, M.D. (and bestselling author); Jon Kyl (senate minority whip); Susan N. Herman (president, American Civil Liberties Union); Rabbi Norman Lamm (chancellor, Yeshiva University); Bob Coy (pastor, Calvary Chapel of Fort Lauderdale); and, I think we can all agree, most importantly, Julie Newmar, the original Catwoman.

Clearly, the editor of this book mistook me for someone actually august. Before he gets a chance to discover his mistake, though, I will send him my answer to his great question, and maybe it will accidentally end up in the book anyway. Stranger things have happened, I suppose.

What (if anything) should public schools teach children about religion?

The idea that kids in public schools shouldn’t be educated about religion is so stupid that I can’t even think about it without wanting to ram my head into a wall. Every upperclassman in every high school in the country should be required to take a class in world religions. Duh.

If ever it fell upon me to teach such a class, I would begin the first day of lessons by saying something like this:

Hello, relatively young people. Welcome to this state-funded, federally mandated class on religion. Isn’t it wonderful that we live in a country whose citizenry is not so amazingly dense that they actually think it would be okay to not teach young people about religion?

Whoo-hoo, America!

Anyway, about religion.

The reason that throughout all time people have adhered to all kinds of religions is because, as you are no doubt aware, life is insanely, unfathomably weird. The entire life system in which we’re all basically stuck makes barely any sense at all.

Think about it. First you have this massive, total nothingness. Then you just arrive, crying, hungry, and so helpless a geriatric Chihuahua with no teeth could kill you. Then you live as many years as you do, all the while trying to figure out what the whole deal is with life. Then you die, which, as far as you know, brings you right back to massive, total nothingness.

So, on your notes, write: Life = unknown blank, freakishly challenging life, death, unknown blank. Same for everybody.

Right? Nothing; crazy; nothing. That is life, in three words.

As you’ve also no doubt noticed, lots of stuff about life is awesome. Birds are pure greatness. Water: also a total winner. Birds in water always makes for a nice photograph. Music is also excellent. Being in love is fantastic; people love being in love. And good thing, or all our songs would be about birds in water.

But no matter how spectacularly rewarding life is or gets, the part of it that never at all feels right is the part where you, and I, and everybody else in the world has no idea what happens to people after they die.

Maybe you’ll burn alive forever. Maybe you’ll get reincarnated as an unfortunately ambitious squid. Maybe nothing at all will happen: maybe it’s just lights out, show’s over, you’re worm chow. Maybe you’ll get little wings, and spend eternity sitting on a cloud playing a harp, the sweet tones of which will probably stop driving you crazy after seventeen or so million years. Maybe you’ll end up a ghost haunting a lunch truck somewhere. Who knows?

Exactly nobody, that’s who. And that is the problem. You can assume that you know what happens to you after you die. You can believe that you know. You can hope that you know. But you can’t actually know in the way that we usually mean that word: it’s not empirically verifiable; it’s not a fact you can point to, and say, “I told you! Harp music! Bring earplugs!” If there is a God, he or she is definitely not showing their post-death cards. In the entire history of humankind, not once has a person come back from the dead, and gone, “Hey up there! I used to be Carl Mettnick, the barber from Cincinatti! Now I’m a potato bug! Reincarnation is real! I wish it weren’t! Don’t squish me!” No human has ever shown up three months after they died, going, “Turns out it’s tuba music! Can you believe it? I have pictures!”

Nothing like that has ever happened. And it’s not likely to this week.

The complete and impenetrable blank that exists at the end of every lifetime means that we are all forced to spend our lives ignorant of a knowable, clear context in which to understand our lives. We don’t know what if any existence we had before we were born, and we sure don’t know what’s going to happen to us after we die. And that fact makes you, and me, and all people everywhere acutely, profoundly, organically uncomfortable. To whatever degree we’re consciously aware of it (and mostly I think we’re not, since we do have to function in life), it renders the whole system we’re in too open-ended for comfort; it’s too loose, too mysterious about too much that’s too important.

It makes life, in a word, frightening. Not knowing what’s going to happen to you after you die is one hundred percent, fully unsettling—not to say terrifying.

And what do any of us need when we’re afraid?

We need comfort. We need security.

We need to know that everything is going to be all right.

Providing exactly that sort of comfort is the purpose and function of religion. That’s what religion does; that’s what religion is.

A religion provides to its adherents answers to all of the big, primary questions about life to which most people desire answers.

Who am I? What’s my core identity? Why was I made? Who made me? Who made the world?

And what, oh what, will happen to me after I die?

A fleshed-out, comprehensive, time-cured theology of a religion is certainly not the only means of arriving at satisfactory answers to those sorts of gargantuan life questions, by the way. Lots of people get all the spiritual and psychological comfort they need from agnosticism or atheism. And we’ll talk later about that. Suffice it to say for now that science—and the entire logical system upon which it is based—really is the gift that keeps on giving.

But for a lot of people—for, by far, most people—it’s through religion that they find solace from so much of life that is so brutal and frightening—as well as affirmation of so much of life that feels so, well, divine.

The idea of a benevolent, fair, all-powerful God comforts people in their despair, informs their highest inspirations, and generally helps and guides them at all times in between. Living inside the reality of an overarching divine power is always a serviceable context for understanding and processing the vagaries of life.

Religion really works for people, is the bottom line. That’s why they like it.

Next time I want to talk to you about two things. The first is that I am not saying that religions are man-made. I’ve been talking about the functions of religions, not their origins. Next time we’ll talk about how reasonable it is, or isn’t, to posit that the entire concept of God is based on anything but human imagination and need.

I, for instance, am a Christian. Does that mean that I’m insane, or in some way willingly deluded? Must anyone be who believes in God?

The second thing we’ll discuss is something that I first want you to guess at. The next time we meet, I’d like you to offer at least a decent guess to this question: What quality of any given religion can easily render it the most dangerous thing in the world?

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter. If you shop at Amazon, help support John by entering the site through this link right here--Amazon will then send John 3-4% of the cost of anything you buy before exiting the site again.

 

  • Linda

    I totally agree that a course on world religions should be required. Just think of the possibility of it also teaching tolerance for others beliefs along the way!

  • http://kenreads.wordpress.com Ken Leonard

    Schools should teach that religion is a major influence, and should teach some of the basics of key religions. Inarguably, the Protestant Reformation is a big historical event. The Catholic Church is a major world power. Islam, Hinduism, Budhism, shamanism, and several other belief systems must be understood in order to understand world events, history, or both.

    It’s as fundamental as geography, methinks.

    In order to work, though, the schools need to take an objective approach. To say the least, I’m glad that I’m not writing that curriculum.

    As to guessing … Not sure how to put it. What makes any religion dangerous is when we feel that ours is right, everyone else is wrong, and that we have a duty to save the rest of them — whether they like it or not. That’s how you get Usama-style “jihad,” the Spanish Inquisition, burning “witches” at the stake, etc..

    • Kristi

      I agree wholeheartedly with this. One of the best, most interesting courses I ever took in college was about the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. While it was only a one semester course and therefore couldn’t go into great detail on any of the three, it was fascinating, thought provoking, objective and dispelled a lot of myths I’d picked up along the way. I wish I’d had more education about religions in school.

      I also agree with the notion that “my way or the highway” is probably one of the most dangerous things about religions.

      • http://thethreews.wordpress.com Ken Leonard

        I was a religion minor in college, which was VERY enlightening about the world. Oh, yeah … comparitive religion is very interesting stuff.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Murphy/48608610 Mike Murphy via Facebook

    I went to an episcopal middle school and high school so i was required to take a world religions class. It was one of the most positive experiences of my adolescent life. I was also lucky enough to have a teacher who was a reverend, who also just happened to hold about 5 professional degrees(only one of them was theological, actually), so that helped to have someone who was eminently educated, and eminently open minded as a result, teaching the class. I think, that if it’s done in the right tone and manner it can be a good thing, even in a public school(and your faux-introduction is a good place to start from). Where i do think there is a problem with that whole idea, is the fact that I’m very down on the prospects of finding 10′s of 1000′s of the right minded people to teach such a class. The minute it turns in any way towards favoring one belief system over the other, the entire things fails massively.

  • Ellen Kroencke Shanor via Facebook

    So good!

  • Kristi Bente via Facebook

    John, your post seems to be less about what should be taught about religion and more of a justification for religious belief based on a whole lot of “We don’t know, therefore religion.”

  • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

    What makes any religion dangerous is when it believes that it is the single key to the afterlife and when its texts or leaders mandate that unbelievers be either converted or killed.

    I believe that an objective review of the facts and history of all religions would benefit our young people. Even though many might be getting dogma in their home environment, just simply learning what is true and not true about other systems of belief might help them have a healthier perspective. When ignorance abounds, hate easily proliferates.

    • Haedriel

      Objective, yes. Objectivity is good. If we make it obvious that we are NOT trying to covert and that we are NOT trying to say that religion has all the answers, or a particular religion is the only way, then people will be more likely to continue learning about the other faiths. It may also make parents more likely to agree to the teaching of religion if they knew it was all based on objectivity and not conversion.

    • Diana A.

      Love this!

  • Haedriel

    I agree with Linda on this one. I personally believe that one of the issues people have towards religion is complete ignorance about the religion itself. I have rarely met an opponent of religion (be it a particular religion or religion itself) who was really that informed in the subject at all. Often they’re fed a few facts from others, or base all their knowledge of the religion on the religious texts themselves…being an adherent of that religion is so, so much more than that. I think a working knowledge of the hows and the whys would educate more and more people, and hopefully allow those people to disassociate, say, the Westboros from “true” Christans, or the terrorists from “true” Muslims. And to echo Linda’s comment on tolerance…well, so many of us are taught nowadays to tolerate everything under the sun (not that this is a bad thing at all), but when it comes to tolerating other religions, or religion in general, people tend to be quiet or look the other way.

    • Mattos

      Hae, in my opinion, the problem is in teaching to tolerate.

      I believe we should be taught to respect, not to tolerate. This would change a lot how we see things around us.

      • Haedriel

        Good point…I forgot to take into consideration the difference between tolerance and respect.

    • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

      Oh, I once had someone try to tell me she knew more about my religion than I do (I’d been living as a Christian for over ten years) because she took *one* college class on comparative religions and her being an athiest just made her smarter than me and more able to think critically by default – or something.

      What’s weird is that this was an argument over fandom – a comic and animated series and I was trying to convey how I’d *felt* about some of the *symbolism* in it and this person was basically all “This series has to be anti-Christian because I hate Christianity and I like this series.” Turns out I was right and she was wrong, though – the creator of the series said later in an interview that he’d become a Catholic shortly before creating the series, so, yeah, the symbolism was pretty deliberate – and it turns out, *positive.*

      Kind of hard to tell, though. One of the main characters of the series is a priest, but a shady one with dubious morals and a complex backstory. Still.. I’ve felt a Nelson-like “Ha ha!” in me ever since I read that translated interview.

      • LSS

        I would be pretty disturbed if someone had become a catholic on purpose as an adult in this day and information age, without becoming aware of the dubious power politics of the RC church just so they can know what parts of catholicism they are accepting and which they aren’t.

        • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

          The creator of the comic and animated series I mentioned is a Japanese fellow who, reportedly “Converted to Roman Catholicism when he was researching it for his comic, but retains some Buddhist beliefs.” – Which I hear is not all that uncommon in Japan (Not the Catholicism, but the marrying of native religious ideas to other ideas). The guy’s religion might not be what an American Roman Catholic would recognize because of that, and I read about this before the current scandals.

          The comic itself handles religion (both Western and Eastern) in a VERY Japanese way, a very anime/comic book way.

          • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

            Erk, posted too soon….

            The bottom line is that this pretty much puts a nail in the coffin of my opponent’s assertation that the story we both liked was “anti-Christian” just because she liked it and thought all things connected to religion were icky.

            Like she totally missed all the references to “angels,” “Eden” and the priest-character, I guess.

  • Paula

    I just wish it were possible to teach it without boring people to death. And provide a sense of what it really feels like to look out at the world through a particular set of religious glasses. So much teaching of comparative religion falls short. I don’t wake up in the morning and remind myself that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. But that’s always on the test, the one you take to prove you know something about Christiaianty. I assume a Muslim doesn’t wake up with a list of the 5 Pillars scratched on the bathroom mirror either. But somehow we fall short when trying to convey to an outsider what the inside feels like.

    I also wish we could teach religion in a way that was completely sympathetic. So that each week you would think, “wow, I could be a Muslim, I get what’s beautiful about it.” Or “no-no-no, Hinduism, THAT’S it.” And on down through, including atheism. We “teach” the various religions and they all sound silly, don’t they? But lived, they are something else entirely.

    • Diana A.

      “I also wish we could teach religion in a way that was completely sympathetic. So that each week you would think, “wow, I could be a Muslim, I get what’s beautiful about it.” Or “no-no-no, Hinduism, THAT’S it.” And on down through, including atheism. We “teach” the various religions and they all sound silly, don’t they? But lived, they are something else entirely.”

      I so agree with this!

    • http://www.unchainedfaith.wordpress.com Amy

      Yes, yes, yes! I find being with people who have lived something to be much more interesting than just hearing a lecture or reading a book.

    • LSS

      Yeah this is where i don’t think objectivity is so great. and also where i think people *in* the religion should ideally be asked to teach about it. We had a cultural thing at my work about Islam and the way the Imam described the infiniteness of God?! Omygosh it was at once so different from how i had heard it expressed by christians (more poetic) and at the same time nothing i couldn’t agree with. Even my nonreligious sociologist-type colleague was impressed.

      • Paula

        Unfortunately, those of us “in” the religion are often tongue-tied, or wind up falling back on the old platitudes as well. I’ve sat through enough dull “interreligious dialogue” conversations to know it is just plain difficult to do this well, I’m afraid.

        • LSS

          Religious leaders tongue-tied? Where are you from, that you have witnessed such a thing?! (probably kidding… Depending on your answer)

          I didn’t mean laypersons unless they are a kind of expert in both the background of their religion and in explaining it. I guess that’s what John Shore here is, unless i missed the post where he talks about going to seminary.

  • http://www.facebook.com/JohnShoreFans John Shore via Facebook

    Kristi: I just wrote what I would teach on the FIRST day of such a class. At the end of the piece I indicate … the substance still to come.

  • Tracy Smith via Facebook

    It should be taught in a historical and sociological context.

  • Kristi Bente via Facebook

    Ah, OK, I misunderstood, John. Still, I don’t think it’s a class that I would be interested in. I’m not trying to be offensive here but it really looks to me more like apologetics than an objective course of study.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Cutter/1414128915 Michael Cutter via Facebook

    NO to teaching religion in public schools. World religion courses are already offered at most colleges. In my opinion, society would be served better if we taught critical thinking in public schools.

    • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

      Not even in relation to History?

      I don’t think you can understand a history class (even a basic, grade school one) without *some* mention of religion. I mean, do you just pretend that the Crusades didn’t happen? Or that the Egyptians didn’t have all kinds of freaky animal-headed gods and built elaborate tombs to prepare their kings for the Afterlife?

      Oh, and some power that be help you if you study art and art history. After reading the Bible, I understood art history *so much more* than I ever had before. Western art, that is. If you study Eastern Art, you’ll run into Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.

      Dude, I can’t even watch Anime without running into bits of Shinto.

      Religion, in some form or another is just everywhere culturally, even if it’s superficial. I think at least a basic, dry knowledge of it pays. Just because kids learn that something exists and about that something doesn’t mean they’re all going to convert. All it means is that they’ll understand why History and Art are the way they are.

      • Soulmentor

        I agree. Where would the world of music be without the influence of Christianity, for instance. Some of the worlds greatest music exists entirely BECAUSE of Christian influence. The other world religions don’t APPROACH that degree of musical influence.

        • http://www.BuzzDixon.com buzz

          Really? It would be interesting to find out how many African songs have some sort of religious context to them & how they were transformed into blues, jazz, etc.

      • Lymis

        World history would be largely incomprehensible without understanding the sociological role religion and religious authority played in it – and, since religion is often left out of classes, usually IS incomprehensible and becomes just a list of dates and battles.

        With religious authority so tied to so much – often the secular leaders were either appointed by God or seen as gods – religion has played a huge part in history.

        You don’t need to teach theology, and certainly don’t need to try to judge or justify 0r condemn any particular set of beliefs, but leaving religion out of history would be as absurd as leaving national identity out of it, leaving students to wonder just why this or that army got together to attack that one. (They were bored?)

        And yes, at least the basic themes need to be included in studies of art, music, and literature. For that matter, it hasn’t been immaterial in the history of the pure sciences, either. Remember Galileo?

      • LSS

        Exactly.

  • Wayne Johnson via Facebook

    Great column John, thanks! :)

  • John Lash via Facebook

    I agree that such a class could be beneficial, but I don’t like the idea of the government providing it, especially if it were mandated. Teach it in a historical and sociological context, with respect to the fact that none is superior or has a special claim on authority. That will be hard enough to sell where I live.

  • http://www.facebook.com/JohnShoreFans John Shore via Facebook

    Krist: I don’t know how I could have been more clearly objective in my treatment (thus far) of the subject matter. Anyhoo…..

  • http://www.BuzzDixon.com buzz

    Serious answer? Get the guys who draw up Dungeons & Dragons handbooks to draft the course. They can do it objectively & entertainingly. (This is not snark; I write as a Christian & a former employee of TSR)

  • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

    I’d be a little careful about talking about “fear of death” as a reason for religion, if only because I’ve been berated by too many hardline online athiests over it. Then again, I think the talk that some of them have of “not fearing death” is false – I think the most vocal ones fear it more than they let on and saying “I’m not afraid!” is a way of puffing out their chests to shout the monster away. Meanwhile, bullying the “weaker kids on the playground” who admit to fear also makes them feel big.

    All I know is that even when I was doubting the existance of Heaven once, I risked my life to do what I felt was the right thing, so I, for one, know that the “You only do good for brownie points in Heaven” idea is false, at least for me. I’m very big on internalized morality and the idea of courage.

    I remember how ripped into I was once when I shared an idea I’ve been using in my fiction – an “I don’t believe in oblivion even if there is no real afterlife because our brains cannot perceive oblivion – they aren’t built for it.” I couldn’t even share *that* without ridicule. It’s like, they KNOW that there’s DARKNESS and want EVERYONE TO HAVE IT or something. (I’m only talking about a class of pushy people here, I’m certainly not talking about all non-believers. I know too many that are cool and cool-headed).

    I think that would bring forth the “dangerous to the world” religious idea, one that one doesn’t have to be religious to have: Certainty. Certainty about the purpose and meaning of existance. If you are absolutely *certain* that “the purpose and meaning of human existance is this or that* you run the risk of trying to force people who don’t agree with your meaning into it or, alternately, to serve you because if they don’t share your meaning, they’re not fully-human, anyway and need to know their place. That’s how wars happen.

    Haunting a lunch truck doesn’t sound too bad – so long as the people who ran it gave their resident ghost an offering of tacos now and again. If I have to listen to harp music, I hope someonebody up there knows “The Ballad of the Goddess” from The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword it’s a very pretty song that can be played with your Wii! (If you’ve missed me, that’s where I’ve been – videogaming. I’m on a quest)!

    Congratulations, by the way, on being asked to be a part of a book with lots of famous people. If I were asked, I wouldn’t be able to contribute due to the heart attack I’d have over it, or my head literally exploding from the excitement.

    • Soulmentor

      I’d have a problem with being in the same company as Senator Jon Kyl.

      • vj

        Yes, but think about all the people who would buy the book because Kyl (or whomever) is listed as a contributor – and then they get to read John Shore for the first time ;-) Might blows their minds right open!

    • LSS

      *did* miss you here, actually.

      Aren’t there a couple of religions or belief systems where certainty is warned against in the very basic teachings? I don’t know a lot about Bahai, do they believe in lots of other religions’ holy people/things/ideas with absolute certainty, or do they just give you a choice about which other ideas you should include? Or am i just mixed up? Then there’s the thing in Buddhism where if a person says they have the absolute truth, even if it’s the Buddha himself, you have to get the h*ll outta Dodge. And then there’s the UU, where you can believe anything or nothing. So i think maybe there are some religions/systems that are at least less susceptible to the whole certainty curse, no?

      • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

        Yes. Shadsie got a new videogame in her favorite series and is ethralled. Might not be seeing her around much for a while. You know what the saddest thing is? I probably know more about the religion of the fictional land of Hyrule than I do about some real life religions. I don’t think I could tell you a thing about Sihkism, for example, yet I could rattle on about the Three Goddesses and the Triforce forever.

        As for certitude, yeah, some ways teach us not to be certain, but I think “certainty” is a trap that humans often fall into. It’s very easy to. We all think our individual takes on the world are right at any given moment – even if we have a more ambigious view, we function as if we know what we’re doing. Hey, sometimes I wonder if reality is “real” yet I function like I’m living and not dreaming. Religious certainty is a dangerous trap in that’s easy for some people to fall prey to – to be absoutely sure that “God said this” or “God hates this thing that I hate,” and etc. Same for the “There’s no God” thing.

        And to me, the ones who squeal the loudest either way that “everyone must be as they are” strike me as the most insecure in their worldview, really. If the mere *existance* of people who differe from you is enough to set your teeth on edge, look in the mirror for a little bit and work yourself out.

      • vj

        I missed you too! but, have fun with your new game :-)

  • Kristi Bente via Facebook

    First, please do let me know if I’m at all out of line and I’ll back out of this discussion. It is not my intent to be an asshole. Anyway, if you are teaching a course about religions, and your first course is “Why do people believe?” I think that a more objective approach would be to discuss various reasons that people believe, not just a focus on one that in essence is, “We don’t know; therefore religion.” Reasons for belief are as wildly varied as individuals are yet there are commonalities. You’ve hit on one, the notion that there is something more after death. But there are others such a cultural inculcation, influence of family (both in positive and negative ways), life events, psychological motivators, philosophical questions, such as “what is the purpose of life?” or “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and others that I can’t think of off the top of my head. Ugh. I’m getting too long winded. I guess what it boils down to for me is that there’s a whole lot more going on with why people believe. I do realize that you are actually writing a blog and not a text book, but the focus of your blog as an opening class makes me twitchy. I come away with the impression that people believe because of ignorance. While I am an atheist myself, I just can’t cotton to the notion that religious beliefs basically boil down to, “I don’t know, therefore God.” Perhaps I’m reading to much into it.

    • http://www.BuzzDixon.com buzz

      @Kristi — for me, religion isn’t something I turn to b/c I have questions about the world around me; for that there’s science & art. Religion for me is a connection with something — someONE — outside the material realm. It is a bonding not only with the Creator of everything but His creation as well. Contrary to Mark Twain, faith isn’t believing in something I know ain’t so, faith is an ongoing conversation with the divine.

      • Kristi

        @buzz, that is somewhat similar to the beliefs of a friend of mine or at least what I understand of them. Her beliefs are based upon what she has described to me as an overwhelming sense of the numinous, of something OTHER, of being connected through that numinous other to everything around her and feeling that on the whole, whatever the other might actually be, that other loves.

    • LSS

      I understood this simulated first lesson to be about “why it has generally been useful, throughout history, for humans to believe in something”, not individual reasons for belief. I think anything that people mention as their individual reasons for belief can be summed up very neatly under the “crazy” of life. Actually i am jealous that i didn’t think of such a neat way to explain it and am very tempted to steal bits of this lesson when i explain certain things in class (Day of the Dead springs to mind).

      • LSS

        Sorry, i meant, any of the *other* reasons other than the stuff about death/afterlife/nothingness.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cindy-Ranta-Emerson/1496505835 Cindy Ranta Emerson via Facebook

    I agree with those who mentioned teaching it historically. Our kids have had introduction to Jewish holidays and kwanzii. I wonder about learning about Islam. The more we understand other people the less we fear them and their beliefs. There is so much history and culture to be learned from different religions.

  • Diana A.

    Stephen Prothero wrote a book on this subject–”Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know–and Doesn’t”. I totally agree that kids do need a religous literacy course so that they can understand how religion has influenced and continues to influence society–our own and others. And I agree with others in this thread that the most dangerous attitude in religion is the “my way or the highway” attitude.

  • Soulmentor

    *******What quality of any given religion can easily render it the most dangerous thing in the world?*******

    Self-righteous certitude…….combined with power lust and a means to manifest it; any power, whether it’s a single person with a single weapon, or a fanatic with an army, a televangelist with a TV program, a parent with a dependent gay child…..add your own ideas. They are myriad.

    Self-righteous certitude combined with power lust and the means to manifest it.

  • Michael Davis via Facebook

    Excellent John. Thanks.

  • Kristi Bente via Facebook

    By the way, lest it be lost in the fact that I’m quickly hammering out walls of text here, I fully support teaching about religions in an objectively and historically. While at the same time, I acknowledge that’s a helluva tightrope to walk.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tony.l.churchill Tony Lee Churchill via Facebook

    Religion should stay in the churches. Each, however, to foster understanding of others & their similarities. It’s when we find common ground that the world begins to strive toward peace, love, joy, fulfillment; the fibre witch all truth-seeking & spiritually-based belief systems share in common. Leave school for math, arts & sciences. Otherwise, all you’d introduce (as someone has said) is apologetics. Then you get into whose religion gets to have input, & whether to teach “Intelligent Design” alongside (if not as) science. The two should remain as separate as religion & government should.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Laura-Beth-Gatzke/1741837953 Laura Beth Gatzke via Facebook

    I took a comparative religions course at Bethany Lutheran College and it was focused on how all the other religions were wrong. I am still healing from that class!

    • LSS

      We had several semesters of that at my college. Granted, i think some of the teachers were more open to the best side of each religion or system than others. But almost nobody (of the religion teachers, anyway) actively helped us to be.

  • Diane Re via Facebook

    @Kristi Bente: I’m having a difficult time seeing where apologetics are involved in these graphs. If World Religions share anything at all it is to answer these questions that John has proposed. How they do it, the extent to which family is involved or culture – those are all pretty specific. Apologetics *defend* religion, and there’s no defending religion here just explaining why religions tend to exist in the first place (on the first day of a class).

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nina-Kalfas/100001918732993 Nina Kalfas via Facebook

    Great discussion! I was brought up in what I would call a Christian cult. “We are the only true church and everyone else is going to hell”. I asked too many questions and got into too much trouble; however, what the experience gave me was the desire to learn as much as I could about what other religions believe. (Spent five years living in India) And I am grateful. In short–I would love to teach a course like this in high school. Based on history, culture, people, language and what we have in common. It would be great if we could understand one another–really listen to one another without immediately interjecting our own opinions.. We might just learn something! ;) That would be Heaven on Earth….

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-S-Rebar/1806118556 Michael S. Rebar via Facebook

    Generic, flat comparisons is all they should do. Zero editorial or bias from the teacher who should know better anyway. A nice world overview of the mess of religion we got on Earth. If you as an individual develops faith and identifies with one religion more then others then persue more knowledge on your own or within that faith community (church, fellowship, Bible, Koran…etc). If high schools want to allow like-minded student to start a club after school cool, but again zero editorial about ‘other’ religions as they compare with theirs. I think the GOP could learn something from that notion as well. Ultimately the parents at the school age level are responsible for ‘pushing’ or ‘forcing’ a certain faith or religion on their child, not the school.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-S-Rebar/1806118556 Michael S. Rebar via Facebook

    p.s. my parents attempted to make me catholic for 18 years, but by year 19 I was firmly a non-denominational christian. For me I love and care about every human not just Christian ones….so i say let the kids grow up and see the world for themselves and just offer an overview as an educator. Again let the parents, like mine, attempt to put a ‘religion’ on their young growing child.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Donna-Jackson-Köhlin/1253033840 Donna Jackson-Köhlin via Facebook

    michael- another recovering catholic here ( whose mother secretly baptized my kids in the kitchen sink for fear for their neglected souls)- we’ve offered our kids religious exploration- they know ot’s there but not interested or ready. if we put them through the motions i doubt they’d have any additional interest or benefit. time will tell…

  • Richard W. Fitch

    Is that all there is? Is this just a teaser? How many installments for this project? Can we get some answers and not just questions?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      No. Sorry. This is a Montessori school.

  • http://sus4th.wordpress.com Paul

    I have a different take on this, as a former English major. I think religions should be taught in public school so that students understand what the members of different religions believe. I also think it really informs and enriches a lot of literature. For instance, without knowing the crucifixion and resurrection story of Jesus, many stories (Harry Potter, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Carrie) carry a lot less meaning and weight for a reader. I assume there are works like that in many other cultures as well.

    • LSS

      as a fellow literature major, i agree with you. i also think the cultural-background reason goes right along with the simulated first lesson in the original post.

  • Kristi Bente via Facebook

    @Diane Re: Fair enough. In re-reading the article for about the fifth time, I can see your point that it really isn’t an apologetic article. Here’s a moment of irrationality on my part; it just “feels” that way to me. I think that perhaps it shifted around some of the junk in my attic in that John’s explanations for religions have actually been tossed at me by apologists and proselytizers as reasons why I should believe. It’s true that John did not do that at all yet the emotional part of my brain went, “Uh oh, here we go….”

  • Sean Patrick Brennan via Facebook

    awesome once again, John, and kudos to you for not just pushing your Christianity on the subject (as a fellow Christian I know that’s not easy) but instead just analyzing the topic and question at hand with an expert commentary

  • http://www.facebook.com/tony.l.churchill Tony Lee Churchill via Facebook

    There were some helpful teachers in my schools who didn’t (per se) teach religion (there) as moral base. What they did, instaed, was to introduce varied ideas & how they’ve played out sociologically in history. One taught us different literary allusion to several religions’ texts. These things broadened our horizons & perspective, & I’ve always appreciated it.

  • LSS

    Do you agree that ideally, while “the purpose religion serves in human life” can be probably taught just the same by anybody because it’s a sort of sociological truth, each religion should if possible by presented by someone who is an adherent and a specialist in that religion? Same goes for nonreligious and a-religious systems. if guest speakers are a possibility, of course…

    • Lymis

      Depends on the purpose of the course. Personally, I’d agree that in a public school, all the religions covered should get equal weight and seriousness, so either a guest lecture by an adherent, or a dispassionate explanation from a non-adherent.

      What would be inappropriate is a single teacher who serves as a special advocate or opponent of any particular religion(s). Ideally, nobody should be able to tell precisely what religion the main teacher might or might not adhere to.

      • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

        I’d love to think that we could address this in a public school setting. I think studying the purpose of faith and what even having faith tries to solve or answer, etc. could be interesting (though perhaps too sophisticated a concept for high school).

        But your point about teachers is what concerns me – religion is about meaning and validation for so many. It literally defines the world, who is good, who is bad, what we trust, what we don’t. It would take a very committed teacher to be able to remain objective if s/he had a substantial faith in a specific religion. It’s often the filter through which we see the world, I’m not sure it’s possible to take it entirely off though there are outstanding teachers who are undoubtedly, much more mature and committed to kids than I am who would do beautifully. I think it would be a fascinating experiment but I do wonder how well it would scale.

        • ChasRip

          Bingo. If John Shore could teach all public school region courses everywhere, I’d sign on. But, how many of our mediocre public schools would just use this as a chance to proselytize, basically turning a noble concept into Sunday school with a few minutes about Judaism (as long as the message is the “Jews killed Jesus”)? It’s a wonderful idea but our society, unfortunately, can’t be trusted to do this fairly. That is why our Founding Fathers made separation of church and state the first sentence of the first amendment of the Bill of Rights. They really didn’t believe that intelligent discourse is possible when the topic is religion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cathy.elings Cathy Elings via Facebook

    NOTHING other than what the U.S. Constitution says about it. No religious teaching in public schools. No private schools ever. Teach your religion at home and at church or wherever you gather to worship. Practice your good manners and ethics in public. Preach and pray in the appropriate places and/or times.

    • http://www.BuzzDixon.com buzz

      So you’re saying ignore something that to one degree or another influences the political & cultural opinions of 85% of the American population?

      • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

        Pretending it doesn’t exist is like abstience education, isn’t it?

        Kids are gonna learn about sects eventually. Best not leave them confused.

        • Diana A.

          Oh that’s just perfect, Shadsie! I’m reposting John’s blog entry with your comment right now!

        • vj

          Yay! Shadsie’s back! I agree with Diana, this is just perfect.

    • Nicole

      No private schools ever? What does that mean?

  • Mindy Miller via Facebook

    THANK YOU! The lack of fear in your faith is remarkable, John. This was a pure delight to read. (Did you used to be a teacher? If so, you were good!) I’m pretty sure most fundamental religionists would be unwilling to have that introduction given to their kids. It gives too much room for thinking on one’s own. I could be wrong. That would be nice.

    • Melisa Cullen

      I attended an all-girl Catholic high school and very much enjoyed fullfling my senior year religion credit by taking “Alternative Religions”. And before you assume, it was not a “here’s why other religions are wrong” class. We were taught other belief systems and talked about how these beliefs affect people’s choices in life. This type of course should at least be offered in public schools, same as psychology, sociology, and social studies. Since religion bears greatly on some people’s decision-making, those wishing to be effective in the world should study it.

      • vj

        “This type of course should at least be offered in public schools, same as psychology, sociology, and social studies. Since religion bears greatly on some people’s decision-making, those wishing to be effective in the world should study it.”

        Yes! As someone else mentioned, schools should teach critical thinking skills. There is no reason that thinking critically about religion should not be included…

  • Diana Avery via Facebook

    @Kristi: “I think that perhaps it shifted around some of the junk in my attic in that John’s explanations for religions have actually been tossed at me by apologists and proselytizers as reasons why I should believe. It’s true that John did not do that at all yet the emotional part of my brain went, ‘Uh oh, here we go….’” I totally get that! It’s one of the reasons why as a Christian, I hate proselytizing. I love chocolate mousse, but if someone was trying to shove it down my throat, I’d throw up…and probably be turned off of it for a long time. People need to be permitted the dignity of figuring things out for themselves.

  • Diana Avery via Facebook

    I do, however, support the teaching of religious literacy in schools. Religion impacts society–our own and other people’s–too much for us to be ignorant about it. If you have not yet had the chance to read Stephen Prothero’s book “Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know–and Doesn’t”, I can definitely recommend it.

  • Allie

    The Christian religion in particular claims that one guy, at least, DID come back from the dead and say “Remember me? The one with the really memorable way of bread-breaking?” In front of really quite a lot of people who then testified that it happened.

    I was fortunate enough in college to take a New Testament Bible class from a Jewish scholar. It was wonderful, because there was no bullshit layered on top – he had no doctrinal dog in the race – and also because his standard of scholarship was so high. Parents wouldn’t go for it, but I would love there to be a standard class, “What people who don’t belong to it think of your parents’ religion.” If your faith can’t survive knowing that most outsiders think you’re a ninny, then it wasn’t worth having to begin with.

    • Lymis

      Ignoring all the other wonderful aspects of your post, and the insightful truths you mention, I intend to seriously dust off the word “ninny” in my personal vocabulary. I can see it coming in very handy in the relative future.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      See, Allie, a lot of people would just assume that Jesus Christ was more than just “a guy,” see? So they’d allow me that little leeway.

      sheesh.

      • Allie

        Mmm, well, except that the whole “fully human” part is as important as the “fully God” part. But considering that the early church went round and round over this one, I’ll concede that there’s room for reasonable people to disagree. ;)

        • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

          I don’t understand what you’re saying – is your premise that Jesus wasn’t fully God and fully man?

          • Allie

            I was saying the opposite – that Jesus being fully man meant that in the sense of coming back to life, he WAS “just a guy,” that was the whole point.

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            Except the central tenant of Christianity is that Jesus was actually fully man and fully God. Anyway. Moving on.

          • Allie

            Dude, we AGREE. Why is this so difficult for you? All I was saying is that saying Jesus doesn’t count is leaving out the fact that he was fully human AS WELL AS fully God.

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            Whoa.

          • Donald Rappe

            I’m late to the conversation as usual. But, that statement of John’s left a ringing sound in my mental ear for just the reason you point out. Without understanding the human figure at the center of christianity as being truly human, I would not be able to find a way to hold the faith. I like the hymn verse that prays “Master, teach us so to rise!”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mark-Fisher/100000120001424 Mark Fisher via Facebook

    Comparitive religion and history should be taught in public schools. It very seldom is. Very sad. As per your question about what quality in religion is most dangerous, I sense the mirrored qualities of arrogance and intolerance with ignorance not far behind.

  • James Glines via Facebook

    this is a great question. one very frustrating event is when your kid comes home and either a student or a teacher has introduced religion either innocently or intentionally and now you are playing catch up. Education should be about knowledge, less about belief. We have other institutions and venues for opinion. The model for giving culture to our kids is shrinking, and parents or a parent should have first dibs. I think the key is WHEN the child is ready, and age is not an indicator for that. When the child starts asking those questions about what those buildings are in town, why do people have 70 churches and no homeless shelters and so on, they are beginning to be ready. A school handing out one version of religion or doctrine is not ‘kosher’ with me, pun intended.

  • LSS

    The danger of attempting to offer such a course in real life public schools would be that the absolutely certain folks wouldn’t want their kids getting confused with other beliefs and the dreaded relativism… Then other parents would be afraid of proselytism(sp?) or whatever.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kimberly-J-Edwards/1248096635 Kimberly J Edwards via Facebook

    love, love, love it!!!!

  • Diane Re via Facebook

    I understand, Kristi that happens to everybody. I write a bit myself so am particularly attuned to those (like John) who write quite carefully with great intention, only to have people insert meaning that he didn’t write. I’m a bit of a stickler for that but like art or anything that’s good, it can often be a mirror that reflects more of us than we sometimes like to admit!

  • Dirgham Tamas

    I attended a high school (private, Episcopalian) where everyone was required to take a year-long course in theology our senior year. You know what? It was seriously one of the most awesome courses I took there, way up there with Astrophysics, where we all got to play with the huge telescope and get our minds blown by the universe.

    We started out by exploring the reasons why someone would turn to religion, and what they would get out of it. We started out by reading Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha for a picture of one individual’s spiritual development, Freud’s essay “The Future of an Illusion,” Lasch’s essay, “The Illusion of Disillusionment, ” Rudolph Otto’s book “The Idea of the Holy,” Mircea Eliade’s book “The Sacred and the Profane,” and Paul Tillich’s book “The Dynamics of Faith.” We then went on to read the major texts from different religions. We read the Bhagavad Gita, the Tao Te Ching, and parts of the New Testament.

    The idea of the course wasn’t so much to teach us what other religions believe, but to get each of us more in touch with our own religious experience, how we respond to the beliefs and rituals, and then get us to relate to a range of religions which are very different from the background that most of us were coming from.

    It was a really great course. It’s stayed with me through all the years since I graduated, and I still go back and reread some of the books off the reading list from time to time. I wish everyone had the chance to take a course like this.

    • Donald Rappe

      That reading list impresses me. I’ve read all but three of them and they have played an important role in shaping my life and thought. It shows the power there can be in a private rather than public education. From my point of view, all education is necessarily values oriented and therefore religious. The choice is between acknowledging this or pretending it isn’t. Our country has chosen to pretend education can be religion free, and as a result, unanswerable paradoxes such as the subject of this post are the result. We wink away the fact that the public education system is the established religion of our country and use it to price a consciously thought out religious education out of the reach of most citizens. Thus we violate the establishment clause of the first amendment while simultaneously effectively prohibiting free exercise.

  • http://www.facebook.com/becky.backert Becky Willingham Backert via Facebook

    The question is, why not teach religion? It’s the evolution of man’s search for meaning. Oops, I said evolution, that word doesn’t go over well either.

  • John Thompson

    What should be taught is perhaps how to ask the right questions. Not whether a particular religion is right but what is the basis for a satisfying life. How to look critically at ways of thinking, and to question how others are trying to make them think. That would mean to question the basis of all thought systems be they religion or science. It goes back to a certain philosopher who asked questions with the hope of helping his students to “Know thy self.”

    • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

      This is exactly what I think as well.

    • Mindy

      Yes. Critical Thinking. What a concept! Great comment.

  • http://parentingatrans.blogspot.com Gretchen

    I would love my son to learn of other religions in school. It’s in world history classes. Many things in history were based on sides of religion. Ireland and France had wars based on Protestant v. Catholic. That’s taught in school. But to have an unbiased teacher in every school teach a class on all religions would be wonderful. Parents need to get out of the thinking that their kids’ learning about other religions or lifestyles will make them want to be part of that religion or lifestyle. Am I on a soapbox?? Sorry.

  • Pam Martin via Facebook

    Religion can and, in my opinion, should be taught in public schools. In my experience as an upper elementary school teacher and, now a college professor, students are pretty open to learning more about the beiefs of others. It helps them to make sense of world events and the cultures of others. As long as an instructor does not teach that certain religions are superior (or inferior) to others, religion can be taught or included in the curriculum.

  • Pam Martin via Facebook

    Beiefs = beliefs….sorry!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gretchen-Holtz/1426535809 Gretchen Holtz via Facebook

    We need to stop protecting our children by not giving them what they need to learn in this world. Knowledge of religion is one of those things. This world is so loaded w/ instant knowledge, that it’s important to give a non-biased approach. As for your last question? Self-Righteousness and ignorance, which gives way to starting wars in the name of God(?). That’s what came to mind.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cindy-Ranta-Emerson/1496505835 Cindy Ranta Emerson via Facebook

    As many religions as possible should be covered. As neutrally as possible. I am glad my kids are learning about all kinds of religions and cultures. I wonder if we are more informed can another jim jones have as much power? Would there be more peace? Acceptance? I find it fascinating.

  • http://frenchizal.blogspot.com Jenni

    “What quality of any religion can render it the most dangerous thing in the world?”

    The belief that they, and they alone, are completely correct in what they teach and practice. The idea that only their version of events is valid and everyone else is just plain wrong or stupid or misguided.

    • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

      This is a beautiful summary, thank you! I love this site for how so many of you help me formulate my thoughts.

    • Donald Rappe

      Right. We should stand in awe of the Absolute, not come to believe that we ARE the Absolute. This is what is forbidden by the first commandment.

  • Donald Rappe

    My belief that a non-denominational public school system is a complete violation of the 1′st amendment makes it impossible for me to think constructively about this question.

    • Gary

      Huh?

  • HMJ

    I just want your words. I think about things like this all the time, but my words NEVER come out like yours. You are brilliant. You take my deepest fears and curiosities and you guide me through understanding them. I am so, so grateful I found this website.

    “What quality of any given religion can easily render it the most dangerous thing in the world?”

    I would have to say it is that certain quality of religion that for some reason shuts down common sense. I am on a long road to coming to terms with my faith, but my biggest hill to climb is getting past the ignorant followers of the religion I am trying to grasp. As though religion and logic CANNOT go hand in hand. In my experience, through ignorance flows hatred, and hatred is the very thing that shreds apart what religion means to do-give one a sense of peace and meaning.

    But maybe that wouldn’t be considered dangerous. Maybe that’s just profoundly annoying. :)

  • MaryJo Boyle via Facebook

    John, you are an amazing thinker and writer!

  • Gordon

    Excellent, John Shore.

    I don’t think teaching a class like this in public schools would violate the separation of church and state at all, do you? The separation doctrine in the U.S. Constitution relates to the Federal government establishing a religion and prohibits the government from interfering with the free practice of any religion, not teaching a class in public schools about a multitude of religions around the world.

    Two things would have made my public education more “educational” and intellectually enriching:

    1) Courses like the one you describe about the origin and history of various religions and theologies around the world.

    2) REAL world and U.S. history courses. Unfortunately, and I don’t think my experience was all that unusual, history courses in public schools are oriented toward American exceptionalism, which in my opinion is just plain ridiculous.

  • Susan

    I agree. ReligionSSS should be taught in schools. Children should have a basic understanding of ALL the world’s religions, so they can make an intelligent, knowledgeable choice! I get sad when I think about dying, but I don’t worry about it or pine for it as a way to escape this life! This life is wonderful!! It’s what we make of it that counts. I get really frustrated when “Christians” (or other religious adherents) complain about this life, blame all their troubles on “Satan” and all their benefits are from “God”….like they are incapable of taking any credit for anything they do or anything that happens to them! If more people would take responsibility for their own life and actions, this world would be a better place. The joy of this life is found in good friends and solid relationships….our children (if we have them), our pets, etc. Yes, people can and do hurt each other, but we must value and nurture those friends that are there for us….give them the benefit of being human (so are EACH of us!) when they seem to fail or neglect us. They have their own lives and their own concerns (as WE each do) and it doesn’t mean they don’t love us or want to be with us! Just as each of us wants others to forgive our failings, we should be willing to forgive theirs. I’m not including those people who have no thought or concern for others….not those people who are so self-centered, selfish and egocentric that they are incapable of giving to you!

    Value this life…it’s truly the ONLY life we are guaranteed!! If there is something after death, that’s marvelous! But I don’t think God put us here to whine and pine for life after death! We are here for a reason, and we need to accept this life as being a gift and a joy and squeeze what wondrous things we can from it!

    There….that’s my thoughts….and I’m sticking to them!!!! LOL

    Have a great New Year!!!

  • ChasRip

    I’m not religious at all and would have hated the idea of taking a religion class in high school. But, I do agree that the topic is an important part of world history, and having a basic understanding of the various religions in the world, and the basic tenants and historical context would make sense. I think that kids get some of that in high school today, but more wouldn’t be bad, if it were done as John suggests (especially with the emphasis on what religions get wrong and why). I don’t know about a whole class, but maybe some focused work in the history or social studies curriculum would work.

    However, I have some serious reservations about our ability to incorporate this topic into public schools. In a world where we can’t even agree whether evolution should be taught, can you imagine what happens when the Imam shows up as a guest speaker? How would we determine the qualifications of someone to teach a religion course? Would we have to investigate their own beliefs? And, John, just how do you think public schools will handle homosexuality in the religion course? I’m not sure we’ll get the kind of enlightened message that you send.

    I went to a pretty good public school and, certainly, there were some excellent teachers who could have handled this delicate subject. But, there were plenty of hacks too. I suppose if we wait until 12th grade, when the kids are old enough to make up their own minds, then maybe this would work. A lousy teacher will be called out and disrespected, so the kids would just treat it like any other class with a lousy teacher. But talk about litigation and waste of time. It would make the controversy over teaching sex ed look like child’s play. The atheists would be up in arms, as would the evangelicals. Everyone would claim that they’re favoring someone else. Everyone would try to push their message to the exclusion of all others. Unlike sex ed, where there are at least certain basic facts we cannot deny, there would be absolutely no objective criteria to agree on a curriculum.

    So, even with a good teacher, I do have grave concerns about our ability to teach this subject objectively, fairly or without the rancor that accompanies any religious subject. Maybe this would improve over time. With such a program, one could hope that our kids would have a better understanding of what religions are, how they can be good and evil, what tolerance is and why religious tolerance is the fundamental purpose of this nation. It is a very important question, and I really hope you publish that book.

    • http://www.nightwares.com/ Warren

      It occurs to me that if the class is a comparative one, there won’t really be what we’d consider preaching. Comp lit classes, for instance, are about literary styles and approaches to writing, not about anyone’s opinions on morality, ethics, or sexual orientation.

      The trick would be keeping discussions away from those kinds of topics, but I know of no subject in the world so fascinating that it cannot be made properly and fully dull enough for high school students, provided it’s exposed to a typical board of textbook authors.

      If someone were to ask me what should be taught in a religion class, I think my answer would be, “You might believe it’s true, but that doesn’t mean anyone else does, and you certainly cannot force your opinions on others – any more than you’d like it if they forced theirs on you.”

      It would be a short class.

  • Anne

    I graduated from high school in 1982, from a suburb of Minneapolis. As a senior I took a course called “World Religions”. We studied all of the world’s major religions but it was really just a brief overview since the course was only 1 semester. I don’t remember specifics about what I learned (after all, it was 30 years ago!) but I do know that I came away from the class much more open-minded and with the realization that “different” doesn’t mean “wrong” or “inferior”. And I learned that extremism/radicalism can be very dangerous. Separation of church and state doesn’t mean we shouldn’t study religion. If nothing else, it’s part of history. It just means that the government shouldn’t sponsor or extend preferential treatment to any particular religious viewpoint.

    Great article, John!

    • Mindy

      I agree with you, Anne – I took my first comparative religion class in college, and it opened my mind to the vastness of human beliefs, because it was taught not in a “this is what you must believe” way, but in a “this is what several different groups of people believe and isn’t that fascinating?!” kind of way. At a Jesuit university, even.

      I still wish John had been my teacher.

  • http://sheasheasharee.wordpress.com/ SheaSheaSharee

    I do want to disagree with you on one thing you stated in your entry, well not disagree but rather point out. There have been people who did “die” and come back from the dead reporting what they have seen. Some saw heaven, some saw hell either way there are reports of this. What are your feelings or thoughts on this?

    • Michael

      I think that what hes saying is that there is no real evidence. no one walked out of a grave 20 years after dying and said: ‘yep mormons were right, who knew? well i guess the mormons did…’ as opposed to dying for 30 seconds and saying ‘yeah i totally saw all this shit’ especially because these factors are related largely to psychology, which can skew our memory and perceptions during and before death a great deal.

      • http://sheasheasharee.wordpress.com/ SheaSheaSharee

        Actually some of these persons who reported seeing heaven/hell were dead longer than 30 seconds. Also do you truly have to be dead for 20 years to report back what you saw? As long as you are considered dead then I think that constitutes being DEAD, no way around that. You can’t be anymore dead if you died for 30 seconds or 30 days or 30 years, it’s just that some stay dead and some report coming back. Either way these people have reported seeing heaven as well as seeing hell, so do we discredit this or do we take this into account? In your case it appears you discredit it because you believe there are psychological factors and I can understand that, but what if these people are accurately reporting what is?

        • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

          Sure, there are some things that can’t be explained but you seem to be awfully aggressive in asserting that these experiences are conclusive evidence of the divinity of Jesus and even I as a believer of Jesus think that’s an unwise approach.

          • http://sheasheasharee.wordpress.com/ SheaSheaSharee

            May I ask where in ANY of my statements you saw me stating that these instances are “conclusive evidence of the divinity of Jesus?” I asked Michael his opinion and thoughts on these matters, not once has anyone seen me state my opinion or thoughts regarding these situations and that is because I have not posted my thoughts or opinions regarding these matters. So I am not sure where you see me being aggressive, assertive, or even defending a conclusion other than the fact I believe dead is dead no matter how long, but perhaps you should reread what I have stated and calm yourself down. I am interested in his thoughts on these matters and I could not get the answer to my question without asking it.

          • http://sheasheasharee.wordpress.com/ SheaSheaSharee

            Sorry not Michael, but John

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            Wow, relax a little bit. First, I’m not John. Second, we’re talking about Christianity. That is the context of this thread. And it’s clear I’m not the only one misunderstanding you, perhaps you might consider that.

          • http://sheasheasharee.wordpress.com/ SheaSheaSharee

            Again that is your opinion and I can appreciate that, but that is not the way I view death. I also would like to know how time matters if you are dead? You see it was stated that no one has ever come back and reported to us what came after death and I was simply asking the writer his thoughts about those who have reported dying and coming back. He did not mention time or that a person has to be dead a certain amount of time to give the story more credibility. Then there is the fact that if someone did come back from the dead say 30 years later would society really believe these people anymore? The question is not about being dead that I posed to John it was about what he thinks/his opinion regarding those who have stated they died (for however long) and saw heaven or hell. Period.

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            Holy moly. You’re one piece of work. OK, I’m officially out of this conversation. Have a nice day, I hope you get the answers you claim to be looking for!

          • http://sheasheasharee.wordpress.com/ SheaSheaSharee

            I will. The thing is I wasn’t looking for them from YOU which is what I think offended you. Thank you though for you input and have wonderful new year.

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            Shea I just misunderstood you like a few other people did. This is a public forum where people other than John are going to respond. I know you wanted him to respond directly, I do get that I have no issue with that. It’s too bad you’re feeling so annoyed, I clearly pushed some kind of button in you so and have no desire to continue this conversation with you at all. So there you go. Problem solved! Seriously, it looks like others understood you better and you’re having a lovely exchange, perhaps you should just continue having that.

          • http://sheasheasharee.wordpress.com/ SheaSheaSharee

            I am relaxed Dr, I think that perhaps you should take your own advice though. Second I was not talking about Christianity or anything else, I was simply ASKING a question in regards to the post. I am truly sorry that you did not comprehend that from my post. From what I have read from the other posters who have responded to me they did understand what I was asking, but they like you chose to offer their opinion; however, I could respect theirs more because it actually made sense to me and reflected my original post. Yours did not. I never once stated that these stories were proof that Jesus, heaven, hell, Buddha, God, or anyone else existed. Nor did I get aggressive (look the word up in the dictionary), but now I am because quite frankly you are annoying me with your pointless, irrelevant, and inaccurate posts. Nor do I believe that this entry was just about Christianity…um please read the title. I personally feel you are looking for a debate and that is fine, but go find something real to debate about. My question to the author of this post is really not debatable, it was ME being CURIOUS and wanting more insight into how he thinks. That is why I corrected MYSELF when I stated disagree because that is not what I am doing. So please consider that perhaps you are a bit overzealous and that you just did not clearly understand the ORIGINAL post nor my responses back.

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            OK! Whatever you say. Nice chatting with you.

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            Shea, we certainly didn’t connect very well in this conversation but I just watched this and thought of you (it’s really beautiful). Enjoy!

            http://tumblr.thedailywh.at/post/15033735220/heartbreaking-tearjerker-of-the-day-last-week-on

        • Michael

          to be honest i think the word dead is used to loosely, and that there is a big physical difference between brief death and long standing death. As for what if they are actually telling the truth (and by this i assume you mean reality, as opposed to truth as they perceive it) then thats great, but it still cant be proven and therefore leaves us at the same impasse we were at before.

          • http://sheasheasharee.wordpress.com/ SheaSheaSharee

            Well I can respect your thoughts and opinions on the matter and appreciate your response. I also believe that everyone has different degrees of “proof.” By this I mean what someone would consider proof another person might not necessarily look at it as proof. There are some who consider these sources their “proof.” This is why I was asking the author his thought on this based off what he had written. Just like there are some who do feel they are at an impasse with their faith and beliefs, but then there are some who do not even question the existence they just firmly believe and know.

        • Susan

          There’s a HUGE difference in being dead 30 seconds & being dead 30 days or 30 years!!!! I don’t think the doctor’s can bring a person back from that! In fact, it seems I’ve read that it’s only a matter of minutes of “legally dead” before a person cannot be brought back. And I think Michael’s point is that did those people REALLY see heaven or hell or was it just a psychologically induced hallucination. That’s why no one can be SURE!

          • http://sheasheasharee.wordpress.com/ SheaSheaSharee

            The only difference I see is that some people stayed dead and some came back. Sorry, but that’s my stance on it and unless a doctor or God tells me different I doubt I will think of death in any other manner. Dead is dead. Also I don’t believe man brings anyone back, but rather God does. There are some whose purpose has not been fulfilled and He breaths life back into them, that is what I believe. That’s the beauty of life though we all get to choose how we believe and what we believe. So I respect all of your opinions, but I think you all are missing the fact that I just wanted his opinion/insight on the matter because of what he stated in his entry, not to start a debate.

          • Susan

            Sorry, SheaShea :-) I enjoy a good debate…..wasn’t trying to be intrusive! I respect others opinions too! As long as they don’t try to tell me how I should believe or how I should live my life, u know? Hope you have a great New Year’s!

          • http://sheasheasharee.wordpress.com/ SheaSheaSharee

            No need to apologize and I also enjoy a good debate, but that’s truly not what I was doing. I was truly curious to see what the author had to say about this that was all. I did though enjoy reading all the responses because I believe you can gain insight, understanding, and a new perspective by keeping an open-mind and truly taking in what others have to say and believe. I also agree with you about not forcing your beliefs on someone, we can all agree to disagree; however, a good debate has never hurt anyone especially when done intelligently and accurately. The only comment that did not “sit well” with me was the one stating I was being aggressive and providing my comments as”conclusive evidence of the divinity of Jesus and even I as a believer of Jesus think that’s an unwise approach.” That was NOT my intent at all nor do I think my comments reflect that. Inaccuracy and being unable to truly understand what a person is saying does frustrate me; ask questions instead if you don’t understand before accusing which is what I was trying to do by asking this question. Thank you for your comments and hopefully we will run into each other again through comments. =) Happy New Year, I hope it’s quite a blessed year for you!

          • Susan

            That’s a wonderful relief to hear, SheaShea! There’s so much in the news over the last few years about die-hard fundamentalists spouting self-righteous, self-serving, hateful and discriminatory speech, that it’s ALWAYS a relief to find Christians who are willing to be open-minded and accepting! I truly don’t believe God put us here to slander, abuse, hurt or even kill other people just because they don’t believe or live just the way WE happen to think they should! If that was in the plan, we’d have all been the same! (wouldn’t that be incredibly BORING!! LOL). The greatest joys in this wonderful life are loving, caring for and interacting with others around us….not the ones that deliberately hurt, manipulate and lie to us, but all the wondrous people that are just trying to live their lives, find love and companionship and find/bring value to their lives and the ones around them! And, thank you :-) I do have a blessed life and hope for a long continuance of it!

          • http://sheasheasharee.wordpress.com/ SheaSheaSharee

            I actually don’t classify myself as a Christian. Do I believe in God and Jesus as well as the Holy Spirit, yes. What I do not believe in is all this labeling people do currently. I actually study a variety of religions and truthfully I think people would be genuinely surprised by how many religions are basically the same, they just use different variations of names and practices; however, the one centralized theme is peace and love. I have not studied ONE religion that says to hate, push our beliefs, or kill one another over our beliefs. I LOVE to hear other people’s stories and learn about their religions, beliefs, and cultures because I believe that is what God wants us to do. I also think that religion should be taught in schools, but the problem with this is going to be finding teachers who can remain objective and unbiased enough to teach these classes as well as handle the issues that is going to arise from teaching these courses. Perhaps if we were taught at a younger age to appreciate, value, and understand other religions perhaps there would not be so many hate crimes and misunderstandings. So in a nutshell I completely agree with you and again happy new year. =)

          • Susan

            I was raised strict Southern Baptist. I can remember preachers in the various churches I attended saying that anyone not Christian was of the devil. They even went so far as to condemn people for other Christian denominations as being unGodly!! They are a VERY scary organization!!

        • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

          You can’t be anymore dead if you died for 30 seconds or 30 days or 30 years>>

          That’s actually not accurate, there is a substantial difference between the two. The way a body dies is very complex, it’s a process – particularly as brain functioning ceases. The right and left brain control certain functions and stroke victims whose stroke impacted a particular part of the brain report similar experiences of people being with them as well as euphoria. Dead isn’t always just dead, time does matter.

  • Marcelo

    Sorry if this has been stated in other posts, but I think teaching any sort of religious topic in a public school setting is a dangerous undertaking from a constitutional standpoint, principally. Those prohibitions are there for a very important reason. It is devilishly difficult to teach such a topic without some bias creeping in to the execution.

    I think I would prefer it not taught at all than taught badly.

    • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

      I get concerned with how it would be taught as well but wonder how and who they would design the curriculum. That would be a very difficult challenge, I design curriculum and it’s challenging while doing so to stay objective or even find objective Subject Matter Experts.

      • jcreamer

        I remember my history teacher teaching Comparitive Religion in high shcool. He had a habit of comparing them all to Christianity, and showing how they were deficient. But it was proably better than nothing.

        Would atheism be part of the curriculum?

        • LSS

          I’m not sure that *is* better than nothing. To a “follower” type of kid, it has the effect of sqelching curiousity. To a rebellious kid it might work fine, though.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

          It would be if I taught it. You saw how I made that point in the piece.

        • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

          That’s creepy and is exactly what I’d be concerned with happening.

  • Mindy

    I think that any teacher who can stand up and sincerely say, “Personally, I am a [insert faith/lack thereof here], so my perspective naturally comes from there. But I understand that it is one of many religions practiced throughout the world. I am not here to convince you that any one is better or worse than another, but to help you understand the history of the world’s major religions and show you how they are both similar and different. Your own path is just that – your own. Here, you will learn that many different paths are followed with equally passionate faith,” could effectively teach such a class.

    Acknowledging personal bias goes a very long way in eliminating what might be construed as preaching rather than teaching.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdgalloway

      I took a comparative religion’s class about 18 months ago. The teacher, a Baptist preacher, tried to be objective, but failed at the task. He just couldn’t help himself but to “remind the class” of the superiority of Christianity for each. At the end of the class he asked everyone if they were to choose one of the faiths we had discussed which one it would be.

      The answers were varied. I honestly almost chose either Buddhism or Bahai’ as I did agree with many of their ideals, but still settled on Christianity. I doubt it was for the reasons the teacher was hoping for. What the class did teach me is that there is much more alike in tenets of a faith then many assume. It is on those similarities where good things can be built. The differences are to me mostly minor and have a good deal to do with that unanswerable question…what happens after we die. Well there is the “how do we make god happy” quandary as well.

    • LSS

      Yeah, i think owning one’s biases is better than faking objectivity any day. That goes for journalism as well, in my opinion. I’d rather read a right-wing and a left-wing view of the same issue, as well as someone who disagreed with both, than read an article by a person trying to pretend an impossible objectivity.

      • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

        Wow. YES.!!

  • Ashley Prince

    I love comparative religions. I firmly believe that religion should be taught in school. And I know a lot of people say that it is constitutionally not right, I disagree. Teaching religion is schools is not preaching, it’s TEACHING. Two different things. In order to connect with other people, religion is essential. Religion always has been and probably always will be a part of culture.

    I could go on and on, but I won’t. Suffice it to say, religion should be taught so that others can become aware and hopefully open minded.

    • Michael

      The isssue here is that people confuse ‘teaching religion’ with ‘impregnating christian concepts’ instead of just teaching about a wide variety of religions. My 7th grade world history class, was almost entirely about religions of various regions of the world, and it has since had a huge impact on my beliefs by informing me of beliefs beyond those i had been exposed to before. its important to know as much as possible, about everything, including religion.

  • vj

    John, I really hope this gets into the book!

  • LSS

    There’s no way the constitution says that kids shouldn’t learn ABOUT other religions. No way. And if it does, then, we should fix it.

    Bias vs. Objectivity is a problem. … Especially if there is only one teacher and no guest speakers. But this could be solved via judicious use of (pre-viewed to ensure no bad surprises for the teacher) youtube videos or, i donno, that guy that used to be on PBS that talks about Myths a lot?

    Also i think the religions treated should definitely include all the major ones practiced in the area. Obviously the Big3 Monotheistic ones, of course Hinduism because there are Indians nearly everywhere in the US, but this one got me: i had Hmong friends in MIDDLE SCHOOL and until i randomly asked a Hmong student that took my spanish102 class last semester, i never knew that a large contingent of Hmongs are animistic and have Shamans. This girl’s dad and sister are SHAMANS. How wild is that?! and how did i never hear about that before?

    Oh back to objectivity, Borges talked about the aesthetic value of religions. And the thing is that if you can manage to see the beauty of the other religions, what their adherents love about them, you can say what you really think AND treat the other religions fairly. I am (slowly) making my way through Huston Smith’s THE RELIGIONS OF MAN and i think he does that pretty well. You get the feeling that he ended up a christian universalist while preparing the book or the lectures it was based on, but i don’t know if this is true. Oh it is a common textbook for some comparative religion classes, i think. I would probably choose a newer (and *thinner*) book but it does go into some really interesting details.

    • LSS

      Hmmmm just remembering back in my personal dark ages when just Buying such a book was a big act of defiance against the absolutism.

  • Alicja

    I think that children should learn ABOUT religion, not have religious ideologies shoved down their throats. I went to a Waldorf school, and in the 3rd grade we learned about the Old Testament and Judaism. In the 6th grade, we learned about Islam and Christianity. I have to say, that made me so much more aware of the world around me. Knowing that all three of these religions were tied to each other in someway at a young age really helped as I progressed into high school and chose the people I wanted to be friends with.

    So yeah, learning about religion is really valuble. But the teachers teaching the religion shouldn’t get “holier than thou” when explaining it.


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