Originally published in The Daily Toreador.
When perusing through the Opinions section of CNN.com, as I sometimes do, the headline “Public schools need religion” caught my eye. I then saw the same column, nearly word for word in some cases, on USAToday.com’s Opinions section. (Stand down, plagiarism police. They were both written by the same guy, at least.)
In both pieces, author Stephen Prothero argues that religious literacy in America is a mess, and no matter your beliefs, that needs to be fixed. He makes a compelling argument.
As I’m not shy in saying, I’m a Christian, but I’m generally OK with keeping our public schools non-religious. I don’t need a principal to lead the school in prayer or a science teacher to teach creationism in order to feel good about my religion. But when thinking about it, there’s a lot of good that could come from teaching a bit of religion – not exclusively Christianity, mind you – in public schools.
Prothero’s columns come in the wake of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life’s recent poll, which he evidently had a part in overseeing. The U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey polled a variety of people on many religious questions and gauged, approximately, how well Americans from various walks of life know their religious facts.
The results have mostly been making rounds because of the fact that atheists and agnostics scored better than any religious group on the list, “proving” that non-believers know more about a god they don’t believe in than people who worship God on a regular basis. Never mind the fact that such people still only got 66 percent of the answers right (“a D,” Prothero points out), or that Mormons and Jews were not far behind.
Of course, a ton can be said about how this might show a failure of churches or home education. Roman Catholics ranked last – many not even correctly identifying Genesis as the first book of the Bible – despite them stereotypically being thought of as having rather strict religious education. However, when the majority of Americans can only get 50 percent of questions on such a quiz right, despite the majority of Americans believing in God, this is probably something we all need to address.
Remember, for instance, that most of these people do still vote. If their religion plays a huge part in how they vote come Election Day, don’t you want them to at least know what their religion believes?
But there’s a lot more than that. Especially in a post-9/11 world, many in our nation are crippled with fear of the Muslim religion. Almost all of this fear comes from a complete misunderstanding of what Muslims actually believe. Why shouldn’t they learn such things in school, instead of going entirely off of what a group of extremist terrorists do?
Even if you’re like Christopher Hitchens and think that religion in all forms is a plague upon humanity that should be wiped out, at the very least shouldn’t you know your enemy?
Teaching religions in schools shouldn’t be a scary thought, anyway. The way I see it, it’s pretty necessary in understanding much of history. Like it or not, human history is absolutely littered with religious influence, good and bad.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think schools should try to encourage the practices or one religion over another, and in fact teachers should stay as far away from such things as possible. But a general overview of at least a wide variety of religions could be pretty beneficial to learning, and I think it could help promote religious tolerance. It’s easier to understand each other’s differences if we’re at least close to the same page.
And I don’t think we can say, “No, keep all religion out of schools, and leave religious education to the parents.” Often, it’s the parents that are helping spread all this misinformation, because no one taught them this stuff, either. It was adults, not high school kids, who were trying to burn Qurans. If you’re a liberal, you can think of it this way: Do you want some people’s only religious education to come from their racist, ultra-conservative parents?
Personally, I’m more ignorant about many world religions than I’d like to be. I know precious little about Hinduism, for example, and the only thing I really know about Shinto is that it exists. Obviously I can remedy that through self-education or even a few classes here on campus, but I do wish I had gotten a head start earlier in life.