August 17, 2010

Should we blend church and state?

Is it time to end the division between church and state in the United States? On today's Huffington Post, blogger Matthew Anderson, a writer and commentator, makes the case for the blending of church and state. While many might bristle at the idea of ending the constitutional separation of church and state, Anderson suggests that if religion were taught in public schools it would foster an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding. Anderson's plan would involve a required religion class, taught every year from junior high through the twelfth grade. Classes would go well beyond blending church and state, the six-year religious education would bridge the gap between synagogue, dharma center, mosque, synagogue, and temple. From Anderson's post:

I believe that it might be instructive for Americans to combine [church and state] by creating a series of religious classes taught in every school between the seventh and twelfth grades. Two classes per semester in addition to other ancillary academic courses would be required. One requirement would be that those responsible for teaching a certain discipline could not belong to that belief. Christians could not teach Christianity and Jews could not teach Judaism.

But then, some of the best instruction would be left lacking if the experts in those religions were kept from instruction, you say? Well maybe, but the rudiments of religions could be taught quite effectively by those with no dog in the fight. The Bible, the Torah, the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita and even the teachings of Bodhidharma and the Buddha would be required along with other religions. Though Buddhism can hardly be called a religion (of the more than one million words attributed to Buddha, never was God mentioned once in his teachings), we would include it in our instruction because so many Americans mistakenly believe it to be a source of religious belief. Indeed, as this philosophy was being taught, perhaps those Americans who only read their Bibles might learn more so as to be informed in conversation. It serves the Christian God no purpose to have followers who know not what they follow. However, it does serve those who would take advantage of such raw ignorance. Education trumps ignorance, or so it is believed.

Anderson does not shy away from the dangers of bridging church and state---he fears that a new level of understanding might eventually cause people to move away from a secular system and towards "the global and cosmic." But ultimately Anderson sees potential in a systematic religious education and believes that religious discourse would help to isolate religious extremist and allow the "strong voice of religious fervor resound in the classroom and not on the battlefield where it's message is prima facie too late."

What do you think of Anderson's suggestion? Read the full article here.

Image: kentridgecommon.com

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Rehn Kovacic's picture

Mark,

You are right religion is "created by people to suit their time and desires, and that its chief cultural products are beautiful art and terrible injustice." And needs to be taught to our kids. Perhaps, not in such a negative way, but it needs to be realistic.

As for teaching religion as part of the standard curriculum, it sounds good--but it's not being done in most places. However, because most schools concentrate on Western cultures, there would be a lack of context to teach Eastern religions. A religion course could feature each religion equally.

chris's picture

Mr. Anderson's suggestions are naïve at best. The American educational system is neither capable nor interested in teachings other than those of western religions. Any move in this direction would only embolden the Christian right to assert their influence in schools & ultimately in politics/lawmaking.

The premise of collective enlightenment is lost on an intolerant American society that currently seems driven toward divisiveness rather than understanding...until the silent/tolerant majority can speak louder than the extremes...separation of church from state is necessary.

Adam's picture

Rehn,

When I went to school, the "graphing off" that you describe never, ever happened. When we learned of the Renaissance artists, we learned aobut how important a role religion played a part in the financing and inspiration and etc... In History class, religion was a HUGE part of what we learned about. But it was part of history class, and taught as an integral part of history. Why not leave it there?

And while I tend to agree that parents need to take more responisbility for their child's education, that doesn't let our schools off the hook. Our educational system (as I'm sure you're aware) is in shambles, and mostly teaches our kids how to be good at memorizing information.

Our schools are struggling to teach the very basics as it is. Adding classes such as these won't help their efforts any.

Mark's picture

A balanced and scholarly course on world religions would not be a violation of church-state separation, because it wouldn't be about proselytizing. It would also be very useful, because the central insight that comes from studying world religions and their history is that religion is arbitrary, created by people to suit their time and desires, and that its chief cultural products are beautiful art and terrible injustice. Real education would help people understand that religion is a cultural artifact like any other and not worth hating or killing anybody over. But I agree with all who said that there's no practical way this will happen in American public schools (two courses a semester??!!)-- I'd rather have them teaching civics, frankly.

Jana's picture

I like the theory, but that is all it is. I have a son going into his sophomore year. Both his 7th and 8th grade history teachers were extremely bias in their teachings. One even said it was the liberals in this country that were more likely to fly planes into buildings than the conservatives. We were shocked and appalled by these teachers, and this type of sub par teaching was in honors level history courses. It scares me to think of those teachers even having a 1 in a million chance of teaching the youth of today about religion. The state could always set out guidelines for how the course should be taught, just like a history class, but the administrators are not actually in the classroom observing what the teachers are saying or how the are saying it. I honestly trust professors to teach comparative religion courses much more than secondary teachers.

Rehn, you are correct. It is the responsibility of the parent to parent and teach their children tolerance and how to have an open heart. There is a reason people say that parenting is the most challenging and rewarding thing you will ever do.

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Rehn Kovacic's picture

David,

Yes, most school systems are deficient. But what I'm trying to say is that religion is already a integral part of many of the subjects taught in schools. However, it is usually graphed off the subject matter, because of fear of offending people. The students are, therefore, not getting the entire story. Religion can be taught in a secular environment. And it should be taught along side subjects such as history. Tell me, can you really understand Western history without understanding religion. I think not.

As for the deficiency in today's schools, I believe that the parents are part of the problem. If parents ascertain that that their children are not learning what they should, it is their responsibility to do something about it. It seems, however, that parents don't take the time find out. I teach college freshman, and I know first hand how lacking these students are.

David Shealor's picture

Our children cannot spell, add and subtract, speak the English language, know nothing about history or economics and know we are discussing the teaching of religion in this same environment.

Let's first be real about the dysfunction of the current educational system and then expand to the more esoteric subjects.

Rehn Kovacic's picture

Adam,

How can world history and the arts be taught without including religion? It's impossible. They are inseparable. If, however, these subjects are taught without including the historic individuals' (whether artists or statesmen) religious motivations--for wars, to colonization, to artworks--the students are only getting half the story.

Rehn

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[...] Tricycle » Should we blend church and state? tricycle.com/blog/?p=2194 – view page – cached Is it time to end the division between church and state in the United States? On today’s Huffington Post, blogger Matthew Anderson, a writer and commentator, makes the case for the blending of church and state. While many might bristle at the idea of ending the constitutional separation of church and state, Anderson suggests that if religion were taught in public schools it would foster an... Read moreIs it time to end the division between church and state in the United States? On today’s Huffington Post, blogger Matthew Anderson, a writer and commentator, makes the case for the blending of church and state. While many might bristle at the idea of ending the constitutional separation of church and state, Anderson suggests that if religion were taught in public schools it would foster an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding. Anderson’s plan would involve a required religion class, taught every year from junior high through the twelfth grade. Classes would go well beyond blending church and state, the six-year religious education would bridge the gap between synagogue, dharma center, mosque, synagogue, and temple. From Anderson’s View page Tweets about this link [...]

Marko's picture

Can anyone with even a slight knowledge of world history seriously imagine that religion would "foster an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding"?

Mumon's picture

The answer to your question in the title is "No."

The post in question is already taught in many public schools and it's called "comparative religion."

Only I think it's impossible to say that one can teach it "without a dog in the fight." But I guess the natural implication of Anderson's post is that only nontheists, atheists, agnostics and apatheists should teach religions that contain a deity.

This has been another edition of simple answers to simple questions.

Adam's picture

I would much rather see a focus on English, Math, Science, World History and the Arts before I saw this. Maybe once our schools were able to produce literate graduates, we could then talk about adding religious studies.

Rehn Kovacic's picture

I have two degrees in Religious Studies from a secular state university. Religion can easily be taught without missionization. I've taught it myself. I truly believe that people need to understand world religions, because religion and culture are really inseparable. And we need, as a member of the world community, to appreciate the world around us. However, I have found as a university instructor that most young people know little about other cultures. It's a shame that in a global society like ours we have no interest in understanding the people with which we are dealing. As an example, with the threat of terrorism today, we need to know who it is we are afraid of.