I didn’t grow up with God in my house. Or Muhammad or Buddha or Krishna. I went to a public school, so they didn’t show up there either. Some people would say I’m lucky to never have been influenced by a religious household. I’m a totally unbiased scholar, right?
Guess what I’m reading now in my intellectual heritage class: the Bible, the Koran and the Bhagavad-Gita. We have in-depth class discussions on the necessity of religion, the development of religion, the history of religion, etc. Most of the time, I’m clueless, and everyone else seems to know what I don’t.
I can’t pin this on my family. They weren’t very knowledgeable either. Who directed my education? Where could I have learned these things to save myself from debilitating ignorance?
High school. Too bad, because just 8 percent of public high schools offer an elective Bible course, according to a 2005 study.
Yes, I know the rule: keep the church and state separate. And I am aware that tax money should not pay for someone else’s religion. But this isn’t preaching that I’m suggesting. There are several important and historical pieces of literature that are prohibited in classrooms due to their significant religious connotation; because they’ll teach kids to believe in something that may conflict with their parents’ beliefs.
But I’m talking about education, eliminating “America’s deep ignorance of world religion,” as said by author Stephen Prothero. In his new book, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know – and Doesn’t, he points out that knowledge of certain religious texts is necessary, especially in a time when they’re thrown around as justification for huge decisions.
Dr. Jacob Kim, professor of religion, agrees that if the masses are ignorant, they’re easier to control. In his classroom, he approaches scriptures from a literary standpoint. And in order to avoid bias, he confronts it.
“We cannot speak without bias,” he said. “My attempt to teach people in a way that’s unbiased is telling [the students] what my potential bias would be. I admit to bias, because you can’t avoid it, and have listeners factor that in.”
We shouldn’t be so afraid of kids falling into spirituality. After all, we don’t worry about them falling under the spell of democracy. Knowledge doesn’t hurt.
“If it were possible to teach samplings of literature to create awareness,” Kim said, “it might not be a bad thing.”
Sarah Sanders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.