Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Religious Studies and the First Amendment

Coleman at the Bending Faith blog has posted an insightful essay by Stephen Prothero about the religious illiteracy of Americans.

This essay is well worth reading as are the introductory comments by Coleman.

I would only disagree with one statement that Prothero makes. He says, "Because of misunderstandings about the 1st Amendment, religious studies are seldom taught in public schools."

My own experience tells me this excuse is simplistic. Having participated in a conference of ministers discussing teaching creation science at a small town public school in Oklahoma, I know that conservative preachers will drop their demand for public schools to teach creation science if that also means the schools will be teaching the creation accounts and religious beliefs of Native Americans and other religions.

Religion is all or nothing for conservative Christians. They don't want "teaching about religion" -- certainly not comparative religion -- they want the schools to indoctrinate students in their own brand of religion. If they can't have that, they don't want public schools teaching anything about religion at all.


Rob said...

Why does it seem so often that Christians (the conservative, right-wing ones, at any rate) are so "all or nothing" with regards to religion? I'm not a religious person, and not well versed in the Bible, but I seem to remember from a long ago Sunday school lesson that Jesus taught, among other things, a "live and let live" sort of tolerance and respect for our fellow man.

Good post...I enjoy your blog immensely. I've had my times when I've bashed Christians, but your example has shown me that there are good, decent Christians out there. Are you considering a Presidential run in 2008? :)

Dr. Bruce Prescott said...

I'm already President of the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. By the time the current occupant of the White House finishes his term of service, that will certainly disqualify me for public service.

Anonymous said...


I'd challenge you to not stop there. Don't let the attitudes and behaviors of other Christians determine your opinion of Jesus. Find out for yourself. Dig into the Bible and read/study the Gospels, for starters. If we look to anybody other than Jesus, we will be disappointed. By the way, Christianity is not a religion. It's a relationship - with Jesus Christ. Thank God that we don't have to be 'good enough' or work our way into it - we just have to have faith and believe. That's good news!


Anonymous said...

Interesting post. That is why I would advocate teaching of Intelligent Design or at the very least an acknowledgement in textbooks of the fact that evolution is a theory. And I would also like to point out that not all conservative preachers don't want comparative religion taught. In fact, there are preachers and other Christians who would love to see religion taught in school systems. Provided, of course, that it is taught in a truthful, intellectually honest way.
And I would also say that many Christians don't want indoctrination, but rather some classical tolerance toward the Christian and other faiths.
Of course, what do I know? I'm just some "scary, fundamentalist" Christian who believes the Bible.

Rob said...

Roger - I've often considered it, but (and I don't want to put anyone off here, as I have a great respect for those who have faith and practice relitions) I have never really been a believer. I'd feel that I'd be doing little more than "lip service", as I've never really, truly believed in any religious teaching. I respect them; I think Christians in particular do many good things in our world, and (with the exception of the extremists and fundamentalists) are usually the most kind, caring, sincere, and respectable people I know. I'm in the Navy, and though I may not share their views I've always found our chaplains to be the best to turn to in times of need. We'd be much worse off without them. But I've never really been a believer.

KG, my personal opposition to teaching religion on a public primary/secondary school level isn't necessarily a matter of exclusion. I just don't feel that it's the right place. Certainly it's not something that can/should be ignored (an issue of a HS valedictorian being told to censor remarks on her faith out of her valedictory address to me is just BS), but in other than historical aspects the public schools just aren't set up to do it. And if you are going to talk on one, you'd have to talk on all. It's the very thing, to me, that the family and mainly the church is responsible for. On the same hand, schools should allow the free personal practice of religion (within limits of reason, i.e., if your religion requires ritual sacrifice that is probably best left off school grounds :) Telling Muslim children they aren't allowed to wear their hijab, or Christian children that crosses are verboten, is as much a contravention of the 1st Amendment as teaching Genesis in the physical science class.

College...well, classes on religion are a long standing institution, and for public colleges this, to me, isn't a problem. Why? College is, by definition, "higher education", and with a foundation from high school (and below), religous topics can be studied in an acacemic manner. And furthermore, colleges have the recsources (well, hopefully) to offer these in a specalized manner (like most subjects in college), and to offer a much broader range of specific courses.

Now, to emphasizing that evolution is a theory...more power to 'em. It is a theory. A well supported one, but a theory all the same. But to me "intelligent design" is a disengenuous gussying-up of the creation story. Why not address it simply by saying (this at the HS/jr. high level, or even elementary) that many religious views believe that the world/universe was created by a higher being...and that said view is one that students, if they are interested in it and believe one of those views, that their belief is respected, but it's a subject to pursue at home/church.

Leighton said...

As I've mentioned before, calling evolution a "theory" is perfectly correct, but doing so without further comment can be misleading. A theory, as the word is used by scientists, is not the midpoint between hypothesis and law; calling something a theory says nothing whatsoever about the degree to which the theory's claims are supported by evidence. Rather, a theory is a set of organizing principles that together help make sense of hordes of otherwise disjointed data points.

Atomic theory, the germ theory of disease and general relativity's description of gravity are all theories in this sense, but nobody ever goes around saying "Oh, they're just theories". They certainly don't think we should put stickers in chemistry, physics and immunology textbooks to that effect. It just doesn't make sense.

Anonymous said...


No one believes unless we know in whom we are believing.

I'm reminded of Romans 10:14 ...
"But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?"

Don't hesitate to read the Bible as that is where we can learn more about Him, and we see His kindness towards us, that leads us to repentance.

Jeremiah 9:24
"but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD , who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD.

Jeremiah 31:3
The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying:
"I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.

Ephesians 2:7
"in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus."

Find more about God's nature and His feelings toward us in the following chapter....

Luke 15--Roger