Christianity in schools, really. I’ve been thinking a bit recently about one of the bigger things tossed around for why there’s been some sort of degeneration in society and to me the thing that comes up most is the absence of God and/or religion in schools. In my view, there are a couple things going on here. First, the folks who talk about religion in schools aren’t actually talking about “religion” they are only talking about Christianity. Second, I believe that these individuals do not even want Christian “religion” taught in the schools, but they want Christian theology taught in the schools.
For the most part, those who talk about bringing religion back into schools only want to bring Christianity back into the schools. It would be ridiculous to them to bring a general overview of Judaism, Islam, Baha’i, any of the Eastern religions, or any indigenous religions into the school setting. Now, bear in mind, I am not talking about schools run by a Catholic Diocese or a Jewish day-school. These are run by particular faith groups and it makes sense that the religion taught in those schools would be strictly within the bounds of the faith, though that is not going to be the case in all schools. No, I am talking about the idea of religious education being in the public schools and almost a mandatory part of the curriculum. I think that many who want this brought into the schools want the religious education to be specifically Christian and, although I am Christian, I think this is nonsense. While certainly in some locations Christianity is a overwhelming majority of students, in a place like New York, which has shaped many of my views, there might be 6 or 8 different religious traditions within a single classroom. To mandate that a Jewish student take a Christian religion class is just nonsense. I would actually support an idea to bring a balanced religious education class into schools because I think these different faiths do a great amount to shape American culture. So, a class that involved the basic principles of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism,and others that taught them all without an underlying view in the curriculum of what is “right” I would support. However, I do not think that is what most want.
My second point, is that I do not believe that supporters of religion in school want to teach Christian religion but Christian theology. An example of what I mean can come out of the text in Isaiah about the Suffering Servant. To teach this passage as “religion” one would have to teach that this scripture is used by two different religious traditions. So, teaching might sound something like “The suffering servant passages are viewed by Judaism and Christianity to foretell the coming of the Messiah. Within Judaism, it is believed that this Messiah has not yet come. Within Christianity, it is believed that the Messiah here is Jesus.” This offers a balanced view on the text that gives a view of how the two traditions view it. Yet, I do not think this is what most want. The teaching that most would want likely goes like this “The Suffering Servant passages in Isaiah clearly refer to Jesus Christ. We read in Isaiah 53 about how the Servant ‘took up our pain and bore our suffering.’ How can this be anything but Jesus?” You can see the difference in language with the second teaching that there is a built-in level of correctness and interpretation. This is getting into theology and not just a study of the religion. Also, something that is left out, though I will not go into it in detail is the fact that various Christian denominations have different theological positions. How does this impact the way various parts of the religion are taught? Can it be taught with the foundation that these denominations are all part of a tradition and be respectful of the differences in positions? My belief is that those who fight for religion in schools would not want this to be the case.
For me that is the difficulty of the argument about religion in schools. Those who fight the hardest do not actually want religion in schools, they only want Christianity in schools.