“Religious education is a necessary antidote against fundamentalism and extremism,” says BeliefNet columnist Dr. Arne Kozaz in a profile of James Morrison, a courageous high school comparative religion teacher in Minnesota.
“Religious education should be part of normal human discourse. Information is not the enemy. An inability to handle information is the culprit. Epistemology is, no pun intended, humanity’s salvation. If we can’t think clearly, intelligently, and critically, nothing else will really matter.”
Indeed. I want to join the chorus of those few advocates of mandatory education in comparative religion for high school students. Alternatively, students could be offered the choice of taking a course in contemporary perspectives on spirituality or perhaps comparative anthropology and psychologial anthropology, looking at a diversity of world’s cultures through a lens which encouraged stepping outside of a narrow ethnocentric paradigm.
Some parochial high school courses in theology could serve a similar function, if they were truly oriented towards critical thinking as opposed to indoctrination, but so long as the course were narrowly focused on a single religious tradition or simply presenting one religion’s view of other religions it is unlikely that it would serve the students’ need for development from ethnocentric to more worldcentric frameworks of meaning. On the other hand, it could still be a valuable experience in its own right.
It’s almost a diversion from the main point, but I have to share this. Along the way, Kozak’s article relates one of my favorite stories from the Buddhist scriptures:
“It is as if a man had been wounded by an arrow thickly smeared with poison, and his friends and kinsmen were to get a surgeon to heal him, and he were to say, I will not have this arrow pulled out until I know by what man I was wounded, whether he is of the warrior case, or a brahmin, or of the agricultural or the lowest case. Or if he were to say, I will not have this arrow pulled out until I know of what name of family the man is; or whether is is tall, or short, or of middle height; or whether he is black, or dark, or yellowish; or whether he comes from such and such a village, or town or city; or until I know whether the bow with which I was wounded was a chapa or a kodanda, or until I know whether the bow-string was of swallow-wort, or bamboo fiber, or sinew, or hemp, or of milk-sap tree, or until I know whether the shaft was from a wild or cultivated plant; or know whether it was feathered from a vulture’s wing or a heron’s or a hawk’s, or a peacock’s; or whether it was wrapped round with the sinew of an ox, or of a buffalo, or of a ruru-deer, or of a monkey; or until I know whether it was an ordinary arrow, or a razor-arrow, or an iron arrows, or of a calf-tooth arrrow. Before knowing all this, verily that man would have died.” Majjhima Nikaya)
Read the whole article.