Why a History of Religion Should Be Taught in Schools

While I was raised Southern Baptist and have read the Bible from cover to cover nearly twenty times, and I have read the Koran and other religious writings of various faiths, including their histories and doctrines, I am about the furthest thing from religious you will find. I have not stepped into a place of worship in many years, and God willing, I will have no reason to do so for many more. I don’t believe in school sanctioned prayer. I do believe the Pledge of Allegiance should be void of the words “under God”. I do believe science classes should stick to the views held by science, with no mention of religious theory. I even believe in the separation of Church and State, though it appears in no legal documents governing the land.

With that established, I have come to the conclusion that a history of religion should be taught in schools as a fundamental part of the core curriculum. Without a fundamental understanding of religion, children miss out on some of the fundamental motivations of human history and human thought. Without an understanding of the power of Religious motivation, Charlemagne is just some guy that lead an army. Without an understanding of the Power of Religious Intolerance, the Inquisition just comes across as a period of Injustice. Without and understanding of the power Religious extremism, 9-11, becomes just another terrorist event. Without an Understanding of the power of religious consciousness, The Salvation Army is just the world’s biggest garage sale.

There is no other force of thought in the history of mankind that has so utterly shaped mankind as religion, and to keep a general understanding of religious history from children with the mantra of “separating” church and state is to misunderstand that there is a difference between religion and individualized faith. It is not my contention that we should teach the basics of any specific religious doctrine, but rather that we should offer objective education that highlights the impact of all Religions on society. Maybe if we understood the nature of religion as a whole, and its impact on humanity, we would be more apt to practice our individualized faiths with a modicum of restraint, grace, and tolerance. Maybe, the big picture will help us, as a society, to better see the whole playing field and to make decisions based on how they affect the whole.

While some will seek to focus on the negatives of religion, and let’s face it, there are many, I believe that a solid religious education would look at all of the aspects of how Religious thought has shaped our world. While it’s easy to find death in the history of religion, it’s also easy to find life, hope and redemption. This is not unique to Christianity or any other form of faith. The fact is that faith based organizations of all faiths are alive and well in our nation’s prisons. Lets you forget, through Muslim ministries, Malcolm X found his calling and left a life of drugs and debauchery. Organizations like Red Cross and sister Red Crescent and the Salvation army, habitat for humanity among many, were founded on principled of faith and Religion.

I would be against the espousal of any specific religion in an American public classroom, but I think we miss the mark when in the guise of protecting our children from specific religions, we fail to educate them on the effects of religions on history, on society, and on individuals that contribute to our society. When our children fundamentally understand the choices they have to either damage or benefit society through faith, maybe we will find ourselves more apt to choose the benefits over the harm that religion in all forms has continued to bring to the world.

We would not be lax to allow religious teachings from all of the major faiths that have shaped the world with equal time and equal force, both alive and dead religions (the dead ones have often done their part to shape the world too). We would not be lax to give our children thorough educations. We would not be lax to give our children the whole picture of history. We would be finally fulfilling another part of our educational duty.

At least, that’s how I see it.

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