Sunday, May 13, 2007

religious education

An Op Ed peice "At Commencement, a Call for Religious Literacy" in Saturday's New York Times by Peter Steinfels makes a plea for at least a basic education in religion. The article quotes Dr. Stephen Prothero from his new book Religious Literacy commenting "In today's world it is irresponsible to use the word 'educated' to describe high school or college graduates who are ignorant of the ancient stories that continue to motivate beliefs and behaviors of the overwhelming majority of the world's population. In a world as robustly religious as ours, it is foolish to imagine that such graduates are equipped to particpate fully in the politics of the nation or the affairs of the world."

Yes. But Dr. Prothero, and Steinfel's editorial only make one side of the argumnet. Other people are religious, they seem to say, so us educated secular folks better understand enough religion that we'll be able to speak with them. That picture is condescending both of other people, and of religion itself.

Religious study is good for us, too, for our personal development as much as for the practical purpose of talking to others. Studying religion means exposing ourselves to deep questions of existence, identity, ethics, meaning and purpose not approached in other disciplines. Even philosophy, particularly in its more contemporary forms, doesn't get to these questions the way religion does. A college graduate who hasn't wrestled with those questions may be able to make sense of the world, but not much sense of their own life.

We should study religion both for insight to others, and insight to ourselves.

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