I once got a letter to the editor of the Columbus Dispatch published on this very subject. Of course it was met with fairly vehement criticism, because I posited that most Americans have misread the establishment clause in the Constitution.
Many Americans don’t know that the phrase “separation of church and state,” or any near verbatim iteration of that phrase does not appear anywhere in the Constitution. Anyone who has read it knows that religion is only mentioned twice in the Constitution. One is the establishment clause, I’ll leave you to guess the other. Bonus points to whomever can respond with the right answer first without looking it up.
Anywho, I get that we’re supposed to be all about religious freedom. Even if we disagree with someone’s religious beliefs, we’re supposed to tolerate that because it is every human being’s right to decide for himself what he believes in.
What I don’t like is how some people wish to banish religion from all facets of public life. Does this mean that I support people proselytizing or pandering their religion to “win souls for God”? Absolutely not. I also do not support this movement to strike religion from all discussion in schools, though.
I know that some of my readers are atheists, and I totally get that. You might be raising your kids to be atheist and don’t want them to believe in God, and I respect that. It’s no different than a Christian who doesn’t want his kid to believe in Buddha.
The fact of the matter is, though, that you can’t just ignore religion and pretend that it is not an important thing. I don’t mean “important” in the sense that everyone should be religious, but it’s important in understanding the human condition and civil society in general.
How can any social studies class be effective without discussing religion? When I was an education major, I had to sit in on some classes with a 7th grade world history group. The lesson was actually on the Crusades, and it was very awesome because the curriculum, surprisingly, gave an equal amount of time to present the Christian and Muslim perspective on it. Since both religions were given the same amount of time, there was no conflict.
Perhaps the problem is that it’s probably tough to find teachers who would be willing to teach their students about world religions in an objective manner. When I taught the lesson on how the principles of Christianity helped facilitate the call to Crusade, I did it objectively although I am Catholic. The kids loved it, even the little Muslim kiddoes. Why? Because I wasn’t pushing the religion onto them, but merely helping them to understand it.
My cohorts and I get into a lot of arguments, it seems, about religion. The arguments usually involve our sentiments on Islam. The overall message that I always try to convey is that we have to understand the religion on its own terms, not necessarily in how the zealots interpret the religion. The same can be said for Christianity as much as Islam. Would we really want other cultures to understand Christianity from the Westboro Baptist perspective? Jesus, I fucking hope not.
Understanding the religion doesn’t mean you accept it to be true. Similarly, learning about the religion is not a bad thing. We need to stop pretending like we can actually separate our religious self from our civil, secular self. Although morality is not an invention of religion, most people’s morals are shaped by their religious upbringing.
|Yes, I am intentionally trying to be offensive.|
Should the state sponsor a particular religion? Absolutely not. Should we call ourselves a “Christian Nation”? That’s a big negative. Instead of promoting the separation of church and state, we should promote the scholarly engagement of religion in our public forums. Of course, that would require a certain level of decency and open-mindedness, both of which are qualities that many Americans lack.
Think of it in the mindset of those debate assignments where you’re supposed to support the side you disagree with in a debate.