Theology in Public Education

I have never seen a public school that taught theology, or that taught of any of the worlds religions. Are there any public schools in the USA out there that teach theology?

The most I have seen any school do was teach religion demographics in geography class, and other religion statistics. Or, in some social studies and/or history classes, they might teach the social and political impact of religion on a society. The how and why of migration, persecution, etcetera, is the subject of a history course. It is not the same as teaching the religion itself, it isn’t the subject of theology.

Teaching only the history, demographics, and social/political influences of various religions is as vague and inadequate as teaching children that science exists, but not teaching anything about the sciences themselves. “Biology is a science, there are many biologists in the world, they have done great deeds and been responsible for many atrocities which we don’t mind telling you about, but we wont tell you what biology is the study of or any facts about it..”

I am suggesting that the dogmas and the tenets of religion is exactly what needs to be taught.

I’m not suggesting that schools should focus on any one particular religion. Nor am I suggesting that they should preach or instill religious faith or develop anyone’s spiritual awareness.

Studying religion from a cultural, historical, analytical frame of mind is a science in itself, it’s a sub-category of anthropology. Theology is a science – as much so as any cultural study – a specific anthropological study. As much as mythology, anthropology, “Black Heritage,” or “Women’s History.” Religion isn’t a science only in the faith/worship aspect of it. But any theologian can tell you studying a religion does not make you religious, just as learning how to add two numbers when and if you needed to does not make you mathematician.

How can any school be considered adequate if they don’t teach all subjects… if they don’t teach religion?

Why should schools, teachers, or parents be afraid of this?

Wouldn’t teaching about the various worlds religions help prevent religious-based hate crimes and help create religious tolerance? Or is that not what our society is after?

It certainly would help put an end to misconceptions and false stereotypes. Knowledge is what we pursue, is it not? Not the opportunities to reinforce bigotries?

And, with greater tolerance in the world, the religious/spiritual will feel more free to pursue their faith. Atheists wouldn’t be so afraid to publicly admit to and pursue their desire to know or not know.

At the very least, teaching the fundamentals will help empower any theist (or atheist) to convert someone else, or at least help them to reinforce their own belief/disbelief. You cannot argue a point thoroughly if you know nothing of your opposition. How many people ask ridiculous religion questions or inquire about religion in one way or another? Sometimes out of criticism and sometimes out of a true desire to know, but the religious always have an explanation. How can you pose an argument or form a rebuttal if you know nothing about the faith you are trying to undermine or back? And why should you be afraid to study the religion in the first place in order to gain this sort of understanding?

Religion is real. Not that the tenets of them are real, but that the religions themselves do in fact exist. And they differ. How does remaining ignorant of the religions and their differences help our society? You wouldn’t stop sending your kids to math class because you don’t see a use for the subject. You wouldn’t stop sending your kids to science because it undermines your religious faith, or because one science was different from another.

If your kids got an A+ in mathematics but got a D in history, would you be proud? Why does history matter? It would depends on a child’s life-long goals whether or not history would be useful. But as a teacher or parent, who are you to decide what a child’s career and personal endeavors should and shouldn’t be? The child may not even know yet. Stupidity, regardless of the subject, is not something to be proud of. I am ashamed of the fact that I still don’t know what Hanukkah is a celebration of and I am in my 27th year of living.

Church does not teach theology. They teach religious faith. They focus on one particular religion, teach it in a certain way, and they instill religious faith. They don’t lecture, they preach. Whereas a school teaches a subject in an academic, objective, factual way, and are supposed to remain unbiased (which is what the pursuit of knowledge is all about). But the abandonment of religion as an academic subject is very biased, its pro-atheist, and very driven by an atheists fear of faith.

I shouldn’t have to send my children to a different church/temple on a daily or weekly basis just so that they can learn about religion. Some religions don’t even have a specific, or publicly available place of worship. Secondly, sending them to churches would only instill faith, not a rational and intellectual understanding of the religion without the faith.

In fact, sending my children to churches to learn about religion does not enforce their education. I want a consistent grading system under one administration. I want the professionalism, structure, and indifference that only a school can provide (not that they currently do).

This has nothing to do with the separation of church and state. I am not suggesting that any religious groups, churches or institutions should have any role in academics or influence over a schools program. I am suggesting that the State, on the other hand, should remain indifferent and teach academia in all its forms. The State should not dictate academia whatsoever – including what subjects do or don’t get taught, and bigoted parents should have no say in what shouldn’t be permitted in academia.

There is no excuse for the state (or parents) to want to keep their children ignorant of their world. Religious faith aside, religion is an integral part of our history, culture, current legal structure, and drives many world events. Religion is unavoidable in our world, and probably the most influential, and yet it is the one subject not taught in school. How can our children be prepared for any aspect of life when an entire aspect of humanity is left open to ignorance, stereotype, bias, and prejudice? Is this truly what parents and governments want?

Opponents to this movement suggest that there is no difference between theism and theology. I would argue that teaching science is not the same as teaching atheism. I have never attended a science class that actually preached against a god. If they did, that would be wrong for it would be an inappropriate mix of (non)religious belief making its way into education. Nevertheless, opponents are wrong because there is an inappropriate mix as is. The refusal of theology in school on the fearful basis that theism will be instilled.

If parents, or any religious group, get upset about (any particular) religion being taught in school, and they do so on religious or atheistic grounds, then that would indeed be a combination of church and state. Determined religious faith or determined atheism being the sole bases for teaching or not teaching a subject academically is a violation of “church and state” laws. Just as atheists don’t want religious theology taught in schools, I do. Why do the atheists get preferential treatment?

No one would argue we shouldn’t teach science, even though the tenets of science undermines many religious doctrines. Isn’t the states adoption of science an act of deliberately undermining church views? How is that not in violation of Church and State separation? How is it not in violation for the State to dictate that religion cannot be taught?

Christians lost the battle for banning “evolution” in school a long time ago. Its hypocritical that science can be taught, as it undermines religion, but religion cannot be taught because it undermines science. Faith isn’t what I am suggesting needs to be taught, but rather a rational, objective study of theologies. That religious theology be fairly placed as part of a curriculum in the social sciences.

This is not a pro-religion, or theist, argument. This is an argument in favor of all the subjects, all the sciences, in favor of education, for the prosperity of our society as a whole. A biased academic system is not a place I want my children to learn. Our schools are biased against theism, and that violates the very nature of academia. The pursuit of knowledge… we cannot dictate what is a valid or more significant knowledge. Which should weigh heavier: science or history, biology or physics, government or economics? Under what basis is the purely rational, objective study of theology not included as a part of academia?

Colleges offer it, and you don’t have to be admitted to a religious school to get it. I should not have to enroll my children in colleges to ensure they get their full education.

I do not have to be a theist or know anything about any religion to pose this argument. I am a rational, objective observer of my world who values knowledge and understanding, regardless where that knowledge takes me or what subject it is of. I do not decide what to believe… I believe in the truth, regardless of what that truth is. Any argument otherwise is irrational and biased. Preventing knowledge is a philosophy of a stunted, ignorant, intolerant society. I am neither pro-religion nor pro-atheism, I am pro-education.

Religion must be taught prior to the college level. It is already available in college, and college courses are voluntary. College itself is voluntary. Theology is available in any book store and online. Unfortunately, people choose not to learn these subjects on their own free will. As a consequence, they remain ignorant of them. Its no wonder a society with a free exchange of information would remain violent.

All children should get at least a taste of theological knowledge as a part of a required elementary education, before they decide on elective courses.

Children must be taught theology as a mandatory subject, at an age prior to the formation of hateful bitterness, prejudice, and stereotypes that ultimately drive a wedge in society between religions and atheists. For the same reason we teach race-based subjects and gender-studies, to end unfairness, bias and prejudice, we must also teach religion-based subjects.

Our pre-existing intolerance of certain subjects is the true reason they are not taught in our schools. But that is not the rationale we use to justify our motives.

Only when children have been educated first can they decide to learn more or not, but at least they may know enough to not develop hatred. And if a parent is afraid that a child may chose to study religion of his own free will, then surely that is proof-enough of the bigotry a parent has against religion.

If the biasing of the curricula, and the possibility that a religious teacher will start preaching instead of educating, is the issue you are faced with, there are recourses you can take. These recourses are already in place as avenues of action for any parent.

How teachers respond to difficult questions whose answers only lie in faith? A teacher need only objectively explain the reasoning and rationale that a person of faith will hold, and site the scriptural evidence.

How will teachers respond to questions in which prior info contradicts other info (two religions)? The same way a teacher responds to questions about Revolution in the Americas and in France – they are two different subjects! A teacher is just as responsible for explaining the fact that they are two separate religions as a student would be to recognize and study that fact.

Or course we cannot get into full detail of every religion, perhaps a little of each. It doesn’t matter how thoroughly religions are taught, just so long as we start somewhere and see what we can fit in. High school physics barely scrapes the surface of Newtonian physics. A little nuclear here and there. But ultimately, physics is a subject that takes many years to thoroughly know. They concept build, teaching the basics one year, a little more the next. Why would you expect theology to be any different?

I am in favor of an unbiased education system. Anything short of that is severely lacking.



10 Responses to “Theology in Public Education”

  1. thewordofme Says:

    Why not spend the child’s time teaching about myths? All religions might not be false and deserve some time being spent on them.
    Respect religion and you respect the single largest source of social influence in our world.

  2. Eric Says:

    Actually, in the school I went to we were taught about the world’s major religions as part of World History social studies classes in 9th and 10th grade.

    • CogitoErgoCogitoSum Says:

      I have trouble believing you. I am curious. I have several questions for you since you failed to mention it yourself… and all these questions are relevant.

      1) Was this an American school? Or a school of a country other than the United States?
      2) Was this a private school?
      3) Was this a religious-based school?
      4) Was this school funded by the government as all other educations services are?
      5) What year was this that you were a student?

      And six, the big one…

      6) In what context were these religions taught? I already mentioned, quite explicitly mind you, that mere reference to historical influence is insufficient. If you even read my article, which I highly doubt you did, then you would know that I have already covered this. You were not taught the tenets or the dogmas of the religion… you were not taught what the religions believe or what the followers are taught. You were merely taught a few tidbits of history. Likely, in fact, these tidbits drove you to reject religion.

      If you feel the need to comment further, the least you could do is read my post before you do so.

      • Eric Says:

        Is that how you greet all your first-time visitors? Assume they’re lying to you, assume they didn’t bother to read your post, and then go onto their blogs and slander them? That sounds rational . . .

        1) Yes, it was an American public school in New York.

        2) No. It was a public school.

        3) No. It was a secular public school.

        4) It was funded by local taxes. If that’s what you mean by government.

        5) I’m 26. So 1997-1999.

        6) We were taught the basic beliefs of Judaism as part of the Near East, the basic beliefs of Christianity during Rome, the five pillars of Islam, and an even scantier treatment of Hinduism and Buddhism. However, we definitely delved into the basic beliefs and tenets of these religions, and did compare and contrasts, if only at a cursory level as part of our Social Studies classes. So basically, yes, we were taught what the religions believed.

        Also, what makes you think I reject religion? I’m a mostly practicing Jew.

        • CogitoErgoCogitoSum Says:

          For the record, I didnt accuse you of lying. I explicitly asked you for elaborating information. The vagueness you originally posted left a great deal room for interpretation and made Americans schools sound more unbiased than they are – especially if you were wrong about all that and failed to understand what I was getting at. No offense. So, it was important to know.

          I dont know if you reject religion or not. But the historical tidbits that schools actually do teach only go so far as to make religion appear unpalatable. No doubt they do that deliberately. Its a chosen mentality that only fuels anti-religious bigotries in our society.

          And it did appear to me that you didnt full read my post. Either that or you didnt grasp the whole thing. Or perhaps wasnt able to take it all in at once? I dont know. All I know is that some of your remarks had already been brought up in the body of my post. Your mentioning them seemed to me that you were ignorant of that fact.

          I am impressed, however, that a modern American elementary/high school would teach theological beliefs. That is completely unheard of by me. In all my travels around the country and in all the people I asked and in all the research I have done, I have never seen that before. Perhaps your school is the exception to the rule. But the point of this post, and the sad thing that is true, is that your school was only the exception and not the rule.

          If you dont mind, Id like to know what school that was. Id like to look them up and verify their curriculum.

  3. Santo Jude Says:

    We home school, not for faith reason, although we do have a faith but more so because we feel that our present education system, (U.K) is geared into cattle prodding students into hoops as opposed to equipping the individual with the skill set and information to enrich society.
    In the UK we have R.E (Religious Education) throughout most secondary education establishments. In my personal experience this was a subject that didn’t appeal to the inspiring teachers, the ones who ended up teaching R.E. did so with very little passion or apt communication skills. I am sure other schools had better experiences, mine was indicative of an Inner London school in the eighties.
    In retrospect I think it is a very difficult subject to impart. However I agree with you, being difficult is more of a reason to embrace and teach than to avoid.

    • CogitoErgoCogitoSum Says:

      I cannot believe that theology is any more difficult to impart than history or physics or mathematics. Each student is different. And each student responds to each subject entirely differently, with respect to their own skills, and with respect to their own interests. Its academia’s responsibility to teach all subjects and grade the student based on their performance in each, irregardless of difficulty or predispositions. Like everything else in public education, curricula and grading standards both can and will adjust to what the students are capable of achieving in those subjects. The important thing is to teach, and not avoid teaching because of our own biased ideologies, if not agendas in society. I appreciate that you agree with me. Many Americans argue that we here are more Christian than Europe is, but based on what you have told me I find that difficult to believe. I also heard that most of Ireland’s school’s deans are also members of the clergy.

  4. Santo Jude Says:

    I hear what you are saying with regards to avoid teaching. you are absolutely right. Once we avoid, we lose.

    With regards to it being difficult to teach…
    Unlike a didactic subject where answers are finite, theology deals with issues that are not only vehemently defended and argued by some. they are downright disputed by others. I feel it is difficult to impart whilst maintaining balance and for that matter ensuring that the student is able to receive the information in a balanced fashion void of pre conceptions. In addition there are myriad contributors that tend to distort theology / religion like culture, morality and family values ethics. These tend not to ruffle Maths, The Sciences, History or Geography. In fact with the exception of Art most topics do not pervade the family unit in such a way that religion and theology do. I guess that is what I meant by it being a difficult subject to impart, not difficult in the material but more so in the contextual environment.

    There is a strong Church of England / Education connection however this is a historical link and rarely has the same profile post education.

    • CogitoErgoCogitoSum Says:

      I need to dispute that with you. I believe your bit on the difficulties of teaching religion are confused. Again, Im not talking about preaching. Im not talking about converting students or imparting one religions ideals onto the student. I am merely arguing that these beliefs be brought up so that the student appreciates and respects the religious and understands where the religious person stands. Explaining why Julius Caesar did this or did that is no more difficult than explaining why a devout Jew or a devout Buddhist does this or does that. The difficulty you speak of is a moot point when you boil the classroom discussion down to its bare minimal raw information. At that point theology is no more difficult than cultural studies or history. Of course the students background biases them to proper understanding. That is probably why some students are good at math while others are good at history. Why some have an interest in physics while others biology or economics. Background does influence a child’s willingness to study and subsequently their performance in any and all subjects. That doesn’t mean a difficult subject (for a particular student) should be taken off of academia’s plate of lecture topics. Suppose many students do find theology a difficult subject that they have no interest in. How would that be any different than most all math students? The State (backed by atheism) has spoken on behalf of all those students who would find theology an interesting and easy subject.

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