The benefits of illegal proposals

James E. Clapp jeclapp at WANS.NET
Mon Feb 28 17:52:54 UTC 2000

[Response written contemporaneously; problems with my e-mail system kept
me from sending it out till now.]

Mike Salovesh wrote:
> . . . if the choice were between the kind of teaching I
> got in 4th, 5th, and 6th grades and the total absence of public school
> teaching of
> comparative religion, I know my answer.  Teaching religion is not
> something I would willingly hand over to intolerant zealots . . .

Or even just ordinary religious folk, who may try to be more tolerant but
may nevertheless have very limited knowledge and perspective.

Indeed, it's hard to say which aspect of the teaching of comparative
religion by the average public school teacher in the United States would
be worse: the teaching of religious views other than the teacher's own,
or the teaching of the teacher's own religion.  I'm afraid they would be
equally distorted and uninformed.

Nor can we expect any textbook that could be approved by state and local
officials in Kansas or Texas or anywhere else to be any better.

Moreover, the very name "comparative religion" tends to exclude views
that are nonreligious, antireligious, humanist, scientific, etc.--or
(perhaps more insultingly) classify them as another form of religion.
[For some reason I am reminded of an anecdote about Bertrand Russell that
I saw a few years ago in an article about him in Smithsonian magazine:
When he was sent to prison for his opposition to the the First World War,
the kindly but not overly educated warden went through a routine intake
interview; when he got to the question "Religion?" Russell answered,
"Agnostic."  The warden considered the implications of this for a moment,
and then replied:  "Well, there are many religions, but they all worship
the same God."]

And while I'm at it, a further thought on James Smith's remark to the
effect that one should learn about the Ten Commandments to be enlightened
about our culture:  Having learned a good deal about the Ten Commandments
now, I can see how monumentally irrelevant they have been for most of
western culture for at least a couple of millennia now.  The ones that
aren't truisms (murder and thievery are generally condemned in all
cultures) are just ignored.

No wonder the Sunday Times of London, in an article entitled "Holy Moses!
It's the Nine Commandments say vicars" (January 26, 1997), reported that
in a random survey of 200 [presumably reasonably enlightened] members of
the Anglican clergy, a "mere 34% of those asked could cite all Ten
Commandments."  Unfortunately, the article is so badly written that it is
impossible to tell with what degree of precision the vicars were called
upon to recite them.  Nevertheless, it is clear that Canon Peter
Goodridge of Truro Cathedral was speaking for many of his enlightened
brethren when (as quoted in the article) he said: "The Ten Commandments
are not terribly important for Christian living today. They do not answer
the real moral problems affecting modern society."

James E. Clapp

More information about the Ads-l mailing list