The benefits of illegal proposals

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Mon Feb 28 19:47:46 UTC 2000

Hmmmm. This is a very interesting reponse. Since teachers in US public
schools aren't qualified to teach a subject, let's not do it. The second
part I find hard to understand is that we should not even attempt such
curricular innovation since school boards in Kansas and Texas (I hope y'all
Kansans and Texans take care of this slur on your own; I got my own
Kentucky problems) won't go for it. What if they don't go for math,
physics, algebra?
As for teaching "about" a religion not one's own, I had the best religion
course in my life (Buddhism) from an agnostic.
There seems to be some confusion between what I am calling "comparative
religion" and "teaching religion" - the furthest thing from my mind. I
encisioned a course in which the nature of various religions was examined
but also one in which the social and psychological characteristics of
religious belief in general were explored as well.
I was wool-gathering about an ideal world, but, it seems to me, none of
that ideal ever gets implemented if we don;t reach for it from time to time.


>[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

Dennis R. Preston
Department of Linguistics and Languages
Michigan State University
East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA
preston at
Office: (517)353-0740
Fax: (517)432-2736

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