My high school junior came home soon after school began to share with me that her World Religions class was going to have tarot cards demonstrated and that she could have her cards read. Anyone that knows me knows two things that apply to this revelation. One is that I’m not going to be one to “freak out” about much. The other is that I have faith in and complete devotion to the God of the Old and New Testaments. We had a conversation about what those scriptures say about witchcraft, but ultimately, I left the decision to her.
Over the next couple of days, I thought about the conversation and about the class content and design. I emailed the teacher and asked several questions. As an educator, I don’t believe any subject is off-limits, however some may be more useful than others. My student had said that the teacher was able to convince the new principal to include Wiccan as it had not been taught before for fear of controversy. So, I asked the teacher whether atheism, satanism, humanism and/or voodoo were also being included. I also asked that since the kids were being allowed to partake in tarot card reading as a religious practice, would they then also be allowed to pray with a rabbi, or a priest as part of their religious practices or perhaps the demonstration of an exorcism.
The teacher replied that there wasn’t enough time to cover everything. He also clarified that tarot cards would be shown but not read. He also sent me a syllabus. It was a brief outline of the “religions” covered and a brief description of the outcome which is to “Gain a better understanding of other religions and to gain an understanding of how religious values may affect reactions and decisions that are different than ours by other individuals and cultures.”
From an educational perspective, (and I have written courses and chosen content), I had several thoughts. Based upon the syllabus I don’t see a discussion about “religion” by definition. “Religion” is “a personal set or institutionalized system of attitudes, beliefs, and practices.” Basically, it’s our worldview, the lens through which we operate our lives. If we believe the scriptures that I earlier spoke of to be true, then we live our life in a certain way. If we believe that there is no God, then we live our life based upon that. Is defining religion part of this class?
Once we define religion, I believe it’s important to talk about what “religion” has done historically. Religion killed Jesus. Religion brought about the Crusades. Religion caused the events in Salem, Massachusetts. Religion was responsible for the events of September 11, 2001. Religion was involved in the creation of public education in America. (One could argue that belief in the power of public education to cure society’s ills today is a religion.) Religion, if defined as the lens through which we operate our lives, could also be said to have played a part in the rise to power of Hitler (as statism) and the actions of Stalin (as communism). All these historical events were the result of extreme religious beliefs. Beliefs held in such high esteem that they blind people to the consequences of their actions.
I’m also curious as to the choice of religions for this class. And the order. When I think of world religions, I think of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Yet, these are covered last in the class. Small societies, Wiccan and Shamanism are first. I wonder if these include the animistic religions of Africa. And why not voodoo and Satanism? I’m going to guess that these would be too controversial. Atheism isn’t included at all and I would suggest that this is a widely held worldview/religion at present. But again, possibly controversial. And here is a perfect example of how the topics you choose, exclude and their order can guide the “education” of a person.
I do believe that understanding a subject from a variety of perspectives is beneficial to a person’s education. I’m not about indoctrination — “This is the way we should believe.” Neither am I supportive of relativism, holding all views as equally valid and true. This leads to a place where all moral positions are equal. A belief that murder cannot be called wrong would come from this place, because there is no “Truth.”
Education must be done with some purpose in mind; some end goal. Education, according to Maria Montessori was to be a “help to life.” If this is the purpose, then we are looking to create an individual who can function in life, have an enhanced understanding of that life and maximize his or her potential. That’s how I understand it. When I homeschooled my now-grown children, I presented topics from a variety of perspectives for them to make their own choices. I taught both creationism and Darwinism. I presented source texts rather than textbooks as often as I could. Someone doesn’t need to be told what another person meant or believed when he or she can read the original work.
Which brings us back to World Religions. Based on the course outcome students are gaining an understanding of “other” religions. If that is the case, what is the assumed starting religion; other than what? “All” religions might have been better, but then the class wouldn’t have time to cover all of them. “How religious values may affect reactions and decisions that are different than ours…” the course outcome statement goes on. In what way? Are we going to say that radical religious positions are wrong? Or are we going to try to understand what belief and value brought a person to murder others because it’s just one belief among many? Those are very different outcomes in understanding.
I am not a part of any “institutionalized” religion. I am a believer in God. The one true God. There is only one Truth as far as I am concerned. As Joshua stated, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”. But that belief has not turned into radicalism for me. Other people can believe as they like, but if you ask me about my God, I will tell you about Him in my limited understanding. I will tell you that He is more than one choice among many. Because if the choices are all equal, then there is nothing with which to ground one’s life. There is no purpose.
Coincidentally, after I contacted the teacher of World Religions and was informed that tarot cards would not be read, just shown, the speaker that day “forgot” their cards at home.