I have long thought that high school and college students should learn about religion, including the Bible, in public schools. And courts have said it's possible to do this without crossing constitutional barriers.
What I've never considered, however, is having representatives of different religions teach college students their religious practices and thinking. That idea always has seemed to me to be a dicey in that it too easily could drift into proselytizing on the public dollar.
But now writer and historian Marshall Poe proposes doing exactly that in this Atlantic Monthly piece.
It's an interesting argument, one that shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.
Here's what he says early in the piece: "I’m talking about having imams, priests, pastors, rabbis, and other clerics teach the practice of their faiths. In college classrooms. To college students. For credit. I think religion should be taught in college because I believe it can help save floundering undergraduates."
As evidence, however, that there are landmines to be avoided in this kind of thing, here's a piece about a federal judge recently ruling that state universities have a right to tell teachers not to make statements in class that favor one religion over another.
Under Poe's idea, as I get it, the teachers would be clergy from various religions, not regular members of the faculty. I'm not sure whether that would pass constitutional muster but you can pretty well bet it would be tested in court.
The point of teaching students about religion, it seems to me, is to help them live more wisely and harmoniously in a society that is increasingly pluralistic when it comes to faith. Ignorance leads to fear, which leads to nothing but trouble.
Poe is making a different argument. He thinks lots of young people are lonely and lost and need religious practices -- almost any such practices -- to help them recover.
Do you think he has a point?
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A GREAT OBIT
As my regular readers know, I write about death a lot, figuring it's easier to do that now than trying it after I'm dead. So I tend to notice interesting obituaries. I nominate this one as the best of the year so far.