Stepen Prothero, a religion professor at Boston University says, "To understand the world around us - everything from art, to music, to politics, to international relations - we must have a working knowledge of the Bible and of the world's religions.
Religion, Prothero said, is a key motivator and, in fact, "is the most powerful force in world history.""
Although, he claims that he does not want these classes used to convert students to Christianity and he may well mean it. What assurance do we have that the many Christian groups in the nation, already pushing for these classes, won't use them for conversion.
Schools can increase our religious literacy
Religion professor Stephen Prothero is tired of teaching students who come into his class with little basic knowledge of religion - even their own. One way to fight that, he says, is to make two courses mandatory in all public schools: one on the Bible and one on world religions.
We couldn't agree more.Prothero is a professor of religion at Boston University and the author of the New York Times best seller "Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know and Doesn't." He spoke Wednesday at Union University as part of the Union Forum.
We are grateful to Union for this continuing series, which never fails to draw speakers who make us think in new ways about matters crucial to our society.
Prothero's proposal should not be misunderstood. He does not want these courses used to create converts to Christianity or any other faith. His point is this: To understand the world around us - everything from art, to music, to politics, to international relations - we must have a working knowledge of the Bible and of the world's religions.
Religion, Prothero said, is a key motivator and, in fact, "is the most powerful force in world history."
Prothero notes that religion, specifically Christianity, is playing an ever larger role in the American political world. A lack of religious knowledge means voters are not able to make sound judgments about those who use religion in creating their political identities. It means journalists aren't able to ask important questions. It is a matter of accountability.
On the world stage, a lack of religious knowledge can lead to misunderstanding and even war.
To use public school courses to promote a particular faith would be unconstitutional, and that is not what Prothero, or we, recommend. But a framework has been established in this state that would allow all schools to offer Bible courses without worry of losing a lawsuit.
The General Assembly approved a bill in 2008 that was sponsored by state Sen. Roy Herron and state Rep. Mark Maddox, both of Dresden. The bill directed the state Board of Education to develop a curriculum for the academic and non-sectarian study of the Bible. The state attorney general issued an opinion confirming that the bill is constitutional.
Herron said Thursday that the state Board of Education recently completed its work on the curriculum, which should be available for use in public schools next school year.
While many schools in Tennessee already offer Bible courses, this new system, if properly implemented, offers a higher level of constitutional safety.
We encourage all public school systems to offer the type of Bible course promoted by Prothero and made available under the bill sponsored by Herron and Maddox. And we encourage the schools to go a step further in offering studies on world religions, as Prothero suggests.
The value of the lessons learned will be beyond measure.