Monday, September 24, 2012

Education Won't End Religious Attacks

A short film caused worldwide Muslim unrest.

The recent attacks on American targets because of a 14-minute film aired on the internet naturally evoked cries of patriotism as well as the inevitable calls for peace.  Why can’t we all get along despite religious differences?  After all, murderous attacks, which led to the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya among others, had obvious religious overtones: the terrorists were Muslims striking against a largely Christian society.  

One natural suggestion, which arises like clockwork, is to set up a few interfaith programs.  See?  If we all learn about each other’s religions, then we’ll be more tolerant, and less likely to pick up a gun and to shoot someone of a different faith.

That’s more like A Clockwork Orange, a famed English novel where an attempt to re-train the mind of a psychopath ends in disaster.

Jehovah Witnesses go door to door in an  effort to convert people.
Education is a great tool for expanding thought.  We should all learn about someone else’s religion, but religious zealots don’t want their minds expanded.  They want them closed shut.  Christians are convinced their religion is the only true one. Sects like Southern Baptists are hell-bent on converting nonbelievers.  So are Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons.  Jews have a system for allowing anyone to become a member of the tribe without actually converting, but they, too, are sure only their way is God given.

Muslims are so convinced of correctness of their faith that they completely ignore other beliefs and – as is rather obvious -- violently condemn any criticism of Islam.

Besides, who is supposed to teach such a course?  As far as each group is concerned, no one is qualified. As a youngster, I saw the first-hand in Ohio public schools.  

Every high school senior there once took a required class called Senior Problems.  The course was designed to introduce lots of different topics, including budgeting as well as comparative religion.  We had a great teacher, and I loved the course.  However, it was quickly ended because religious parents complained that the comparative religion portion did not exactly match their beliefs.

The same thing invariably happens in the religious history courses I teach for the Stetson University Continuing Education Department.  I’ve been doing those classes for 15 years on a variety of topics, such as the Bible as History, Comparative Religion, Translations of the Bible and so on.  There is always someone with a closed mind who insists that God wrote the Bible, hoping to eliminate any discussion.

Religious fanaticism condemns without recourse.
I have no problem with someone thinking God wrote the Bible, but it’s clearly a human document with multiple mistakes in both history and writing.  It’s well worth examining as a text, regardless of the author.
That’s not what a small percentage of the population prefers.  They demand complete subservience to their belief.  That approach is called indoctrination.  It completely undermines education.  For example, religious fanatics attack evolution because it counters their narrow beliefs, ignoring extensive body of evidence in support of science.  

We see the same kind of thinking in today’s political discussions.  Politicians were expected to toe a strict religious line in such areas or face withering assaults by the self-righteous zealots of the extreme right.
Unfortunately, not even the ideologues agree.  As soon as a class would be created that focuses on one criterion, someone would demand further changes.  We see it in today’s political world where one self-appointed guardian of a belief invariably clashes with another.

That’s the danger in a world dictated by religion, since few agree on an exact formula.  In fact, every faith is absurd to a nonbeliever.  

That view was comically captured in an on-line cartoon.

In it, the author provides basic questions to explain “How to Suck at Your Religion.”  Some of the questions are:

·         Does your religion make you judge people?
·         Did you choose your religion or did other people choose it for you?
·         Do you ridicule other people’s beliefs?
·         Do you base your votes solely on your religion?
·         “Would you hurt, hinder or condemn in the name of your God?"

If the answers are yes, the author notes jokingly, “Then you probably suck at your religion.  You should give it up and take up windsurfing or ping pong instead.”

Puritans eventually disappeared.
Americans should be well aware of the inherent dangers of dictated thought.   Puritans sailed to this country because they were foiled in their efforts to “purify” the Church of England.  Finally, they resolved to seek the perfect “Jerusalem” in the New World.  Of course, when new people followed them and didn’t agree, the Puritans persecuted and prosecuted them until, eventually, the Puritans themselves no longer existed.

Instead, this country adopted the concept of freedom of religion to avoid the pitfalls of orthodoxy.

As a result, this country would be far better off if everyone stick to their personal beliefs in private and left religion out of the public discussion or the classroom.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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