Leo Brian Schafer
Catholic Values Columnist
The premise we are discussing today seems to have an obvious solution.
Education, after all, is intended to be the communication of truth, and other religions — Islam, Judaism and Protestant denominations — are untrue. Why, then, should impressionable children be taught about other religions? All that would seem to do is cause them to question the truth of Christ and stray from the Gospel.
And does the Gospel not tell us that “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea?”
What possible benefit could be borne from the support of this proposal?
Consider the statement at hand. “Children should be taught about other religion in schools” is not a statement of proselytization or evangelization, but one of education. Being “taught about” strictly means that children will be told that other religions exist.
This brings us to the foundation of the matter. The core of what we are considering, perhaps, is not a question of religion, but one of culture and how culture is taught.
As Christians, we are called to evangelize, to go out to all nations and baptize. How can we be prepared to do this when the only religion, the only culture we are exposed to during our most formative years is our own?
Yes, learning Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and the other great thinkers of our tradition is wholly beneficial to our greater formation. But how much greater would it be to aid in our call to evangelization to read Al-Ghazzali, Dawkins, Gödel and Kierkegaard?
To read our ‘opposition’ through a Catholic lens, to learn about foreign traditions and cultures in order to more adequately carry out our calling to evangelization is not a bad thing, and is, in fact something that should be required of us.
That is not to say, however, that there are drawbacks and downsides.
Yes, teachers who believe in a more universalist philosophy may take all the good that we intend and flip it on its head, instilling their poisonous beliefs into Catholic children. That is to be avoided at any cost, so the conditions for this should be struck, and the dangerous notion of “teaching about other religions in schools” should be abandoned.
Or should it? Teachers who believe that abortion is a human right may instill their poisonous beliefs on children, so biology and embryology should not be taught. More aptly, teachers who believe (insert heresy here) may instill their poison into children so theology should not be taught.
So it goes for any subject. Some teachers believe false teaching “x”, so subject “y” should not be taught.
The very suggestion is preposterous. This debilitating fear of lies is valid — one who loves the truth by definition hates lies — but we cannot let this fear prevent us from greater things.
Yes, a bad “world cultures” teacher can corrupt. But so can a bad theology teacher, chemistry teacher or even a business teacher.
It is wholly beneficial to the Christian life to be exposed to other religions and schools of thought in order to be better prepared to serve the universal calling bestowed on us all, to evangelize all nations.