WASHINGTON (CNS) — At a time when public schools are increasingly wary of any mention of religion, one California school district has found that requiring students to study world religions has been surprisingly uncontroversial and has helped smooth hostilities.
For the last six years, the Modesto public schools have required ninth graders to take a nine-week course on world religions, beginning with two weeks of study of First Amendment rights and the U.S. history of religious liberty.
I had two objections to this whole idea: First, I was thinking it might be teaching kids that all religions are generally okay and equal. And this, well, it's not what we believe. As Cardinal George once said at an ecumenical meeting, in his characteristic overly-frank manner, "My goal is to have you all become Catholic." That's his goal because that's what we belive our mission to be, and so religious relativism is a legitimate concern.
But the article points out that those who held beliefs against religious relativism ended the course with those same beliefs. So the course's aim was not to promote that kind of relativism, but rather understanding, which is the basis of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue anyway, and extremely healthy. Encouraging!
My second objection would be that it promoted a watered-down view of the faith. But the tests proved that the students' religious knowledged actually doubled. That may make the secular course more effective than traditional methods of catechesis in some ways.
Maybe we have something to learn from this secular effort.