If you’re on Facebook, you’ve probably seen this story – or one similar. This time, it’s coming from Bakersfield, California, where a teacher presented a lesson about Islam. A quick look at the worksheet that was sent home shows that kids were required to learn some simple facts about what Muslims believe. However, the mother of one of the students was outraged and sent the assignment back to the teacher with a few heavily-underlined comments.
Let me make this clear right now: I’m a Christian, and I’m a pastor. I currently work in and attend a Southern Baptist church. I believe in Jesus. I’m not going to recite the entire Symbolum Apostolorum, but believe me, I affirm it.
With that out of the way, here’s my issue. As Christians, when did we decide that learning about what other people believe is somehow HARMFUL? From this mother’s comments, that’s what this boils down to. She referenced multiple pieces of scripture, and even questioned the lack of a lesson on Christianity, after all. So, when did Christians become so scared of other beliefs and opinions? For that matter, when did we get so scared of simple facts? Judging from the comments I’ve seen on Facebook from my fellow Christians, apparently I should be extremely concerned about this lesson – but I’m not.
I’ll be honest. I don’t have kids. But I fail to see how them learning about what other religions believe is somehow going to corrupt them or cause them to seek out other faiths.
When I was a child, I remember doing sections in my textbook about ancient Egypt, which included religion. I was fascinated by their mythology, by their pyramids and burial cities. I even found a sheet of basic heiroglyphs to bring to class. I don’t recall a single parent pitching a fit. I certainly don’t recall ever, at any point, attempting to worship the sun. I don’t remember, even for a moment, believing that any of it was real.
I was even more interested in Greek mythology. I read everything I could get my hands on – including the Illiad and the Odyssey. I spent hours in imaginary battles on my bedroom floor, my made-up Greek city-state against the Persians, or the Egyptians – with new, made-up deities helping my tiny Lego soldiers attain victory. Again, at no point did I adopt the worship of Zeus.
When I was in seminary, even – my school offered a class in Baptist distinctiveness. We examined our beliefs, then compared them to other options – both world religions and other Christian denominations. I never considered becoming Buddhist, or Hindu, or even Methodist.
I even learned about Islam. In fact, I know the five pillars – faith, prayer, giving, fasting, and the pilgrimage to Mecca, if I remember correctly. Knowing something about Islam didn’t lead me to convert. (If that can convert you, I hope you skipped over that last section, or it’s probably already too late for you.) When did I learn this stuff? Junior-high world history.
At no point did I experience anyone pushing a religion (or the lack thereof) on me. I did, however, learn quite a bit about world history and the various people groups we have to share the planet with. More than that, the more I learned (in seminary and after) about other religions, other interpretations of the Bible, my own faith only became stronger. My studies of Egypt added amazing depth to the stories of Moses. What I’d learned about the Greek and Roman pantheons added powerful context to the book of Acts.
Learning about other religions, other belief systems, and other people has in no way harmed my faith. If anything, it’s deepened it.
And let’s be honest, nothing in that worksheet indicates that Islam was being pushed as a religion. Nothing shows that the textbook was promoting belief or unbelief in anything. Learning a few facts? Listening to someone pray (in another language, even)? How can we expect our children to appreciate their faith – or to share that faith with anyone else – if we never allow them to learn anything about the faith of others? In fact, I’d say that freaking out about this is far more likely to drive people away from Christianity than it is to draw anyone closer.
I do not believe the truth can ever threaten my God, who I believe created all truth to begin with. And if we, as Christians, truly believe that knowledge and education about any subject should be shunned, lest it somehow damage us or God, then I’d argue that our faith – and our God – must not be that great to begin with.