FEBRUARY 4, 2002
Religion and the Course Catalog
-- Martin E. Marty
It is one thing to speak of pluralism in scholarly fashion, and another to deal with its outer reaches when confronted with its manifestations. It is one thing to advocate governmentally-supported "faith-based" ventures, and another to deal with the outer reaches of faiths that get supported.
Columnist Al Krass, a retired UCC pastor in Levittown, Pennsylvania, recently sent me his Philadelphia Inquirier column dating from September 4, 2001. He surely has more to offer now, but reported then on the course offerings from Neshaminy Adult Education, Inc. and the local community college. Both are tax-supported institutions which, he says, are run by radical "separationists" who would not touch anything that they consider religious with a 10-foot pole. He found no courses "about" Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or Buddhism nothing on the Qur'an or the Psalms. He did find plenty of "how to" classes as alternatives.
In Neshaminy, the public square gets religion in the form of "Angels of the Energy Field." The description of this non-religious course reads: "Become trained to be aware of Angelic presence which may enhance your ability to further your soul quest. . . and receive Divine Energy." Other offerings include "Chakras" ("by using the Hindu understanding of energy centers along your spine you can learn . . ."); "Dreams and Creativity (including study of the "7 Steps of the Dream Spiral which you can use for self-healing. . .); "Feng Shui," of course; "Psychic Awareness ("Learn to read an aura . . and awaken your inner self") and "Tarot Cards."
At the community college, Jews, Christians, and Muslims, whose texts are frozen out from study, can pay their taxes and their dues to take: "Angelic Nightingales" ("Clear the obstacles. . . This is not a lecture course. It is a communion with Spirit.") and "Mind/Body Integration Pathwork ("leading to greater personal empowerment and profound, graceful healing.") One can also enroll in "Spirit, Soul & Self," "The Sacred Now," "After-Death Communications," or "Abundance: The Virtue of Prosperity and all Good Things."
By any definition of what religion is -- all that about "ultimate concern" and "myth and symbol" and "rite and ceremony" and "metaphysical sanctions" and "behavioral reinforcements" -- every one of these is clearly and precisely religious. But they get by in the "stealth curriculum" because they are not labeled as religious. Where is the ACLU now that Neshaminy needs it? Where is People for the American Way, which would advocate that the community college teach about religion, not teach its practice? Where, for that matter, are Catholics, Baptists and all who look for a level playing field?
Enough questions for one week. We invite your answers.