There is an unwritten rule that in most social settings there are three subjects you should never bring up: money, politics and religion.
It’s understandable why one would not want to talk about money—possible economic inequalities might make conversation uncomfortable. And as high schoolers, discussing money isn’t particularly important as we really don’t have much of our own. Our money usually belongs to our parents, so it’s not our place to discuss it.
Politics are much more relevant to our generation, but still people tend to refrain from bringing up politics as a conversation starter because of how divisive the subject can be.
To me, religion is the most unfortunate “taboo” topic. It needs to be discussed. Most people’s religious beliefs originate from their heritage, meaning familial values are passed down from generation to generation. And along with this inheritance comes certain beliefs and perspectives. Often the inherited knowledge is narrow, from one point of view, leaving the children or young adults uneducated if not flat out ignorant about other religions. Other families may not even be affiliated with a specific religion because of their personal beliefs. This wide range of understanding makes discussion of religion challenging, so people often avoid it altogether.
But, therein lies the irony; by avoiding conversations about religion, we miss the opportunity to get rid of stereotypes and lift the veil of ignorance.
In my high school community, I’ve observed my peers blindly following stereotypes and propagating preconceived notions about minorities. I’ve seen my classmates share images on social media that were obnoxious portrayals of Jewish people. I’ve received messages with anti-Semitic jokes perhaps not intended for me, but I was part of a large distribution. Seeing these prejudice remarks makes me feel isolated and uncomfortable. While I can’t speak for all my Jewish peers, I’m sure many feel similarly to me.
Even though there may not be a lot of evidence of anti-semitism in our halls, there is in our nation. Anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. surged more than 33 percent in 2016 and jumped 86 percent in the first quarter of 2017. According to Pew Research, 5.3 million Jews live in the United States, accounting for approximately 1.9 percent of the U.S. population. Yet, in 1999-2000 it was found that 78.6 percent of all hate crimes were committed against them. Whereas Catholics take up 20.8 percent of the U.S. population, and only 3 percent of hate times were directed at them.
How much of this inappropriate behavior is agitated by ignorance? If the perpetrators had known more about Judaism, would they have been so insensitive? Wouldn’t it be better to talk about religious differences rather than avoid the topic?
In order to lift the veil of ignorance among our peers, students need to be enlightened and taught about religion. According to a recent Bark survey, 70 percent of the student population self-reported that they wish they were more knowledgeable on other religions and cultures.
However, federal regulations limit the teaching of religious subjects in public school environments. More than 65 years ago, the McCollum v. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court was passed, making religious indoctrination in public schools illegal. The Supreme Court also passed the 50th anniversary of Abington v. Schempp, barring Bible reading and reciting of prayer. It’s clearly illegal for our public schools to favor certain religions, but that shouldn’t stop us from having conversations. Teachers don’t need to instill their own religious beliefs in their students or make personal statements about religion. They should simply do what they already do so well at Redwood—provide us with a safe environment to learn, share and talk.
Religion is already applicable to many courses, especially history, so it could be seamlessly blended into pre-existing curriculum. Our teachers could go into depth explaining the causes behind religiously-motivated wars or the religious backgrounds of various historical leaders and the impact of their beliefs on their influence and governorship.
But religion wouldn’t have to be limited to just history courses. Science teachers could explain how religion played a role in scientific discoveries or English teachers could read and discuss religious texts and literature. If schools continue to shy away from religion, then they are allowing misconceptions to breed in ignorance and they are depriving students of educational opportunities.
We aren’t asking teachers to be advocates for any particular religion anymore than we ask them to be advocates or opponents of violence when they teach us about World War I or World War II. By no means am I suggesting that teachers would be forcing religious practice on their students. Instead, they would simply broaden the student’s worldview and awareness of other cultures.
If we talk about religion more extensively and openly within the safe environment of our classrooms, then I would expect that dinner conversation or party talk taboo about religion to dissolve. Our communities will then be a place of mutual understanding of our religious and ideological differences.