Yesterday I wrote about the recent Pew Forum survey of religious knowledge, a survey that revealed that Americans are rather ignorant when it comes to religion -- even our own religious tenets. But while ignorance might be bliss it can also be dangerous, for it leads to persecution, repression, and even violence. It has political consequences, as we're seeing in the ongoing attempt to smear the President, who though he is by confession of faith a Christian, is being painted as a Muslim. Now there's nothing wrong with being a Muslim -- in my mind -- but in the minds of many Islam equals terrorism, and thus, if the President is a Muslim then he must be in secret league with terrorists.
One of the points that comes out of the Pew Survey is the need to teach comparative religion, treating every religion fairly. Unfortunately this effort at overcoming ignorance is hampered on two fronts -- those who want a doctrinal Christian view taught in the schools, and those who want to exclude all forms of religion from the schools. And, of course, the schools, with enough other problems on their plate want to stay clear of any controversy, so they simply don't address religion. They know that offering comparative religion or bible as literature classes will be a lose-lose situation.
It is in this context that John Esposito, one of the preeminent scholars of Islam (and a Roman Catholic), and Sheila Lalwani, a fellow at the Center for Christian-Muslim Understanding at Georgetown University, which Esposito directs, respond to news that the Texas Board of Education, a Board that has offered up bizarre decisions on science textbooks and American history textbooks, have voted by a 7-6 margin to oppose textbooks that in their view portray Christianity unfavorably and "gloss over" unfavorable aspects of Islam. The authors suggest that this decision can have a disastrous effect on Muslim-Christian relations and feed Islamophobia, in large part because the impact that the Texas school system has on text-book publishing across the nation. What the Texas Board decides influences the textbooks used in districts across the country.
Ignorance of religion is not bliss, it is dangerous. Indeed, as the Esposito and Lalwani make clear -- Islam isn't the enemy, ignorance is! It is this ignorance that is being used for political purposes to divide and conquer the nation. The question is, then, what shall we do to dispel the clouds of ignorance that are hanging over the nation?