Sunday, April 18, 2010

Some Sunday Morning Thinking Out Loud

Christopher Hitchens's God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything came out in April 2009.  I haven't read the book, but I disagree with both the title and the subtitle.  That being said, religion's failures may prove a bit illustrative.

Using Christianity as an example, religion seems to illustrate that agreement on large goals produces unity or accord.  Christians believe that a Jewish man who lived and was crucified a little over 2000 years ago rose from the dead and provides salvation for the whole human race.   It's unclear, however, if a Russian Orthodox bishop and a pentecostal snake handling clergyman can agree on any implications of that statement.  They certainly don't agree on what constitutes proper practices to illustrate their shared belief.  I won't even bother to try to go through the history of great and small religious wars that illustrate that these differences can have disastrous consequences.

In the same manner, educators, politicians, business leaders, parents, and students all agree on a large goal: students need to be prepared to succeed in an ever changing and increasingly complex world.  No one, however, agrees how to achieve that goal.  Although no one may be going to war over NCLB or a liberal arts curriculum, the debate's vitriol rivals that of the arguments over proper communion or baptism practices.

It's clear that the devil owns the details, and we are all living mobile Venn diagrams situated on a shifting plane.  (I don't know if that statement is mathematically possible, but it seems a usable image.)  Venn diagrams illustrate the elements that a set shares or excludes.  As the plane shifts and the arcs move, different elements become shared or null sets.

The problem inherent in the religious arguments or the debate over educational reform is that people seem to believe they own the doctrine.  Maybe those involved in doctrinal arguments ought to see the ideas or the details or first principles as "shared" rather than "owned" the arguments might be less vitriolic.  At least that's the idealistic thought for this Sunday morning.

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