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Teaching Sam's book

 
 
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ckitzman
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28 February 2006 14:00
 

Hello all, first post. I teach comparative religion and am in the process of outlining Sam's arguments with the intent of having high school seniors try to articulate counterarguments or at least examine some of the concepts in the book more in depth. I'm having them explore the relationship between religious faith and political power, the pitfalls of religious moderation, etc. Any ideas for essay prompts to help them along would be appreciated.

Thanks in advance.
Charles

 
 
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mudfoot
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28 February 2006 14:32
 

The book’s main thesis is that faith is not a valid way to acquire knowledge.  And that faith-based “knowledge” is neither socially beneficial nor innocuous, but dangerous.  Faith is belief with insufficient knowledge combined with rejection of all other explanations.

So, “What is Faith?” may make a good essay subject.

 
Savage Henry
 
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Savage Henry
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28 February 2006 16:19
 

Divide the class into three sections and have each section write an essay entitled “Why (Islam, Christianity, Judaism) is the Stupidest”. Should make for some great reading.

 
 
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ckitzman
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01 March 2006 04:06
 

Actually, I’m focusing in on the Problem with Islam chapter and a few of his speeches. It’s a religiously affiliated school so I’m limited in what I can cover. Thanks a bunch for the suggestions though.

If I use the What is Faith? question,  they’ll spit out the dogma they’ve been hammered with all their lives and I can’t stomach the idea of reading 100 pages of that.

Addressing the stupidity of each western faith, while tempting, is hardly worth the backlash I’d have to manage.

I don’t discount the political grievances that much of the Muslim world has with the United States, at least as much as Harris appears to. For that reason, I’m bottling the ends a bit in an effort to have the students develop a multi-faceted approach to current antagonisms, including the religious angle.

Thanks again.

—ck

 
 
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SkepticX
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01 March 2006 04:55
 

[quote author=“ckitzman”]If I use the What is Faith? question,  they’ll spit out the dogma they’ve been hammered with all their lives and I can’t stomach the idea of reading 100 pages of that.

Addressing the stupidity of each western faith, while tempting, is hardly worth the backlash I’d have to manage.


That’s an interesting position you’re in. I think “What is faith?” is just a really tough essay question, particularly for high school age students. I’m not sure a “How could faith be problematic?” or “Can faith go bad?” kind of question would be any easier, but it might be more directive and still might slip through the censorship apparatus you have to deal with.

Byron

 
 
Conservative Atheist
 
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Conservative Atheist
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01 March 2006 08:18
 

Compare and contrast the radical Christian inspired violence in Northern Ireland with the radical Muslim Sunni/Shia conflicts in the Middle East.

Extra Credit:  How do these conficts differ from the conflicts between Muslims and Jews?  Muslims and Hindus?

Extra, Extra Credit:  What do all of these conflicts have in common?

(Hint: A three letter word that starts with “G” and ends wiht “od”)

 
 
 
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frankr
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01 March 2006 08:44
 

Have them write a letter to their parents explaining how stupid they are for believing in religion and paying extra money to send them to a religious school. Then write an essay explaining to the Principal why they are better off with a non believing religion teacher indoctrinating them with atheistic dogma.

No keep the parents out of the loop. They will probably overreact. Parents can be so touchy.  Its only their money that’s paying your salary and their kids you’re corrupting. I am sure you know what is best. You’ve read Sam’s book after all. Show them the part about legalizing marijuana then the kids will really think your cool.

As a fellow teacher I will say your actions in this subject can only be described as cowardly. The parents of my students might not agree with me but they damn sure know what I am teaching. Get a job in a public school where they pay you more to teach that God doesn’t exist.
Sincerely
Frank

 
 
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ckitzman
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01 March 2006 08:54
 

Actually I’m challenging them to write a counter-argument to some of the claims in the book. They know the source and are free to read it. Suprisingly, I’ve had no backlash from parents and honestly don’t expect any.

I should tow the party line I guess. But I’d rather they think.

I’m afraid of public schools and therefore deserve the coward title.

Thanks for the comments.

—ck

 
 
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frankr
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01 March 2006 09:11
 

I think you mean that you rather they think like you. Its not the teaching of Sam’s book that is offensive. It’s you teaching religion in a religious school. We, Christians, are often charged with hypocricy. We say one thing and our actions do not back it up. It s usually more weakness than hypocricy. Hypocricy is to teach something that we do not believe is true. If you are a believer teaching a World Religion class and are using Sam as a way to challenge their beliefs then I say more power to you and I ask your forgiveness for my comments; however, if you are a closet atheist teaching religion at a religious school then you are a hypocrite in the true sense of the word.

 
 
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mudfoot
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01 March 2006 09:16
 

Well, CK, on your 2nd offense for heresy the good father frankr will be glad to burn you at the stake for your efforts.

 
 
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unsmoked
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01 March 2006 09:40
 

Could you invite a young Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist etc. to the class; sit in a roundtable, and each student describe, as best he can, how he came to be what he is?  Then the question, ‘What if I had been born in YOUR household?’  How did I come to hold this strange set of ideas that pits me against millions, or billions of other people?  (the question of religious bigotry - ‘I’ve got it right, and you’ve got it wrong.’)

 
 
 
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ckitzman
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01 March 2006 09:42
 

<<If you are a believer teaching a World Religion class and are using Sam as a way to challenge their beliefs then I say more power to you and I ask your forgiveness for my comments; however, if you are a closet atheist teaching religion at a religious school then you are a hypocrite in the true sense of the word.>>

Frank - I won’t presume that you know me well enough to play judge. I happen to agree with you, Christ saved his harshest words for hypocrites. BTW - It IS a world religion class. Nonetheless, I try very hard not to tell them what to believe, it’s just not in me.

Conservative Atheist - Some good ideas, thanks. Some of those conflicts I’ve covered with these same students in a previous world history class. It could be an option.

—ck

 
 
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ckitzman
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01 March 2006 09:46
 
[quote author=“unsmoked”]Could you invite a young Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist etc. to the class; sit in a roundtable, and each student describe, as best he can, how he came to be what he is?  Then the question, ‘What if I had been born in YOUR household?’  How did I come to hold this strange set of ideas that pits me against millions, or billions of other people?  (the question of religious bigotry - ‘I’ve got it right, and you’ve got it wrong.’)

This is very similar to an experience in a class I had in college at a Jesuit University of all places.

It’s not very realistic unfortunately as I reside in a very homogeneous community. Thanks though.
—ck

 
 
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Rod
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01 March 2006 13:53
 

ckitzman,

I don’t envy you if you have to keep a straight face while discussing the origins of world religions and their “factual” basis. But the existance of faith is not any real gripe with me. My problem, and what I might suggest you discuss is the main point of Sam’s book. People act on their beliefs. Are the Holy Books truly engines of extremism?
How do you get from admiring the creator of the universe to believing that condom use in the third world is a travesty? How do you think God would be against HPV viral immunizations (to prevent cervical cancer) because “that would surely promote sexual behavior in teens?”
How is it possible for some faithful to fight these practices on a principle that is so removed from the real suffering it will cause?
Ask the students to comment on Sam’s point that faith really is a conversation stopper. Can the great faiths really expect to get along indefinitely? If I have the one true way to get to heaven, how can I tolerate my kids being perverted by other beliefs? If it’s not the only way, what does it matter what religion I choose?

Rod

 
 
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mudfoot
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01 March 2006 15:35
 

Charles, I think a lot of wind goes out of Harris’ sails regarding Islam if moderation can make inroads just as it’s made inroads into Christendom.  If not, things will only get worse and it’s a matter of minimizing the damage.  Sam seems to have made up his mind (and expressed it in TEOF)—Islam’s basically incompatible with modernity.

I think it’s admirable to expose young people to other world views—but is Islam (aside from Sufism) tolerable?

 
 
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ckitzman
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01 March 2006 16:22
 

[quote author=“Rod”]ckitzman,

Are the Holy Books truly engines of extremism?
How do you get from admiring the creator of the universe to believing that condom use in the third world is a travesty? How do you think God would be against HPV viral immunizations (to prevent cervical cancer) because “that would surely promote sexual behavior in teens?”
How is it possible for some faithful to fight these practices on a principle that is so removed from the real suffering it will cause?
Ask the students to comment on Sam’s point that faith really is a conversation stopper. Can the great faiths really expect to get along indefinitely? If I have the one true way to get to heaven, how can I tolerate my kids being perverted by other beliefs? If it’s not the only way, what does it matter what religion I choose?

Rod

Thanks Rod, these are all great. I really want them to examine this stuff critically. I think that their role in understanding God, money, and politics may (emphasis on may) make them better citizens.

Most, if not all of the students I teach are moderate christians. When I covered the downside of moderation, they were thinking about it for sure. Your questions are very close to the types of prompts I’m working on. Thanks again.

 
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