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Religion Discussion for High School Social Studies class


codeorama

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As some of you know, I teach World History for high school students and we are at a time in the year where we have finished covering the 5 major world religions (Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam).

I like teaching the history and beliefs of each of the religions becuase the kids like it. They want to discuss it and I kind of keep my personal views to myself but just act as a moderator. 

 

Anyway, I have six classes and in each of them every year, the kids make the same observation.

In their opinions, they point out that each of the religions focuses on things like being a good person, doing good deeds etc.. in order to reach "heaven", "paradise" or "nirvana", except for Christianity.  Christianity focuses only on accepting Jesus as the son of God as a means to reach "heaven" (the afterlife). 

 

This always brings up a dilemma for me as a teacher because I don't want to influence them in their faith or non faith.  I only want them to know the history and beliefs of each religion, however, I do like that they are thinking for themselves and forming their own opinions and questions. I encourage them to ask those questions to their parents and priest/pastor/rabbi etc..

 

However, each year, this reminds me of a story I saw on Reggie White on ESPN regarding how he started questioning his faith based on the translation of texts.  I found a story documenting this on Yahoo and have provided the link below.  It's a good read if you like the topic of religion as a whole.

 

I thought I'd post this to spur some discussion.
First, this is not to put down Christianity or offend anyone. I know quite a few people that identify themselves as Christians that do not believe that there has to be a literal interpretation of everything in the bible. On the same hand, I know many that believe that it has to be a literal belief.

 

Anyway, just thought I'd post the article. I'm curious as to the opinion of others.

 

 

sports.yahoo.com/news/reggies-self-revelation-230500053--nfl.html

 

Click the link to read the whole story:  This is just a selection...

 

"He would come upstairs and say, 'Did you know, this, this and this?' " said Sara on Thursday, as the faint afternoon light peaked through the stained glass of the old Mariner's Church in downtown Detroit, where she conducted interviews for a forthcoming DVD about Reggie. "He would teach me what he learned. He found, first off, (that the) King James (Bible) was taken out of context, a lot. A lot of words were added. A lot of words were subtracted.

"He found that in the Torah, in Hebrew, things that may have been taken literal shouldn't have been. Some things that were idioms at that time, today people don't understand those idioms because they were their time. Just like in 40 years, people aren't going to understand our idioms.

"(For example) 'I paid an arm and a leg for this shirt.' Guess what, in 40 years they are going to think I paid a literal arm and a literal leg for this shirt. What Reggie understood, and he taught us, is that you have to go back to the way they were living and understand their mindset."

Reggie meticulously translated each word and then put it in context. Sara says he found alarming inaccuracies. Some of it was lost in translations, Hebrew being translated into Greek and then being translated into another language. Some may have been just simple errors, the product of an era before moveable type.

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I can agree with that. How could you learn Hebrew and Greek on your own in such a short time and really understand it.

I will say though, I asked the kids to do an experiment and several did.  They wrote a 1 page paper and asked one of the French teachers at the school to translate it. Then, they took it to another and translated the French to English and we compared the original in class. There were differences for sure.  It was enlightening.

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In their opinions, they point out that each of the religions focuses on things like being a good person, doing good deeds etc.. in order to reach "heaven", "paradise" or "nirvana", except for Christianity.  Christianity focuses only on accepting Jesus as the son of God as a means to reach "heaven" (the afterlife).

As PeterMP notes, the "only" is not quite accurate, depending on denomination, but this is generally accurate. Christianity is, as far as I am aware, unique in this respect.

 

As far as Reggie being a smarter translator than all of the historians, meh.

Look at that. I agree with Chipwich! Mark the time and date.

The idea that Reggie White can study a couple of languages for a few years, then do a better job than the collective efforts of countless experts (of all theological stripes, including atheists) that spend their professional lives on this stuff is kind of silly, really, but it's not a unique example.

 

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I will say though, I asked the kids to do an experiment and several did.  They wrote a 1 page paper and asked one of the French teachers at the school to translate it. Then, they took it to another and translated the French to English and we compared the original in class. There were differences for sure.  It was enlightening.

This isn't really an accurate representation of the translation process, though, and I'm afraid you're seriously misleading your students. Consider the differences:

1. It is true that scholars make use of early translations (such as the Latin Vulgate) when doing textual criticism, but there are also a vast array of texts in the original languages of Hebrew and Greek as well, so the idea that what we can read in English is a translation of a translation, with meaning lost somehow, is just wrong.

2. Even when scholars are making use of, let's say, the Latin vulgate, they are comparing these to those original language texts and other translations. There are thousands and thousands of texts to compare with each other and cross check, so "typos" can generally be caught where they entered the stream. It's not at all like taking one paper, translating it, and translating it back.

If you wanted to have an accurate representation, you'd have one student write the paper, then all of your students copy it, then give some of those papers to French teachers, and some to German teachers, and some to Spanish teachers, and have them copy them. Then you'd have a team of people sit down with all the copies and compare them, trying to work out what the original text said.

I bet the result would be surprisingly accurate, even if the proposal is entirely unrealistic. I have read about professors doing this for textual criticism courses, and the result is usually very close to the original.

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I will point out what you are really talking about in terms of Christianity is the division between faith vs. works and faith.

 

Not all Christian denominations take the faith only point of view, including Catholicism.

 

I will point out that faith produces works according to the faith 'only' side.

it is really only a division if one side believes works alone is enough(which most I know don't)

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TWA, let me ask then, if a murderer accepts Jesus on his death bed, how did "works" come into play?

Here is an actual question a student asked me and all I could do is refer them to their parents/pastor...

 

"If I live a good life and do good deeds but don't believe that Jesus was literally this magical son of God, I go to hell as opposed to someone who does bad things all there life but then believes in Jesus at the end"

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The idea that Christianity doesn't focus on being/doing good seems far-fetched to me. The sermon on the mount, for example, makes no sense if we assume Christianity does not involve morality.

 

Anyone who believes in Jesus (Christianity) knows that Jesus himself said that in order to get into heaven, follow the commandments.  When pressed - he said there are 2 main commandments:  Love god with all your heart AND Love thy neighbor as you love yourself.

 

I don't see how your kids reached the idea that "In their opinions, they point out that each of the religions focuses on things like being a good person, doing good deeds etc.. in order to reach "heaven", "paradise" or "nirvana", except for Christianity.  Christianity focuses only on accepting Jesus as the son of God as a means to reach "heaven" (the afterlife)."

 

You need to be more thorough in your lessons if you haven't covered these teachings of Jesus himself.

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The idea that Reggie White can study a couple of languages for a few years, then do a better job than the collective efforts of countless experts (of all theological stripes, including atheists) that spend their professional lives on this stuff is kind of silly, really, but it's not a unique example.

That is not an accurate representation of the translation process, though. What actually goes on is that scholars examine the various source texts, use a variety of techniques to resolve differences where they arise, and translate into whatever language they're going for.

They never themselves translate back and forth like that, and if you're giving that assignment to your students, you're giving them the wrong idea of how this works.

 

Regarding White, I agree. Even so I think his overall point is correct that the vast majority of Christians don't bother to dig deeper into the true meaning of the Bible to fully understand it. I always thought he was just a "Jackleg preacher" kind of guy. So kudos to him for being one of the few who actually took the time to dig a bit deeper.

 

As for the variety of techniques used to resolve differences that you mentioned I have to think that there are cases where there are disagreements about a given passage. Also, even those with many years of education and experience can fall victim to failing to see the forest for the trees and discounting certain positions simply because they were taught something different by instructors at the beginning of their scholarship and never questioned the prevailing view. There are numerous examples of this but the two that immediately come to mind are the discovery of H. Pylori as a cause of ulcers and differences in drug metabolism/action in men vs. women.

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TWA, let me ask then, if a murderer accepts Jesus on his death bed, how did "works" come into play?

Here is an actual question a student asked me and all I could do is refer them to their parents/pastor...

 

"If I live a good life and do good deeds but don't believe that Jesus was literally this magical son of God, I go to hell as opposed to someone who does bad things all there life but then believes in Jesus at the end"

 

Wow, you teach Christianity and don't understand these issues?  I'm actually surprised.

 

According to the Catechisms of Catholics, anyone who truly is sorry for their sins, regardless of when they come to this belief, will be forgiven by God.  They should go to confession with a priest, but this in not necessary.

 

Second, Catholics (and most Christians, with the exception of a very narrow few) don't believe that you need to recognize Jesus as an automatic entry to heaven or you go to hell.  For example, how would people born in South America in the year AD 100 ever get to heaven?  They had no way to ever hear about Jesus - but God wouldn't use that against them.

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btfoom, This conclusion was what they bring to the table.  Being that I grew up in a Baptist church and my dad was a deacon, that's is exactly what was taught. Not that you shouldn't treat people as you want to be treated, but that the only path to heaven was acceptance of Jesus. 

That's what (for 6 years), the kids tell me they learn in their churches.

 

I only teach the history of the religion and key beliefs. In VA, the key beliefes of Christianity as we teach them are 1. Jesus is the Messiah, 2, Christianity is Monotheistic, 3. Belief in the afterlife.  We do not get into specifics.


btfoom, I don't "teach" Christianity, I only teach the Virginia Standards that we are given. 

 

BTW, nearly 100% of my students do not know that Catholics are Christians...

 

Just showing you what I'm dealing with.


What you have posted is specific to Catholics, I know that is not the same view for within the Baptist Church I attended or the Pentecostal church my sister in law grew up in.

 

My mom literally thinks that my Uncle and Aunt are not going to heaven because they are Methodists and in their church, they are more works focused.

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Second, Catholics (and most Christians, with the exception of a very narrow few) don't believe that you need to recognize Jesus as an automatic entry to heaven or you go to hell.  For example, how would people born in South America in the year AD 100 ever get to heaven?  They had no way to ever hear about Jesus - but God wouldn't use that against them.

Its common to hold the belief that someone who has absolutely no knowledge of Jesus can get in with good deeds, but what about the folks who had heard of the story, but just didn't believe it, or didnt take the time to look into it more based on geographic location, upbringing, or even just not believing in someone who raises from the dead?

 

I haven't seen in scripture where it states those folks who do inherently good things will be allowed into heaven. 

 

Things like this are why Pascal's Wager falls flat on its face.

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What you have posted is specific to Catholics, I know that is not the same view for within the Baptist Church I attended or the Pentecostal church my sister in law grew up in.

 

My mom literally thinks that my Uncle and Aunt are not going to heaven because they are Methodists and in their church, they are more works focused.

 

There is a lot of confusion(especially among lay members) on both sides of that.

Some of the confusion stems from the security of the believer/purgatory issues which are sort of tangential to your example.

 

What btfoom explained was basically the same as my very conservative Baptist church taught.....they just didn't teach it loudly enough to sink in for some. :) ......and ya always have doubts about the other guy

 

The Catholics have the same problem at times with some believing the only way is thru the Church.

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As for the variety of techniques used to resolve differences that you mentioned I have to think that there are cases where there are disagreements about a given passage

Oh, there are. As Daniel B. Wallace notes as an aside in this article, when it comes to the New Testament...

Once again the reader should be reminded of a point made earlier. Though textual criticism cannot yet produce certainty about the exact wording of the original, this uncertainty affects only about two percent of the text. And in that two percent support always exists for what the original said—never is one left with mere conjecture. In other words it is not that only 90 percent of the original text exists in the extant Greek manuscripts—rather, 110 percent exists. Textual criticism is not involved in reinventing the original; it is involved in discarding the spurious, in burning the dross to get to the gold.

So we're talking about 2 percent or so. Of that 2 percent, he notes in this interview:

Spelling and nonsense readings are the vast majority, accounting for at least 75% of all variants. The most common variant is what’s called a movable nu—that’s an ‘n’ at the end of one word before another word that starts with a vowel. We see the same principle in English with the indefinite article: ‘a book,’ ‘an apple.’ These spelling differences are easy for scholars to detect. They really affect nothing.

The second largest group, changes that can’t be translated and synonyms, also do not affect the meaning of the text. Frequently, the word order in the Greek text is changed from manuscript to manuscript. Yet the word order in Greek is very flexible. For the most part, the only difference is one of emphasis, not meaning.

The third group is meaningful variants that are not viable. By ‘viable’ I mean a variant that can make a good case for reflecting the wording of the original text. This, the third largest group, even though it involves meaningful variants, has no credibility. For example, in Luke 6:22, the ESV reads, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” But one manuscript from the 10th/11th century (codex 2882) lacks the words “on account of the Son of Man.” That’s a very meaningful variant since it seems to say that a person is blessed when he is persecuted, regardless of his allegiance to Christ. Yet it is only in one manuscript, and a relatively late one at that. It has no chance of reflecting the wording of the original text, since all the other manuscripts are against it, including quite a few that are much, much earlier.

The smallest category by far is the last category: meaningful and viable variants. These comprise less than 1% of all textual variants. Yet, even here, no cardinal belief is at stake. These variants do affect what a particular passage teaches, and thus what the Bible says in that place, but they do not jeopardize essential beliefs.

So core doctrines are not at stake. To give you an example of the last and most significant category, one of the hottest disputes in textual criticism right now is Romans 5:1. From the Net Bible, which I really like because it includes extensive translation notes touching on such issues when they arise:

5:11 Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have2 peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 5:2 through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice3 in the hope of God’s glory.

Here's the dispute from their notes:

2tc A number of important witnesses have the subjunctive ἔχωμεν (ecwmen, “let us have”) instead of ἔχομεν (ecomen, “we have”) in v. 1. Included in the subjunctive’s support are א* A B* C D K L 33 81 630 1175 1739* pm lat bo. But the indicative is not without its supporters: א1 B2 F G P Ψ 0220vid 104 365 1241 1505 1506 1739c 1881 2464 pm. If the problem were to be solved on an external basis only, the subjunctive would be preferred. Because of this, the “A” rating on behalf of the indicative in the UBS4 appears overly confident. Nevertheless, the indicative is probably correct. First, the earliest witness to Rom 5:1 has the indicative (0220vid, third century). Second, the first set of correctors is sometimes, if not often, of equal importance with the original hand. Hence, א1 might be given equal value with א*. Third, there is a good cross-section of witnesses for the indicative: Alexandrian (in 0220vid, probably א1 1241 1506 1881 al), Western (in F G), and Byzantine (noted in NA27 as pm). Thus, although the external evidence is strongly in favor of the subjunctive, the indicative is represented well enough that its ancestry could easily go back to the original. Turning to the internal evidence, the indicative gains much ground. (1) The variant may have been produced via an error of hearing (since omicron and omega were pronounced alike in ancient Greek). This, of course, does not indicate which reading was original – just that an error of hearing may have produced one of them. In light of the indecisiveness of the transcriptional evidence, intrinsic evidence could play a much larger role. This is indeed the case here. (2) The indicative fits well with the overall argument of the book to this point. Up until now, Paul has been establishing the “indicatives of the faith.” There is only one imperative (used rhetorically) and only one hortatory subjunctive (and this in a quotation within a diatribe) up till this point, while from ch. 6 on there are sixty-one imperatives and seven hortatory subjunctives. Clearly, an exhortation would be out of place in ch. 5. (3) Paul presupposes that the audience has peace with God (via reconciliation) in 5:10. This seems to assume the indicative in v. 1. (4) As C. E. B. Cranfield notes, “it would surely be strange for Paul, in such a carefully argued writing as this, to exhort his readers to enjoy or to guard a peace which he has not yet explicitly shown to be possessed by them” (Romans [iCC], 1:257). (5) The notion that εἰρήνην ἔχωμεν (eirhnhn ecwmen) can even naturally mean “enjoy peace” is problematic (ExSyn 464), yet those who embrace the subjunctive have to give the verb some such force. Thus, although the external evidence is stronger in support of the subjunctive, the internal evidence points to the indicative. Although a decision is difficult, ἔχομεν appears to be the authentic reading.

So the question is whether Paul said "we have peace" or "let us have peace". Earth-shattering, right?

I mean, it's important, but it's not going to affect any essential doctrine of Christianity. They're pretty much all like that.

It's important not to understate the problems with determining the precise text of the originals, but it's equally important not to overstate them as well.

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Wow, you teach Christianity and don't understand these issues?  I'm actually surprised.

 

According to the Catechisms of Catholics, anyone who truly is sorry for their sins, regardless of when they come to this belief, will be forgiven by God.  They should go to confession with a priest, but this in not necessary.

 

Second, Catholics (and most Christians, with the exception of a very narrow few) don't believe that you need to recognize Jesus as an automatic entry to heaven or you go to hell.  For example, how would people born in South America in the year AD 100 ever get to heaven?  They had no way to ever hear about Jesus - but God wouldn't use that against them.

 

Re: your first point, this is enlightening - for the multitude of services I have been to in my life (both non-denominational and Episcopal), the opposite was taught. When I was confirmed (did so for my mother, not a believer myself) in the Episcopal Church, these were the two questions I asked our pastor with legitimate curiosity:

 

1) If I do a multitude of good, charitable, selfless deeds in my life, all while living by the Golden Rule, but I do not accept Jesus as Lord, will I get into heaven? The answer was no.

 

and

2) What happens to kids that die in remote areas who have never heard of Christianity? Do they go to hell? The pastor didn't have an answer.

 

This always frustrated me because a serial killer, for instance, could ask for forgiveness and become born again by accepting Christ into his heart and get into Heaven...but me, the good Samaritan won't? 

 

Curious to see where this thread goes...

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Peter, thanks, You are correct, I actually do point this out to my kids. I forgot to add in the original post that this faith alone line of thought is more regarding to "born again" Christian denominations which is more common in my community. 

Thank you!

 

it sounds like you are comparing a vaugue ideal/utopian/pure view of other major religions, and then comparing it to a flawed/provincial/myopic on-the-ground reality in the case of christianity.  THat doesn't do anybody any good.

 

compare the lofty texts to each other, and/or compare the "on-the-ground" pervesions that sometimes emerge from those lofty ideals.  but don't mix-em up.

 

comparing southern christian hardliners to the ultra-orthodox factions in Israel, or to the pogrom inducers in Gujarat, or the enlightenment-challenged religious leaders in Riyandh... those are more apples to apples comparisons.

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Its common to hold the belief that someone who has absolutely no knowledge of Jesus can get in with good deeds, but what about the folks who had heard of the story, but just didn't believe it, or didnt take the time to look into it more based on geographic location, upbringing, or even just not believing in someone who raises from the dead?

 

I haven't seen in scripture where it states those folks who do inherently good things will be allowed into heaven. 

 

Things like this are why Pascal's Wager falls flat on its face.

Want to re-quote this as I am really interested from some folks who are more familiar with the bible than I.

 

I don't care about what denominations themselves think, I'm wondering in the bible, what it says about this.

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Actually, McSluggo makes a great point.

 

Americans - by and large - know a lot more about Christianity than any other religion. And, if you are in a particular denomination, you know an awful lot about that particular flavor of Christianity. So, what end up doing is comparing Reformed Presbyterians to the Islam we learned about in "True Lies" to the Buddhism we picked up from some Jefferson Airplane records.

 

Stay broad with everything.

 

Because I can't imagine anything more painful than a bunch of teenagers in a "faith or works" discussion.

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That was a good story(article)..and I agree w/Reggie's thought that churches today sometimes preach their own agenda instead of the gospel.  I've often wondered myself how far off the translation of the Bible is...how some words that had meaning back then were lost in the languages of today so something was substituted which could've entirely change what was meant.  I don't believe the Bible is literal in all things...I do believe the only way to Heaven is thru salvation thru Jesus Christ. That's my personal belief. I think religion, period, is fascinating and I find it interesting that several people can read a certain passage and no 2 people will interpret it the same way...I find that incredible...I do think it was taken out of context and that some of man's ideas were incorporated b/c some words used back then just don't exist any longer..so they had to put something in there...who knows who made the decision as to what word went where..It can be very confusing and frustrating especially when your minister says.."that's the way it is b/c the Bible says so" no other explanation necessary..but suppose that's not enough for me? Suppose I need more reasons?.Is that a lack of faith on my part or just my mind wanting proof? I don't deny Christ...I believe He's real and I believe He still lives..but what makes the Bible the final word? How do we know Joe Blow didn't make up the word Rapture?

..Reggie was also right in losing faith in ministers, pastors etc..b/c you shouldn't put any faith in men..they are flesh and are fallible just like the rest of us..so if he ever put any faith in those people..he was continually let down...

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In their opinions, they point out that each of the religions focuses on things like being a good person, doing good deeds etc.. in order to reach "heaven", "paradise" or "nirvana", except for Christianity.  Christianity focuses only on accepting Jesus as the son of God as a means to reach "heaven" (the afterlife). 

 

 

Is this even true?

 

Jews - to my knowledge - have a very vague belief in the Afterlife. Jewish religious life is built more on living a good life now as opposed to being rewarded in the afterlife.

 

Islam - to my extremely limited knowledge - mirrors Christianity's views on the afterlife to some degree, though its concept of Heaven seems very different. There definitely seems to be a more good deeds gets you in thing there.

 

Christians generally belief in Heaven and a life to come, but what that life is and how you go to Heaven differs by denomination. Catholics and Baptists get into fistfights over these sort of things.

 

Buddhism seems - to my embarrassingly limited view - like a never-ending series of attempts to get it right.

 

Hinduism - again to my stupidly limited view - doesn't seem to have a big emphasis on the afterlife.

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Want to re-quote this as I am really interested from some folks who are more familiar with the bible than I.

 

I don't care about what denominations themselves think, I'm wondering in the bible, what it says about this.

 

the bible says the lamb slain before the foundation of the world covers our sins if you repent and seek it.(truly repenting is seeking imo)

 

people tend to complicate the rest

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