Lighting a Candle
In the United States, 53 percent of Protestants can’t identify Martin Luther. Less than half of America knows that the Dalai Lama is Buddhist. While 82 percent of the country knows that Mother Teresa was Catholic, almost half of all Catholics in the United States are unaware of their church’s doctrine of transubstantiation.
This is just a sample of the findings of an infamous Pew Research poll published in September 2010. The results indicate that we are a deeply religious country suffering a pandemic of religious illiteracy—including, shockingly, about the very religions that we practice. In an increasingly globalized society, and especially post-9/11, this sort of ignorance about world religions is unacceptable. A comparative religion curriculum should be as mandatory in American high schools as curricula in biology or American history
Matthew Vines ’12 was undoubtedly the smartest kid in my Social Studies 10 section. Every week he tackled the material with energy and verve, and effortlessly raised the interest level of everyone else in the room. Then, halfway through the year long tutorial, Vines took a leave of absence. On a brief return to Harvard the following semester, Vines implied that he had been suffering from depression, and said that he had decided to take time off to do some necessary “reading.”
Last week, I discovered what that “reading” was.
Like many of my fellow Harvard students, I have been appalled by several of your recent deeply misinformed comments about liberal arts colleges. In January, for example, you accused President Obama of encouraging kids to attend college because the “indoctrination that occurs in American universities” is how the left holds power in America. You said that Obama’s push for higher education is nothing more than an attempt for the president to “remake” our nation’s youth in his own image. You’ve painted a nightmarish picture of our American universities as “indoctrination mills” run by liberal professors, plagued by an atheistic spirit where students lose their religion due to “politically correct left” professors.
I am writing to tell you that these claims are wild, ignorant exaggerations. Over the course of my few years at Harvard, I have come to discover a wonderful, vibrant campus that values freedom of expression and diverse viewpoints. We are taught to think independently here at Harvard, rather than simply to follow the herd. Heck, our introduction to economics class is even taught by a former advisor to President George W. Bush! Furthermore, contrary to your claim that colleges are bastions of anti-religious sentiment, the center of our campus is the austere and awe-inspiring Memorial Church, which emphasizes the profound contribution of religion to the fabric of the Harvard community.