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Asking the clergy: How religious, secular education can coexist

As time to return to school nears, many students also return to religious education. With all that knowledge to cram into one brain, this week's clergy discuss how religious education and secular education can coexist comfortably.


Elena Schwartz, cantor-educator, Temple Sinai of Roslyn, Roslyn Heights:

One of the things Judaism teaches is lifelong learning. Education should whet your appetite to learn more and different things. Judaism teaches that education doesn't end when you finish school, whether religious or public. Religious education also teaches the value of a good work ethic that can be carried over to public school and other aspects of life. If you are in the habit of studying from a young age, you likely will continue to have good study habits throughout your life.

Temple Sinai provides a stellar, value-based Jewish education that prepares our students to succeed in a complex world. We want each student to have a strong relationship with his or her teachers, friends and family. In this nurturing and safe environment, our students think, evaluate and, most importantly, share their thoughts with their peers and teachers. Religious education helps students by teaching them valuable lessons they can use their entire lives in all aspects of their lives.

Judaism also teaches that when one takes responsibility, one also is required to act. For example, when we learn about hunger, poverty, injustice and discrimination in the world, our students are expected to think of ways they can help make our world a better place, even if only in a small way.


Pastor Robert Walderman, Lynbrook Baptist Church:

Secular education without religious education is incomplete. From the founding of our country, secular and religious education were wed. The first provost of the University of Pennsylvania wrote of its graduates: "their education is far from finished . . . it is from the gospel that they must complete their knowledge . . . " One hundred of the first 110 universities in America were founded not only for secular education but for the express purpose of propagating the Christian religion.

At the simplest and very practical level, biblical language pervades literature and the arts and is the foundation of our laws and government. Consider some common expressions: "apple of his eye," "my brother's keeper," "writing on the wall," "Good Samaritan," "eye for an eye"; all are from the Bible and would make little sense to the biblically illiterate, young or old. To truly appreciate Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Steinbeck, Melville and hundreds more, one must know the Bible that inspired them.

At a deeper level, theological study is vital because all truth is God's truth, and one should not hesitate to harmonize secular discoveries with biblical revelation.

Finally, at the deepest level, man is more than mind and body but also spirit. The world's greatest minds, ancient and modern, affirm this. To have all the knowledge in the world but neglect the soul and knowledge of its eternal destiny would be shortsighted. Religious study, biblical study, fills that educational gap. We might apply the words of Jesus from Matthew 16:26, "What would it profit a man to gain the world but lose his soul?"


The Rev. Andrew Eenigenburg, West Sayville Reformed Bible Church:

The way the question is asked is actually very telling about the attitude of our culture. In our opinion and in the eyes of Scripture, man is inevitably religious (Romans 1).

Unfortunately, many focus on secular things instead of the creator. A Christian would smirk at that idea. The nonreligious focus is a form of self-centered worship. It measures things according to what man can know, gather, touch and observe. Christians acknowledge that God is the source of knowledge and the creator of all things. We understand that our learning is in light of the fact that he made all things. The only way to truly know creation is to know the one who created all things.

If one studies with the understanding that God and Christ are the center of all things, then you will be more receptive in your study of all things. Although some say that religious study begins with assumptions, I would counter that secular study begins with me-centered assumptions.

From a practical standpoint, I would look to Philippians 3 where the apostle talks of striving for Jesus Christ and has a goal he is streaming toward. We can take from that the need to have discipline in all things, including our studies.

It is false that Christians cannot look objectively at such disciplines as math and science. God made all things, and all things should be studied in light of his wisdom. God loves and creates the order in the math and sciences. Some of the greatest scientists who ever lived stood in awe of God and the things he created.

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