Thursday, September 29, 2005
An article titled "Is God on Your Seating Chart?: Discussing Religious Beliefs in Class" appears in the Fall 2005 issue of "The Law Teacher." In the article, GW law professor, Robert Palmer, says that he allows students to express religious beliefs in class because "student beliefs, particularly religious beliefs, can be informative and bring us to a deeper level of understanding." But how is it informative and how does it lead to a deeper level of understanding? If I understand Palmer, he suggests that it allows the students a deeper awareness of the subjective motivations at play in our polity. He doesn't think, however, that expressions of religious belief add anything of reasonable relevance to the teaching and learning of the material in a course.
Palmer views the classroom and its discussion as exercises in logic with an underpinning of experience. He hopes that "experience and logic will align, and the students will leave class with a beginner's level of understanding of the area of law covered."
In contrast, religion is about belief. And, although "religious belief usually isn't a knee-jerk, 'that's just the way I feel' belief," it is still just belief and as such "cannot be challenged with logic" because "to do so would be illogical. All we can do with belief is know it for what it is and add it to our repository of experience." For Palmer, "logic is a cool white light" while "belief, especially religious belief, can be red hot. Emotions run high. Voices rise and quake. Tempers flare."
The development of Catholic Legal Theory (our stated purpose at MOJ) is premised on a rejection of Palmer's view that religious belief cannot be scrutinized for its logic or reasonableness. Prudence might indicate that we scrutinize delicately and Jesus commands that we do it in love. Nevertheless, if a student (or professor, for that matter) makes an argument from religion (or religious belief) in the classroom, it seems to me that student (or professor) opens himself up to being probed and tested as to the reasonableness of their assertion.
Any thoughts? I will invite Professor Palmer to comment.