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Religion, ethics requirements favor Christianity

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I think it’s time to get rid of our Biblical and Theological Studies: Bible and Theology requirements (BTS-B and BTS-T, respectively). We should also adjust our Ethical Issues and Normative Perspectives requirement (EIN).

The first reason our BTS-B and BTS-T requirements should be eliminated is their Christian-centric curriculum. If we are going to recognize one religion as having enough weight in our world and enough wisdom to warrant a required course, then surely we can acknowledge other religions have their own weight and wisdom, as well. One could argue that St. Olaf should continue to require courses on Christianity because it is a traditionally Lutheran school, but I think we should be trying to improve rather than holding onto tradition. Traditions should be honored when they’re positive. If they’re not, they should be jettisoned.

My larger concern, however, is that Christianity and other religions should be seen as little more than trumped-up Flat-Earth Societies or Elvis-never-died clubs. Imagine if St. Olaf required you to take a Flat-Earth Society course — not for the sake of learning about the lengths to which gullibility can be stretched, but to learn about the literature produced by Flat-Earthers, and about the virtues that can be acquired by applying a Flat-Earth lens to your life.

“One could argue that St, Olaf should continue to require courses on Christianity because it is a traditionally Lutheran school, but I think we should be trying to improve, not doing our best to hold on to tradition.” – Iain Carlos ’20

Some of my readers may be tempted to separate the claims of Christians and Flat-Earthers by saying that Christianity makes claims about “Truth” while Flat-Earthers make demonstrably false claims about the observable world. I bid you to recall the whole “Jesus died and came back” story espoused by most Christians. I don’t think a claim can get any more observable than that.

If you don’t like my Flat-Earth analogy, imagine taking a required course on Scientology.

Everything I’ve said about the ridiculousness of having required courses dedicated to Christianity applies doubly to the EIN requirement. I recently learned from the St. Olaf webpage describing the EIN requirement that “The normative frameworks employed in the course will include one or more perspectives from the Christian theological tradition.”

Imagine a St. Olaf classroom in which a philosophy professor has handed you an article on biomedical ethics from the Scientologist lens. The professor then goes on to discuss the role of dianetics in the well-being of the individual’s mind and body. This would be so unbelievable to most of us that it is hard to even picture. But for some reason when the same exact thing happens with Christianity instead of Scientology, all of us, even the non-believers, nod our heads and shrug our shoulders.

Of course this doesn’t mean we have to throw the EIN away, but we should do it differently.


Iain Carlos ’20 (irwin2@stolaf.edu) is from Chicago, Ill. He majors in religion.