Preserve Our Differences

Along with a dedication to the pursuit of knowledge, one of our community’s most heralded attributes is the diversity of its student body. The experiences of students from a wide range of economic, racial and national backgrounds combine to form a diversified cultural foundation that in turn supports a richer educational experience. Because of the heterogeneity of our community, many cultural issues are often brought to the forefront of student discussion by means of various clubs, All-School meeting speakers and CAMD forums. But despite all of this, religious matters seem to assume a somewhat secondary nature. In order to revitalize the role of religion on campus, Scotty Fleming ’10 suggested in a Commentary article two weeks ago that we “make the Bible a required text for all incoming students.” Though it may be theoretically justifiable, in practice, mandating the reading of the Bible would undermine the core values that we uphold as a secular institution. The simple truth is that obliging students to read the Bible would do more harm than good. I do not (and cannot) proclaim, however, that there would be no benefit in requiring the study of this text. In fact, as Fleming points out in his article, there is a certain degree of academic value in comprehending the stories of the biblical canon. Such knowledge allows for, in general, a broader analysis of Western literature. Nevertheless, these apparent benefits cannot outweigh the undeniable negative repercussions that such an obligation would incur. First and foremost, institutionalizing the study of any religious text would compromise the Academy’s commitment to a non-denominational community. As I mentioned earlier, Andover is comprised of an extremely diverse student body. People of all faiths, financial backgrounds and races come together to create a culturally rich community. It is then our commitment and duty to treat each group equally, neither repressing nor favoring anybody. Just as foreign students are not made to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, the Bible should not be forced upon non-Christians. It is simply unethical to hold one religion ahead of another, as requiring the study of the Bible alone would be. In my eyes, freedom of religion is just as essential in preserving the pluralistic integrity of our community as need-blind admission or racial equality. Moreover, religious affiliation of any form undermines the secular environment that is necessary to fully immerse oneself in the pursuit of knowledge. That is not to say that religion, or lack thereof, is corrupting or somehow deleterious to one’s education. Often, students’ beliefs are just as important to them as their education. Any faith, however, should not have a substantial presence in the classroom, for religion in this setting can often lead to ideological discrepancies. In short, the classroom must become a secular environment, solely conducive to learning. In addition, putting a Bible in everyone’s hand is not the only way to create religious discourse. As Fleming states in his article, issues of faith have attained somewhat of a secondary role on our campus. For example, we have a wide variety of guest speakers and All-School meeting presenters that concern themselves with numerous issues, including racial oppression and economic disparity, yet few discuss religion. Many of the clubs here on campus focus on community equality, but again only a handful hold forums on religious issues, which are undeniably important. Thus, it is not unwise to try to arouse discussion of such issues. However, requiring the study of the Bible is an unnecessarily extreme measure. Religious dialogue can indeed be generated without employing such a radical course of action. Guest speakers can be invited. Clubs can be created, and forums can be held. If we as students are proactive in encouraging discussion, the role of religion on our campus can certainly be reinvigorated. Furthermore, it cannot be unequivocally proclaimed that simply requiring the reading of the Bible would promote positive religious discourse. As such an action encroaches upon religious freedom, it may simply arouse anger and contempt. We must find the fine line between respect for all faiths and the commitment to a non-denominational community. Diverse in its nature, our campus is filled with people of all faiths, or lack thereof. Just as people of all nationalities are treated equitably, it is our responsibility to regard all believers and non-believers with a common equality. Universally imposing any aspect of religion would inherently undermine the core egalitarian values that serve as the cornerstone experiences here at Phillips Academy. Jack Sykes is a new Lower from New York, NY.