Tell me what you read, and I will tell you who you are. America’s brightest high school students are reading atheistic and agnostic authors, and, not surprisingly, they are losing their faith.
National Geographic notes that the world’s fastest growing religion is “no religion.” This trend is particularly strong in the US.
I think our high school English programs bear a significant part of the blame.
I noticed this problem during my senior year of high school when I took an Advanced Placement English Literature course for college credit. The entire second semester was dedicated to postmodern, existentialist books. We read atheist Hemingway, atheist Camus, atheist Sartre, and agnostic Conrad. I left class feeling depressed and shaken in my faith. If it weren’t for my decision to study religion in college, I probably would have left university an atheistic relativist like most of my peers–thinking that God and morality were figments of the human imagination.
The issue came up again in the education of my younger brother. As he journeyed through high school, he became increasingly secular. Recently, we were talking about ethics. I suggested that morality is not relativistic. I used the example of killing an innocent person. He eventually agreed reluctantly but claimed that not everyone wanted to accept my “dogmas and absolutism.” Of course, he had recently read Hemingway and Conrad. He has been educated to equate morality and religion with illogical “dogma.”
This encounter led me to take a look at the AP English Literature sample reading list. When I ran the numbers, I came out with the statistics above. Atheists, agnostics, and nones constitute a plurality. They are vastly overrepresented.
I continued perusing the College Board document and stumbled upon a sample selection with questions attached. It was a passage from The Dodson Sisters by the English author George Eliot, an anti-Catholic secularist. The text is laughably–or disturbingly–anti-religious. It reads, “Their religion was of a simple, semi-pagan kind, but there was no heresy in it—if heresy properly means choice.” The ideological commitments are clear. Freedom is reduced to choice, and, for Eliot, choice will inevitably lead a person away from religion. (Naturally, the passage closes with an insulting description of a clergyman.) These irreverent ideas are quietly entering the minds of US youth, and very few are protesting.
I am not suggesting that public high schools should force students to read all Catholic, or at least Christian, authors, but I am in favor of more balance in our English programs. Separation between Church and State does not mean a preference for irreligion; rather, it means our education system should not endorse a single religion or no religion.
The overrepresentation of secularist authors in our classrooms is a tacit endorsement of their ideologies. It’s unconstitutional, and it’s got to change.
Catholic and Christian authors have much to offer, but our schools are silencing their voices. It’s time to speak up and speak out.
David J.W. Inczauskis, S.J.