Is the Pope Catholic?

This week, in honour of the increased profile religion has been getting following the events in Asia, Aftonbladet’s editors decided to take a look at the religious education students in Sweden are getting - presumably to find out whether we can expect the nation’s 18-year-olds to understand the news. The findings were grim.

Writer Göran Hägg reviewed the books used by students in grades 7-9 and at gymnasium-level in two in-depth stories this week.

Books for students in the first through sixth year were abandoned since, as Hägg put it, “none should be used in real schools”. Hägg noted that many teachers at elementary schools simply skip over the subject, and commends their choice.

Texts for young adults, however, needed a bit of attention; after all, religion is now a required subject for all gymnasium students, and it may be worth finding out what they’re being taught.

In his article on texts for grades 7-9 Hägg found, happily, that disrespect for viewpoints outside the Swedish Church were waning; this was somewhat offset by a waxing Swedish political correctness that popped up everywhere. Hägg noted that “the number of homosexuals grew in the new books almost as

remarkably as the number of victims of communism”.

Hägg found mistakes everywhere: “RONDO Religion 1-3” teaches that the Swedish Church is still the state church, and pretty much everyone has trouble describing the Catholic Church and its rituals (though the Pope is apparently treated with slightly more respect than in the old days).

There were some cute illustrations: the sin of gluttony is illustrated with a hot dog; a photograph labelled “Catholicism is a part of Italy’s cultural identity” pictures Mexican nuns carrying a placard in Spanish.

But other illustrations were less reasonable: “SO Direkt religion 1-3” outlines similarities between the Tower of Babel and the World Trade Center, a comparison Hägg found a bit tasteless.

Moving on to gymnasium level, the Aftonbladet man was a bit more demanding but managed to find at least one book he could recommend. “Tre religioner i vår tid” (“Three Religions in Our Time”) got the best marks; it treated most people, “even Catholics and unpopular free churches”, with respect, and included a fun CD-Rom.

Hägg’s battle against political correctness continued and was stepped up a notch in his article on gymnasium-level texts.

“It feels unnecessarily provocative for an educational book on religion to photograph two lesbians in bridal gowns kissing each other at the alter in a church in front of a picture of the crucifixion. How should Christian immigrants react to this provocation? Or Muslims?” wrote Hägg in his review of “Religion och sammanhang” (“Religion and context”).

Effects of former political correctness, however, met with Hägg’s approval: “Tro i tid och rum” (“Belief in time and space”) got the thumbs up for being the only book he has read in Swedish that knew that the Koran is written in verse.

Overall, Hägg applauded the moves that publishers are making towards teaching religion in something like the same manner that science and mathematics are taught.

But it seems that there is a long way to go before we expect the nation’s gymnasium graduates to have much knowledge of the position of the Pope, the difference between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, or whether or not Sweden maintains a state church.

Sources: Aftonbladet