Three thought-provoking videos I use in class that are controversial to some people.

Most social studies teachers use videos in the classroom, and I am no exception. Three videos I use are Religulous, Kumare, and For the Bible Tells Me So. My intention is to push my students to critically think about religion, and these three videos are at the top of my list.

Religulous, a word combining religion and ridiculous, is a video that many people of faith find offensive. Bill Maher does not hold back. His treatment of religion is comically brutal and certainly borders on disrespect (in my opinion). Yet, he clearly raises valid questions about the role of religion, questions my students appreciate and find relevant. I like this video because it epitomizes the growing tension and animosity between secular humanists and traditional religion. The video underscores the present day “culture war” in our society, a war I want my students to understand. But, more importantly, I want them to be able to intelligently rather than cynically participate in the discussion. In other words, I don’t want my kids to leave high school aspiring to bash religion anymore than I want to see them go out into the world eager to join a cult – I want them to understand the issues clearly and objectively!

The second video is Kumare. I used this video this year for the first time, and my students found it fascinating. The video is about how a young man from New Jersey dressed up as an Indian guru and convinced and tricked many educated adults into becoming his disciples. I use this video as a springboard for a discussion about how and why it is so easy for people to be attracted to religion and spiritual ideas and leaders, and the dangers it can pose.

The third video is For the Bible Tells Me So. This video critically looks at the Bible and the issue of homosexuality. I use this video to engage my students in discussions about historical context and culture. More specifically, I use it to teach my students about the inherent problems of biblical literacy, and how the Bible – and religion in general – has been used to justify hatred and personal prejudice. Yes, the Bible does say that when a “man lies with another man” it is an abomination. However, the Bible also says that eating shrimp is an abomination. 

Yet, for reasons unclear to my students, there are never any protests outside of Bubba Gump’s by the Westboro church. What would that even look like? I can only imagine (see photo)! The question I pose to my students is as follows: If the Bible calls both homosexuality and eating shrimp an abomination, why are shrimp eating people ignored by religious zealots? What is going on!? Needless to say, a great discussion then follows, and my student start to realize how problematic it is to argue that the Bible is the absolute word of God that must be followed word for word!

On the topic of “Biblical truth,” I also use the widely circulated (and fictitious) letter to Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Schlessinger is a popular American talk show radio host known for her conservative religious views. Several years ago she made it very clear to her audience and followers that homosexuals should be condemned because the Bible says so. For my students, the following letter to her is a great eye-opener about “God’s law.” Once again, my intention is not to belittle the Bible. No! Far from it! My intention is to help students understand the Bible. However, my critics do not see it that way. I’ll let you be the judge.

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