Students take a look at world religions at roundtable

MANASSAS –Followers representing eight different world religions sat at a long table in one of Osbourn High School’s lecture halls.

No one argued. Everyone listened.

The goal was education.

Instead of arduous classroom lessons on religion, world history teacher Shane O’Day decided to give the floor to those who can speak from experience on some of the world’s most popular beliefs.

Representatives from various Christian-based churches, a Jewish synagogue member, a Muslim mosque director and an atheist gave accounts on their basic beliefs and values to about 100 students.

The religion panel was structured so that each speaker gave brief introductions about their beliefs followed by an interview session where students sat face to face with the panelists at lunch tables to pose questions.

“They may be able to answer questions better than I could. This way the student gets to follow their own interests,” O’Day said.

Although Standards of Learning requirements demand that students learn the basics of the world’s five major religions –Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Judaism–O’Day broke it down further by bringing in speakers representing different branches of Christianity, including a Mormon, an independent Christian and a Catholic seminary student.

“This is just a diverse way for students to experience religion. The more exposure [the students] have to different beliefs, the more people will be understanding,” O’Day said.

During the interview sessions, Joe Novak, an atheist, was bombarded by students’ questions.

“I expected that,” Novak said. “Atheists are novelties. … I just wanted to tell them that you can be a moral and ethical person and not believe in any higher being.”

With news of Catholic priests and sexual abuse making regular headlines in newspapers nationwide, Mike Rubus, who’s studying to be a priest at All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas, brought up the topic.

“The church is both divine and human. Priests, like humans, are sinners, too,” he said.

To some students, the lessons were enlightening.

“We’re all born and our parents teach us a certain faith … we were never given the opportunity to talk to other people in different faiths,” said Danny Custer, a 10th-grader. “It opens up our minds to other things.”

The talk of the many gods that exist in Hinduism triggered a response from 10th-grader Chelsey Vanetton, who said she wants to learn more about the religion. “It’s so different from most religions you hear about. They always talk about a heaven and a hell … the Hindus have reincarnation,” she said.

Melinda Scanlon, another 10th-grader, said she was most-interested in the discussion on Catholicism out of simple curiosity and found it fascinating how well the panelists related to one another.

“It’s very interesting to see people from different religions and see them getting along in one room,” Scanlon said.

Staff writer Louise Cannon can be reached at (703) 368-3101, Ext. 123.

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