The Case Against Religious Education

In the bleak and repressive Theocracy dystopia of tomorrow, schools bear religious motifs. Science no longer exists. The year 2070 dystopia is eerily reminiscent of today – the rusting technology remaining unmoved since the beginning of the XXI century. A school bell rings, echoing down the empty streets where people huddle around bonfires lit in barrels. An adulterer is stoned, the crowd’s cheers ring distant from the baseball redemption stadium downtown. The old houses of atheists and ‘sexual deviants’ are downtrodden and derelict. Only the places of worship are as clean as they were 70 years ago, the loudspeakers calling the faithful to prayer every hour on the dot.

Religion has been traditionally cushioned with a thick layer of respect – not wanting to deferentially treat it with any special disrespect I will refer to religion in no different terms than I would refer to Communism or Democracy or Existentialism.

I cannot hope to make a case against religious education with my somewhat sketchy narrative alone. It would be unfair – the narrative in the Bible surpasses the quality of my own prose by orders of magnitude. In any case, this is merely an uneducated opinion, a feeble stab of a stick towards my dreary idea of a bleak future.

Today, more than ever, there is the urgent need to make a strong case against religious education. I, like the prominent biologist Richard Dawkins, want the words ‘religious education’ to make people cringe. I want the labels ‘Christian child’, ‘Protestant schoolgirl’, ‘Muslim baby’, to make people jump in their seats. Rest assured, I am not treating religion with any particular contempt. For those of you who might think the contrary, imagine I started this article talking about ‘The Case Against Communism’. It would seem an analysis like any other. Religion has been traditionally cushioned with a thick layer of respect – not wanting to deferentially treat it with any special disrespect I will refer to religion in no different terms than I would refer to Communism or Democracy or Existentialism.

A war of ideas is far more devastating than a war of bullets. A bullet ends a life right there and then. A misguided idea will wreak havoc for years and years to come.

A child’s mind is inherently obedient. It’s a short cut in order to learn about the dangers of the world from figures of authority really quickly, bypassing the ‘monkey experimentation’ stage. This obedience is as much proof to the idea of religious obedience as it is to the idea of Darwinian survival of the species. This is alright when it comes to knowing that the balcony is a dangerous place to play in, or to know that you should stay away from that dirty needle on the ground.

But somehow there is an unnatural need for religious parents to spread their religious beliefs to their own children. This is clearly a futile attempt – otherwise there wouldn’t be a ‘rebellious’ child to listen to alternative music, smoke weed and listen to Lennon. The baby boomer generation of the ’60s would have been a generation just like any other.

Taking the example of Christianity simply because I am most familiar with it:

Children brought up with a religious education are hopelessly exposed to being brainwashed because of the idea of infant obedience. They will believe there is a personal God who makes sure they don’t break any rules and will send them to a nice place when they die. It is a comforting thought, yet no more comforting than shooting up with morphine is.

A war of ideas is far more devastating than a war of bullets. A bullet ends a life right there and then. A misguided idea will wreak havoc for years and years to come.

Even more dangerously, an indoctrinated child will be brought up ‘knowing’ the Truth, ‘knowing’ that there are 5/6 of 6 billion people out there who are completely misguided in whatever they may believe. A religious educator may not necessarily teach them how to make bombs (unlike in a lot of impoverished places with Islamic education centres), but the idea of ‘knowing’ they’re the only ones who are going to be saved on the whole Earth is incitement enough to break relationships with other people, and that’s only the top of a slippery slope.

During the fascist dictatorship in Spain, the children were taught an ‘appropriate’ version of history. Isabel I, who notoriously plunged the country into a deep recession by expelling the Jews and half-Arabs from Spain, was taught to be a ‘good Catholic mother who only had the best interests of the nation at heart’. During the short period when the dictator, Franco, was on his deathbed, the children were told to ‘pray for his health’. On the morning of Franco’s death, these children were told they ‘had not prayed enough’.

“There were two Inquisitions, you know. There was the Good Inquisition – the Church one – and the Bad Inquisition – the State one”. In the year 2007, this is a hideously alarming prospect.

What I find absolutely revolting is that today, almost 30 years into a spectacularly successful democracy, religious cults such as the Jesuits or the Opus Dei have a stranglehold over education in Spain. State subsidised schools, or ‘colegios concertados’ will have a permanent religious curriculum (which excludes any mention of other religious doctrines), run by these Catholic cults. The Jesuit saying “Give me your child and I will give you a man” has an incredibly medieval tone to it. Regardless of the archaic teaching methods used by these schools (an affliction common to most if not all Spanish schools, religious or otherwise), these religious schools are State subsidised. Even more alarmingly, they are taught, and I quote: “There were two Inquisitions, you know. There was the Good Inquisition – the Church one – and the Bad Inquisition – the State one”. In the year 2007, this is a hideously alarming prospect.

If the separation of Church and State is not motive enough in a case against religious education, then the principle of free will should be. A child who undergoes religious education will most likely find their critical faculties grossly underwhelmed. They are taught to accept dogma unquestionably. This dogma often goes beyond the realm of supernatural religious belief. More often than not, children who leave Opus Dei or Jesuit schools will be inculcated to fervently support the Spanish Religious Conservative Party, the PP. I have yet to meet someone who has been through a modern religious education say something negative about Aznar. This wide net also includes the issue of abortion and gay rights, as irrelevant they may seem to the question of personal salvation.

But today, religious education creates incalculable damage, most of it done once the child grows up, basking in the warmth of his beliefs as he spreads his Truth, forcefully if necessary.

More importantly, the psychological damage done to these kids is of incalculable spread. A child that is taught that his Protestant or Atheist friend will go to Hell will go through unimaginable pain. In fact, the idea of Hell itself is already dangerous – that it is not considered a form of psychological torture stems from the fact that it is ‘religious tradition’.

ecriva teaching a crowd

Parents have, of course, a right to educate the children in the family tradition. I keep faithful to my Eastern European roots. I know my language and I will do my best to teach it to my kids (I’m talking far, far into the future here). But this does not have to extend to wreaking psychological torture onto children by telling them that they have to suck up to God or go to Hell. Quite frankly, the moral lesson here is appalling – you are only good to appease God, not because you really mean it.

Religious education in the way I see it is necessary. The Bible (for Christians) is a source of literary entertainment and a source of education in the English language (or Spanish, French, Latin, etc. as would have it). The Qu’ran is the same thing for the Muslims. Religious education in the way I see it is a class complimentary to History. It deals with the history of all the religions, dirty cloths included. It is, above all, non-compulsory, but it is a source of education nonetheless. Modern religious education is exactly not that. I learned about Islam and Hinduism in my British school. I do not think I can say the same thing about kids in Opus Dei schools.

But today, religious education creates incalculable damage, most of it done once the child grows up, basking in the warmth of his beliefs as he spreads his Truth, forcefully if necessary.

Critical faculties are absolutely necessary. A person is in every sane right to ascribe to a religious belief at the age of, say 18, were this person to feel the need for it – just like with smoking or alcohol consumption.

I am fairly confident when I say that a lot of the problems today are, at the base level, an issue of the religious education of the perpetrators. Of course, I am sure that my Spanish friend, who has been educated and indoctrinated to believe that ‘there was a Good Inquisition and a Bad one’ will think the contrary.

Advertisements

11 Responses

  1. “…But this does not have to extend to wreaking psychological torture onto children by telling them that they have to suck up to God or go to Hell. Quite frankly, the moral lesson here is appalling – you are only good to appease God, not because you really mean it. …”

    My husband and I had a conversation similar to this the other day. He plays on a softball team his cousin coaches…it happens to be church team in a church league. He plays because he loves to play. He is Athiest.

    The last game someone got whacked with a ball. It wasn’t a serious injury, but one of the guys on hubs team all but demanded they pray for this guy. Hubs declined and said he didn’t pray. One of the other team members started s scene on the softball field bc of it. He has played for this team for over SIX years and this has never been an issue.

    He came home and was upset that they weren’t allowing him to be who he was and we talked about it and I finally just told him that religious people (pick a religion) can’t fathom that you can be a moral and ethical person without religion because much of religion is based on hate and fear.

    And that is a shame.

    As for religious schools…they scare me.

  2. That episode with your husband, Sandy, is quite frankly appalling.

    Even setting aside the practical issue that a first aid kit is infinitely more useful than a prayer (what the hell, was the guy dying on the field???? even if he was…), mixing religion with sport is just plain dumb.

    What can I say – unfortunately there are pushy people who know the ‘truth’ and cannot imagine someone who would not want to share in it. That religion can transcend borders of sport and friendship is a testament to its dangerous power. Your husband, by his reaction, proved to be a decent and moral person, made all the Greater in juxtaposition with the asswipe who hounded him for not praying.

  3. As for religious schools…they scare me.

    They scare me too. Not because of what they teach, so much, as the unrestrained teaching they are allowed, without any monitoring. And to boot, they are considered “better” schools because they do what they want, and they are unfettered by supervision, unlike the state schools, which are perceived as sub-par.
    Institutions of indoctrination is all they are.
    Ed: Fixed yer blockquote tag

  4. […] There is no way in hell, however, that my (alleged) kids will ever be indoctrinated in any way. I will not force them into memorising prayers, believing in the Trinity or in the deification of Jesus. My primary concern will be to teach them to question, to engage and to think. If by the age of 18 they were to choose to adhere strictly to the tenets of the Orthodox Church, I will be powerless to stop them – nor will I want to, since they will be legally adults. But at least it will be an informed decision. This is a luxury children in religious education institutions do not have. […]

  5. Are you aware of any atheist schools anywhere in the world? Perhaps some wealthy atheists could band together and sponsor one. I’d certainly be willing to help and I’d dearly love to send my kids to a school like that.

  6. I went to a British school in Spain which was completely secular and multicultural. It doesn’t have to be atheist it just doesn’t have to be religious.

  7. A fair point but I wondered if any atheists had got so fed up with religious schools that they decided to start their own.

    I’m not advocating removal of all religious references from education. We have a rich culteral heritage and our literature is spotted with biblical phrases that are essentially meaningless without an understanding of the bible. I’d like to see religion taught in the same way that other ancient literature is taught.

  8. Hoverfrog…most just tend to homeschool if it is an issue.

    I too have wondered why there aren’t more private schools that are athiest or even Pagan for that matter…I would think that it may be harder than you think to open one with so many others that would see it as a threat…

  9. I suppose you’re right hoverfrog, only I can only really see it happening in the States. If there is a market in the States for Camp Quest, then there must be a market for even perhaps a boarding school à la Camp Quest.

    Although I insist, I imagine there are international schools in the US. The French lycée or any British schools would be safe bets for secular education.

  10. […] The Case Against Religious Education […]

  11. […] The Case Against Religious Education […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: