James Evans discusses the case for keeping religion as a part of education.
In conflicts across the world, including in Vietnam and in the Middle East, Western leaders have repeatedly claimed that they are seeking to win over ‘hearts and minds’ to their cause. Within supposedly peaceful western society, however, it seems that a different war for ‘hearts and minds’ is being waged. On 11th October 2013, the National Secular Society, self-appointed guardians of our right to be non-religious, launched an attack on religious groups visiting schools which they claimed were providing ‘unwelcome and wholly inappropriate religious evangelism and proselytisation’. These claims were refuted by the Department for Education; it seems that the war of words will continue…
Perhaps secularists resent the competition. In many western countries – particularly France and Turkey – secularism is by default the only belief being promoted in schools! There is a bullishness and quasi-religious righteousness which seem to be associated with secularism’s twin authorities: a Dawkensian rationalism which attacks ignorant ‘god of the gaps’ religions, and an idealism of the John Lennon ‘Imagine’ variety which asserts that since religion is the root of war, getting rid of it would somehow improve human morality.
In many western countries – particularly France and Turkey – secularism is by default the only belief being promoted in schools!
Whatever the reasons, the effect of removing religion from schools is ignorance: itself contrary to the principles of rationalism! I recently met a French backpacker, who was ‘curious’ about Christianity, having seen a vision of the Virgin Mary, but had no conceptual knowledge of the faith and therefore no capacity to accept or reject it. For him, Church was a thing that his grandparents’ generation did. Yet religious worship and religious conflict play a formative role in our world today. Witness the civil strife in Egypt in the aftermath of the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi, or the recent tragedy of the Peshawar Martyrs.
Freedom of expression and the capacity to make informed decisions are important values to any society: not least one that is striving to be more libertarian. We need to make sure that school promotes balanced religious debate and understanding, because school is society’s opportunity to counter and moderate the more extreme forms of indoctrination and ignorance to which people may be exposed within the family and community. To take religion out of schools would risk polarising our society by default between ignorant secularists and ‘indoctrinated’ theists.