"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Monday, September 17, 2007

Some rambling thoughts on religion and education

Friendly Christian highlights what seems to me to be a slight over-reaction to a proposed Bible-reading in a school:

Wesley Busch is a kindergarten student at Culbertson Elementary School in Newton Square, Pennsylvania — and all he wanted to do was have his mother read aloud from his favorite book, the Bible. The book reading was part of a classroom assignment called “All About Me,” the purpose of which was to provide students an opportunity to identify individual interests and learn about each other through the use of items such as stuffed animals, posters, books and other mediums.

Jeremy Tedesco, legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), says the school district had a big problem with Wesley’s favorite book. “When Wesley told his mom ‘I want you to read the Bible, that’s my favorite book,’ the school said no — even though they let every other book reading go forward… [they said] but here, read this book on witches and Halloween instead.”

Separation of church and state is something that I think is incredibly important. I believe that every individual has to arrive at their view of the world on their own terms – without pressure from outside forces.

It's not the job of the state to do the church's work for them. But I also don't think that it should try to pretend that religious beliefs don't exist.

The relationship between the church and state in the UK is a fairly complex one: There's no formal separation (the government funds religious schools, religious figures are guaranteed places in the House of Lords, the monarch is head of both the state and the church of England – though the roles are largely ceremonial), but it's generally agreed that too much religious influence over politics is a bad thing. His PR advisers went to great lengths to downplay Tony Blair's Christianity as it was felt it might alienate a significant part the public.

At primary school we sang Christian hymns in assembly and I can vaguely recall the headmaster reading out certain parables (such as the Good Samaritan). I can also (just about) remember a group giving a little talk and then handing out copies of the New Testament.

Yet at the same time my school was pretty secular. The point of the hymns and parables wasn't to make us believe in what they described (I don't know anyone I was at school with who actually holds to the Biblical view of the world) but more to instil in us a particular set of values: be good people, respect others, enjoy beauty in the world around you, etc. When it came to specific classes, religion never entered into it (with the obvious exception of Religion Education).

By the time I moved up to secondary school I – like most people - had a pretty decent understanding of Christianity alongside the awareness that it was just one view of the world amongst many.

I've always been quite glad of that knowledge. Although I don't believe the Christian view of the world, I can at least understand the people that do. I think I'd be a lot poorer without that. The only thing I regret is that I can't say the same for other religions: Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.

If it was up to me all primary school children would be made aware of the diverse range of beliefs out there – through singing their hymns, hearing their stories and immersing themselves in the different cultures. Not only would it encourage tolerance (we fear less the more we know) but it would also put people in a far better position to decide which path was the right one for them.

This for me is the point of education: not just to provide us with the tools for understanding the world, but making us aware just how rich and diverse a place it is.

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Blogger Just Thinking said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:34 PM

Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

A lack of commentary on this blog is usually a sign of agreement ; )

3:27 PM

Blogger Matt M said...

I suspect that little Wesley never really had the chance to decide for himself what his favorite book was.

You might be right there. But for me that just shows how important it is for schools to teach children about the range of religious thinking out there - if parents won't then somebody else has to.

8:42 AM

Blogger Matt M said...

A lack of commentary on this blog is usually a sign of agreement ; )

I hope so. :-)

I've often thought it'd be great if we had some sort of rating system where readers could indicate how much they enjoyed a particular post - even if it were just a thumbs up or thumbs down.

It wouldn't add much to the debate, but it could do wonders for my ego.

8:44 AM

Blogger Just Thinking said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3:40 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm local to the area where this happened, so I hoped I could help set a few things straight with this story. First of all, the school *never* said the mother could read books about witches instead of the Bible. That's just some *embellishing* (ahem!) to make the story more dramatic.

The mother claimed Psalms 118 was the child's favorite; actually it's an evangelical snippet, and my guess is this whole thing was planned as an exercise in forced Christian indoctrination. When it wasn't allowed, so much the better, because now the mother can sue because she feels so persecuted that she can't shove her brand of cult down the throats of the smallest schoolchildren sitting there in captive audience.

5:16 PM

Blogger Alex said...

Thanks for the comments anon.

5:27 PM


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