As I wrote yesterday, religion should be a matter of choice and we need to give our children the freedom of decision, even if this seems difficult to maintain for parents who have a strong belief. What I don’t understand, from this point of view, is why religious education is a school subject in many countries.
In many countries of Europe you have Christian religion classes in government schools, in the USA parents send their children to Sunday school of the preferred religion of their parents and in many Muslim countries the teachings of Islam are present in all subjects. In India government schools do not actually have a subject that is called ‘religion’ but religious Hindu stories often find their way into books and classrooms. In most countries there are of course also private schools of a certain religion where parents send their children when they explicitly want the religious values to be emphasized.
My question to those subjects is: what will children get from this education? In which way will it help them in their lives? And why do children get marks on those subjects that are then important in their exams? Is it merely a practice of learning and reciting scriptures? Are you testing their memory? Or do you give marks on how religious they are?
In those school lessons, children learn more about the belief that is now theirs. Apart from the fact that I think it is too early for a child to be fixed to one belief, the education that they receive there depends very much on the teacher. If you are lucky, the teacher is tolerant, they learn more about other religions, too, and also see the positive aspects of other religions. If the teachers are more conservative though, our next generation will believe that only their God, only their scripture and only their religion is the only true one. That generation will become more narrow-minded than the current one and people of different faith will be viewed with suspicion.
I don’t see at all why you would teach scriptures and declare them as the only right texts. The scriptures of any religion, culture or country can be written by very intelligent people of old times and we can see them as great literature. They should not be taught to children as ideals of how to behave though. They are fiction and many of them are full of blood and violence, creating an illusion for children that this behavior could be religious and good.
In many countries in which Islam is the main religion, these teachings can be very extreme, as there are many different ways of interpreting their scriptures and laws. The big problem with this education is that teachers can then install hate towards other religions in children’s minds and prepare them for a war against all people of other religion. The result is that there are young people who decide to perform terrorist attacks in the name of religion. Schools become terrorist training centers. That, too, is the work of religions. I am not against any particular religion but against the concept of religion and its teaching in schools.
This may be the extreme result but even if you don’t go that far, you can realize that those classes separate our children. They cannot sit altogether in one class, as they do for learning languages or Mathematics. There is the first point where religion separates and categorizes the world. It divides us all into different categories. This is what our children learn. But we are first of all humans! We should not let religion divide us in this way.
What has religion given us? What did we get? It has done its job in history by dividing people into different groups. Everybody thinks his religion is the best. Everybody has ego, is in competition with each other and often even hates people of any other belief. Religion has brought us war, too.
If your argument for religious education is that children also learn moral values, I have to ask why we need to pack those moral values in religious stories? I think it would be a great idea to take the positive message of every religion, every good moral value that they teach and have a subject called ‘moral education’. Every religion teaches things such as not to lie, to speak the truth, to respect life and to live with love and equally to the people surrounding you. Why not take all those positive aspects and teach them to our children without separating them into different groups? They could learn together to respect each other, even if they privately have another faith and different religious practices in their family. School is not a place for religion.