A guest post by Carla who blogs at The Right Side of Truth.
Religion is a tradition and a part of life across the entire globe, appearing in virtually all cultures. It comes in many shapes, sizes, and flavors, and advocates both peace and violence. People may change their religious ideas over time. Across all of these variations, a single variable is shared: faith based not on objective fact, but on belief.
By itself, that isn’t a problem per se—religious beliefs don’t necessarily need to conflict or interact with secular ideas. But when they do, we get problems. Historically, civilizations ruled by religious ideology inevitably face challenges when it comes to making rational decisions about the greater good of society.
At the center of America’s founding principles, we have the separation of church and state. There’s a very good reason for that foundation and it isn’t because the founders were faithless heathens or that they hated religion. It was because, in their time, religious institutions wielded tremendous power over governments and interfered with progress and prosperity.
Fast forward to today, and there are a number of fascinating examples of yesterday’s problems causing today’s problems. Where then do schools fall into this argument?
Our schools teach us many things—the liberal arts, sciences, arithmetic, and sometimes even life skills such as those taught in the rapidly disappearing home economics classes. Yet regardless of the grade level or subject, the central tenant of all schools is socializing our children.
Socialization teaches them how to interact with others, what’s expected of them in the world, and how they must interact with rules and authority. Foundations begin at home but are molded by the social experience.
What then for students who are taught that it’s expected of them to follow certain religious tenets? Even if we ignore that religious ideas taught at schools can conflict with the beliefs acquired at home, we must acknowledge that institutional teaching of religious ideas limits the freedom of choice. It robs individuals of the privilege to choose their own beliefs, by spiking the proverbial thought pool with predispositions.
Furthermore, schools that push religion absolutely influence how tomorrow’s adults will interact with the rest of the world. Being taught that a single idea is right and familiar makes foreign religions and ideologies appear strange and at times threatening. It plays perfectly into fear-mongering of the “other” where one religious belief is backed by the power of the state.
Religion becomes an issue in schools not when attendees practice their own beliefs, but when the institution itself favors any form of “belief.” Schools must be objective; they need to teach skills and facts based on the best available evidence, and religion simply doesn’t fit into that category because it is inherently not evidence-based.
That doesn’t mean religion is inherently good or bad; it simply falls into a different category from what schools are intended to teach. Truthfully, there should never be room to argue about material taught in schools because the information ought to be undeniable.
For instance, one can argue whether stories in the Bible, Quran, etc. are true, but absolutely no one will disprove grammatical rules, mathematical formulas or basic scientific laws. The last comes with some caveat, as scientific theories are continually rewritten based on new information.
Admittedly one might argue that cultural identity and historic events are open to interpretation, but the underlying facts don’t change. The president during World War II is not a point of debate any more than whether or not the Civil Rights Movement actually happened.
A Balanced Viewpoint
Most information we’re given as adults comes with a major slant or agenda. Even this piece has an agenda, which you’ve no doubt assumed at some point from the title. Pushing a single religious ideology as “right” is simply not something that belongs in our schools.
Yet we see it all the time. It’s not the little vestiges such as the pledge of allegiance, but the general favoring of certain religious ideas as being more correct. For instance, the ancient religion of the Greeks is taught in most schools as “mythology.” That title assumes the ideas and stories are fictitious—something never directly linked with the world’s major religions.
Think to yourself and ask if you’ve ever seen primary or secondary school offering a class on “Islamic Mythology.” You won’t ever see this class title because it pre-supposes that one of the world’s current “top” religions is based on fiction. It becomes inappropriate to do so because it might offend someone, yet the former class on the Greeks is acceptable because there’s scarcely anyone left to be offended.
This is a double standard and truly violates the spirit of an institution built on fostering creative free thinkers, though the former point is somewhat of a “liberty” to be taken with modern schools.
But inevitably, balance would dictate that schools either teach all religions or none. The sheer number of beliefs makes the first option unreasonable, leaving only one serious choice.
For a moment, however, we need to return to reality from the land of fair and hypothetical ideas, because the real world works quite the opposite in practice.
Politics and Religion
Returning to one of our original points, we have the idea that religion and politics should be separated. It’s a founding principle in America, but that doesn’t mean it’s practiced or accepted by everyone everywhere.
Even in the United States, where religion is legally separate from the state, we constantly see the use of religion to steer politics one way or the other. Pastors, priests, rabbis, and all other sorts of religious leaders seek to use their influence to steer voters or public policy.
Those raised on an education where religion is omnipresent are far less likely to object to making decisions based on religion because such a thing is already a standard in their lives since childhood. And it wasn’t just mom or dad pushing those ideas.
Of course, there are other extremes that demonstrate our point much more clearly. Religious states such as Iran are the talk of the world, not because of their unbridled prosperity, but because of the threat they perceive to those with differing beliefs. The same could be said of Israel, who despite a secular slant, is dominated by a single religious faith system that very much impacts public policy.
One last form of state-sponsored religion is the unorthodox practice of a dictatorship backed by a “cult of personality.” Like the Hitler youth groups of World War II Germany, countries such as North Korea and China practice devotion not to an otherworldly deity, but to a person. These beliefs are communicated in school in a manner no different from in a devout Christian or Islamic state.
It should be noted that in either case — secular or spiritual religion — both institutions seek to repress information on a massive scale. Without the use of specialty programs such as VPNs, those in many of the aforementioned countries have severely limited access to information online, as their governments prevent access to the outside.
Obscuring dissenting ideas is just one of many tactics used by state-sponsored religion, and schools make it easier by issuing textbooks that only contain information in support of the dominating ideology.
The last point we’d like to discuss is with regards to the above points on what may as well be termed “atheist religions.” Though traditional spiritual religions have no place in schools, their absence shouldn’t be taken as permission for similar secular dogmas to step in.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in today’s cult of science. It quietly invades our classrooms, pushing singular ideas as being the one and only correct explanation for phenomenon when insufficient data exists to support a certain conclusion. And it can have dire consequences.
For the last half century, schools taught a generation of students that butter was somehow inferior to margarine. That in itself wasn’t a problem because the research seemed to support it; the problem is that today many institutions still teach these same, incorrect ideas because the established professors cling to old “facts” like a religious ideology.
These are the people – part of the “science is never wrong” group – who selectively ignore information that is detrimental to their own beliefs. These beliefs are the unintentional replacement for spiritual belief systems that need to be rooted out all the same.
If and when religion is removed from our schools, then we can truly create the most open and creative minds. These students will be the leaders of tomorrow who help to end meaningless conflicts based solely on beliefs.
Do you think religion has a place in school? Why or why not?
About the Author: Carla is a thinker and rational debater with a major focus on modern issues ranging from education to politics. With a background in cybersecurity and freedom of information activism, she brings a unique perspective into arguments, always with a hope of opening minds to new perspectives.