Friday, June 6, 2008

No Compulsory Religious Education

This letter is in response to the article "Teach children the facts about all of the world’s religions" by Phil Doubet Sunday June. 1st 2008.Pg. A –5 in the OP ED section of the Peoria Journal Star.

Mr. Doubet’s article was based partially on a potpourri of theistic criticisms currently levied by leading atheists such as Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Professor Richard Dawkins. Specifically, Mr. Dawkins in his book "The God Delusion" strongly suggests that rearing children religiously is a form of child abuse. This dogmatism however is unsupported by evidence, and is meant to be more sensational and emotional than factual.

This is why it is quite disturbing to see that Mr. Doubet perpetuates these fallacious and disingenuous arguments. Mr. Doubet paints his portrait of deception on a flawed canvass by referring to the imputation of religious values as "indoctrination" and further uses the broad brush of stereotypical criticism to suggest that religious parents do not teach their children to think critically about religion. This is coupled with the statements that religious parents have "violated the basic rights" of children and stripped them of their "innocence" by teaching them religion at all. As a final insult the suggestion is made that religious people do not live "useful" lives because of our inability to think critically and develop our minds.
In between his religious insults Mr. Doubet offers a solution posed by Daniel Dennett, a cognitive psychologist, who feels that education on all religions should be a mandatory and compulsory part of all public and private school educational curriculums. As set forth in the article, broad religious information and education superficially appear as if it may have some merit. However, the true purpose of this entire suggestion is revealed in the following statement, " By teaching our children the facts of religion, and only the facts, we can defend against the future excess of it." In essence the true aim is to cause one to question all religious beliefs and therefore minimize the impact and proliferation of religion in general.
Surprisingly it was atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair who in 1963 won a landmark decision (Murray v. Curlett) that effectively banned religion from public schools. It is quite a conflict that the new atheist strategy is to reverse current law by reverting back to a form of pre 1963 public school agenda. In essence Mr. Doubet suggests that educators use a method of religious eclecticism to level the playing field by teaching only "the facts" of all religions. This is a daunting, if not impossible, task for any number of reasons.
At What Age Does This Religious Education Begin?
Quite interestingly, the very complaint that is leveled against religious parents becomes this idea’s first impassable obstacle. Under Mr. Doubet’s construct the Public School system would possibly be engaged in "violating the rights" of children and "stripping them of their "innocence" by instituting Compulsory Religious Education at too early of an age.

Who Screens Information?
A Director of Compulsory Religious Studies would have to be added to the Public School payroll in order to screen material insuring suitability for classroom education. Will this person be a minister or secular educator? Either way religious studies administration at a public school level under current law is highly problematic.
Who Compiles and Packages Information On All Religions For The Public Schools?
Most individuals involved in the study of religion on a full time basis often spend years if not lifetimes doing so. Compulsory education as Mr. Doubet and Mr. Dennett suggests not only is problematic but a time consuming issue that would demand more from both students and teachers than what a pre-graduate level education is designed to accomplish.
Who Determines The "Facts" Of A Religion?
Mr. Doubet suggests that only "the facts" of all religions be taught. This is a highly subjective pursuit, as many religions (if not all) believe their entire system to be factual. For example, within Christian religion, it is "fact" that Jesus not only lived, but was God and that he died for the sins of humanity and was resurrected the third day as proof of his power and authority over sin, death and life. These are facts of the Christian religion. The facts are further supported by verification of eyewitness testimony, and from other biblical and non-biblical sources and events. Can we expect that Mr. Doubet under his construct, is willing to include within his brand of "fact-based" religious education, these material "facts" of the Christian faith?
Another example; in the Jewish faith, Moses and Abraham are not mythic characters and the Kingdom of Israel under David’s reign is not a fairy tale. Is Mr. Doubet willing to concede these "facts" in his suggested educational curriculum?
I believe that the answer to both these questions is a resounding NO. In Mr. Doubet’s view, "facts" are limited by the belief of antisupernaturalism which reduces spiritual, codes and the acts of God within all religions exclusively to naturalistic and human efforts. This approach to religious material in general is very disingenuous and is a deliberate attempt to confuse and moderate the student, not educate them. In essence, a system implemented as he suggests, under current law, would be the ultimate in neglect, abuse and psychomanipulation of impressionable school-aged children.

Both religious and non-religious families should continue to build a sound foundation of moral values for their children. Religious families should continue to build a solid and strong foundation based on religious values and scriptures that have met and satisfied spiritual yearnings over the years.
It is beyond the current duty of the public school system to introduce morality and religion to our children in any form. We do not want state sponsored, socialist, religious agenda or dogmatism taught to our children under the guise of educational psychology. Our children are a captive audience, and our schools do good to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic while maintaining the necessary standards of education and the broad competitiveness that is essential in the modern workplace environment.
The loving, private, moral, and religious based education and training of our children does not damage or abuse them. Religious education should be reserved for parents, families, and community based institutions such as churches, synagogues and mosques which are yet among the most effective methods of social education and character building within the context of American society. Thank you.
Pastor Harvey Burnett
New Bethel COGIC
Bethel Epiphany COGIC
Peoria Assn. Of Pastors For Community & Spiritual Renewal