Monday, 22 December 2008

Right to Think


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Originally uploaded by reuvenim
There is a lot of hoo-ha in the air lately with the proposition by some humanist organization to use school religious education time to promote humanist agendas (i.e., what most people would refer to as atheist).
You know a sensitive nerve has been hit when the Sunday Age’s letter section is full of letters saying people like me (i.e., humanists) are scum because we don’t have a frame of reference to attach our sense of morality to. That is, we don’t have that great surveillance camera in the sky we need to be constantly fearful of; we just rely on common sense granted to us through evolution to know what is right and what is wrong, but then again everyone knows that evolution is just senseless dogma forced on us by the scientific elite as they block any other alternative point of view from having its say. Or maybe it’s because there is all the evidence in the world to support evolution and none to support much else, especially the religious?

What I wish to do with this post is to express my opinion on the matter of religious education at school, and my opinion is very clear: There should be none of it.
Australia is a secular country and it should behave as such. We might learn a thing or two from the USA here, where religion is very strictly withheld from having a go at state schools. As it is, religious education only serves in dividing society: Muslims, for example, will seek their own lessons given the predominantly Christian nature of these teachings; the result is that the Muslim kids will only be further marginalized by their peers.
I will have the same problem when my own son goes to school: I can give him a note asking him to be exempt from religion classes, but he would have to spend that time in some time wasting effort school has to provide and away from his friends. Do you think he’ll like me for that? And why should I be facing this dilemma anyway?
Instead of religion, pupils should be taught how to think for themselves. That is, how to appraise different opinions and theories and how to determine their version of the truth based upon the validity of the evidence in front of them. Surely, no one can object to that? Surely, no religion has anything to be afraid of here?
Obviously they do, because if too many people started looking at the evidence in front of them there won’t be many religious people left around. This is why religions insist on having right of way to indoctrinate kids before anything else gets to their minds; evidence clearly indicates that especially with kids, the first thing to go into the brain is deemed the ultimate truth, no matter how unsubstantiated it is. The best proof for that is kids coming from different religions tend to virtually always stick to the religion they were originally indoctrinated in; they always see the light in their own faith whereas the kids growing on other faiths always see the light in theirs. Surely there’s some problematic contradiction here?
My point is that some of the humanists’ agendas, as in those that talk about thinking for oneself, should be taught; however, they should not be placed under a school’s religion time. Instead, they should be taught because every person has a right to know how to think rationally. Religion should still be taught in schools, but it should be taught the same way history is, regarded for what it is: an artifact of human culture.

I would like to go one step further with my arguments. I would like to argue that the indoctrination of children in religions should be banned altogether through legislation. Adults can and should choose for themselves; children are unable to, and at the moment it’s leading them to be abused. Sure, they’re mostly abused by their own parents, but they are still being abused.
There are two arguments against my proposal. The first would say that banning parents from talking to their kids is impractical, whereas the second would argue about the morale right that goes to prevent parents from doing something together with their own children. My answer to both revolves around one concept: zeitgeist.
While the outright banning indoctrination of kids by their parents will simply be ignored, it will not be ignored when it is done gradually and through thorough transparency of what is at stake here: A child that goes to school and learns how to think for herself will protest when her parents try to push stuff on her by virtue of authority alone. In effect, through education, proper education, the zeitgeist could move to new grounds, grounds where a ban on the religious indoctrination of kids will be regarded the same way a ban on drink driving is regarded nowadays.
And as for coming in between parent and child: Well, once upon a time not that long ago (but long enough for many to ignore) children were sold or used as slave labor. Today the zeitgeist has changed and children, at least in Australia, may only be properly employed as of the age of 16; something came in between parent and child to stop the parent from abusing their child. Similarly, while parents used to hit their children in the past, today no parent would admit to that; the zeitgeist has changed enough for hitting not to be acceptable (in some countries, like New Zealand, it is even outright illegal).

While I do not think there is even the slightest chance for kids’ religious indoctrination getting banned any time soon, I definitely think getting rid of religious studies in state school is a good enough start.
And there was never a better time to start than now.

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