Educating about religious beliefs

Teaching about religions and the religious imperative in humans is probably not commonplace in educational systems. Teaching comparative religion can, of course, be found in some non-religious schools; the objective being education rather than indoctrination.

In this context, it is rather sad to observe those whose religiosity is superficial; that is, believing that theirs is the only religion to take one to God or, worse still, believing that their religious sect is the only correct one within that religion. Could one hope that religious leaders might inculcate a more ecumenical, or even a freethinking attitude? To accept all the sects within a religion as potentially equal is ecumenical. To accept all the major religions as also potentially equal (as I was taught as a boy) is tolerant freethinking.

Were all primary schools, including religious schools, to explore with their students what it is to feel awe at the supernatural, to develop a sensitivity to the numinous, and why this happens; to learn that, as all mankind shares this awe and sensitivity, there is a commonality of belief behind the diversity in expressing this awe and sensitivity; and that prayer and associated rituals can range from seeking succour, to expressing gratitude, to experiencing a rare one-ness with our Creator. Will we ever join together to achieve such an education?

Comparative religion can then be studied in high schools after the age of about 13, when the necessary conceptual capacity has been achieved, as one might study, say, alternative political paths and objectives, or economic policies. Divergent theologies might then be seen, not as competitive, but as alternative aids to belief.

Ultimately, one must reach the obvious conclusion: that there is an innate desire in all of us to merge with the Divine. It might take some of us some time to accommodate this urge.

Attitudes to religion

Almost all of us who profess to having, or believing in, a religion are born into it. Is that not true? We then grow up with the beliefs, rituals, and other practices of that inherited faith. If the family’s faith is strong, then the child is carried along with the flow. That is how and why I was a regular attendee at out Pilleyar (or Ganesh) temple. As an immigrant family, security, health, and education for the children were of paramount significance. To us, religious belief is an integral part of our existence.

Later in their lives, some people exchange their religion for another. It would normally be a well-thought out shift of allegiance, reflecting a search for a more satisfying faith or religious community. Some will support more than one faith, praying (as appropriate) in diverse places of prayer, as did my mother in her later years.

Then there are those who quietly disengage from religion, except possibly in matters relating to hatches, matches, and despatches, viz. births, marriages, and deaths. The withdrawal may reflect a full belly with security, or a seriously considered conclusion that the rituals or the priesthood of their religion do not meet any ongoing need; or that there is a significant discontinuity between promise and outcome; or that the behaviour of priest or congregation is not congruent with the asserted claims of that religion.

Some of these people will go to the extreme stance of atheism. Thus, there is free choice. One does not need to adopt the faith of one’s ruler, especially when the ruler converts from one religion to another, as has occurred in history. Yet, I have noticed during my involvement in civil society that some parents who do not attend church want their children to be exposed to the family’s faith during school hours in a secular State school. Is this not curious?