Why take kids as young as four and indoctrinate them with beliefs (and the exact makeup of these beliefs is immaterial) that might adversely affect them for the rest of their lives? If the tenets of your religion are strong and ring true with an individual, let that individual join when they can make an informed and considered decision FOR THEMSELVES. Not taught as part of a child’s discovery of life. It just seems so opportunistic. To an evil degree. So unfair.
As children, many impressionable young minds believe that a jolly fat man slides down chimneys with toys, and that magically, he carries enough gifts and moves fast enough to hit up all the children of the world – or the nice ones, anyway. And this is to remember Baby Jesus being born. Also, as children, some of us believe that on a sunny day in April, a mammoth rabbit hops into our home and leaves a colorful basket of candy. Sometimes we are told this coincides with a story about how the now grown-up Jesus died. (Sometimes we are just told how awesome the Easter Bunny is and to not eat all of those chocolate eggs and jelly beans before dinner.) And you know what? As children, we loved it.
We are taught a collection of fairy tales very young, at a time when we are incredibly impressionable, susceptible to influence, and lacking in critical thinking skills. It doesn’t hurt that the stories involve fun, happiness, and candy. Thinly veiled, often with a reference to punishment, these fables are told in the most florid (often lurid – nothing hooks kids quicker than blood and guts) detail in order to keep us in line, interested, and coming back for more, baiting us with treasures as long as we’re obedient. I digress – the point is, we are fed a load of very lovely bullshit, and we believe it because we are young and don’t know any better.
All of this simply illustrates how easy it is to brainwash innocent young minds, and perhaps to suggest that certain topics – topics that may be highly life altering and require an advanced degree of critical thinking – should only be broached when an individual has reached a reasonable level of maturity. And I’m not talking ‘bout Santa anymore, I’m talking ‘bout Jesus (or Allah or Buddha or Vishnu, you get the idea). Now the difference between the Easter Bunny and Santa stories and the more serious virgin birth and crucifixion stories (in the Christian version of this indoctrination of innocents) is that some of them are discouraged by our religious instructors as too fantastical for informed adult decisions while others stay with us for the rest of our lives. Which stories fall into which category I leave to the individual reader.
I’d like to think that most modern people, adults in every interpretation of the word, regardless of our faith (or lack thereof) are evolved enough to allow others to believe what they want; live and let live, and all that. As tough as it may be, it’s best to be tolerant of each other’s beliefs, faiths, and practices, unless they are directly harmful to life or affect it in a negative way. At the core, it is argued, most religions preach to be good to one another, and who doesn’t want that? Who cares to whom you pray, exactly, and what direction you’re facing when you do so, as long as your goal is to be a good, kind human being? Same goes for other personal choices: who you’re sleeping with, who you’re marrying, whether or not you’re procreating – all of these things should be personal choices, addressed with fully developed adult faculties, that don’t require, and don’t deserve, the feedback or intervention of others. Which is exactly the reason why religion should be left out of schools.
Faith schools are denominational educational institutions where the church controls the ethos and curriculum and influences the selection of its students. In England, for example, there are almost 7,000 Christian faith schools (that’s one in three schools in England), and a much smaller number of Muslim and Jewish institutions. Amidst concerns that these Christian schools were discriminatory to other religions, and rather than abolishing them all together, religious groups set to work building the fences ever higher, creating Muslim schools, Hindi schools, and Jewish schools, for starters. Children were divided more, not less.
Faith schools follow the same national curriculum as state schools with the exception of religious studies, where they are free to limit this discussion to only their own beliefs. And the religious studies portion of the curriculum bleeds into every other class. Teachers who do not believe in evolution teach it; with the caveat that true believers know evolution is not the truth. Under the guise of discussion and free thinking, between the lines of every lesson comes another: to adhere to the rules of the religious faith.
Faith Schools segregate children better than race or class ever could because they do so proudly, without shame or acknowledgment of the division it causes. Many of these schools allow children admittance on the basis of their parents’ religion, which requires proof of their devotion in order to allow their kids to learn. In November 2007, the Krishna-Avanti Hindu school in north-west London became the first school in the United Kingdom to make vegetarianism a condition of entry, and parents of pupils are expected to abstain from alcohol to prove they are followers of the faith. Certain Christian schools require proof that families are attending church in order for the children to keep their place in school. And somewhere in all of this, children are supposed to be learning tolerance, acceptance, and how to interact with others – in addition to the actual curriculum of reading, writing, and arithmetic; you know, all those skills that could get you a job one day.
It’s unfortunate that in many cases the most well-funded and reputable schools are the faith-based ones. Parents are even faking religious affiliations simply to allow their children to attend what they see as a superior place of learning, because these religious groups want to mold young bright minds in their own image; they want only the best, brightest, and most brainwashed to carry on their duties.
Right now, professed agnostics and atheists (I know, it’s such a dirty word, isn’t it?) are a significant minority in the world. But the number is growing. And I wonder, if we were taught about religion when we were 16, or even 12, rather than two, how that number would change. Seems like an institution that has to brainwash its members at an early age to ensure their allegiance is an institution that has some explaining to do. What are they so afraid of? If the tenets of a religion are strong and ring true with an individual, let that individual join when they can make an informed decision. And hey, if you feel strongly about encroaching on your child’s freedom to choose, teach them about religion at home. This is not about being anti-religion. It’s about being pro-fairness, pro-inclusion and pro-common sense.
School should be a place for learning real world skills, not only history and geography, but social skills, unfettered by the complications that religion and religious rules introduce. Knowledge of the existence of all religions is of course part of this broad education, but indoctrination into and slavish adherence to the rites and rituals of any particular one should not be. There are millions of institutions around the world that cater to religious education and worship – they’re called churches. Or mosques. Synagogues and temples. That’s what Sunday school (those poor kids that don’t even get a break on the weekends) is for. Do we teach math in church? So why do we teach religion at school?
Teaching a single religion, to the exclusion of any other viewpoint, is dangerous at any age. With pre-teens it is dangerously mind altering. To teach that the tooth fairy and invisible best friends are childhood fantasies while at the same time punishing disbelief of equally ridiculous religious doctrines is confusing to young minds to say the least. By the time the child grows into the adult, able to form opinions best suited to that individual mind, the very real damage may be done.
There is nothing objective about raising a child to view the world in a specific, faith-based way. There is no opportunity for the child to view the world in any other way, period. And further, preaching something as a certainty when there is no irrefutable evidence not only teaches children to be faithful to a god and an institution against their individual freewill, but also to believe the things strangers tell them without any evidence or proof. Is that what we want our kids learning in school?
This isn’t really about religion at all. It’s about children and their right to freedom, freedom to learn and critically understand faith before they are indoctrinated. In a world with religious strife, division, and war, there is more need than ever to give the youth an opportunity to figure things out for themselves. Let’s pray – irony intended – they get that opportunity.