Wednesday, January 24, 2018

What religions will be taught in schools?

Knowing about religion is part of a well-rounded education. At the same time, a high level of education is strongly correlated with less religiosity.

There is no contradiction here. Religion has played a key role in history, politics, social mores and the arts. In Western civilisation, knowing the Bible as a book helps the individual's understanding of literary canons and some aspects of philosophy. In India, the Hindu religious texts give insight into that society's

world view while in Arabic societies, the Qur'an

and the Hadith explain many of the actions and attitudes now engaging the world's attention.

At the same time, an individual who embraces the fundamental goals of education— knowledge, curiosity, critical thought and openness—is unlikely to be religious in any fundamental or even conventional sense. This is because these goals are antithetical to religious belief, which depend on argument by authority, blindness to contradiction and, last but not least, embracing or ignoring narrow-mindedness (eg, towards homosexuals, different religious beliefs, women).

In a plural society like Trinidad and Tobago's, education about religion may well be useful, whether it is taught as a separate subject or integrated into social science, civics, philosophy or history. But such usefulness depends on the motives behind the teaching.

Education Minister Tim Gopeesingh, in one breath, claims the purpose of this new policy is not indoctrination, then, in the next, says the intent is to teach the "values and virtues" of different religions. What is this, if not indoctrination, albeit on a perhaps broader ground than now obtains?

It also appears the Education Ministry has launched this policy without adequate preparation. What religions are to be taught? Will sects within each main religion be included? Is Buddhism, which acknowledges no Creator, considered a religion? What about Rastafarianism, in which smoking marijuana is a key ritual?

And if the intent is to teach value systems (as distinct from belief systems), would humanism be included, given this is the philosophy which underpins the most tolerant societies in the world, and isn't tolerance the ulti- mate goal as stated by the Education Minister?

T&T Humanist Association