Saturday, April 5, 2008

Teach about religion, not a religion

The following is clipped from a New Republic article
Atheism's Wrong Turn
by Damon Linker
Post Date Monday, December 10, 2007 | Issue Date Monday, December 10, 2007

If the only role of religious education was to propagate colorful local traditions and rational ethics, there would [be] little problem, but there is more- so much more. Many religions add education on the hatred of outside groups, active dis-belief in scientific knowledge, and closed-mindedness about other views of reality, not to mention obscure taboos, self-hatred, and other impediments to mental health. This is a problem, yet the new atheists make only one concrete proposal, which comes from Daniel Dennet. That is to to teach children about religion. That's right- more religion! His proposal is to teach all students about the vast depth of human religious tradition, from the major religions including their own, to those of other cultures and other times, perhaps including even atheism, though not necessarily. This long-term, detailed study of other traditions would enable children to make up their own minds about life's cosmic questions, knowing what many of the possible answers are, not just the ones their parents told them. This instruction would be a capstone to a truly liberal and civic-minded education. The American founders responded to the recent history of religious intolerance both in Europe and in some of the early colonies by separating church and state. We have since have taken this wisdom and extended it to a state-sponsored system of education that would make the founders extremely proud. But the intolerance they tried to guard against is still with us, and particularly with other cultures with whom we deal very closely. The new atheists would surely like to wave a wand and make it all go away. But in the real world, we need to attend to the real causes of intolerance and illiberality, and one primary cause still with us is parochial, illiberal, education, which might be slightly mitigated by a liberal curriculum of cross-cultural and cross-religious education.

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