Sunday, October 28, 2012

Religion in the Public Schools: A Dialogue with an Atheist

 An atheist challenged me to a dialogue. He understandably complained that a student shouldn't have to "experience any religious activity." However, I countered by pointing out that there are many "religious" activities that Christians are coerced into:

I think that you well illustrate the pushes and pulls that are now tearing at the fabric of our society, the consensus that had once held this nation together. I think that we are seeing its fragmentation, and I don’t think that there are any simple answers. Every values group wants to impose its own values, and wants to see the removal of the values of the “opposition.”

What’s the answer? I think that you appropriately used the example of Islam to point out that we’d all resent a teacher pushing Islam in the public schools. However, we could make the same case regarding the pushing of National Socialism, Communism, Cannibalism, or Pedophilia – belief systems that we wouldn’t ordinarily call “religious.” Nevertheless, their imposition still presents the exact same issues as the imposition of Islam.

Now, let’s add some other belief systems to our equation - Materialism, Multiculturalism, Moral-relativism, Religious-pluralism, Secular Humanism and Naturalism. These represent values-orientations – religions – and not facts. The values-clarification exercises – an extension of moral-relativism – teach the students that there are no right or wrong answers. Rather, it’s just a matter of clarifying your beliefs and understanding those of others.

Materialism makes the counter-factual assumption that our material world is all that there is, while Secular Humanism assumes that the human being is the end-all and be-all of all existence. I suspect that you would deny that these latter “isms” are religious in nature. However, others would regard these just as much as an unwanted and religious imposition as you would Islam.

In fact, we can take our analysis even one step further. Any selection of textbooks, teachers or even classrooms reflects our religion or worldview. Any time we make a ruling, our worldviews are in view. Therefore, our problems and conflicts extend far deeper than differences presented by Judaism, Islam or Christianity. We are facing a Western crisis in terms of the conflict of our worldviews.

Consequently, it is too facile and misleading to think that our problems will be solved by merely eliminating the “religions” from the public sphere.

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