Teaching religion at schools

Religion is a highly sensitive issue, and when it comes to its teaching at schools, it becomes ever hotter. Should religion be taught at school, or not? I think it should, and in this post I explain why, and equally important, how.

A few days ago, the Spanish Parliament passed a new law of education (strictly speaking, a law that modifies the previous law of education). One of the hottest issues was the teaching of religion at school. It’s an issue that from time to time makes the news in Spanish newspapers. Political parties use that topic like a political weapon, completely disregarding what could be good for children. Sadly, education in Spain is usually something like a battlefield for political parties to quarrel among themselves.

Most unfortunately, during several centuries in our history, religion and power have had a difficult but close relationship: the power used religion to legitimise itself and religion used the power to expand itself and impose its doctrine to the population. Severing the ties has been difficult, in some places harder than in others, but it seems that, at last, we have succeeded.

So it is no longer expected of everybody to embrace christianity. And most people who call themselves christians only attend the church for very special occasions, such as weddings, funerals, etc. So it’s completely understandable that people ask why religion is still taught at schools. And thus far the «obvious» question should be: it shouldn’t. But, as I see it, things are not so simple.

The fact that most people don’t follow any religion does not mean that religion is not important, and most importantly doesn’t erase the influx and role it has played in history — for the good and for the bad. We must not forget that what we call «present» is the result of the past. Our culture, our civilisation, our customs, our language, etc, are what they are thanks to years and years of evolution. Regardless of whether we like it or not, religion has played ad very important role in shaping our way of life. For these reasons, I think it’s a good idea to keep teaching religion at schools.

But how? Teaching religion in the hope that children will become christian is, I think, completely out of the question. First of all, because this is not the purpose of schools, but of the Church. And secondly, at least according to what I have seen, teaching religion at school with such purpose usually backfires. Most of the hardest atheists and anticlericals I know attended religious schools.

I’m of the opinion that religion, at school, must be taught more or less like any other subject: with an academic approach. That is, explaining what a religion is, that there are several religions in our world, what the most widespread religions believe, and showing the role they have played at history and still play at present. The same way people must know what comunism is and the importance (either good or bad) it has had in the twentieth century, people must know about religion.

There is another reason, I think, for teaching religion at school. I’m in favor of letting children decide about religion by themselves. That is, not forcing them, in any way, to embrace a particular religion. This doesn’t mean that, in educating them, I will renounce to my particular beliefs. It means that it is up to them, the children, to decide in what to believe. But if I want them to make such choice, I think it’s reasonable to tell them something about religion, so they will be able to decide knowing what they are deciding about. The more information they have, I think, the better the choice they will make.

  • anon

    I’m of the opinion that religion should be taught just as much as superstition or parapsychology. It has no place and no utility in an academic plan from a civilized country.

    Its place should be, at most, in another subject to have knowledge about history and humanity, but not being such a waste of time.

    • Sigurd Kvernmoen

      Totally agree. Freedom should be taught completely free of will – independent from the school system. It’s something very personal and doesn’t mix with an academic plan.

    • Jordi Salvador Pont

      I think I mostlty agree with you. The point is not whether religion is taught as a «stand-alone» subject, but the approach, the perspective, it is used to taught it. I think it would be a great mistake to disregard the importance religion has had in history and the importance it still has for a large amount of people — even if you think they’re utterly wrong.

      Of course, the point is not to teach religion in order to make children believe in God: as Sigurd says (and I agree with him), this is very personal and should not mix with an academic plan. But I do think that children will be best served if, in order to make a choice, they have some knowledge of what religion is.