True religious education must provide access to information about other religions

Dear Editor,

I heartily support Mr Roger Williams’ call for the re-introduction of Religious Education in the school system (SN 24.6.08). As well as attempting to deal with the moral issues raised by Mr Williams, religious education will help our children to be more tolerant of and open-minded about other faiths and belief systems.

On many occasions I have heard school children, even teachers, sad to say, snickering and showing gross disrespect when the prayer of another faith is being said, especially when it is in a non-English language.

The juvenile name-calling such as ‘fulaman,’ ‘clap-hand,’ ‘tongues people,’ ‘idol-worshippers,’ ‘godless’ and other similar obscenities is another product of religious intolerance and ignorance of other religions.

Many children get the parochial impression from teachings at their places of worship that their religion is the only true religion and all others are false. Hence, some of them, especially the older ones, will argue among themselves and with teachers the age-old question of which religion is the true religion, and the debate can get quite heated, even physical.

Religious intolerance also creates suspicion, damages relations and can even destroy friendships and family ties. How can people be friends with one another or work comfortably together if one believes that he is going to heaven and the other is going to hell? Religious education in schools will certainly help to combat these negative and insular tendencies.

Religious education, in the true and meaningful sense, must educate children about all the religious expressions that can be found in the average Guyanese classroom, including Rastafarianism, Baha’ism and yes, even Atheism (it is a valid belief system just like a faith-based one), and not just the three so-called major faiths of Christianity, Hinduism and Islam.

Religious education will help children to discover that their religion’s viewpoint of spirituality is just one of the many different and equally valid viewpoints of spirituality as seen by other faiths, religions, denominations and sects. It will teach children that the universal principle of the Golden Rule or the Ethics of Reciprocity is common to all religions. They will also learn another universal principle: “Thou shalt not kill” – most certainly without the exceptions such as: “Thou shalt utterly destroy all the unbelieving inhabitants – men, women and children and animals – of the sinful city with the edge of the sword, or with fire and brimstone.”

It takes a thinking adult years of spiritual reflection for him to see the egocentrism and ethnocentrism of his narrow religious beliefs and that, ultimately, matters of his faith are personal, parochial and insular. By the time he reaches this realization, if he ever does, he might have done enormous damage to himself and to others.

So, instead of waiting until people are adults to teach them religious tolerance, the wise thing (hats off to Mr Williams) to do is to teach it to them when they are young and can absorb vast amounts of values and information at a fast rate.

True religious education must provide access to information about other religions, which should be recognized as a right of all humans, children and adults alike. True religious education must teach these values; otherwise it is merely religious proselytizing and propagandizing masquerading as religious education.

Children will learn the human and humane value that as your religion is valid to you so is my religion valid to me. They will learn that the Catholic mass, the Muslim namaaz, the Hindu puja, the Pentecostal speaking in tongues, to name just a few religious practices, are just different and equally valid ways that humans express their love, appreciation and devotion to something that they conceive as being beyond themselves.

They will learn that holy books are to be read and diligently investigate, not to be lugged around like talismans as is frequently seen when Bibles and Qu’rans are found in bandits’ hideouts.

Currently, religious education in the form of Religious Studies is being offered as a subject at the CSEC General Proficiency. The syllabus for this subject would definitely serve as a useful basis for religious education in schools.

On the issue of corporal punishment mentioned by Mr Williams, religious education will teach children, from reading the Old Testament, that corporal punishment was an ancient pre-Christian practice forged in the harsh environment in which the ancient Hebrews lived. They will learn that Gentle Yehsua taught the opposite of beating children, something called loving, nurturing and empathizing with them. They will learn that the Roman Catholic and Methodist Churches are moving away from corporal punishment. From Baha’ism they will learn that corporal punishment is prohibited, and from Mormonism that that practice is not recommended. Religious Education Lesson, ‘What Do Religions Say About Corporal Punishment?’ will be an eye-opener to the young, inquiring mind.

Yours faithfully,
M. Xiu Quan-Balgobind-Hackett

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