This past Friday, I read an article in the Globe and Mail outlining a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada, to the effect that a provincially-mandated course on religion being taught in Quebec schools is not unconstitutional. I admit, I had not heard anything about the case before and so assumed that the complaining parent was probably an atheist, angry about their children being indoctrinated into religious belief. As an ardent secularist, I found myself unconsciously reaching for my metaphorical gun.
No need, as it turned out. The complaint actually issued from a Catholic couple who claimed that the province’s new Religious Studies curriculum ostensibly discriminated against them.
How did it do so, you ask?
Essentially, by teaching their children about the existence of other faiths. You see, it turns out that the course wasn’t about indoctrination at all, so much as it was about educating students about the rich variety of religious faiths that exist in the Quebecois cultural millieu:
“Introduced in 2008 to elementary and high schools, the program replaced religion classes with a curriculum covering all major faiths found in Quebec culture, including Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and aboriginal beliefs. “
In other words, it is a course telling students ‘who believes what,’ rather than ‘what to believe.’ This, in my opinion, is how religion should be taught in schools. It should be presented, for educational purposes, as something with no truth or falsehood assigned to it, just as a mythology which influences the way that people think and behave. Although I believe that secularism is an important value to maintain in civil societies, I think that probably the worst way to go about implementing this goal is to place an absolute taboo on the topic of religion in schools (as was done when I was a child); it is, for example, impossible to appreciate virtually any western literature without a working knowledge of Christianity, and large chunks of history seem completely inexplicable as well. Teaching students about all of the religious faiths with which they are likely to interact is a good way to broaden their horizons, and make them better, wiser Human Beings.
But of course, if it is your goal as a parent to completely dominate all of your children’s thought-processes, this is precisely what you do not want. If they start to learn, for example, that other religions also have Holy Books which declare their multiple conflicting tennants to be unimpeachably true, then before you know it they might revert to Heathenry or Mohammedanism, or (worst of all) they may start to notice that there is no a priori reason to assume that any one religion is any truer than any other, and give up upon the entire project of faith altogether:
‘The mother of the Grade 4 pupil said on Friday that the mixed messages of the Quebec program and have caused her son to question his faith at an age where he should be listening to parental instruction.
“There is a time and place for everything, and this exposure should come later. Unless, of course, the entire point of the exercise is to sow doubt,” said the woman, who can be identified only as S.L. under a court order. “I want to assure you, I’m for openness, but I refuse to treat my faith as something freakish. Just how far do we have to go to call ourselves welcoming and tolerant?” ‘
“This exposure should come later,” S.L says. Presumably, what she means by this is that it should come only after she has successfully inculcated a sense of non-introspective religious supremacism in her tot; once he’s old enough to be able to see members of other faiths for the bedeviled infidels that they are. Good on the Supreme Court of Canada for telling her exactly where to stick it.
One other thing that I will make note of is the reaction of self-described ‘Civil Libertarians’ to this ruling:
‘Mr. Groleau said that parents would be right to worry that they are losing their control over the education of their children. “This case diminishes this sphere of autonomy by deciding that parents cannot simply disagree with a course being taught to their children,” he said.
Once again, these comments reflect nothing so much as the nasty undercurrent of thought in our culture (particularly noticeable, frankly, among those who somewhat laughably refer to themselves as ‘libertarians’) that children are nothing more than projections of the wills and desires of their parents, rather than individual Human beings.