Religious Education

Chrno Crusade by Daisuke Moriyama

I remember there being SRI (Special Religious Instruction) classes when I was in primary school — although I don’t know if those that took the classes were professional teachers or simply volunteers. Essentially SRI segregates children by religion though, and I only discovered this name today when I read through an article on religious education in public schools from February.

I enjoyed them at first, mainly since I had no idea what was going on, but my parents soon found out and opted me out of the program and I went with the other ‘no religion’ children to the school hall to quietly read the hour and a half away instead. It was great fun, particularly since I’d always liked DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) at the end of the school day, but it never happened as frequently as I’d liked.

In high school however, we had RE (Religious Education), similar to the GRE (General Religious Education) mentioned in the article. Some girls in my classes brought in notes to opt out of it, essentially granting themselves a free period, but I always decided to stay because I thought it was interesting and it was a period that always actually kept me awake for once.

It was interesting because although there was clearly somewhat of a lean towards Christianity, there was no direct push for us to believe in anything (now that I think of it, she just spoke of it as though it was fact, and there’s no need to push to accept facts), and now and then we looked at various other religions — again, not as frequently as I’d liked though.

I have to admit, anything I really know about religion probably comes from those RE classes. I was never particularly interested in it, in fact I’m more interested in Greek and Roman gods though I treat that as mythology. Regardless I do think that knowing about aspects of different religions is important even if you yourself don’t believe — simply put, it can inform the way you should act to people of that religion even if you don’t necessarily agree with them, same as you wouldn’t want to be impolite to someone of a different culture.

Now, you could say that you don’t necessarily want to be polite to them either when you think what they believe in is codswallop, but any discussion involving religion does somehow turn out to be controversial, so don’t worry about that.

Answering the suggestion that “SRI has no value in a secular education system,” Paddison wrote in 2011, “I argue that all faiths play a valuable part in shaping and forming our understanding of who we are as individuals and as members of the global village.” Parents, principals and teachers agree. So did the committees of inquiry thirty and more years ago. But it’s hard to think of a less effective way to nurture such “understanding” than to segregate students by religion and teach them that all other groups are wrong.

This leads me elsewhere though — if my parents hadn’t been atheist to begin with, could I have grown up being Buddhist or Catholic without questioning it? It’s easy to say as an atheist-tending agnostic now all the reasons one should be one, but did I make my own decision to be atheist or am I following blind faith just as much as Christians being told that dinosaurs didn’t exist?

I do think that if my parents were Buddhist, I probably would be one now too, as my extended family in Malaysia are. I don’t know a great deal about other religions, and while I do have some working knowledge, I do frequently get them mixed up as well. I never “learn[ed] about all religions, the similarities, the differences, so [I could] have an informed faith” or lack thereof, as commenter Dianne van Dulken says, but the notion of it is quite attractive.

Having said that, I have assessed my position as atheist over the years, shuffling between more agnostic and more atheist. I have religious friends, and while I don’t understand their beliefs or how they keep them, we get along.

It is also refreshing to see that there are some religious people on the internet that do have their eyes open, and are clearly extremely intelligent. Not to mention self-deprecating — we like these kinds of people. Too bad religious discussions are often full of trolls, baiting on purpose and nitpicking every wording and detail..

But I digress, my new favourite phrase is: “Anyone who says differently is talking through their hat.”

Top: Chrno Crusade is by Daisuke Moriyama and doesn’t really have all that much to do with actual religion.