My kids go to a public primary school in Sydney. Scripture is offered at our school and conducted by external providers. Our very Anglo-Saxon school has representatives of the local Catholic, and I think, Presbyterian Churches, who visit once a week. All the other kids (save a few lucky ones that have recently been offered Ethics classes in the upper years, which is fabulous) spend scripture time colouring in, watching TV, getting zero educational or cultural nutrition.
I think we’re missing an opportunity here. Why don’t we teach all our kids the basics of each religion? The tenets of the Islamic faith, the Jewish, the Christian and the rest. I think kids will be fascinated by this. Give them an understanding of what each religion represents; how different cultures weave their religions into their daily life; what is represented by the external signs of religion we see around us – the Yarmulke, the turban, the burqa. Teach them that the fundamentalist arm of each religion differs greatly from main group of followers.
Surely teaching children the differences (and indeed similarities) between religions would help them grow into more tolerant individuals. As the saying goes, ignorance breeds contempt.
My religious education consisted of some Presbyterian “I love Jesus” pictures when I was in primary school, and my private Anglican high school’s “It’s our way or the highway” teachings. This, by the way, led to some interesting conversations between the lovely Reverend and I along the lines “So, does that mean if you’re born in the middle of nowhere in, say, New Guinea, and you don’t know about our God, then you’re going to hell”. He answered “Hmmm yes”. (My 14 year old self had a rather large problem with this).
I can see many advantages of teaching Comparative Religion in our increasingly multi-cultural society. Intolerance is something that grows in people as they age, and I think we could at least try to nip this in the bud with some gentle and engaging education. I think the messages from such teachings would also educate many parents.
I know it is drawing a really long bow to say that teaching kids about other religions is going to stop people dying in fruitless religious wars, however, I don’t think many would argue that an understanding of other faiths would encourage a degree more tolerance of each other.