Religion and Education
This is a topic that I have been meaning to write about for a long time – that of having to learn Science and History in order to teach Science and History to my children.
One of the problems that I have with my religious upbringing is the complexity of the mis-information that I was exposed to in the church about science and history, even to the point of being told to ignore or devalue what was taught in school. It’s not so much what was taught; anything that is learned can be revised or corrected with further education; it was more the method – the implication that what is being taught is absolute truth because it comes from Divine Inspiration.
I can specifically remember hearing in sermons and discourses, and reading in publications by the church that address such topics as Darwin, evolution, age of the earth, Biblical ‘historical’ events – things that I believed that I had a complete education about. I grew up confident that thing things I learned about those subjects were both factual and superior to those published by professionals in those fields because we had Divine Guidance and they were ‘just’ scientists, historians, anthropologists, and other professionals in those fields, who, even with all their fancy education, lacked Divine Guidance to see the to the Truth of things.
This is a fallacy. I have suffered because of it, and were I less contentious parent, my children would have, also.
This reasoning, ‘we know because we have God’; is indicative of the arrogance that Christianity breeds, and it is this arrogance that I feel is utterly detrimental to the processes of education. The ideas that: God has chosen you and your religious counterparts to receive ‘special’ knowledge; that your understanding of a subject is superior regardless of the current accepted factual understanding of research, physics or nature may say; that your education about such matters is complete because you have God on your side, essentially absolves the individual of the need to study, learn, seek, and to find out for themselves. It imbues them with a false sense of expertise on subjects that they are piteously ignorant of. Worse, it leads vastly under-educated individuals to perpetuate misinformation based on a woefully lacking basic understanding of historical events and the way the universe works. Detriment sets in when these same dreadfully under-educated children grow up with that false expertise and become the next generation of teachers and law-makers.
I use words like ‘woefully’, ‘piteously’ and ‘dreadfully’, because it is! I had literally had no idea how much I didn’t know until I started having to contemplate teaching my children. I was left without so much as a rudimentary understanding of what the theory of evolution is because of how badly Darwin’s work is misrepresented by my parents’ religion. It wasn’t until I started homeschooling that I realized exactly how misguided and even maliciously under-educated the churches want their subjects. If for nothing else, then the possibility that their ‘have a building, obviously need a builder’ analogy is utterly irrelevant ; the possibility that evolution ‘might’ be true would, in effect, erase the need for a Creator. It’s not like God (in whatever form or concept you wish it) couldn’t exist for other reasons – but once you start exploring the possibility that life didn’t have, doesn’t need an intentional beginning… that opens the door to so may other questions that religion cannot answer.
One of the things I heard over and over as a child was that secondary education was, at the least, unnecessary and at the worst, actually harmful to God’s People. First of all, because we’re ‘living in the last days’, and so occupations like Doctor or Lawyer, which require many years of schooling that take away from the task assigned all True Christians, to ‘preach the Word’, would be irrelevant after Armageddon (or God’s Righteous Cleansing of the Earth of all Wickedness) because people will be perfectly healthy and sin-less (so no disease, death or injustice). Why waste all that time in school when you could be out there preaching?!
Secondly, beware! Exposure to too much thinking can ‘educate’ God right out of you! The more you’re exposed to other faiths (because mixing with ‘The World’ is bad), and philosophical ideas (which just confuse a good, God-Fearing mind), the farther away from being ‘sheep-like’, meek and mild one becomes. My answer to that was always, ‘Yeah… and? Sheep are stupid creatures. They’re not intelligent enough to save themselves even if the herd is leading them to their ultimate demise. Who in their right mind wants to emulate sheep?!’. But we’re supposed to be sheep, with Jesus as our Shepherd, following along, doing what we’re told.
I also grew up to eschew the concept of ‘independent thinking’. After all, that’s what got us into this mess – Eve decided to think for herself and eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad instead of blindly following what God told her. If she had remained innocent and ignorant, then she wouldn’t have doomed mankind to sin and death. That idea/teaching has always bothered me, because without full disclosure, educated decision making is absent. Eve didn’t have full disclosure. She was asked to choose to remain ignorant or educate herself. And human nature, the desire we were CREATED with according to creationism, was her downfall. That smacks of being set up to fail. Oh, sure – arguments can be made that Eve was told what would happen, but how many of us have a baby who just has to touch the pretty flame before learning that it is, indeed hot, just as mommy has always warned? Do we doom the child to die for fulfilling the need to find that out for himself? Of course not.
As an adult, when I realized just how badly misinformed I was, it put me in the unique position of finding out for myself what the facts say. I am not an unintelligent person. I enjoy reading, research, writing, history – all fun things for me. Unfortunately, physics and biology and history are very, very complex subjects, with literally millions of years of information to wade through. So even though I have done my level best (and continue to) read and watch and listened to books, videos, and lectures, there does come a point where I have to defer to the experts. I choose to defer those who have devoted their lives to learning, understanding and teaching such things, and I gladly defer to their superior knowledge of their subject. After all, if they’ve devoted their lives to these fields of study, then they know infinitely more about them that I could learn as either an individual seeking to further my own education, or as a homeschool teacher. Deferring to their superior knowledge in no way absolves my responsibility to continue learning.
But at no point would/should/could I defer to religious amateurs who have absolutely no professional training in that field and claim ‘Divine Guidance’ for their take on things, and yet that’s what millions of people do on a daily basis – probably without even realizing it. Religious leaders generally have training from a seminary school, and if they have historical and/or scientific training, it comes from a theological viewpoint, which is to say, not unbiased. This is especially true in my parents’ religion, where the pinnacle of achievement is to devote your life to God’s Service, putting whatever skills you possess at the disposal of the church leaders. However, coupled with aforementioned aversion to secondary schooling, what you end up with is a bunch of ignorant, but sincere, people with zero educational or scientific expertise to lend to the validity of the religion’s claims on such matters. Claims which, with any depth of examination are easily discredited.
While I was writing this, I was searching for images, and came across this one called ‘A Matrix of Science and Religion by Colleen Scheck. It’s interesting to me; I don’t classify myself as an atheist; if anything I suppose I might be considered agnostic by some, though I purposefully do not claim any religious labels here.
I enjoy the ideas set forth by Humanist organizations, and enjoy learning about native and historical religions with their various deities and ceremonies… these enjoyments make me a hodge-podge of spiritual influences that I choose not to define. Suffice it to say that I am happy with my current state of spirituality and religious practice and it really shouldn’t mater to anyone else what I believe or how I express those beliefs, but I do find this image very interesting. I tend to fall somewhere in the ‘potentially co-existing’ area. I was raised in the opposite spectrum – that religion is set, and science is an ever-changing process (the oft-spoken ideal was that eventually science would ‘catch up’ to our religion), and therefore the two were in constant conflict. Concepts and events like: the age of the earth, the existence and time-frame of dinosaurs, whether or not the Exodus account is true, or the Great Flood happened as the Bible describes it; for individuals who accept the bible as a collection of stories that loosely ‘document’ one part of the world and culture of that time, there is plenty of room for modern science. But having the narrow-minded view that the bible is literal and factual on all counts – means that you must – MUST – at some point choose to blindly disregard things that can be proven.
Knowledge is always preferable to ignorance. Knowledge has the unique task of shaping reality. Things that you know to be true have a profound impact on how you live; on the decisions that you make; on how you spend your money or raise your children. I don’t want my children growing up believing something just because they ‘heard’ it, or ‘read’ it or ‘saw’ it. I want them to believe things because they heard it, AND read it, AND saw it. I want their information to come from various sources, with various agendas pushing that viewpoint. I want them to gather information and make informed decisions based on facts, not blindly follow. When facts from those various sources agree, then – and only then – can something be known. And even then, it may be subject to change as we learn more.
One of my favorite quotes is this, and I thought it would be a fitting close to this article:
“Knowledge is power. Power corrupts. Study hard; be Evil.”