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On Religion and Schools

By Corey Gilkes
April 14, 2011

I cyar keep up wit dis government nah, is from one thing straight to the next. Last Monday, one of the many announcements made by the Minister of Education was that there was going to be a review of the way religious education is taught in the nation's schools. From all indications the aim is to create at the very least a greater understanding of the various faiths that exist in the country. Now it is no secret that I maintain a strong disapproval and dismissal of all organised religion; I consider all the major faiths to be bigoted, misogynist, patricentric murder cults, very authoritarian and largely steeped in anti-intellectualism. Like the very learned Denis Solomon I too consider religious education (oxymoron anyone?) to be a form of child abuse. But that's MY opinion of them. That doesn't necessarily mean that it is right and it definitely does not mean that everyone should adopt that stance.

Frankly I have no real issue with those who feel the need for religion or religious teachings to inform their lives and thoughts – I just have an issue with the simplistic bible-wavers who demean others or feel morally superior to those who hold a different view. The main ethnic groups in this country come from ancestral cultures that have or had very strong spiritual traditions that were by no means anti-intellectual or unscientific but merely couched them in the mantle of spirituality. Those so learned understood that the spiritual and the secular were complementary elements. This is one of the reasons why I cannot totally dismiss the notion of religion and spirituality (not the same thing) in the way that say, Kevin Baldeosingh would do. The ancestral traditions I come from were spiritual in every single aspect of their lives and placed no difference between the spiritual and the secular worlds. Religion – that is a formal institution defined by rigid rules called dogma, and in the patricentric authoritarian cultural ideas of Eurasia, views itself in opposition to other forms of worship – is decidedly un-African. Yet, insofar as it has been used in the Afri-Caribbean experience not least of which has been by providing the anchor and catalyst for much of the radicalism and agitation that resisted enslavement and colonial rule, it cannot and will not be treated with indifference by this writer.

Indeed I believe that the teaching of religious ideas in a way that enlightens the pupil about the history, nature and customs of their own faith as well as those of others will go a long way in fostering greater understanding and appreciation for these faiths and the wonderful diversity of humanity. This, hopefully, could lead to a lessening of the tension, insecurity and definitely the ignorance that has torn other places apart – and may yet tear this place apart if we are not careful.

For almost from the time the Honourable Minister made that announcement the reaction on the airwaves was somewhat swift and, unfortunately, predictable. One particular caller to the Power Breakfast programme on Power 102 more or less summed up much of what I heard on radio, in taxis and on the streets in casual conversations. The caller clearly disapproved of such an initiative. His reason? This would mean exposing his child to faiths that his faith and scripture teaches is "not of god."

Now I know he did not formally speak on behalf of the Christian community (let's face it, it's mostly from Christians and Muslims you hear such stupid, bigoted ignorance), but by and large the ignorance he exuded is very much widespread in our society and is by no means limited to Christians and Muslims. I always remember overhearing a young woman years ago talking to her friend in the Carnegie Library. The goodly woman was telling her friend about her Hindu neighbour who had invited them over to something or the other and she said that she wasn't going to eat anything sine "yuh know how dey does pray over dey food." I also recall being invited to a charismatic Catholic service in the RC church in San Fernando just a few months after Dr Molly Ahye had her televised installation as an Orisa priestess. And it was to hear the priest, who I understand was not the rector of the church, wash he mouth on de oman. I mean you can almost feel the venom coming from every word.

So how long are we to let this go on? We seem to know more about the goings-on in far off places – and I'm not so sure of even that anymore – than we do about our own space and the people we share it with. How many reading this live next to or grew up with a Hindu, Orisa, or Christian household, went through the entire elementary, primary, secondary, perhaps even tertiary education system and cannot write three paragraphs about those faiths – but know very well that that faith is "not of god." That fool's statement should have been the reason to start the program in the morning.

Then again, that would have made a bad situation even worse. That caller's ignorance and prejudice did not come out of thin air; it was no doubt put in his head by the modern-day men who are inspired by god, many of whom no better than their forbears of about 1900-odd years ago. The fact is a great many religious leaders are as ignorant about other faiths as their lay people are. And boy, how do they wave that ignorance like a badge of honour. As a matter of fact, speaking of the Christian denominations, a great many of them are ignorant about the history of their own faiths. Find that being unduly harsh? Ok. Tell me how many churches and evangelical tabernacles (are these people Christian or Jewish?) have begun to read and interpret the recently publicised and authenticated Gospel of Judas, which is older than the canonical gospels and which, like the Dead Sea Scrolls before it, will significantly alter the way Christian devotees understand the bible, Christianity and that historical period. Oho.

Frankly if there is to be comparative religious studies or religious instruction in schools I'm not sure how many of the current religious instructors should have anything to do with it. If all you are going to do is mouth the standard party line of your particular religious party, then you will do those children and the country a great, invaluable service by shutting up and learning – because you clearly have little to teach.

Of course, I'm well aware that all this is wishful thinking. The colonial system instilled a culture of anti-intellectual authoritarianism and religion was the principal vehicle. The only major change made after so-called Independence was that the new political and educated elite looked more like me than they did Prince Charles. It goes without saying that religion was as active in maintaining that unquestioning conformity to authoritarian, patriarchal rule as it has always been.

But, at the very least, it's a start. If implemented, it may very well mark the beginning of a mindset that embraces critical thinking and analysis. Hopefully, it brings about a greater understanding of the many similarities of the various religions and, for now, I can live with that.

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