Why Religious Education Can Be Hazardous Material

Article excerpt

In madrassahs and Sunday Schools around the world, children are taught about how to live a God-centered life. But children also learn prejudice and discrimination when they are taught that people of other religions are not "saved," or that those who believe differently are "misled." I speak from experience: As an Arab- American who grew up in a Christian environment in Lebanon, a country of 13 recognized religious sects, which experienced political sectarian meltdown in the 1980s. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the world is also turning sectarian through the wrong kind of religious education.

There are about a billion children in the world under the age of 10. They are vulnerable to indoctrination. The young child becomes "religious" sooner than you think. They are learning the theology of double standards: believers going to heaven and others going to hell. Children learn one form of religion and take their own faith as the only right one. They are not taught about other religions or at least about the validity of other religions.

After about the age of six, you can expect a child to ask tough "theological" questions: why is my friend (of another faith) going to hell? If God loves everybody, why would so many people be deprived of His benefits? I was born into my religion, how come I am favored or chosen or selectively saved? The child will soon grow up to discover that some questions do not have easy answers. He also discovers the contradictions and inconsistencies that are inherent in exclusive and sectarian thinking. In fact, most of us have grown expecting religion to give us concrete and full answers to every question we ask.

Spiritual education, on the other hand, is essential for personality development, but it should not be confused with sectarian religious education. We are born with a spirit but not with a religion. Religious education is a process intended to help children acquire positive values and develop spiritually. Naturally, the desired positive outcome of religious education is not guaranteed, depending on the approach.

Spiritual education, in my view, is a qualified category of religious education that is associated with a positive outcome on children's values and spiritual growth. Quality spiritual education cultivates the child's inborn capacity to love and be loved, to belong and be accepted by others, to acquire knowledge through exploration and to appreciate diversity through healthy exchange of experience.

Parents' attitudes about religion reflect how their children are taught about spirituality. …