An atheist argument for teaching religion in school

This video is of a short but fantastic lecture given at the famous TED lectures in California by Dan Dennett.   The lecture makes a compelling case why we atheists should support the teaching of religion in schools (with Dennett’s caveat, of course, that ALL religions are taught and that instruction be factually-based).

As a product of Ontario’s publicly-run Catholic education school system from kindergarten up until my first year of university, I do have to say that while I hated catechism class and found it terribly brainwashing, Dennett does make a very strong case.

Looking back, I can see that the one religion class of my entire pre-university schooling which I actually enjoyed was the one which was taught without bias and which was geared towards exactly what Dennett is talking about — all world religions.  This class helped lay the foundations for me to understand the ability of religion to manipulate society and opened my eyes to many issues and topics which still continue to influence my research.  And that was just one short class.

Maybe we athiests have been going about it all the wrong way?  Maybe we shouldn’t be trying to ban religion from the classroom, but should try instead merely to get away from the parochial cuius regio, eius religio by presenting a complete anthropological account of religion stripped of its dogma?

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For Dan Dennett’s TED lecture, click here.

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For the TED website with links to other very interesting lectures on Technology, Entertainment and/or Design, click here

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18 Responses to “An atheist argument for teaching religion in school”


  1. 1 janfromthebruce 17 June, 2007 at 8:27 pm

    Ontario public school board association, since 2003, supports an one school system with both official languages, and the teaching jof a world religious history course.
    One school system should be pushed this provincial election. It would be more financially viable and promote mutual respect for others of different religions and cultural/ethnic backgrounds.

  2. 2 leansixsigma 18 June, 2007 at 12:05 am

    I don’t necessarily want the teaching of religion banned in schools, what I object to is the rise of faith schools as an embrace of so-called multiculturalism. We only have to look to Northern Ireland to see the results of segregating children along religious lines. The whole environment highlights the separation of entire communities based on sectarianism. Public schools should concentrate on inquiry and reason, not religion.

    PS Great blog! I’ve linked back to you on my blog: rob-thompson.com

    Keep up the good work!!

    Rob

  3. 3 Andy L. 19 June, 2007 at 1:23 am

    It’s very important to shine the light of truth on Religious Right-Wing WACKOS.

    If that means objectively putting their myths and dogmas up for rational public dissection and discussion, then so be it.

  4. 4 AM I A HINDU? 16 August, 2008 at 6:11 am

    It is easy to argue that we should NOT teach religion in schools. Since the CULTURE is a byproduct of religions, we are forced to teach religions in the schools.

    What we actually need is not less religion but more religion. We are at the dawn of the 21st century. We are now in a global village. A child born today is forced to deal with people born in every other country on earth. Each of these countries have their own religion and culture and ignorance of that will only make our children’s life miserable. Ignorance is not a bliss.

    As such failure to teach children all about world history and other religions will only make them incapable of dealing with problems. “Why a Sikh wearing a turban?”, “Why a Hindu woman is wearing a dot on her forehead?”, etc may look silly, but they are vitally important to our children who want to work and live in a global village.

    Dr. Stephen Prothero Chairman of Religious studies, Boston university stated in his book Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know that United states is the most religiously diverse nation on earth but we are also totally ignorant of all religions except our own. Prothero’s solution is to require middle-schoolers to take a course in world religions He wants all college undergrads to take at least one course in religious studies.

    When I wrote and published my book AM I A HINDU? [www.amiahindu.com] as part of my search after truth, I never even dream of the impact that will do in the minds of millions around the world. That simple book helped many Hindu communities in US to get permits to build temples in US and Canada, who had previously problems getting permits due to right wing opposition.

    So, it is easy to say “throw away your beliefs”….but fact of the matter is even an atheist has some belief such as “There is NO God”.

  5. 5 Saad 3 January, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    I believe that we should teach our freshmen a class about religion. This class will of course will help them better understand religion and respect all religions.

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  10. 12 passepoil 4 June, 2012 at 8:53 am

    The meaning of life is a concept that provides an answer to the philosophical question concerning the purpose and significance of life or existence in general. It can be expressed through answering a variety of related questions, such as “Why are we here?” “What is life all about?” and “What is the meaning of it all?” It has been the subject of much philosophical, scientific, and theological speculation throughout history. There have been a large number of theories to these questions from many different cultural and ideological backgrounds. Even so, the meaning of life could manifest that question itself: “what is the meaning of life,” or life seeking the meaning of itself.

    The meaning of life is deeply entrenched in the philosophical and religious conceptions of existence, social ties, consciousness, and happiness, and borders on many other issues, such as symbolic meaning, ontology, value, purpose, ethics, good and evil, free will, conceptions of God, the existence of God, the soul, and the afterlife. Scientific contributions focus primarily on describing related empirical facts about the universe, exploring the context and parameters concerning the ‘how’ of life. Science also provides its own recommendations for the pursuit of well-being and a related conception of morality. An alternative, humanistic approach poses the question “What is the meaning of my life?” The value of the question pertaining to the purpose of life may coincide with the achievement of ultimate reality, or a feeling of oneness, or even a feeling of sacredness.

    To Epicurus, the greatest good is in seeking modest pleasures, to attain tranquility and freedom from fear (ataraxia) via knowledge, friendship, and virtuous, temperate living; bodily pain (aponia) is absent through one’s knowledge of the workings of the world and of the limits of one’s desires. Combined, freedom from pain and freedom from fear are happiness in its highest form. Epicurus’ lauded enjoyment of simple pleasures is quasi-ascetic “abstention” from sex and the appetites:

    “When we say … that pleasure is the end and aim, we do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of sensuality, as we are understood to do, by some, through ignorance, prejudice or wilful misrepresentation. By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. It is not by an unbroken succession of drinking bouts and of revelry, not by sexual lust, nor the enjoyment of fish, and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest tumults take possession of the soul.”[25]

    The Epicurean meaning of life rejects immortality and mysticism; there is a soul, but it is as mortal as the body. There is no afterlife, yet, one need not fear death, because “Death is nothing to us; for that which is dissolved, is without sensation, and that which lacks sensation is nothing to us.”[26]

    [edit] Stoicism

    Stoicism teaches that living according to reason and virtue is to be in harmony with the universe’s divine order, entailed by one’s recognition of the universal logos (reason), an essential value of all people. The meaning of life is “freedom from suffering” through apatheia (Gr: απαθεια), that is, being objective, having “clear judgement”, not indifference.

    Stoicism’s prime directives are virtue, reason, and natural law, abided to develop personal self-control and mental fortitude as means of overcoming destructive emotions. The Stoic does not seek to extinguish emotions, only to avoid emotional troubles, by developing clear judgement and inner calm through diligently practiced logic, reflection, and concentration.

    The Stoic ethical foundation is that “good lies in the state of the soul”, itself, exemplified in wisdom and self-control, thus improving one’s spiritual well-being: “Virtue consists in a will which is in agreement with Nature.”[26] The principle applies to one’s personal relations thus: “to be free from anger, envy, and jealousy”.[26]

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