Malaysiakini Letter

Teach kids not just faith, but to think

Tzuo Hann Law  |  Published:  |  Modified:

I refer to Lee Chung Yen's ‘ Non-Muslim kids deserve religious classes too ’. The author hit some excellent points reminding us of our freedom of thought and how it should be fairly manifested in our national education goals.  

I would like to add two points.  

The first; religion is a very personal choice and imposing it on children is wrong. Second, Chung Yen's comment that, "It is unlikely that the general teaching of moral knowledge will enlighten the students in purifying their mind, speech and physical action like the religious education," if narrowly interpreted, concerns me.  

On the first point, religion is a collection of fact and non-fact (faith). Facts, we can, and must teach all our children. Flood them with facts about faith. Teach them about Islam's prominence in the Middle East.   

Teach them about its role in early development of medicine, astronomy and mathematics. Teach them about the rise and decline of Protestants in modern America. Teach them about the separation of different churches.

Teach them about various bifurcations of Buddhism. Teach them about the role of pagan religions. Teach them everything there is to know about religions. It will make them better people who simply know more about the rich world we live in.  

To teach facts is correct and good. To teach non-fact as fact, is wrong. We should spare our children faith in the guise of fact. Spare of them of myths of life after death. Spare them of bogus explanations of the origins of species and the universe.

Spare them of dogmatic morals. Of what we do not know, and take for faith, let our children do the same for themselves. Just tell them we don't know for sure, and what people believe without telling them what they should believe.  

I do not think I am alone in thinking that the faith component of religion is personal and should not be imposed on children. There are no Muslim children, Buddhist children or Jewish children. There are children with Hindu parents, children with Shiite grandparents and so on.

Teach them all the facts of many faiths, and let them decide which to call their own. As Chung Yen describes, we are very far away from this. To Chung Yen, we are guilty of having chosen Islam as the only religion taught in schools. I agree, but would go further in that we should all learn about Islam (and other religions) as facts, and not faith as it is taught now.  

To my second point, Chung Yen's assertion that "It is unlikely that the general teaching of moral knowledge will enlighten the students in purifying their mind, speech and physical action like the religious education." can be taken two ways.

I will first agree with Chung Yen if "moral knowledge" is narrowly defined as "moral studies/pendidikan moral" as is taught in school. Simply put, teachers (some of them excellent) are made to teach a load of bull. I will not say more on one of the many prime jokes on this portion of our education system. Pull aside some students who have taken Pendidikan Moral for more first hand laughs.  

If we take "moral knowledge" as a broader, secular inquiry into ethics and conduct, why then is religion superior to thought, critique and questioning that every human with a brain is capable of?

Why is that any less enlightening than any holy book written years ago by dead people? Why should it be? What gives any religion or doctrine the moral high-ground?  

I hope Chung Yen did not underestimate the individual human's capability to reason in this regard.

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