Thursday, 19 March 2015

Should it be illegal to indoctrinate children with secularism?

I often find Facebook an interesting (and often depressing) place to see what's trending and what people are engaging with. Like the recent example of Willy Moon and Natalia Kills. They showed up all over my feed as they were either poked fun of or abused for the absurd and, quite frankly, 'disgusting' comments they made about an X-Factor contestant. 

One day I was scrolling through my home page and I stumbled across an article from The Huffington Post. The article, Some atheists and transhumanists are asking: should it be illegal to indoctrinate kids with religion, argues that children are impressionable and so should not be 'indoctrinated' with religious ideas. It ends with the author joining with others in calling for a regulation  which 'restricts religious indoctrination of children until they reach, let's say, 16 years of age...Forcing religion onto minors is essentially a form of child abuse, which scars their ability to reason and also limits their ability to consider the world in an unbiased manner.'

Obviously, as a Christian from before the age of 16, I'm biased in my opinions, and my ability to reason has been deeply scarred. Nevertheless I feel I must say something. There are three particular ideas within the article I wish to comment and push back on. I can't speak for all religions, so I'll speak from a Christian evangelical perspective.

1. 'Religion should remain a private endeavour for adults.'
This is nothing new. The whole secular program is designed to push religion out of public discourse. Here we have a clash of ideologies. Christians believe that their faith is not merely an added side you order with your main course. It is the main course. To move away from the analogy, following Christ is what shapes a Christian's life. One's political or ethical beliefs will come out of their Christian commitment. So to simply push Christianity to the margins is not acceptable from a Christian point-of-view.

2. 'If you take "God" and "religion" out...what you'd probably find is peaceful people and communities dedicated to preserving and improving life through reason, science and technology.'
When will we ever stop with such simplistic readings of history? Even though I empathise with the author that people often use the guise of religious belief to start war and do terrible things, much of the time such things are politically motivated rather than religiously so. That's not to say that there are radical and misguided people who do do terrible things believing they are compelled to because of their religion, but that's a small pocket of terrible people.

And it's also deeply simplistic to say that if no religion existed, life would run smoothly and peacefully. Look at Hitler and the Nazis. They were scathing of Christianity and religious activity. Hitler held to a 'survival of the fittest' type philosophy which led to the deaths of millions of people: Jews, physically and intellectually disabled persons, Christians, people who disagreed with Hitler, etc. To say that religion is the cause of all horrible events in history is simply untrue. By the same token, non-religious folk are not more capable of evil as religious folk. I think events of human evil hint at something deeper that has to do with human nature. I don't think its a religious issue but a human one.

Also, Christian belief is oriented toward loving God and loving your neighbour. Christ calls us to live at peace with one another. That's not to say that Christians can't critique things in the world. But any so-called Christian teaching that deviates from this 'peace' and advocates war or hatred is no longer Christian but something else entirely.

3. 'A reasonable society should not have to indoctrinate its children; its children should discover and choose religious paths for themselves when they become adults, if they are to choose one at all.'
While on the surface this may sound reasonable, in reality it's a naive statement. It assumes that non-religious conversation and beliefs is a neutral stance. While I think 'indoctrinate' is a terrible word because of its negative connotation, to teach a secular worldview is to 'indoctrinate' a child. It will teach them that religion doesn't matter, or is merely a crutch to help you through your life. Secularism is an ideology which teaches particular assumptions about the world just like religions do. To pretend that it's something other than that is to deceive ourselves.

We all live out of a particular worldview and we pass that on to our children. As for me, I seek to live a life that produces things like gentleness, kindness, peace and self-control because that's how my God calls me to live. And I want to pass those values onto my children. If that's unacceptable to the author of this Huffington Post article, then all I can say is that's just too bad.

A final word
There are more secularists than religious people in our Western culture, so secularists can easily shout louder than Christians and thus drown out their voices. Which, if they choose to do so, is fine. But I would propose that instead of pushing religious perspectives to the margins, they should be brought into the heart of public discourse. Are we in the 21st century afraid of religion and religious perspectives? Are we afraid of engaging with them and taking seriously what they might have to offer? Throughout Western civilization, Christians have done incredible things. They were the ones who spearheaded the British fight against slavery, who advocated education for all, who established hospitals for sick people. I don't expect everyone to follow Christ (even though I'd love that), but if Christians can offer that kind of consciousness and bring it into public discourse, then why wouldn't we want to hear from those voices?

To teach children from a Christian worldview isn't any worse than to do so from a secular one. But the misuse of either is what can be damaging to children.

Monday, 2 March 2015

YOLO, Selfies and Mission

Buzzwords are part of our everyday vocabulary--like 'YOLO' and 'selfie'. OK maybe we aren't all using them. I try not to say selfie. Still buzzwords can be helpful. They are linguistic phenomena that help us to understand and easily communicate a culturally understood idea. Put another way, buzzwords help us use less words (i.e. selfie vs. taking-a-picture-of-yourself).

And every sector has its buzzwords and buzz phrases: science, business, marketing, youth subcultures and, of course, the church. As I said, they're not bad (unless you are anything like Dietrich Bonhoeffer's family who disliked intensely the use of lazy speech and well-worn clich├ęs). They can be helpful for day-to-day communication.

But if the idea of a buzzword is to help explain a culturally relevant idea then I wonder whether some buzzwords are more helpful than others. Are there times we use a word or phrase where the other person understands something differently?

One buzzword I've been reflecting on recently is 'mission'. 'Mission' is usually used in Christian circles to talk about God's work of redeeming and saving the world. That's the missio Dei. It's become trendy, though, to speak of a church doing mission. This usually has something to do with the church, or some people within the church, connecting with people who aren't Christians in the hope that they may come to know Jesus.

So the question at hand: Is the word 'mission' a helpful buzzword in Christian ministry?

Why is it helpful?

'Mission' communicates the idea that we are seeking to join with God in his work of saving the world. It reminds us that Christianity is not just about us seeking spiritual nourishment, but also about us going out into all the world sharing the wonderful news of Jesus Christ. It's also something that is interested in the physical, the spiritual, the psychological and the emotional dimensions. It has humans, animals and the whole cosmos in its sights. It's an expansive vision of God's salvific and redemptive work. So the theological context communicates that 'mission' has something to do with God being at work in all aspects of life and how he draw us into participation with him in it.

Why is it unhelpful?

Before 'mission' became popular Christians often spoke about 'evangelism'. Evangelism has to do with 'saving souls'. While saving souls (if you want to put it that way) is a great thing, it can often narrow our thinking down to 1) a particular thing that needs saving (i.e. the spiritual part without worrying about physical needs) and 2) a particular action we do (going out with tracts, etc.) rather than having a lifestyle and living a life that communicates God's interest in saving the whole world. Because of their close literary and historical connections, I think the word 'mission' is often used as a hip and cool synonym for 'evangelism' rather than God being at work in all-of-life and our participation with him in it.

What's the verdict? Helpful or unhelpful?

A buzzword is a word or phrase that helps us understand and easily communicate a culturally understood idea. Because we have to know the context behind this word, perhaps 'mission' is not so helpful. Of course it's a good word, and we should continue to use it, but I'm not convinced that we all mean the same thing. I often interpret other people's use of 'mission' as 'evangelism' because I think that's actually what they mean. So perhaps in our conversations it might be worth unpacking what we mean when we use the word 'mission' rather than thinking we are all saying the same thing.

I wonder if others have thoughts on this?