Religion is a bit of a peculiarity. It doesn’t have credible distinction to separate it from messianic cults (think of the South Korean Unification Church led by the True Father, Sun Myung Moon) nor can it distinguish itself from unadulterated superstition, the sort for which the Chinese are notorious for. Yes, I am referring to lucky colours, unlucky numbers and Fengshui, of which the latter is a thriving industry of unqualified hacks claiming to be able to divine mystical nonsense about the direction your sofa should be placed.
Trying to define religion is an embarrassing failure not just because of a lack of credible evidence but also how brazenly it insists on the truth. Given the countless religions that have previously existed, simple Math tells us if all were considered equally valid, we would have an endless litany of truths. And simple logic should tell us that this recurring pattern of religions falling out of favour, reborn or invented anew is not just an epidemic of very bad thinking but also a serious issue that education must address.
Sadly, it’s this one area that education skirts about. It insists on saying nothing about the issue: the syllabuses love to haphazardly splash about ‘critical thinking infusion’ but will kneecap itself by restricting teachers from addressing the logical failures of religion. And so in a Biology class we can criticise scientific theories, point out the absurdities of early ‘scientists’ who tried to transmute urine into gold, but once the subject veers into religion, we become tight lipped and it becomes a ‘sensitive’ subject because we need to respect beliefs.
How is it then that a scientific theory, backed by enough evidence to crush religious arguments under its heel, is given less insistence than a system of questionable beliefs? If your friend told you that a simple sum of 1 + 1 amounts to 3, we would gently (and firmly) correct him because such is the established reality of the world. Yet when we are at the murky swamp waters of religion, we often choose to stay out of the quagmire, citing tact and understanding. This behaviour is hugely contradictory, especially when people of different faiths claim to be good friends – disbelievers are due for damnation.
Unsurprisingly, and still worth a grim laugh, homosexuality used to be considered a psychological disorder until recent times – that categorisation has since been removed. Conversely (and ironically), religious people who claim to connect, listen and feel for unproven entities, are considered very much normal. Yet the genuinely insane who end up strapped in mental health institutes also make the same claims, albeit more dysfunctional. Is there really a difference between religious thoughts and the mentally unsound? They are both equally disconnected from reality.
And still, we allow monasteries, churches and mosques to bring in the young, where they are taught to often reject the theory of evolution, sometimes to accept a preposterous young earth theory, and often required to swear fealty to a man in the sky who apparently, watches you every second of your life like a professional peeping tom and summarily judges you for it. So if God does it, it doesn’t infringe privacy, but if I installed a pinhole camera in your bedroom, you would be grievously offended. How is it that people can love a divine being who uses his omnipotence to check to see if you met his quota of prayers, to know what you did in bed, and who both threatens and loves you at the same time, is absolutely beyond me.
And that might be why religion needs that special treatment of respect. Once you put it through the rigorous paces of science or pin its wings under the heft of logic, it is utterly reduced to dust and ashes. Though many well known figures were religious (Muhammad Ali comes to mind), it doesn’t change the incontrovertible fact that in light of what we understand of the modern world, what they believed in made absolutely no sense.
For as long as education remains unspoken on the fallacies of religion, we are apt to repeat the same cycle all over again. The Bangladesh suspects, the very people who killed more than twenty people in a Dhaka cafe, were highly educated. They went to prestigious universities or were the sons of the wealthy and political. What has gone wrong is a complete and utter failure for education to instill in them a capacity to think. Indeed, you can be a respected professor, and still be the very same loon who believes closing a door is bad luck. Your level of education has little to do with how well you can critically think.
That said, in teaching critical thinking (and more, with some regret), I was once chided by someone, though with light humour and intended seriousness, for completely wrecking life as was understood, and altering both personality and thought. But in retrospect, very, very few people are given opportunities to learn to think on their own, and that’s an area education should start addressing first.
So have you thought (HYTA) about the peculiarities of religion?