Religion and Education

Last week various news outlets ran a story on the “most religious” states.  I wasn’t exactly surprised by the rankings, but then I noticed that the two “most religious” states [Mississippi and Utah] are the two with the lowest per pupil spending on public primary and secondary education and that there appears to be a huge correlation between low spending on public education and a high degree of “religiosity” and a fairly strong correlation between more spending on education and less professed faith among the population.

In addition, states with populations that profess higher degrees of faith, in general, have state legislatures that tend to pass legislation imposing “faith-oriented” restrictions on school curricula.

While at least several science fiction authors, such as Rob Sawyer in Calculating God, have written books about cultures and civilizations based on faith that welcome education and knowledge, and strive to expand knowledge, it appears that, all too often here on earth, faith continues to be the opponent of greater knowledge and education, as witness Senator Santorum’s allegations that college education destroys faith, although that is but one example among many.

But does education destroy faith… or does it erode simplistic faiths and beliefs?  And who set up the structures of those simplistic beliefs?  Despite faith in such items as the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments or the golden plates of the “original” book of Mormon, there’s no real proof of their existence or of even of their original meaning, if they did in fact exist.  No… all faiths have been revealed by human beings, interpreted by human beings, and proselytized by human beings.  No deity has ever written across the sky – “I am God. Here are my tenets.”

So why do so many people cling to beliefs that have little root in proved reality or that have real world tenets that been proven to be false and/or unworkable?  Why can they not believe in a higher power that does not require simplistic faith? And most critically, why do they try to restrict the development of greater knowledge and the education of children in that knowledge?

Perhaps I’m missing something, but if there is a Deity, why on earth would that Deity want human beings to believe in what is not true?  Or to exalt ignorance above knowledge?

 

16 Responses to “Religion and Education”

  1. Joe says:

    Here on earth, religion is not always synonymous with ignorance. Don’t forget that that a fundamental tennet of rationality is due to the monk Ockham. Reading and writing were preserved by the Church. And Bayes rule, the fundamental rule of probability theory is due to the Reverend Bayes. Even Gregor Mendel, the first person to figure out some of the basic rules of genetics, was a priest. Newton and Pascal to name but two were highly religious.

    Similarly, in the East, the Buddha said one should test every Buddhist teaching thoroughly, and discard it if it is not helpful or does not match one’s experience. In much the same way, the Dalai Lama has stated that if Science proves some belief of Buddhism to be wrong, then Buddhism will have to change.

    So I think the question is what kind of faith. Faith based on accepting what you are told? Or the faith of having tested something and found it to be useful or true? The first kind does not survive scrutiny, but the latter does. Is the former even faith? Would it not be a strange God to have made all the animals, but have given us brains just to see whether we could avoid using them? I think it has more to do with maintaining a particular society hierarchy than faith. And that would explain why so much effort is put into preventing children from learning how to think critically. Cui bono?

  2. Curtis says:

    As a Utahn, this, among other wonderful things our state legislature gives us in the name of religion, infuriates me. I’m LDS, I watch General Conference, and I hear the messages given about the importance getting an education and finding out for yourself the truth of the doctrines being taught. Then I look around at the local communities and see the exact opposite being practiced. It certainly reflects poorly on us.

    As I read your blog, I often wonder why you bother staying in this state. Then I wonder why I bother.

    • Gordon Long says:

      I too have wondered why Mr. Modesitt stays in Utah. I also note that Mitt is highly educated and Santorum is also highly educated. I have to wonder how Santorum can say that college education damages religious belief when he is the most religious and educated of the bunch.

  3. I stay for many reasons. All states have their problems. That’s the human condition. The only question is whether we we recognize, acknowledge, and try to remedy the problems… or whether the problems are denied or ignored. I do my best to bring problems to light, because that’s the first step. For years I worked in politics to try to resolve problems, but discovered that you can’t fix problems that people won’t acknowledge. So I’ve gone back to step one.

    • Gordon Long says:

      I think my worry, if I were in your position, is who is knocking at my door. Seems a bit like being a Christian in Muslimland. I have a bumper sticker that says “drive safely, there is no heaven” it is not on my bumper due to the cost of fixing vandalism.

  4. Wine Guy says:

    Don’t bother comparing UT with CA – we might spend more per student (a very little more), but the rules about what is and is not to be taught is getting at least as arcane as UT, MS, and AR, ours just has more to do with the other end of the spectrum: political correctness.

    This website (http://www.freewebs.com/bannedwords/ ) was held up at our local school board meeting 6 months ago as a ‘good place to start’ when they (the school board) were trying to come up with a list of things to avoid in textbooks. Ironic, considering the first couple lines on the webpage.

    • Joe says:

      Clearly literacy should be banned, and replaced by grunting so as to communicate no information and therefore not risk any offense.

      This list is so ridiculous it suggests euphemisms it bans a little later:

      Birth defect: banned as offensive, replace with people with congenital disabilities (SF-AW)

      Congenital disability: banned, replace with a disability that has existed in an individual since birth

      It even encourages double negation… Able-bodied: banned as offensive, replace with person who is non-disabled (SF-AW)

      I hope you’re just teasing us.

      • Wine Guy says:

        I wish I were. The fact that some people in this world define someone else (or worse, themselves) by what they are NOT is one of the problems with our society.

        Or, as I tell my daughters when they’re trying to decide what to have for breakfast (and have said “No, I don’t want that” six or seven times), don’t tell me what you DON’T want, tell me what you DO want.

        Don’t tell me what you’re not. Tell me what you are.

        Unfortunately, few people have actually thought about it and even less have come to terms with it.

  5. Steve says:

    I was raised in an LDS family in Utah. I was always taught that knowlege was an attribute of God we were to emulate. I believe that most LDS feel this way.

    However, I do not think that spending more money per pupil will necessarily increase knowlege. No reasonable amount of money can overcome the inability or lack of desire of some students to learn. Not everyone will benefit from college. Perhaps at tenth grade we should have people take a college track, technical track or military/labor/service track. We could save money and effort currently spent on students who are unable or unwilling to learn and give them a technical skill, or at least some self discipline. Savings could be given to teacher salaries and programs.

    It will be an alternative idea or approach, not more money, that will ultimately improve education.

  6. Carl says:

    LE Modesitt wrote: “Truly frightening!”

    Yes, but you and I made it like that. I have since learned my lesson, and I can now see how dictatorial and anti-intellectual my former PC campaigning (actually it was more like enforcement) was.

    The worst part is that most of the banned ideas are truths that they are (and I was) trying to suppress.

    For example, the first few banned Asian images (since it’s the least politically incorrect to notice Asian differences):

    “Asians as very intelligent, excellent scholars (MA)”
    True. Asians (from Japan, China, Singapore, and Korea) have an average IQ 6 points higher than white people. They also have other scholarly traits like patience, hard work, and valuing education. (They are also the least religious)

    “Asian Americans with look-alike features for all ages: short, skinny, slanted eyes, wear glasses (MMH, MA)”
    True. Asians of all ages are shorter, skinnier, have epicanthic folds, and extremely high levels of myopia (more than half in some places).

    “Asian Americans as a “model minority”, repressed, studious, goody-goody (SF-AW, RIV, HM2, MMH, MA)”
    True. Asian in America commit much less crime than white people and much much less crime than other minorities, except for illegal gambling. They are well behaved, studious, and repressed.

    “Asian Americans as ambitious, hard-working, and competitive (MA)”
    True.

    “Asian Americans as having strong family ties (MA)”
    True.

    “Asian Americans as quiet, polite, concerned with proper form (MA)”
    True.

    “Asian Americans as inscrutable, mysterious, concerned with saving face (MMH, MA)”
    True.

    “Asian Americans as frugal, passive, rigid, submissive, unathletic (SF-AW)”
    True.

    “Asian Americans as musical prodigies or class valedictorian (HM2)”
    True.

    “Asian Americans unable to speak English or uninvolved in mainstream America (HRW1)”
    Partly true. They speak better English than African Americans, but still have difficulties caused by the fact that they are immigrants who don’t speak English at home. They are less involved in mainstream America.

    “Asian Americans working as laundry workers, engineers, waiters, gardeners, health workers (HRW1)”
    True. Those are common occupations for Asian Americans.

    “Asian Americans living in ethnic neighborhoods (AIR, ETS2)”
    True.

    etc.

  7. Carl says:

    “I was raised in an LDS family in Utah. I was always taught that knowlege was an attribute of God we were to emulate. I believe that most LDS feel this way.”

    Really? I’ve always imagined them as more like Jehovah’s Witnesses. JWs are always preaching about how evil any outside sources of information are.

    • Nate says:

      Growing up around the periphery of the LDS church, they do indeed preach the benefits of knowledge and learning. But heaven help you if that knowledge and learning don’t somehow reinforce your belief in the teachings of the church.

  8. Cynthia says:

    I remember, but can’t find an actual quote at the moment, something Abraham Heschel said in one of his books. He expressed the opinion that those who cling to rigid, fundamentalist religious beliefs do so because unconsciously they are afraid that that their faith will not survive otherwise.

    I think this fear leads to the anti-intellectual attitudes we see with America’s protestant fundamentalists. One unfortunate side effect is that people end up believing absurd things. Historically inaccurate as it it, I don’t find the belief that people co-existed with dinosaurs half so bothersome as the belief that the Saint James version of the Bible is the only real version. After all, as a sci-fi/fantasy buff, I grew up surrounded by book covers depicting people riding dinosaurs. Yet, somehow the inability of a 21st century individual to comprehend that the scriptures were originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek is horrifying and embarrassing to me.

    Of course, we see the same rigid attitudes in today’s highly educated pope as well. . . The Catholic church has always been very good at providing people with an education that teaches critical thinking skills and then condemning them for using those skills to arrive at opinions that differ from the ones of those in authority.

    At this point in my life, I find myself skeptical of the motivations of those in authority in any organized religion. It seems to me that, of necessity, their attitudes and actions are geared to maintaining the power and influence of the institution and its leadership, not helping people examine and develop their personal spirituality.

    Anyway, I will stop rambling, and just say that I believe that religion does not equal faith and that faith that is afraid to be challenged is not real.

    I will withhold my location so that no one comes to burn a cross on my lawn!

    • Noelle says:

      Cynthia, I cold not have said it any better. Closed mindedness is the real problem, as well as the fear of the religious institutions to lose their grip on people. It is indeed sad to see these institutions use their power to convey, impose ideas or beliefs and their hypocrisy to basically act against those same ideas. It is horrifying and embarrassing not to acknowledge that the scriptures were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and that certain parts of those documents were withheld by the Catholic Church, and who knows, by other religious factions. It is amazing how power changes people, and the Pope is no stranger to that dogma. Faith is something that should come from within, and not because someone markets something as “the real thing”.

  9. Cynthia says:

    I found the Heschel quotes from God in Search of Man) that I mis-remembered:

    “Faith in its zeal tends to become bigotry.”

    and

    “The worship of reason is arrogance and betrays a lack of intelligence.
    The rejection of reason is cowardice and betrays a lack of faith.”

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