National Post - Canada May 26, 2011
by John Moore | Commentary
This newspaper roundly condemned the province of Quebec’s religious studies curriculum in an editorial published May 24, “Moral relativism in the classroom.” [see below] The program, known as Ethics and Religious Culture, dares teach children that all religions are worthy of respect. The editors wrote: “Normative pluralism is moral relativism, the notion that there is no single truth and that all religions are of equal merit and equal worthiness of admiration.”
By scoffing at the idea that all faiths are equal, the editorial board leaves unanswered the question of which are better or more truthful than others (it might also be asked why an editorial board that favours small government would want the state to make such a decision, but I digress). By what measure shall we establish the relative merits of religions? Shall it be by seniority? Sheer numbers? Heaven forbid that we anoint one or the other based on reason or evidence.
It makes perfect sense to many that Christianity outranks, say, Scientology, by virtue of the fact that one has been around for 2,000 years while the other was cooked up a mere half-century ago. But by this measure do we throw Mormonism into question for having existed only slightly longer than L. Ron Hubbard’s mischievous invention? With Mormons running for president of the United States, am I at risk of a Human Rights Tribunal complaint if I point out that the faith has something in common with Scientology in that both were founded by men who might easily be described as self-aggrandizing cranks?
And if we are to defer to faiths on the basis of longevity, then surely the National Post should accord more respect to druids and pantheists.
If we rank faiths by sheer numbers is Christianity 20% more important or truthful than Islam? Is Rastafarianism a lark by virtue of the fact that it has a mere 500,000 adherents? Never mind that all of the major faiths are riven with schisms that further reduce their collective numbers. The Russian Orthodox Church was in spasms for years over how many fingers one should use to cross oneself. Sunni and Shia Muslims are similarly obsessed with prayerful gestures.
Nor can one religion be compared to another on the basis of theological rigour. Just because two men with PhDs can debate the immaculate conception of Mary doesn’t make the event more believable than the notion that Jesus appeared to Sun Myung Moon in 1935.
The Post’s editors complain that religious parents “do not want their children to learn that Christianity and pagan Animism and tinfoil hat science fiction are equally true.” And why not? Are their faiths so weak that they fear without the silo and blinkers of Sunday school or the temple that their children will be lured away from such self-evidently superior creeds? The truly faithful need not fear exposure to the faith of others.
The real problem is that if one or several religions are deemed sacred while the others are dismissed as cults, obsessive compulsive disorders and curiosities, then the door is thrown open to the incoherence of all faiths. Why should the origin tale of the Old Testament be regarded as any more significant than the notion that the world was created on the back of a turtle? The real fear of the faithful is that when religions are held up to rational scrutiny each is as irrational as the next. Atheists have everything to gain from the idea that there is some normative means of comparing one faith to another.
Religious and moral instruction is the role of parents. They are free to teach their children than the world is 10,000 years old or that if they whirl in circles they will achieve ecstasy. In school, children will learn that their classmates hold many other things sacred and that stubborn righteousness does not mean that one tenet automatically bests another.
John Moore is host of Moore in the Morning on NewsTalk 1010 AM Toronto. He was raised on the Bible and thinks it is an excellent book.
Since September of 2008 all Quebec students, from primary school entry to high school graduation, in public and private schools, have been obliged to take a course called, in English, Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC). And teachers, regardless of their religious beliefs (or lack thereof), must teach it.
According to its inventors, the ERC curricula are designed to sensitize students to the tenets of Quebec's rich array of religious beliefs -the major religions, plus aboriginal myths and even Wiccan beliefs -in order to "facilitate the spiritual development of students so as to promote self-fulfillment." No exemptions from the program are permitted, not even if the children are home-schooled.
A Drummondville, Que. couple (who cannot be named), representing 2,000 Quebec parents who wish to have their children exempted from the ERC program, have gone to the Supreme Court to argue that their rights as parents and to their religious beliefs have been violated by Quebec. In their factum, the lawyers pose the question: "Can the state impose, without the possibility of an exemption, a program of study about religion and ethics on parents who view it as infringing on their religious beliefs and their freedom of conscience? Such is the stake in this case."
The ERC curriculum was adopted without public consultation. Its mission is to instill "normative pluralism" in students. In simpler terms, normative pluralism is moral relativism, the notion that there is no single truth, and that all religions are of equal merit and equal worthiness of admiration. As Fernand Ouellet, an ERC founder noted, students "must learn to shake up a too solid identity"; they must experience "divergence and dissonance." Encouraging critical thinking is not part of the ERC program.
Even if one conceded that the study of all religions is a good thing, the ERC program is highly disingenuous in that only positive elements of every religion are examined. Two values dominate the courses: "vivre ensemble" (live together) and arriving at the "bien commun" (common good). Social harmony is to be achieved by constant dialogue and "recognition" of other cultures, which are to be accomplished, in the words of ECR mandarin Georges Leroux, by inculcating in children "ab-solute respect for every religious position."
Thus, children are taught, for example, that witches "are women like any other in daily life," and, "Technologically [the Raelians] are 25,000 years in advance of us." And considering that only 700 of Quebec's aboriginals identify themselves with aboriginal spirituality (the vast majority of ethnic aboriginals are Christian), aboriginal myths are accorded absurdly disproportionate reverence.
This is precisely what religious parents do not want their children exposed to in their tender years. They do not want their children to learn that Christianity and pagan Animism and tinfoilhat science fiction are equally true and equally conducive to a life of morality and spiritual vigour. Aside from a violation of parents' rights to morally instruct their children, such a critically vacuous prescription is an insult to the intelligence, equally offensive to the religious and atheists alike.
Ethnic Studies Phd candidate Joelle Quérin produced a study in 2009 for the Institut de Recherche sur le Québec. After a deep analysis of the course's stated objectives, content, teachers' role and suggested classroom activities. Quérin stated: "I wanted to verify if the course gives knowledge to children or if it indoctrinates them. I observed that it was the second alternative that prevailed."
Quérin cites, for example, an instance where students were invited to redesign the Quebec flag, replacing the cross with a more "inclusive" symbol, and another student activity in which religions invented by students are accorded the same deference as real ones. The vaunted "dialogue" of the program consists only of politically correct scripts that must be followed without divergence. If a student poses a question that does not conform to the "recognition" mantra that all beliefs are equal and good, the teacher must intervene to stop the discussion.
Quérin concludes: "After having followed the ERC course for ten years, the students won't have a great knowledge of religions, but one thing is sure: no [cultural] accommodation will seem unreasonable to them."
The ERC course, disguised as diversity positivism, will serve to undermine Quebec children's natural pride in their own patrimony. It undermines the rights of parents to raise their children in accordance with their own beliefs. And worst of all, it will serve to suppress students' ability to think critically about different religions and cultures without guilt. A 2008 poll found that 76% of Quebecers prefer a choice in religious education. We hope that the Supreme Court agrees with them.
Quebec bans teaching a belief, a dogma or the practice of a specific religion in government subsidized daycares
Some recent Muslim immigrants to Canada ask for children to be exempt from compulsory music and phys-ed classes
Children have a right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the right to be free from religion
Some Canadian provinces discriminate against non-Catholics and unbelievers by publicly funding Catholic schools
The Alberta town where all public schools force Catholic dogma on non-Catholic students
Canadian fundamentalist Christian universities promote religious extremism over knowledge
Australian evangelical group aims to convert children through government funded school religious programs
Vote-seeking Australian government opts to spend $437 million on school chaplains instead of qualified counsellors
Atheist Ireland says children's right to be exempt from religious class a theoretical illusion
Irish children subjected to religious dogma in order to get an education in school system dominated by Catholic church
Parental rights vs children's rights: debating the role of religious institutions in Irish education system
German teen expelled from government funded Catholic school after exercising her human right to religious freedom
UK theology think tank says it is wrong to exclude God from classroom, superstition and reason should be equal partners
Secularists campaign to change UK law that makes religious assemblies in schools compulsory, government and church resist
Groups call on British government to replace compulsory collective worship in schools with inclusive assemblies
U.K. school inspectors report that Christian theology and non-religious beliefs not being adequately taught in compulsory religious education classes
European Court of Human Rights says crucifix not a symbol of indoctrination, reverses ban in Italian public schools
European Court of Human Rights rules crucifixes in Italian schools violates children's religious freedom to believe or not
Nebraska education administrators get mixed messages from lawyers on legality of promoting religion in schools