Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association

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"Religious instruction" is not education … is harmful to intellectual development!

Published in Guardian, reported in Newsday
16 May 2007 • 450 words

In a recent newspaper article, the Congress of the People (COP) stated its intention to "make religious instruction and comparative religion classes mandatory in all secondary and primary schools."

So much, then, for the rights of the one in nine Trinidadians who are non-religious. We also suspect that many believers will object to their children being exposed to diverse religions. It might let children know that religious beliefs are exactly that: beliefs with no objective basis.

But there are more serious difficulties with the COP’s proposed policy – a policy which, we suspect, neither the PNM nor the UNC would reject. In the first place, "religious instruction" is not education. In fact, it might even be harmful to intellectual development, since higher religiosity is correlated with lower academic achievement, in both the sciences and the humanities. In the second place, religion does not help prevent social ills, for the higher the levels of religiosity in a society, the higher the rates for murder, battering of women, child abuse, and government corruption. Nigeria, for example, is the world’s most religious nation and also the world’s most corrupt one. Jamaica’s murder rate is amongst the three highest in the world, and 97 percent of Jamaicans say they are religious. On that basis alone, it is our view that religious instruction should be banned in public or state-assisted schools. This is not say that religion should not be taught, but such teaching must be done in the appropriate subject area: philosophy, or history, or mythology.

We would also like to know exactly how the COP plans to teach comparative religion. The statistics for world religions are as follows – Christianity: 2.1 billion; Islam: 1.3 billion; Hinduism: 900 million; Chinese traditional religion : 394 million; Buddhism: 376 million; African Traditional and Diasporic: 100 million; Sikhism : 23 million; Judaism: 14 million; Baha'i : 7 million; Jainism : 4.2 million; Rastafarianism: 600 thousand; Scientology: 500 thousand. And the COP’s policy excludes the world’s 1.1 billion secularists. Are our schools expected to cater to all these systems and, if not, why not?

We understand why the COP has suggested this policy. As a party mainly attractive to middle-class voters, it needs to get grassroots support and has calculated that flattering religious groups is the best way to do this. This is fine, but when that flattery extends to public policy and, worst of all, policy that affects our children, then the COP should be aware that it may alienate the very constituency it started with – a constituency, moreover, which is probably over-represented in the floating vote that swings the marginal seats. Can a party that purports to embrace "new politics" but delivers the same old really bring about meaningful change in Trinidad and Tobago?

T&T Humanist Association

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