Human Beings being Human
I know it’s as old as the hills, the debate about whether or not there is a God and if so, what Religion he is, or indeed which gender. But I have been following the debate quite closely over the last five years (as this post suggests). And I have to say it’s the tone of the debate, of sarcasm and ridicule, which concerns me.
As I say to my children; they never get in trouble for disagreeing with me, they only get in trouble for using a disrespectful tone. I am trying to teach them that the world is full of people who disagree with each other and we need to learn mutual respect, despite our differences.
Blogger, Warren Talbot, notes this decline in respectful debating in his article: When did debate become a 4 letter word? “Today every discussion, on any subject of import, quickly devolves into name calling, threats of violence, and a complete lack of civil discourse. Not convinced? Go to any article on the front page of CNN or FoxNews and read the comments. After 5 minutes if you are not physically ill I'll be shocked.”
It’s not that Talbot is anti-debate, in fact he’s urging public discourse, but he wants us to rethink the tone of debate: “Going forward I challenge us all to speak our minds in a way that conveys what we believe in a tone that is direct but not condescending.”
With this in mind, I have been pleasantly surprised to come across two proponents of Atheism: Julian Baggini, for his new children’s book, ‘Really Really Big Questions about Faith” and Alain de Botton’s TED Talk: Atheism 2.0 (what atheists can learn from Religion). You can read my interview with de Botton, here.
I interviewed Julian for my blog this week because religion in schools is a hot issue in Australia at the moment. Traditionally, the public school system has allocated an hour a week for optional Religious Education classes. In some instances these classes are being substituted with Ethics classes and there is much debate about whether Religion should be taught in public schools. Richard Dawkins, for one, has said that Religious teaching should not be given the same air time or respect as Science as an area of study.
My question is, what about History? Is it as valid a subject as Science? And how can we teach History outside of any understanding of Religion? What about Sociology? Or Literature? Even Art? How do we teach these subjects without touching on Religion in a significant or respectful way?
Philosopher and Atheist, Daniel Dennett, made a suggestion in his book, “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon”. He suggests that instead of debating whether or not Religion should be taught and which Religion should be taught, that we should instead teach children about all Religions, so that they can have some understanding of why some 6 billion people profess to have some faith in some God.
This is where a book like Julian’s comes in. He says he wrote it because, “it's important that children try to understand religion, but are not presented with it as though it were obviously true or false.”
Certainly there would be concern over how someone who doesn’t fully understand the tenets of a particular faith can teach it accurately. But surely if something is true it can withstand scrutiny and comparison. Surely the opportunity to learn about anything with a substantial claim on history, is preferred over ignorance or neglect of the subject?
Alain de Botton says, “It’s too easy to dismiss Religion as ridiculous” and even, Atheists have a lot to learn from Religion because society has “secularized badly”. He says there are gaping holes in secular life which Religions, with their collaboration, education and understanding of people as “not just brains,” fill.
The debate is likely to rage until the end of time. But no matter our opinions, our convictions, our beliefs, our doubts, the least our humanity demands is respect for the person, even if we do not respect their ideas.
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