Chaplain's Reflection: why we teach religion

Rev. Erin Tuineau, Chaplain

Rev. Erin Tuineau, Chaplain

I have spent much of this year thinking about why we need to keep teaching religion (e.g. RaVE) in our schools. I have to admit that it is quite hard at times to engage young people in exploring religious issues of any sort. When I ask them why they don’t want to learn about different world faiths, they usually say something like, ‘it’s not relevant to me because I don’t believe in God’. This is a fair statement to make, but I beg to differ with their opinion. 

While statistics in the 2016 census show that nearly half of Australia’s population does not identify as being religious, this does not mean that we need to stop teaching them about religion. I say this because it seems to me that Australians have not stopped searching for the meaning and purpose of life, which are issues at the heart of all the world’s major religions. If anything, teaching religion to young people in schools may be one of the few ways that exposes them to the reality that it is normal to want to understand life more, and live it more fully. This is particularly true in our current western culture, which seems to spend a lot of time focusing on rather superficial issues such as consumerism, being successful, and being physically perfect. This reminds me of something I once read about how Australian culture does not create a lot of time or space for people to be ‘serious’ about life. I am not sure why this is the case, but it seems to have something to do with our need to have a ‘larrikin’ attitude towards everything. We hold up of the image of simply being happy all of the time as our ultimate state of being, when in fact this does not serve our human longing to live deeply meaningful lives. So first and foremost, I believe that we need to keep teaching religion in our schools, despite its somewhat unpopular stance amongst some of the younger generation, because they need to know that it is OK to want more out of life than what the world has to offer them. They also need to know that It is OK to be serious about life at certain times, if not on a regular basis. 

I am also aware of the importance of educating young people about the diversity that exists within different religions, so that they do not fall into the trap of stereotyping individuals and groups that belong to different faith communities. It is no secret that many Australians would stereotype Muslims as being ‘terrorists’, when, in fact, many Islamic leaders have pointed out that the Quran teaches about kindness and peace, not war. In an ever-growing multi-faith community, particularly in Australia’s larger cities (including Canberra), it is paramount that we bring up a generation of young people who have the knowledge and ability to question the generalized image presented of different religious groups on our TV screens and in other media. I have to give praise to shows like ABC’s ‘Compass’ though, which has made significant efforts to dismantle the stereotypes that have been projected onto Australian Muslims. I have showed some of their programs in my RaVE classes and it has been an eye-opener for the students to realize that Muslims can be ‘normal people living normal lives’ right here in our country. On a slightly different topic, it is also important to educate students about the diverse range of views that Christians hold about marriage equality. The reality is, the more you study any religion, the more you realize that people of faith interpret their sacred texts (e.g., Bible, Quran, Torah) in different ways, and this means that religious people can sometimes live in very different ways too. On the whole, I have found the more students learn about different religions, the more likely they will be respect people of different faiths, because it was their ignorance about religion that created their original prejudices. 

I am sure that there are many other reasons why we should keep educating our younger generation about religion in our schools, but these are the two major ones that certainly motivate me to keep teaching it, particularly when I am confronted with students who may not value this subject as much as I do. 

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