Friday, June 3, 2011
Don't Hide God from Children
Charles Lewis, National Post · Jun. 3, 2011 | Last Updated: Jun. 3, 2011 3:08 AM ET
A group of Catholic and Jewish parents in Quebec has taken umbrage with the province's ban prohibiting religious instruction in subsidized daycares and has gone to court to reverse the new rules. The story, as reported in Wednesday's National Post by reporter Graeme Hamilton, explained that children could learn about Noah's Ark and the Exodus, for example, as long as divine intervention was absent from the picture.
The parents, citizens of Quebec, think there is something wrong with washing out all references to God, even when the government pays part of the bill.
This is not the first time that Quebec has had issues with religious instruction. Last year, a judge ruled that a Catholic high school in Montreal could choose its own religious curriculum, in defiance of an order by the Quebec government. The judge even noted that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms specifically referred to "the supremacy of God" in its preamble. Quebec did not want the private Catholic school to teach ethics and religion from a Catholic point of view. The judge called Quebec's demand on the high school "totalitarian," using the preamble to the Charter to make his case.
This scenario of pushing religion further to the margins is not a new one, and is probably welcome by many Canadians. The thinking, of course, is that religion represents a set of dogmatic beliefs that should never be imposed when taxpayer money is involved.
Two things here are worth considering in both cases. The first is the most obvious: Everyone pays taxes, including religious people. Secular does not mean atheist or anti-religious or even non-religious, but rather the broad society in which all groups have a voice and a stake. No one group's rights trump those of society as a whole, or any specific subgroup within it.
In a state that is officially atheistic it would be understandable to exclude all religious teaching from daycares. But that is not the case in Quebec, nor the rest of Canada.
In Wednesday's story, it noted that the story of Noah's Ark would be allowed as long as there was no God talk involved. In other words, you could say Noah spontaneously built an ark and then it just happened to rain a lot. His instincts paid off and everyone lived happily ever after. Likewise, the same would hold with the Biblical story of Moses leading the Jews out of Egypt. Moses could be a really great guy who somehow slips an entire people past Egyptian guards and then everyone lives happily after. Say what you want about the original story, but at least it had drama, given God's wrath and the plagues and all that other religious stuff with the parting of the seas and whatnot.
But this is about something more than just dropping these stories for fear of offending a vague groups of secularists. This is really about turning away from the fundamentals of Western culture that are still worth holding on to.
These stories, whether they are seen as holy or just good tales, are part of what make up the Western world and our entire thought process: The Bible is a religious book, but it is also part of the canon of Western literature.
The King James Bible, which was first published in 1611, is the basis for much of the language we speak -from "tender mercies" to "feet of clay" to "a drop in the bucket." As National Public Radio pointed out recently, to speak English is to speak the King James Bible. It noted that the use of biblical language can be found in Bob Dylan, Norman Mailer and Martin Luther King -just to name a very few.
Not having a working knowledge of the Bible is not something to be proud of, nor something that will make these little children better citizens in the future.
In the end, teaching should also be about sharing common histories, stories and myths. It is about building a common culture, not, as Quebec must fear, a common religion. Daycare is as good a place as any to start teaching Canadian children about their cultural history -including the stories from the Bible.