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Religion on the Rise?

Picked this on up in the NYT. Apparently, college students are becoming more religious. 

Why? The article speculates on social issues and trends, such as the religious right both sending more kids on to college and that the RR has sparked religious discussion causing questioning. September 11th has also made us aware that religion is important and shapes our world.

My opinion also is that secularism is not a satisfying philosophy. It was never meant to be a philosophy that governed private and family life in the first place, but one that allowed freedom. Being raised in schools where speaking about religion was not allowed sent a message that religion didn’t belong anywhere. It leaked out of our social dialogue in general. Religious parents began to feel threatened.

I think secularism, in a lot of ways, has harmed more than helped the intellectual development of my generation. It divided us. Those religious who were frightened of this began to push back with private schools, homeschools, and becoming tribal about the literal interpretation of the Bible, vigorously fighting against teaching any information they feel could spiritually harm their child. The children of these parents have come out of these situations with a warped and gapped education. 

But the children of the secular families are no better off. They were taught a history where religion made very little impact on history or scientific development. Often, it was only the negative occurances regarding religion that was left in the histories. These children fear religion.

As often happens, when a child percieves a weakness in the philosophies of their parents, they convert. What they don’t lose is their fear and loathing of the other side. Often, a convert hates the belief system they’ve come from more than they’re lifetime believing colleagues hate it.

This leads to more division, and more energy is spent on argument rather than discovery, dragging down the intellectual progress of an entire society.

The exploration of the nature of nature, the question of God, the question of our existance has a rich and deep history. That secularism even exists is a part of that history and our desire to let everyone explore the question without fear of reprisal. What secularism as a philosophy must now embrace is the open discussion of these questions.

Tolerance is not pushing ideas into the closet, but allowing them to be inspected and, of course, judged by all. People will differ from us in beliefs and sometimes that difference requires of those people a public expression. Religious sensitivity shouldn’t be about avoiding offense as we act out our beliefs, but avoiding being offended. We should be able to discuss our ideas and hear strong disagreement with them without taking it personally. Only by vigorously defending our beliefs with integrity can we be sure they are worth holding on to. We may find that some of them are not.

Secularism does not allow that kind of discussion. And so, this generation of students are exploring. I hope they do a good job of it.

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  1. But the children of the secular families are no better off. They were taught a history where religion made very little impact on history or scientific development. Often, it was only the negative occurances regarding religion that was left in the histories. These children fear religion.

    I’m going to call you on this one. Many of us also learned that religion is divisive and causes as many problems as it solves. As a child raised without religious doctrine, I’m neither ignorant of the basic tenets of the major world religions nor ignorant of the influences of religion on the world. You would just not agree with my interpretation. Just a bit too broad brush stroke in that paragraph.

  2. First off, I want disagreement. While it is good for us, psychologically speaking, to feel kinship with a group of people because we agree, it is not good that there is always agreement. It is by disagreeing that we prod each other into thought, questioning, testing. I think we should all be able to feel kinship with people even when we disagree with them profoundly.

    So, as far as disagreeing, your main point was that you learned something negative about religion. Isn’t that pretty much what I said? Is it your own interpretation or were you influenced by the biases of others?

    That is another question we all have to grapple with. In order to determine how much our view is tainted by the views of those who taught us, we have to compare our knowledge with what other, differently believing people have to see if there are gaps and a lack of context.

  3. No you said that we were taught that religion had very little impact on history or scientific development. That is not the same as saying that some of us with secular parents (let’s call mine anti-organized religion) learned that religion had an impact, frequently negative, on historical events.

    Did I also learn that a belief in a higher power leads people to do good deeds? Yes. You’d have to have your head in a hole not to see that.

    As for my views being tainted (horrible word, by the way) by those who taught me: again not true in the way you are implying. My mother has often lamented that her daughters did not “find God”. The taint came from the hypocritical people I viewed as I matured in a very religious society. When you live in the town where people bombed doctors’ clinics and killed doctors while professing a belief in the Almighty (another horrible word), it is difficult not to notice the hypocrisy.

    And, I don’t fear religion. I despise how others twist words to make events fit their belief system. Fear. No. Not me.

  4. Ami, I like your essays, but I think you fairly sharply missed a step with this one. Secularism isn’t the absence of religious study in public places. It doesn’t prohibit the discussion of religious impact on history, or philosophy, or science. It is only the removal of religious practice from civil institutions, which, truth be told, is exactly how it should be wherein they may disturb other students.

    Schools are places of learning, not institutionalized prayer: just as I don’t go to the grocery story to get my hair cut, and I don’t give my landscaper a call when I need my lighting re-wired.

    If, however, students have felt an absence of an outlet to find their religious fulfillment, well, that is an entirely different problem, and one that finds itself firmly rooted in the parent-offspring relationship. One more time because I like to state the obvious: this is not the role of schools.

    Furthermore, you are underestimating the power of the people themselves. We are not all so easily manipulated. Some of us were raised in families that maintained a regular religious schedule, attended classes _designed_ to teach religious practice, took classes oriented around comparative religious studies, and still managed to defeat the armchair psychology of antiestablishmentarian rebellion you describe to make our own choices regarding the pursuits of our spirits.

    I’m almost glad that none of my university professors got a say in that; who knows what would have happened.

    In other words, I think you’re hearing only what you want from that article, not actually what’s there.

  5. Sarabeth,

    Perhaps I should have said, “very little positive impact”. I wanted to, but thought that sounded too harsh. I also had played around with saying “Had only negative impact” when I was writing the article, even harsher. But maybe that would have been truer, if what you are saying is right.

    You may not fear the other side, but there are many who do. In fact, I think secularism was an attempt be the solution to those kinds of rifts in our society. Forbidding children to play with children who believe differently is a symptom of that, and we’ve all heard of or experienced that kind of thing.


    First of all, the article was just a jumping point for me. There was a lot I left out and didn’t discuss, simply because that wasn’t the direction my thoughts went. I considered not mentioning it at all, since I did drift so far away from what was said, but it is still an interesting article that everyone should read on their own terms.

    Second of all, I agree with you that religious and spiritual teaching is the responsibility of the parents.

    You are right as to what the ideal in secularism is supposed to be. But what we are talking about is how it has actually played out in civil institutions, and how that has affected other public venues such as entertainment where many characters seem to have no belief system at all (though this is changing), and how it has then seeped into families.

    In my very conservative and religious community, children are not allowed to talk about their beliefs or god. I know two choir teachers who have quit because no song with religious references can be sung, which severely handicaps the education of music. Some university teachers are openly hostile to religious belief.

    I am certainly not suggesting we should reinstitute school prayer. I wouldn’t want it. But maybe we should understand the difference between squashing cultural expression and respecting the beliefs of others.

  6. I’ve gone back and read the phrase, “…secularism is not a satisfying philosophy. It was never meant to be a philsophy that governed private and family life.” I would have been more accurate to write: “It was never meant to be a philosophy. Secularism is a mode of civil relations by which people of many religious backgrounds can come together without feeling threatened. The practice should not have seeped into our private and family life.”

    Too many have read it as is now for the edit, but that is how I would edit it.

  7. But, Ami, doesn’t it (secularism) have to seep into our private lives in order for our children to become non-judgmental about others’ beliefs?

    As a parent, I struggle with this. We’ve had enough discussions that you know my stance on religion. I want my children to feel comfortable believing what they choose to believe without feeling superior to others or beneath others. I do not want them to either hide their beliefs or shout them from the mountains. We have a rule that God/Santa Claus/Easter Bunny/Tooth Fairy are not discussed outside of our family. This rule is mainly so that my children don’t ruin the fantasy of others about the last three entities. The restriction on God is because five and three year olds can say some outlandish statements when it comes to a deity.

  8. I was well into a response to this and am getting paged to a delivery. I won’t have a chance to finish probably until tonight or tomorrow. I’ve saved it to my desktop and I’ll be back. Don’t go anywhere.

  9. I didn’t go anywhere, just like you said, Clark. I’ve been here for four days, except for my little trip to get my other eye done. Now I’m all drugged up, the house has fallen apart, and the kids are reverted back to their natural barbarian state.

    Anyway, seriously, Sarabeth, I really am a bit woozy. The turn of discussion is fascenating, so I’ll probably bring your last comment up to the fore on a new topic. In a little while…

  10. It is really unkind of Clark to leave us in suspense.

    Hope the wooziness has subsided, Ami.

  11. Sorry. I’ve been swamped but I’m actually trying to squeeze a post in on this subject in between patients today.

  12. Okay it’s up. Let me know what you think.

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