Basic Orientation
Book1: R-E Living & "Homo Rationalis"
Book2: Humanianity
Acknowledgements
Introduction
Explanation Of Introduction
REUEP: A Closer Look
Name And Identity
Belief And Action
Punishment And Revenge
Sex And Violence
Faith, Honesty, And Advocacy
Religious Education, Indoctrination
Humanian Organization
(More)
Book3: Mind-Body Problem
Book4: (Future Possible Development)
Child Rearing Issues
Philosophico-Religious Issues
Psycho-Socio-Cultural Issues
The Twelve Articles
Relevant Autobiography
 
"HOMO RATIONALIS" AND HUMANIANITY
 
HELPING TO PROMOTE OUR THIRD EXPONENTIAL CHANGE
 

RELIGIOUS EDUCATION OR INDOCTRINATION OF CHILDREN



I had thought, after writing the last chapter, that I had covered most of the basic issues involved in understanding Humanianity. I have realized now that I have overlooked writing specifically about a set of issues that have concerned me for a long time, but I guess have sort of been in the background. And perhaps they have been in the background because they are difficult to discuss, due to the intensity of feeling that exists regarding them. They have to do with the whole concept of the religious education and/or indoctrination of children. The following are my opinions regarding this issue, and consideration of them, I believe, will be an important part of the thinking of any Humanian.


It is apparent, I believe, that there is difference of opinion regarding whether such interaction with children is good or bad. Profoundly theistic families would, I assume, tend to consider such interaction essential. Atheists would, I assume, tend to think that such interaction was unfortunate, and perhaps even terrible. And then there would be all sorts of opinions in between, perhaps.


So is there an answer to this question? Or is this set of issues a matter of "personal taste"? Is there any room here for advocacy to everyone of any particular position?


You have noticed that I have used the terms "religious education" and "religious indoctrination" more or less as if they were synonyms. I know that there would be many people who would consider those terms not to be synonyms, the problematic word being "indoctrination," which tends to have a negative connotation for many people. It implies the teaching of susceptible individuals (especially children) at a time when, and under conditions when, the student would be in a position of dependency upon, and of assumed obedience to, those from whom such instruction was taking place, and would therefore be more likely to accept what was being taught. The underlying idea, whether referred to as "education," "instruction," or "indoctrination," would be that there would be value in accomplishing the learning of whatever is being taught relatively early and thoroughly, such that it would have maximal impact on the individual in the time to come. With regard to children, there is, I believe, an assumption made that if such teaching occurs early enough, it will become so much a part of the child's basic way of thinking that, in the future, there will be relatively little danger that whatever has been taught will be seriously questioned, even in the face of significant challenge.


And obviously for many people such an outcome would be considered a good thing, because doubt in such areas of thought is seen as a negative, detracting phenomenon that should be overcome as much is possible.


But of course those who are not in agreement with whatever is being taught would consider this reduced capacity for doubting that which has been learned to be a bad thing. They would see such an effect as being a hindrance to unlearning wrong or bad things and to acquiring more accurate and beneficial knowledge in the future. They might even see such difficulty in doubting as being something that is holding our species back from making progress that it really needs to make.


So is there an answer to this question? Is there one that everyone can agree to?


Well, I know that the idea of everyone agreeing with regard to something like this is too extreme, at least for the foreseeable future. However, once again, I believe that arriving at those principles that we can all agree to is an extremely important goal to aim for.


And Humanianity is the religion for everyone, a religion that I believe is suitable for everyone and that can be agreed to by everyone. I am not talking about the particulars, but instead only about the one ultimate ethical principle with which all other ethical beliefs, rules of conduct, and principles should be consistent, the commitment to which, by definition, identifies one as a Humanian, namely, the rational-ethical ultimate ethical principle (REUEP), stated as:


We should do that which will promote not only the survival of our species, but also as much joy, contentment, and appreciation as possible and as little pain, suffering, disability, and early death as possible, for everyone, now and in the future.


Now, if we do metaphorically see all of the religions as moving up the "mountain of improvement," each on their separate paths but gradually coming together, the journey to the top of the mountain, and perhaps the top of the mountain itself, being Humanianity, then we see the dilemma produced by (1) the importance of religious thought and of the effort toward improved religious thinking, and (2) the fact that there are so many individual, often contradictory, paths or religious traditions that exist currently and probably for the foreseeable future. So what should indeed be taught to children? And how should it be taught?


This whole question again comes back to the basic issue as to what Religion is all about. Currently, most people seem to regard Religion as having to do with some existential beliefs, explanatory worldviews having to do with the way the world is, was, and will be, along with ethical beliefs about what is important in life, that is, what we should and should not do. I believe that the highly successful models produced by the sciences, sets of existential beliefs allowing us to predict accurately what will happen, including what will happen if we do certain things, are our most sensible source for our technological decision-making, rather than making use of what would be considered by many people to be outdated explanatory worldviews, which have not demonstrated such usefulness.


Nevertheless, each of us does indeed have, to some extent, an explanatory worldview that is not likely to be exactly the same as some of the proposed models at the frontiers of modern science, since highly technical and difficult-to-acquire knowledge is required in order to get a grasp of those models. And certainly young children will not be able to make any sense of or derive any usefulness from whatever understanding they can acquire of such models.


In fact, it is more characteristic of children that they think quite concretely, in terms of what they observe within their own subjective experience, only gradually to learn, primarily through formal education, that their concepts as to how the world works are much too simple.


On the other hand, if Religion is indeed to be the ethical component of the organizing principles of living, would it not be important to begin that process absolutely as early as possible, in a manner consistent with the developmental age, and thus intellectual capabilities, of the child?


If so, then it would seem that, in some way, the REUEP should be conveyed to children at as young an age as possible. A Humanian family would be built around commitment to the REUEP.


If one considers what the concrete application of the REUEP would be within family life, which is the initial, perhaps almost total, psychosocial environment of the child, would it not be fairly easy to see the REUEP being manifested by a great concern on the part of everyone within the family that everyone in the family have as good a life as possible, and that everyone, therefore, develop a maximal awareness of the impact of his or her own behavior on everyone else within the family? And, for that matter, would it not also be easy to see how the REUEP would be manifested by a continuing concern within the family as to how that family, and/or the members of it, could indeed contribute in the same way to making the world a better place in the wider world outside that family?


And the concern for everyone in the family can be demonstrated by parenting persons in such a way that, even prior to the time when it can be expressed in language that the small child can understand, it is clear to that child how important such consideration of others is. Parenting persons teach partly by modeling for identification, and very young children learn to imitate.


I think it is assumed by many that the child's nature is such that concern for others can only be produced and reinforced in the child by methods based upon the concept of obedience, brought about and maintained by the threat of punishment. I believe this to be a very great misconception. I believe that children have the motivation to please their significant others (primarily parents, but also others within the family), and that to the extent that the parenting individuals within the family utilize a non-punitive approach that rewards cooperation, empathy, and mutual concern, the child readily works to do his or her part in that regard. I believe that it is the prevalence of our punitive approach to children that indeed produces the more self-oriented, self-protective, and even oppositional tendency on the part of the child, which may ultimately manifest itself as antisocial behavior, or at least as a very weak ethical sense associated with the ethical belief, to a certain extent, that doing disapproved of things is okay to the extent that one does not get caught.


So obviously these considerations about the most appropriate kind of religious education for the child are subsumed under the broader heading of child rearing. And I believe that we have an enormous amount to learn having to do with optimal child-rearing principles and practical applications, or methods. I have written about this set of issues in the chapter on Rational-Ethical Child Rearing in the book, For Everyone: Rational-Ethical Living and the Emergence of "Homo Rationalis": The Most Important Book, available free at HomoRationalis.com.


So there is the question as to whether the child should be given, or needs to be given, some concept of an outside authority, in the form of a deity, whom everyone can be seen as trying to obey. It is my belief that there is no such need, in that the child is capable of the needed motivation just by consideration of the obvious effects of everyone's behavior on everyone else.


So, I think it would be consistent with Humanianity that the religious education of children be considered to be the ethical component of all that is being taught, with the general idea (ultimate principle) of making life good for everyone, now and in the future.


However, if the parents or parenting individuals within the family do indeed have a strong belief in a deity whom they are attempting to obey and please, there would certainly be a question as to whether the child should be protected from the awareness of that set of beliefs within the parent, or contrarily should indeed be made aware of such beliefs.


If we assume that the parenting individuals do have such a set of beliefs, then of course they would consider it important to pass along such beliefs to their children. It would be unrealistic for such parents or parenting individuals to take precautions against revealing such very core beliefs within their religious tradition and within themselves.


But if we make the assumption that the parenting individuals are Humanian, and care about their children's future experience in coming into contact with the world outside the family, they would wish to prepare the child for the fact that alternative viewpoints do indeed exist throughout the world, and that there has been no universal agreement so far with regard to such beliefs.


So what would this lead the conscientious Humanian parenting individuals to do with regard to this aspect of their child-rearing?


It would seem to mean that parenting individuals should let their children know that the world is not unified with regard to such beliefs, and that the welfare of everyone is best considered by maintaining an openness of mind with regard to the possibility of value in other viewpoints, and even with regard to the possibility of changing one's own viewpoints, because of the impact of new information and new life experience.


So an approach that would be consistent with this general principle would be implemented by statements to the child like:


"This is what we believe, and it works for us, but the world is filled with different ideas about these things, and it will be important for you to form your own opinions as you go out into the world and listen to the viewpoints of others. Meanwhile, however, if you wish, you can make the assumption that the viewpoints we have within our family work satisfactorily for us. They are certainly consistent with our efforts to make sure that all of us in this family have as good a life as possible, and consistent with our efforts to do our part to make the world outside of our family a better place.


"As you go out into the world and hear other viewpoints, we will be interested in what you think about those ideas, and will look forward to discussing with you what you are learning. All of us have things to learn, and what is important is an openness to learning, not the feeling of certainty that one is right.


"To thoroughly understand our most advanced ideas about the way the world really is requires an enormous amount of learning. That is why we value so much the acquisition of knowledge, and it is why we value formal education and self-education.


"Because you are so new in this world, we have much to offer you. There will come a time, however, when you will be able to offer us much in return, and we look forward to that time also."


(Of course, the actual words spoken to the child will vary as appropriate to the age of the child and to the usual vocabulary for that particular family.)


Is it not true that our most important task is to learn how to live with each other as one species, working cooperatively to promote our survival and the good life for all of us, all over this planet? And does that not involve learning how to make our differences a resource rather than a source of suffering, tragedy, and destruction? So how do we want to prepare our children to go out into the world and do their part in behalf of that most important task?


If that is what we want, we need to prepare our children to be able to have dialogue with anyone, and to be able to explore any and all ideas. We certainly do not want our children to go down the destructive path of hunkering down with a closed mind, regarding those who think differently as being possibly dangerous enemies. We have seen how this works so far, and, if you are Humanian, you wish to have us live a different life than the life that we have had so far, with so much misery and tragedy.


So it would seem that there should be just one "doctrine," namely, the REUEP, and that everything else should indeed be "education" in behalf of the pursuit of "truth," that set of existential beliefs (about the way the world is, was, and will be) that is most accurate, and that set of ethical beliefs (about what we should and should not do) that is most consistent with the REUEP.


I believe that any child, even quite young and just learning language, can understand a basic orientation maintained within the family to the effect that everyone should be concerned about everyone having as good a life as possible. Such concern does not have to be spelled out in words, although as time goes on, doing so will provide added value.


Every child can begin his or her social and intellectual life as a Humanian.