One To Think On: Should General Philosophy Replace Religious Teaching In Schools?

I have one very vivid memory of my religious education from school, and it is a less than happy one. There I was, an 11-year-old child with no artistic ability being forced to design the movie poster for the film version of The Good Samaritan. What a ridiculous waste of time for everyone involved.

This was the case simply because we had run out of things to talk about in the classroom. In that class we had heard the same stories so many times that it had become pointless to repeat them any more. Religious studies had become so saturated that between the ages of nine and fourteen, when I was finally allowed to drop it, we had covered the same material at least three times. My question is this. Would not this wasted time have been better served studying general philosophy rather than repeating religious parables?

This is a debate that has been taking place in Luxembourg recently, and one I believe should be taking place here. The primary value of religious studies in a multicultural society such as the one we live in is for general cultural and ethical education, so why limit ourselves to simply talking about the sacrosanct? Philosophy has shaped our society as much as anything in history, and is one of the reasons we debate and challenge truths that might otherwise be universally accepted.

Philosophy tends to have a shroud of ‘high academia’ around it, and that can be forbidding to learners who want a basic education in it. The Socratic mantra that the only true wisdom is to know you know nothing is not complex in and of itself, yet Socrates and Plato seem much more inapproachable than religious texts written around the same time. Furthermore, anyone that wants to study the Renaissance or the Enlightenment in any way, shape or form –as I did- requires at least a passable knowledge of philosophy, and this would eliminate the need for the difficult self-tutoring that is currently enforced.

This is why I would introduce ‘Ethics’ from a young age to encourage constructive thought and the development of a personal ethical philosophy based on informed choice, rather than spoon feeding religious parables that have no greater practical real world use than the other philosophies that might be taught. It is high time that as a society we put Plato, Aristotle, Paine and Spinoza on a par with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and school is the perfect place to do this. I would be fascinated to hear if other people have had similar experiences to mine, or if anyone else agrees that philosophy should be just as, if not more important, than a religious education.

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4 thoughts on “One To Think On: Should General Philosophy Replace Religious Teaching In Schools?

  1. I strongly agree with you. Actually, in France only private schools require their students to attend religious lessons. On the contrary, in “general” high schools, philosophy lessons are taught to senior-year students. Though these are not my favorite lessons, it is indeed interesting and truly gratifying. It enlarges general culture and urges young people to open their minds. And I believe it allows a much wider vision of the world than religious education. Of course, it cannot be taught as soon as religion is, so you might not be talk at the same “scale”/”level”(?) in this post, but I just wanted to point that out as my point of view joins yours.
    Thought-provoking and worthy question you raised in your post. Liked it very much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Giulia. Yes, I am a great admirer of the secular French way, as you may be able to tell from this and previous posts! I think it’s incredibly important to be aware of how our culture developed, and philosophy is such a huge part of that, that the earlier we can get it talked about by children the better in my view. Of course, religion is a huge part of that too, and I think religious awareness (if not practice) does have its place, but alongside philosophy in an ethics class, rather than superimposed upon it, as it sometimes is in the UK. Thanks for reading and sharing your opinion 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting post, and a good question. I would say that philosophy should precede religious education. Now, I add this caveat, I am Catholic and in the USA, and separation of Church and State keeps religion out of public schools. I attended Catholic private school for the first 8 years of my education, and religion was a subject like math or English.

    But, what is missing in the US today is basic training in logic and a solid introduction into philosophy. Philosophy is the preamble to faith, as one of my Theology Professors taught. We have to understand how to use our minds in order to understand our world and our place in it. Which includes a religious sensibility, in my mind.

    So, where possible, I would not replace religious education with Philosophy, but I would certainly precede it with philosophy for a good grounding in how to think.
    FB

    Liked by 1 person

    1. An interesting take on it, I agree that philosophy should be a pre-requisite, but that it shouldn’t necessarily replace religious teaching. To me, religion is only a certain applied and enforced moral philosophy anyway, so there is no reason not to teach it as part of a general philosophy class, I just don’t believe it should be separated out into its own subject.

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