Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Is Yoga Religious Indoctrination? (Let's Have Religion Classes)

A letter in the North County times makes the complaint, in a long-winded way: why are schools allowed to teach yoga when they can't teach Christianity?   (There are some pearl-clutching grannies in Encinitas running hither-and-thither since their kids are going to be taught, gasp, yoga.)  Now hold on - the letter-writer is a bit more sensible than you might think - the argument is that since learning yoga doesn't result in Hindu indoctrination, and studying the Bible as a book doesn't result in Christian indoctrination, then by allowing yoga but not Bible class, aren't we singling out Christianity and giving the rest a pass?

One solution, which Dan Dennett among others has advanced and which I strongly endorse, is the institution of religion as a public school subject, which is what many Americans claim they want. But to be clear, it would not be Sunday school.  It would be the facts of multiple religions - their documented histories, the anthropology of their followers, and the actual content of their holy texts as literature with contexts, all subject to discussion and critique.  (Ideally, the students would be told that just being offended isn't a counterargument, and certainly doesn't get them out of homework and classroom discussion!)  I think lots of us who are wary of taxpayer-funded religious indoctrination could agree with Christians in the community that this would be a valid subject, presented in this manner.  I would be thrilled to see this topic presented in public schools.*

Of course, there may be Christians who really just want special treatment for their own religion as a backdoor for indoctrination, so the class as described above wouldn't be acceptable, and they'd quickly find reasons to fight it.  That said, the Christian readers I've corresponded with on this blog have often been men and women of consistent principle, so I hope their consistency would continue, and allow them to join in support of such a class.

*As a high school junior studying for our local interscholastic nerd-superbowl event, one of the topics I was assigned to learn for the competition was the Bible.  I was already an atheist at that point, and took the assignment for what it was, to learn the facts of the text and the interpretations of it throughout history.  This is what led to my abiding interest in the Christian holy book; yet somehow knowing it better than the majority of Christians, like many of us atheists do, hasn't made me a Christian.  (Favorite books:  Job, Exodus, Revelations.  Partly because they help you understand metal lyrics.)

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