Towards A Good Samaritan World

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Nato's latest response to my overwrought post yesterday is up. Some highlights:

I'm wondering if he thinks atheists are attempting to prohibit theists from
speaking on the radio, teaching in schools and etc.

No. Didn't mean to suggest that. Religious messages do not suffer from state-sanctioned discrimination in most spheres, and I'm grateful for it. Just in the schools.

Really, atheists have a sort of unfair advantage that the founders never really
foresaw. By requiring the government to take no positive position, they
essentially made the government atheist in the same way private citizens are.
Since the government never advises children about God, a child might get the
idea that there's no God about which to be advised: the classic null case.

Well put. Except for the part about "the founders": in their day it was taken for granted that school curricula were basically Protestant, and nothing would have amazed them more than to discover that something they had written actually, against their will, prohibited public schools from teaching children that God created the world. That's a twentieth-century innovation. Anyway, I'd add that it's not that the government takes no positive position in general, just on questions of "religion." What is "religion?" I don't think it would be possible to offer a philosophically satisfactory definition of religion that would justify the particular pattern of exclusion found in the public schools. But we do have a sort of historical enumerated-list definition of religion: there's Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Daoism, Confucianism, Sikhism, various forms of aboriginal polytheism, etc. We exclude whatever relates to one of those faiths. Atheism, the "null case," benefits from this exclusion; secular humanism is a worldview which, it seems to me, flows into the gaps left by the public schools' exclusion of "religion."

In a way, the current anti-religious discrimination of the schools is poetic justice for Protestants' former close-mindedness about other religions. C. S. Lewis pointed out that the schools in his day assumed the truth of Christianity but were completely dismissive of all other religions. They adopted the same attitude towards the ancient pagan gods, or the Hindu gods, that atheists adopt towards the Christian God. It was therefore an easy step for the schools to take the logical next step and treat the religious passions of the Pilgrims the way they had treated the religious passions of devotees of the Dionysian mysteries.

For the record, I don't think things would change all that much with a voucher system. The curriculum would stay mostly the same. Probably things would shift over time towards more teaching of the Bible (Western civilization's most important text, after all) and more infusion of religious ideas, but only in a minority of schools; most schools would continue the pattern of excluding religion, although-- and this is a big though symbolic improvement-- students would understand that the secular humanist curriculum was just one of many choices, not absolute truth.


  • Well, it might be absolute truth, but we don't know it to be so. Yet. *grin*

    By Blogger Nato, at 11:43 AM  

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