We should do away with Religious Studies.
Those who have written to you in defence of religious studies, and in opposition to the philosophy GCSE proposals that I and Dr John Taylor have put forward, do it not on intellectual and pedagogical grounds, but because they have a vested interest in keeping RS going.
They only do it for the big money from Big Theology! I am quite happy to see that argument turned around — we get so many accusations that science is propped up by Big Science or Big Pharma or whatever, and that we’re only in it for the cash. I don’t think theologians are actually in it to get rich (like scientists, there isn’t that much money in our philosophies), but religion would die a little faster if there weren’t so much interest in paying people for affirming silly beliefs.
But Grayling’s argument isn’t just that we need to kick out the moneygrubbers: it’s that there are better, more universal disciplines that cover the field more effectively and with less bias, history and philosophy.
They have one or both of two motives: to keep themselves in a job and to keep religion appearing to be the main game in town when it comes to world views. In light of the fact that religion is to philosophy what astrology is to astronomy – and to science what astrology is to astrophysics – the main interest that religion has, to an intelligent mind, is sociological and historical.
This is why I proposed in a TES article last autumn that instead of the parochial and tendentious study of religion, there should be a more inclusive and ambitious history of ideas course. In such a course, mythologies, religions, philosophies and the rise of science would all figure, thus putting the beliefs of our less-knowledgeable forebears into perspective, and showing how humankind has progressed from supernaturalistic to naturalistic understandings of our world and ourselves. This, alongside proper philosophy GCSE and A-level courses providing critical in-depth study of concepts and theories across a wide range (and not just on the supposed topic of deity and narrowly related moral views) would be a real education of mind.
Many RS teachers would love to be able to teach proper philosophy and the history of ideas, and to be freed from having to purvey the highly misleading impression that religion is the main resource for thinking about life. Indeed, if RS focused principally on the mayhem that religions have unleashed on the world throughout history and still today, its defenders would doubtless be even more up in arms than they are about the view that it should be replaced by history of ideas and philosophy, based on the following simple fact: that religions consist of false beliefs about the world and distorted views about ethics.
That is why we must seek to educate our youth more responsibly and truthfully, more critically and appropriately, than can ever be offered by RS.
That’s a reasonable and rational argument. He’s not saying that we shouldn’t study religion (We should! It’s a human phenomenon that has had major effects on culture), but that basing the study of religion on bogus ideas is a bad way to start.
The article ends with links to a couple of rebuttals:
'AC Grayling is wrong: the humanity of Christ speaks to the nature of true humanism': Oh, really? That’s the problem. Are people who don’t believe in Jesus Christ doing religious studies wrong?
‘AC Grayling is wrong. Religious education and philosophy are complementary, not alternatives’: A more interesting reply, but vague. The author agrees that philosophy is important and that asking questions is essential, but insists that religion needs some kind of special approach. What that specialness would involve, he doesn’t say.
But completely independently, I found another source for a defense of religion. Would you believe their argument is AGAINST CRITICAL THINKING? R.R. Reno thinks this whole business of being skeptical and asking questions is a bad idea.
When it comes to the intellectual life in our day, the fear of error—believing things as true when they are in fact false—far outweighs a desire for truth. Whether it’s the big questions of religion and morality or those concerning history and literature, we have developed an intellectual culture of exaggerated circumspection in which large, long-standing truths are questioned and only small, fashionable truths affirmed. “Critical thinking” has become an end in itself for many educators and has taken on a new meaning in recent decades, one more associated with critique than with constructive criticism. We put a great deal of emphasis on learning how to interrogate, challenge, and criticize. But, while these are all useful skills, and in many cases necessary to help us avoid falsehood, first and foremost we need to be trained in assent. To do this in a reliable, responsible way requires a pedagogy of piety, for we can only hold as true those things we believe to be true.
Join First Things editor R. R. Reno in exploring the ideas behind the current cultural fixation with critical thinking as the highest intellectual good, and learn how a pedagogy based on piety provides a more successful roadmap for the pursuit of the good, the true, and the beautiful.
You heard the man. We have to teach our students to be agreeable and pious.
I think I’m feeling nauseous now. First we have to get people to humbly accept our arguments, and then we can argue for them. This is a standard theological approach, to first demand faith and belief in order to accept a string of nonsense.
It doesn’t work on anyone who expects a better explanation. Witness how George Bush tried to convince the French to join in the Iraq war. This wasn’t going to work.
I may regret posting this, but here’s an account of how George Bush tried to talk French president Jacques Chirac into supporting the invasion of Iraq:
Chirac recounts that the American leader appealed to theircommon faith(Christianity) and told him:Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East…. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled…. This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.
This bizarre episode occurred while the White House was assembling its “coalition of the willing” to unleash the Iraq invasion. Chirac says he was boggled by Bush’s call and “wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs.”
Hey, Jacques, he was just practicing a pedagogy of piety!