More religion, please!

On. Giovanna Melandri, a deputy with Italy’s Democratic Party, has recently proposed a law to introduce even more religion into public schools. She has courageously published it on her blog. I’ve commented on it, but my comment has not yet been approved, perhaps due to strong words like “superstition”. I figure the next best thing is to take up the matter on my own blog.

The thrust of her proposal is this: God is alive and well in the world; belief in Him heavily influences the lives of millions and “entire communities;” a sense of the sacred is central to the lives of human beings; we must find a way to live in a multicultural, pluralistic society (presumably without fighting over whose version of God represents the truth); we must engage the “other,” etc…it sounds like she’s been reading Karen Armstrong.

This brings her to the realization that it’s time “to rethink education.” My first thought would be, “Let’s get Catholic religious education out of the schools and increase secular studies like science and foreign languages.”

Melandri’s proposal is – brace yourselves – to introduce comparative religion. She even suggests a “scientific, not a dogmatic approach.” Which sounds nice and fuzzy at first, as if to imply that all religions are part of the fabric of humanity, and none of them have any exclusive claim to truth. But then she adds that “particular attention must be paid to monotheism,” and that “adequate space should be reserved for Eastern religions.” So, Jainism and Islam will share space on the blackboard with Catholicism?

But Melandri admits there might be some difficulty in finding impartial teachers to teach the vast smorgasbord of human belief. Not to worry, though, for “incompatibility between teachers will only be temporary.” How does she know this? It seems to me that in her mind she would like disagreement to simply dissolve before the comforting flames of multiculturalism.

This isn’t realistic. More likely teachers will be at each other’s throats. Supposing there are more than a handful of teachers who aren’t nominally Catholic – already improbable in Italy – and as Catholic religious education is already part of the State curriculum, she will have to convince those lovable, infinitely pliable gentlemen over at the Vatican to loosen their stranglehold on the young. Since no Italian politician is likely to ever go against them, this rings hollow. There is not greater obstacle to comparative religious education in Italy than the Catholic Church.

Further on, Melandri assures us such a multicultural approach won’t infringe upon the Vatican’s right – according to the 1929 Lateran Treaty – to impose its own religious teachings in Italian public schools. She continues: “We believe that the discovery of the transcendental dimension, and how humanity in all its stages has dealt with this experience, is a fundamental component of personal development.” Here the text reads much more like a homily by Benedict XVI than a proposal to teach religion in a “scientific” sense (whatever that means).

In my comment I asked On. Melandri why students receiving a public education should have to study religion – the “catalogue of the world’s superstitions,” as I phrased it. Of what use is it, really? The impracticability of such an endeavor, the fragility of people’s sensibilities about religion, the mutual exclusivity that religion fosters and the utter nonsense of religious belief all point in one direction: less, not more, religion in public schools.

If Melandri wishes to do something radical, she should work on abolishing the Lateran Treaty and minimizing the influence of the Catholic Church, pulling crucifixes of the walls of classrooms and making Italian public schools more secular in nature. That is the only fair way to deal with students of multiple cultural backgrounds: by leveling the playing field once and for all.

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