All Education is Religious Education

All Education is Religious Education

By Luke Shawhan

“Education is a completely religious endeavor.” Douglas Wilson

Every parent must ask “How should children be educated?” For some, religious convictions determine the proper method of education. For others, sports, academics, community, or cost are the determining factors. Yet, all parents who embark on the journey of education must understand one truth: all education is religious education. Overtly or subvertly, directly or indirectly, mistakenly or mischievously— every school (whether private, public, or homeschool) teaches a religious viewpoint. Why is this true? First, everyone is religious. Second, the questions brought about by education can only be answered by religion. Finally, examples from “secular” education demonstrate a school’s religious viewpoint.

Every person is a religious person because every person’s existential questions are answered by religion: What is the purpose in life—to serve God, to serve humanity (or both), to chase pleasure, comfort, power, etc? What is the greatest good?  What are the origins of man? Because religion shapes the answer to every existential question, it governs the totality of life. It cannot be dropped off to be picked up later, shed like animal fur, or bifurcated according to the day of the week. Now, people may change religions or act inconsistently with the teachings of their religion, but religion is always present.  Religion offers the light by which every person sees the world. The modern idea of a secular, irreligious person is a falsehood. The followers of these ideas hold the creeds and doctrine of secularism or humanism.

These existential questions function as the foundation of education. R.L. Dabney, a Presbyterian pastor, Confederate army chaplain, and the Chief of Staff to Stonewall Jackson, stated: “Education is the nurture and development of the whole man for his proper end.” What is the “proper end” of man? Only religion can answer this question. Religious convictions sculpt the image of the ideal man; and education sculpts pupils into the ideal man. Therefore, all education is undergirded by religion. Whether it is tolerance and relativism, high self esteem and good grades, Christlikeness and the knowledge of God—whatever the school’s vision of the ideal man, these traits will be chiseled into the students through the math, history, science, and language lessons.

The popular American philosophy of education, “fact-dispensing,” disputes Dabney’s definition of education. Popular American philosophy argues for a neutral education that teaches facts about— but not bias toward— a particular worldview. Yet, this philosophy crumbles under the junior-highers favorite question: “Why?”. “Why must math, writing, science, history be learned?” “Why torture us?” The answer to “Why?” reveals education’s religious nature. Is the greatest good to develop skills in order to work a well-paying job, which will hopefully lead to early retirement? Is becoming a productive and helpful member of society the greatest good? Or, is loving the Lord with heart, soul, mind, and strength; serving people; and obeying Him in every aspect of life the greatest good? Each answer to the question “Why?” molds the image of the ideal man into the lives of students. (Remember, the key word is greatest. Christian education labors to develop job skills and mold productive individuals. Yet, these are not the greatest values of Christian education.)

All education is religious education, whether or not the educational institute advertises itself in such a manner. Are there any examples of this? Clearly, overtly religious schools display this truth in their recitation of sacred scripture, creeds, etc. But what about “secular” institutions? In June of 2014, Reuters ran a story describing the shift of families that no longer celebrate “Father’s Day,” but “Fathers’ Day.” The article described methods school teachers use to normalize same sex marriages in the classroom. Having table settings for two moms at a Mother’s Day lunch, encouraging students with two fathers to write a letter to “my family” when other students wrote letters to mothers— these are the practices the school utilized to reinforce the normalization of homosexuality. The article quoted one first grade teacher’s belief on the issue: “This is the right age group to foster tolerance,” [she] said. “If we could talk to all of them at such a young age, we could wipe out prejudice.” This religious education hits close to home. The word “tolerance” is painted on the sidewalk at a Springfield elementary school as a character value. I asked a school-age family member, who is an SPS student, what the word meant. He told me, “Tolerate the intolerable.”

World Magazine revealed another example of religious secularism’s grip in American schools: advanced placement tests. “Blasting the Past” (Sep 20, 2014, p. 64) reports a US History teacher’s dismay after the release of a new “framework” for testing. After reading about the new framework, the teacher, Larry Krieger (who has taught AP US History for decades) was shocked to see that certain events and persons of American history—James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Valley Forge, D-Day— were excluded from the new testing, although they had been included in the old testing. Krieger concluded that “the framework presents a relentlessly negative view of American history that emphasizes conflict, oppression, and exploitation while totally ignoring the innovators, entrepreneurs, and dreamers who built our country.” Secularism esteems a thoroughly negative view of America’s history, and American schools teach this value to American children.

The final example requires a separate essay, but can be touched on here. Hitler is famous for his quote “He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” As Führer of Germany, Hitler took control of the schooling of Nazi youth, forced families to enroll their children into the “Hitler Jugend” (a sort of Nazi boy scout program) and attempted to vilify Christianity in Germany. In his vilification, Hitler attempted to replace Christianity with Nazi-worship. In Cologne, one prayer taught to children receiving meals from the Nazi state: “Fold your hands, bow your head and think about Adolf Hitler. He gives us our daily bread and helps us out of every misery.”

Every parent in every school must wrestle with the question, “How should children be educated?” but must also understand that every child is educated according to religious beliefs. In Matthew 10:24-25a, Jesus says, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.” In the context, Jesus is refuting the Pharisees’ claim that he casts out demons by Beelzebul. But the truth of His statement can be applied to education: It is enough that children become like their teachers. Parents must know the religious beliefs of the school; for children will follow in the beliefs, lifestyles, and patterns the school teaches. Are children called to follow the one ideal man, the image of the invisible God, the sustainer of the universe, the Savior of the world—Jesus of Nazareth; or, to exchange the truth of God for a lie and worship at the altar of another religion?

“Education is the most powerful ally of Humanism, and every American public school is a school of Humanism. What can the theistic Sunday Schools, meeting for an hour once a week, do to stem the tide of a five-day program of humanistic teaching?”   Charles Francis Potter; Humanism: A New Religion

Works Cited:

Dabney, Robert Lewis, and Douglas Wilson. On Secular Education. Moscow, ID.: Canon, 1996. Print.

Goldberg, Barbara. “Teaching Tolerance to Children When Father’s Day Is Fathers’ Day.” Reuters. 13 June 2014. Web. 8 Oct. 2014.

Noebel, David A., J. F. Baldwin, and Kevin Bywater. Clergy in the Classroom: The Religion of Secular Humanism. Manitou Springs, CO: Summit, 2001. Print.

Schirrmacher Ph.D, Thomas. “National Socialism as Religion.” Global Journal of Classical Theology. Web. 08 Oct. 2014.

Wilson, Douglas. “The Biblical Antithesis in Education.” Antithesis Volume 1.6 (1990). Web. 08 Oct. 2014.

Luke Shawhan