Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Public School System--A Discrimination Factory?

Post 20

In the last blog or so I have referred to Humanists cum Atheists—from here on I will refer to them all simply as “Humanists”-- in the Public Schools. They tell me they feel excluded. The schools may celebrate some religious holidays, especially Christian, but no one ever pays attention to or singles out Humanism. As if they do not exist. That’s the complaint I keep hearing from my Humanist friends of World Views Collaborative (WVC).

Humanists are not the only ones to complain. In fact, it seems almost everyone complains. Almost everyone feels excluded in one way or another or at one time or another. Jews and many others feel excluded during Christian celebrations like Christmas. Almost every year, some people will take their Public School or their Public School Board to task for being so pro-Christian and, thus, discriminating.

So you would think that of all the various groups, Christians would be the happiest with the Public School system. After all, according to some, the system reflects their values more than that of any other group.

But this raises the question why it is that Christians in BC have established so many private schools of their own and have opted out of the public system. Humanists haven’t opted out and neither have Jews, but Christians have, by the thousands. Christians of all stripes, with the Catholics and the Reformed family of churches in the forefront, but also Evangelicals. Do Humanists, Jews or others who complain about the Christian culture in the Public Schools ever wonder about that? Christians are so unhappy with these schools that they spend fortunes of their own money on these alternative schools, money that others spend on luxuries and travels. Christians also feel discriminated against in the Public Schools.

So, now we appear to have a system no one is happy with and everybody feels it discriminates against them. I have not even mentioned the complaints of the gay community. Why does the public put up with a school system no one seems to like and everyone experiences as discriminatory? That’s not the way it was supposed to be. Everyone was supposed to feel at home in this system because of its alleged neutrality when it comes to religion or worldview. We all were expected to be happy with the common platform provided by secularism, but, it seems, many are not.

In the next blog I will explain why so many Christians have opted out. Good night.

Friday, October 8, 2010

World View Collaborative (WVC)

Blog 19 --Religion in the Public Schools

The last two blogs featured discussions about ethical dilemmas that were generated and discussed in the framework of WorldViews Collaborative (WVC). Though I have already briefly introduced this organization two posts ago, let me elaborate a bit more.

WVC’s main mission at the moment is to promote the teaching about religions and worldviews in the BC public schools. I mention both “religions” and “worldviews,” for at least one group represented does not view itself as a religion so much as a worldview. I refer to the Humanist members, who also describe themselves as Atheists. While in our time Christians and Atheists are engaged in a pretty fierce battle, especially in books, journals and magazines, the members of WVC respect each other and their views, sometimes discuss them, but always amicably. This does not mean that we are lukewarm regarding our individual world views. In fact, we are all quite adamant and convinced within our own minds of the truth and value of our beliefs. None of us are world view slouchers. (From here on, I will avoid repetition of the term “religions and world views” by simply using “world views” to cover both of them.)

However, it came to the attention of the Atheist founder(s) of WVC that the people of BC do not really know much about what makes us all tick or what different people find important in their lives. Our public schools don’t help us in this regard, for religion is taboo there. Our schools are secular. Punkt. Religion has no place there. The system is said to be “pluralistic” and “neutral.” It emphasizes what we all have in common and ignores what separates us. As a result neighbours don’t know their neighbours; public school pupils don’t know each other either.

Nevertheless, according to these founders, though no worldview is overtly taught in our public schools, there is a strong Christian bias that permeates the school culture at the disadvantage of other worldviews, including Humanism. Of course, they are not the first to have noticed this. Especially at Christmas time, non-Christians often feel marginalized in our Public Schools and will either complain in the press or to their local school boards. It happens every year.

So, the solution that occurred to these Humanist friends of mine—yes, we have become good friends!—is to find a way to promote the teaching about all major world views in BC—Christian, Humanist, Atheist, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Muslim, all of them—in the Public School system. The purpose is not to convert anyone or to proselytize, but simply to present the main contours of each world view in an objective manner as information, so that pupils of different world views will get to know each other better, also later as adults.

Rabbi Dennis Prager once blamed certain “liberals” who are in charge of the system, apparently “liberals” of a different stripe from those who founded WVC as follows:

Liberals… are always talking about pluralism, but that is not what they mean. They mean “melting-pot.” Pluralism… means that Catholics are Catholics, Jews are Jews, Baptists and Baptists, etc. That’s what pluralism means—everyone affirms his values and we all live with civic equality and tolerance. That’s my dream. But in public school, Jews don’t meet Christians. Christians don’t meet Hindus. Everybody meets nothing. That is… why their children so easily inter-marry. Jews don’t marry Christians. Non-Jewish Jews marry non-Christian Christians. Jews for nothing marry Christians for nothing. They get along great because they both affirm nothing. They have everything in common—nothing. That’s not pluralism. But that’s exactly what the liberal world wants. They want a bunch of secular universalists with ethnic surnames. (Quoted by Paul Marshall in A. Van Ginkel, ed., Shaping a Christian Vision for Canada. Markham: Faith Today Publications, 1992, p. 20.)

So, the point of WVC is to make the citizens of BC aware of their differences as well as commonalities, so that we can know each other better. My neighbour to know what makes me tick and vice versa. Pupils will come to realize that these different world views represent deep depositories and traditions of truths and insight from which we can all obtain greater wisdom, even if we do not agree with all we hear. The various colourful parades and other events are not just “funny” things that Indians or Pakistanis do, but they represent depths of thought that would never have occurred to us. This project will hopefully take away the shrouds of secrecy and mystery with which we surround ourselves and remove the ignorance with which we observe each other. Exchange fear with respect and interest; suspicion with challenging dialogue.

For reasons I do not quite comprehend, the founder, retired Professor Ernest Poser of UBC and, before that, McGill, somehow found me and judged me a suitable candidate for this project. Perhaps he fell upon my website (www.SocialTheology.com ). But I am glad he invited me, for I have enjoyed meeting this inter-religious group tremendously. For one thing, I have noticed that not all liberals, Humanists, Atheists and secularists are the same. There are tolerant ones amongst them, very gracious and compassionate. I write a lot about adherents to that world view and often quite vociferously. When these friends read my writings, I want them to know that my frustrations with their co-liberals are not aimed at them, especially not personally. Of course, the deep differences and disagreements remain, but we enjoy each other’s company. Poser and I especially enjoy our occasional souperamas either in our homes or in restaurants, during which we engage each other in great discussions. Thank you, Ernest!--as well as you, Kathy and Eric.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ethical Dilemma (2)

Please re-read the introduction to the previous post, Ethical Dilemma (1), so you know what this one is all about.

The Dilemma: The Case of the Lying Refugee
A young woman, in another part of the world, faces an arranged marriage to
a man she hardly knows and does not wish to marry. She therefore
secretly leaves home to seek asylum on another continent. Fearing that
her family might trace her whereabouts and arrange for her repatriation,
she gives a false name and age in her application for citizenship in the
host country. When found out, should she be denied citizenship in her
chosen country of refuge?


Western culture tends to condemn arranged marriages. In addition, we are familiar with this case and she is upheld as an international hero and writer. Hence, most of us might almost naturally approve of her refugee application and discount her lies. My worldview takes the following into consideration and leads to the following decisions:

• The Bible does not condemn arranged marriages. A case might be made that the Bible would prefer such arrangements to those of the West, where marriage occurs in an extremely individualistic framework and breaks down much more frequently than in cultures where it is arranged.
• This person had a very rebellious attitude about her that did not tolerate the restrictions of her native culture. It was not a matter of religious or political persecution that endangered her life. Such a person might make a good immigrant, but refugee provisions are not meant to cover her circumstances. So here we have a person taking up refugee resources of time and money that should have been applied to genuine refugees.
• Since her entire refugee case is a bogus one, I would not accept her as a refugee. I would recommend she be deported to her native country and apply for immigration. I would insist on deportation to discourage others from making bogus application. I would advise her that, if she wants to come to this country, The Netherlands (NL), she apply from her home country as an immigrant. She might return to NL under bond to pay expenses NL incurred from her bogus refugee claim.
• Alternatively, in this particular case, while awaiting lengthy refugee proceedings, suppose her life style, ambitions and considerable ability had become clear. She demonstrated that she would be a valuable citizen. Hence, her case could be transferred to the immigration dept and treated there within NL. However, to qualify as an immigrant, she should be bonded to repay the expenses incurred in processing her bogus application.
• I will tolerate “lies” from genuine refugees whose lives are endangered at home for religious or political reasons. Here compassion would kick in as well as my conception of truth vs lie. I am a product of WW II, where people saved each other’s lives by so-called “white lies.” Such “lies” are used worldwide. I do not consider them lies but a life-saving device to be used in dangerous circumstances. The case of the KGB Russian in Vancouver who told the truth about himself, should teach us that truth is not always appreciated in the halls of refugee administration. In the murky circumstances of refugee culture the “white lie” is standard and needs our sympathy but not our unqualified approval or affirmation. It should be considered allowable in selected cases. That would not be the case in our example.

Neither life nor reason nor the Bible are always all black or white! The refugee in question, after being accepted as refugee and citizen, ended up chastizing her new country for being too tolerant of refugees!