Presidential Race’s Religion Card
Should we teach children about all religions?
Are We Scared to Admit Our Faith?
2016 is a presidential election year and religion discussions are at the forefront. What happened to the separation of church and state? Religion is a polarizing topic but I’m hoping this open debate of it makes it a less sensitive one. Profiling and fear is making us so uneasy when faced with different beliefs and especially with the extremists. I hope we don’t let our fears and profiling paralyze us! I hope we don’t become afraid to admit our religion.
I hope we’re not getting to a point where we’re scared to even admit our religion! We’re living in scary times, and if we are running scared how about our children? I came across a recent article by Sally Weale, Education Correspondent, at The Guardian and it made me stop and think about religion and the stigma of talking about it in schools. She interviews Purnima Tanuku, NDNA chief executive. Her organization represents more than 5,500 nurseries across the UK. This interview was prompted when a man noticed his grandson in a radical Islamic propaganda video. He shared that his daughter had converted to Islam and moved to Syria.
Tanuku urges all nursery school staff to be vigilant and report any bizarre behavior of parents and children alike. This reminds me of President Obama’s ‘see something say something.’ There is some truth to social engagement. If more and more people participate and are community present, many crimes can be prevented. This includes terrorism. One wonders if the San Bernardino shooting would have been prevented if neighbors shared their suspicious observances.
Religion is such a sensitive and polarizing subject! It has always been but I hope it stops being for everyone's sake! I wish it becomes a ‘fait accompli’ like asking someone the make of the car they drive. Maybe then, tolerance will also be a ‘fait accompli’. Tanuku shares in this article how the inclusion of nursery schools in the Prevent Duty legislation met with such astonishment. People didn’t understand the need for that inclusion nor how children can be involved in terrorism. “We have children of all ages taken with parents to fight against the values we hold dear. This is why it is crucial that pre-school children are given a positive experience of a life of freedom-where people’s views, customs and religions are respected and differences are celebrated. A child’s nursery worker is well placed to teach them tolerant values during these delicate, sensitive and formative years,” she shares.
I totally agree with Tanuku’s perspective as I have seen how elementary school teachers have inspired tolerance of all beliefs or the lack thereof in some countries. She is absolutely right in stating that nursery workers are in a unique position to spot bizarre or extreme behavior in kids and their parents as they have a close relationship with both. “They can spot signs of radicalization in the adults around a young child, as they have a close relationship with parents than the schools. Tighter staff-child ratios mean they also know the children in their care more intimately.”
I remember religion playing a key role in the 2012 elections. Voters were asked to scrutinize between the religious identity of both President Obama’s Christian beliefs and Governor Romney’s Mormon faith. And, I’m sure the 2016 presidential race will question the beliefs of the candidates too. I find a silver lining in that; the open debate of beliefs!
Here I go again, against my better judgment and what I had learned in journalism school, and talk about religion. I can see my broadcasting professor screaming at me for writing this! I write about religion because so many atrocities continue to occur because we don’t respect each other’s beliefs and because it’s the elephant in the room! We have to talk about religion and have open discussions about it. How can we explain to children about all the different beliefs out there? There is no other way. We have to teach all the religions of the world in school just like geography and math. We have to get to a point where we do it without any agendas. I don't know if that's possible or not. But we should try. When we understand the differences between all the cultures, traditions and religions is when we can learn to respect each other. How can we otherwise? How can we accomplish any of that without discussing it?
A look at our New Year celebrations demonstrates how each culture colors them differently. Some cultures haven’t even celebrated New Year. The Chinese have not celebrated theirs yet and will on February 8, 2016. I bet many children don’t even know that. I remember when wishing “Merry Christmas” was deemed politically incorrect and many ads had to be changed. Some went ahead and wished both, ‘Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays in the same breath!’ Whether opting for a generic ‘Happy Holidays’ or not, our interactions should be much simpler! And, yes, interactions would be much simpler if children were taught, early on, that all beliefs are okay. When teachers or parents explain differences of beliefs without passing judgement is when differences in beliefs will be as ‘okay’ as driving different cars and as ‘okay’ as living in different houses. When children grow up believing that, is when we’ll grow an open free society and a more tolerant one.
I used different New Year celebrations, to explain the differences of beliefs, in The Boy Who Spoke To God, the children’s book I wrote. Yes, I went there and the title alone made many journalists run the other way. I knew that would happen and I don’t blame them. Maybe ‘God’ in the title should have been ‘Gods’. But, I was really going after the ‘the cry wolf’ idea. In it a young Greek boy, helps feuding tribes - Greek, Chinese, Indian, and Zulu - find peace via dreams of a perfect God. The Tribes are feuding because they cannot agree on when and how to celebrate New Year because they all have their own beliefs and traditions! The story is structured as a fairy tale and doesn’t take sides, to offer parents and teachers a basic open-discussion tool. I strongly believe that opening the minds of children to many beliefs triggers an early tolerance of differences. And, that to me is the key to a more harmonious world!
However, by the mere mention of God, my book has generated a lot of debate. Using the book as an open-discussion tool may not be for every family.
I’m happy that parents and teachers have found value in what I was trying to do as I find it in what Tanuku is saying. Here are a few online posts about my book;
"Randa Handler’s Boy Who Spoke to God is a book that for me has its major value in opening up the conversation about God and belief systems in general." ~Carol Smaldino, Psychotherapist and Parenting Columnist. NYC
"Boy Who Spoke To God is a really good book because it teaches that despite differences in religions, beliefs, ceremonies, and traditions, God is the God of everyone." ~Dr. Israel Drazin, Rabbi, & Author. FL.
"If or when different religious beliefs are causing conflict, Boy Who Spoke To God, is the book to give to either children or adults." ~Jessica Warne, CA Teacher. CA.
Whether you do use Boy Who Spoke to God, or another children’s book, I hope as each candidate’s religion is scrutinized we launch open-discussions about all the beliefs out there. Maybe the elections are going to open enough religion dialogues to make us more receptive to each other’s differences. Maybe these open forums will open our hearts a little wider. Maybe more meaningful interactions will lead to more open-mindedness inclusivity, and not only tolerance will be instilled but a true appreciation of differences.