Eleven days ago I committed to getting back on the ‘consistency train’ by starting to blog weekly again, after three weeks off during the summer. I’ve finally decided on a good day this semester to write blogs, and that day is today (Tuesday).
As I begin my career at The University of Kansas the content of the blog will probably change a bit every semester based on the classes I’ll be taking and the research we will be doing. I’ll frame everything from a Communication perspective (everything is communication, anyway), but the angles from which I approach topics might change from time to time. For instance, in the past I’ve done a lot of writing based on international mass media and computer-mediated communication. This semester I may switch the focus a bit towards intercultural communication between people who are a part of different societal groups (but we shall see how the semester develops).
Religiously Based Conflict
While on the subject of different societal groups, I’d like to get to the topic at hand: we need to teach more religion to US children by stressing the topic more during their K-12 education.
Many major conflicts in our world seem to stem at least in part from the fact that we do not understand each other’s belief systems. While the disastrous, deadly, and massacre-filled dissolution of my country of birth (Yugoslavia) was caused by tensions that had been building up for years underneath a Communist regime, age-old claims for land, ultra-nationalism, and other factors—there was always an ethnic and especially religious undertone to our conflict during the 1990s as well. Predominantly Muslim Bosnians, Orthodox-Chrstian Serbians, and Catholic Croatians learned to despise each other as the war progressed. More than 100,000 people died, and children died on all three sides–thus we demonized each other since we all saw our children die and blamed ‘the other’ for such atrocious actions. The fact is, we are all to blame. The Serbians. The Bosnians. The Croatians. Every single one of us caused that conflict. We killed each other’s children.
The tragedy is that this is a reoccurring story in our world.
Below is a list of mostly current and some past wars that were based at least in-part on religious differences and misunderstandings. I acquired most of the list from this source. The list could certainly be more extensive and detailed (for instance, ‘Christians’ is too broad a term), but I use it only to give you an idea of how wide-spread religious conflict is today and has been in the past.
- Northern Ireland (Catholics and Protestants).
- Sudan (Muslims, Christians, and others).
- Afghanistan (Radical Muslims,Western Christians)
- Côte d’Ivoire (Christians, Muslims, Indigenous).
- Cyprus (Christians, Muslims).
- Turkey (Muslims, Armenian Christians).
- East Timor (Christians, Muslims).
- The Christian Crusades (Catholics and much of the modern Middle East).
- Parts of India (Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs).
- Iraq (Shiite Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Kurds, Western Christians).
- Israel and Palestine (Christians, Muslims, Jews).
- Somalia (Sufi and Shabab Muslims).
- Sri Lanka (Buddhists and Hindus).
- Tibet (Buddhists and Secular Chinese Communists).
Again, the list is not exhaustive and it would take a massive effort to list all of the big and little conflicts in the world that have been influenced by religious intolerance. Think of all the conflict we have had in the USA that is not ‘war’ but that’s still religiously based; take the pathetic KKK as one example, and the shooting in Wisconsin a few weeks ago as another example. Of course, all wars are not caused by religion but by other factors, but too many of them are.
Way too many.
Stop The Wars
I’ve seen what war does to a people and ever since realizing this, I’ve been against most wars. I absolutely despise the fact that Western culture glamorizes warfare and treats the fact that we send eighteen year olds to other countries to kill people and to be killed as a patriotic thing and as a service to our country. The fact is, very few wars that the USA is in today (yes, we are in multiple ones) have any sort of direct effect on the freedoms that we enjoy at home. In reality, the wars we are in directly affect our access to crucial natural resources that the country needs to keep running, but the government PR folks tell us otherwise. That topic is for a different day, though.
I’m an eternal idealist and I believe that one way to work towards avoiding wars in the future is to teach our children more about other religions around the world. This will not prevent all the wars and senseless violence, but it might just prevent a few of them. Heck, even if it prevents one war, it’ll be worth it.
One way we can do this is by having our children read all of the major religious texts in the world while they are going through their K-12 education. This won’t happen because of the eternally change-averse and allegedly secular (but in reality Christian-orientated) nature of most US K-12 school programs. Thus, we should focus on teaching students about the Christian Bible (Old and New Testament), the Muslim Koran, the Hindu Veda and Upanishads, the Hebrew Torah, and other big religious (such as Buddhism, Sikhism, Taoism) and non or semi-religious (Atheism, Agnosticism) perspectives. If we teach them about these different viewpoints and teach them the historical origins of them, they might gain a better appreciation for the differences that exist and might be less likely to stereotype and look down on other viewpoints when they grow up.
I’ve been a part of the US school system since fourth grade, and while I remember some classes touching on the fact that other viewpoints existed, we never seriously delved into these different opinions of God or discussed how they might result in violence around the world.
United States K-12 programs seem to be afraid of teaching religion. If we want our society to take the next steps into the future and if want our children to become truly global citizens, we must not be afraid to teach religion. In this Washington Post opinion piece, Professor Khyati Y. Joshi makes a similar argument to the one I make above.
I have a late Uncle who read both the Bible and the Koran in his lifetime, and that story has always inspired me to be as open minded as he was when it comes to religious perspectives. Being open to learning about other religions is an essential skill to learn if we care about the future of our increasingly shrinking world. Let’s stop the next war, by communicating to our kids the differences that exist and the fact that the mere existence of different beliefs should never be enough to convince them that ‘the other’ deserves to be attacked and converted. Let’s work to make the US K-12 system and the way we teach religion a model for other countries around the world, too.