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Religion in Public Schools: Religious Fundamentalists vs. Atheists
The relevance of raising children with an insistence on the development of a high moral character cannot be overstated. Essentially, individuals raised with a well founded moral character have the ability to clearly distinguish between bad/unacceptable behavior and good/acceptable behavior. With this in mind, it is understandable that parents usually prefer to have their children undertake their education in an enabling environment that allows for their moral development. Further, it is also understandable that religious fundamentalists and atheists alike would prefer to have their children schooling in a setting that has high regard for moral virtues such as respect, concern for others, responsibility as well as honesty.
Religion in Public Schools: Religious Fundamentalists vs. Atheists
According to Lebron, "for most religious theists, their faith practices provide the basis for their entire understanding of morality and moral values" (521). This is a view reinforced by Estes and Bowman who are of the opinion that in the absence of morality, religion would turn out to be mere superstition (104). Historically, various religious texts including but not limited to the bible have been used as a source of guidance on moral values. For instance, biblical teachings judge an act based on its conformity to the moral character of God. Indeed, as Grudem and Purswell note, "whatever conforms to God's moral character is right" (93). This is essentially the teaching advanced by religious fundamentalists in their quest to define the standards of moral character. In basic terms, God's moral character has got to do with concern for others, honesty as well as responsibility amongst other moral expectations. When children learn and school in an environment that is deeply appreciative of the need to embrace the character of the Supreme Being in relation to abiding by well defined moral standards, their character is natured in a way that enables them to relate appropriately with others in the societal setting.
Next, it can also be noted that historically, both public and private schools administered with a special emphasis on religious fundamentalism have been considered rather strict when it comes to the observance of well-defined rules governing student conduct. For instance, there is a widely held belief that schools governed by Catholic values score highly when it comes to observance of moral values. This also happens to be the case for other schools leaning heavily towards religious fundamentalism. Indeed, as an indicator of their priority towards the development of a well founded moral character, some of these institutions have well-defined core values that bring out what is expected of every student when it comes to interpersonal relations, discipline as well as the observance of specific duties. Further, it can also be noted that schools in this category also have a motivation of sorts for students in their quest to enforce adherence to moral standards. For instance, it is commonplace for schools having a keen interest in religious values to allocate time for special activities including but not limited to the study of religious texts i.e. The bible as well as counseling sessions designed to not only take care of the spiritual needs of students but to also offer guidance to students on how to embrace moral habits that will enable them live fulfilling lives. Such sessions contribute toward the moral development of children going forward.
It is however important to note that though their view of deities differ largely, atheists and religious fundamentalists tend to operate on a similar moral plane. While morality from a religious perspective is firmly founded or rooted on what is expected of people based on the teachings of a certain religion, atheism on the other hand also has a number of standards governing moral conduct. It can be noted that traditionally, some people have considered atheism and morality as being rather incompatible (Cox, 200). To understand the position of atheists in regard to morality, we might need to take into consideration the nature and conduct of atheism in relation to our own understanding of the same. According to Lebron, "positive atheism entails such things as a being morally upright, showing an understanding that religious people have reasons to believe… not lecturing others about atheism…" (521). Taking this as the true nature of atheism, it is clear that atheists also do attach significant meaning to morality. It therefore follows that most of the opinions held in regard to atheists and their moral bearing is largely stereotyped. Indeed, according to Lebron, many religious theists are of the opinion that atheists do not have a morality basis as they do not believe in any gods (521). The author further notes that religious theists are also of the opinion that it is impossible for atheists to fully appreciate the true meaning of moral behavior. However, based on the arguments I present elsewhere in this text, these are merely stereotypes which fail to appreciate the true meaning and nature of atheism.
In the opinion of Poidevin, "for the atheist the moral ideal is autonomy, or self-government" (84). The atheist hence seeks to be his or her own master other than abide by the rules passed on to the human race by a deity. Hence the teachings of atheists can be seen to favor autonomy. While following universally accepted norms is accepted, disregard for autonomy in the pursuit of these norms is frowned upon. This in my opinion can be reconciled with religious teachings. In some instances, it is said that God may have intended for us to be free agents. This is more so the case when it comes to addressing the problem of evil. Thus just as God intends for individuals to be free agents in the religious setting, atheism calls upon individuals to be of an enviable moral character out of their own volition. My view in this case is reinforced by Poidevin's assertion that "parents want their children ultimately to be self-governing" (85).
It is important to note that though there is an existing need to enhance the formation of moral character in children, the same cannot be successful without the concerted efforts of all the stakeholders. In basic terms, America is largely a religiously diverse nation and hence it is only fair that the views of people from a cross-section of the society be taken into consideration as long as they do not harm the well-being of our children. It is clear from the discussion above that atheism does not necessarily go contrary to religious teachings on morality. What largely differs between the two viewpoints in this case has little to do with moral standards and their application. Rather, the main contentious issue is a belief in the existence of a deity and its role in the enforcement of morals. Hence just like religious fundamentalists, atheists also tend to have high regard for the observance of moral standards albeit as free agents.
In conclusion, it can be noted that there are no significant differences between the moral standards held by religious fundamentalists and those held by atheists. The main difference between these two points-of-view has largely got to do with the role of God in the observance of moral values. Hence in basic terms, both religious fundamentalists and atheists recognize and appreciate the need for the development of a high moral character, most particularly among children.
Cox, Robert. Sabbath Laws and Sabbath Duties: Considered in Relation to their Natural and Scriptural Grounds, and to the Principles of Religious Liberty. London: Maclachlan and Stewart, 1853. Print.
In this text, Cox tries to explain some principles relating to religious liberty amongst other things. At some point, the author presents a case for atheists as individuals who also live good peaceful lives. The author is of the opinion that there aren't enough facts to conclude…[continue]
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