Pop QuizReligion

Pop Quiz: Discussing Religious Extremism

Hello, Doubt-Scholars! I’m afraid this is going to have to be a very quick Pop Quiz because I have a hot Friday night out planned. Well, I said I’d go over and help a friend set up his Minecraft server. That’s quite hot.

 

I’m sure that yesterday’s  terrible events in London have been reported beyond the UK borders. I don’t intend to describe them again here; there are enough sites with that kind of information on them if you’re interested. Instead, I want to consider the idea of how (and whether) schools have the obligation or the right to teach about religious extremism.

 

There have been quite a few extremist religious organisations at the forefront of the media in recent times. Obviously there have been several high-profile events that have been linked to extreme fundamentalist Islamists, but there has also been focus on other groups. Over here in the UK, documentary make Louis Theroux received a great deal of attention for his account of the time he spent living with the Westboro Baptist Church. “The Most Hated Family In America” drew huge audiences and spawned a follow-up episode. There was also a prime-time BBC investigation into domestic abuse on the extreme fringes of the Orthodox Jewish community in London which aired last year and caused a lot of comment.

 

I’m sure many of you have view that are just as strong as mine when it comes to the potential dangers of religion and religious extremism in particular. To what extent should we pass those views on to our students? It is our job to simply educate young people about religious extremism, the forms it takes and the possible causes, and let them make up their own minds? Do we have a right to push our own personal views during discussions like this? Do we have an obligation to? Have you ever had a discussion like this with any of your students? Have you ever come across what you would call religious extremism in the classroom?

 

I’m sorry for the brief and rather shoddy Pop Quiz. I’ll be back later to add to any discussion and also to give a quick account of one of the times that I met extremist views in my own teaching.

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 3pm ET.

 

Featured Image Credit: Burstein

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Alasdair

Alasdair

Alasdair is a high school English teacher in Scotland. He's a passionate skeptic and science fan, which is why he runs a discussion club for young skeptics in his school. He loves space and astronomy more than pretty much anything and is studying for a physics degree in his spare time in order to become qualified to teach science.

He lives with a cat made of distilled hatred and spikes.

2 Comments

  1. May 28, 2013 at 12:09 am —

    I think it’s partly our responsibility to provide them the framework to judge behavior regardless of whether it’s religious or not. Now, it would be great to have the time to delve, but hopefully what follows can be appropriately pared down depending on constraints.

    I’d want to introduce them to the idea that morality is a construct which is built on biology and social pressure (and empathy, compassion, and hopefully reason). Once you can establish that, then you have a way to examine extremism without necessarily accusing all members of the religion and alienating the kids (and pissing off the parents). Mo Rocca actually did a great segment on Nova that demonstrates that not only is morality largely biological, but also that our brains are our minds. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/mind-control-TMS.html Morality comes in at just after the seven minute mark. RadioLab once discussed mathematical models for describing the advantage of evolving altruism http://www.radiolab.org/2010/dec/14/ and there’s all kinds of research I know I’ve read that I’m failing to actually find.

    So, once the idea is in place, discussing extremism does not constitute an indictment. I would also discuss the No True Scotsman to get that the heck out of the way.

    At that point, I’d talk about the Westboro Baptist Church, the Branch Davidians, the Taliban, the Spanish Inquisition (they’ll never expect it), the cult of Dionysus, etc. I would ask them to imagine they’re watching a movie, and somebody said “Go kill all those people” or “go yell at all those people attending their dead friend’s funeral” or “go beat up all those people because they have a different idea than us” or “it’s okay to hit women and children and some other men because they’re not really people.” Is that person a good guy or a bad guy? Is the guy who kills those people or yells at those people or beats up those people a good guy or a bad guy? Why/why not? The people in those extremist groups frequently have the same source material as millions of others. So, what separates them? What kind of character would you want to be if people were making a movie that had you as you how you are in real life as a character?

    Middle schoolers tend to be pretty willing to play along with hypothetical in my experience. Eighth graders start to be jerky. Not sure how high schoolers would do.

    Aside: Ask an Atheist occasionally has a great little segment called Doom or Yahweh where they read a quote, and the other hosts have to guess who said it, Dr. Victor von Doom or Yahweh. It’s pretty good.

  2. July 3, 2013 at 12:27 pm —

    To what extent should we pass those views on to our students? It is our job to simply educate young people about religious extremism, the forms it takes and the possible causes, and let them make up their own minds? Do we have a right to push our own personal views during discussions like this? Do we have an obligation to? Have you ever had a discussion like this with any of your students? Have you ever come across what you would call religious extremism in the classroom?

    1)It is our job to teach our kids how to think, not what to think. That said, part of that process is how to critically examine the world around us and in part we must give some degree of information on the topic matter. More importantly, we must show them how and why we arrived at the conclusions we did so that they may come to their own conclusions.
    2)We do have the right to push our opinions, we are the primary educators of our kids. But again, we mustn’t jump to the conclusion that just because we share our opinions with our kids that they will share those opinions or hold them to the same level that we do. And yes, we do have an obligation to share with our kids not just the end conclusion, but ultimately how we arrived logically at that conclusion.
    3)I have had this discussion in classes I’ve taken, and I have seen a degree of religious extremism especially in some of the philosophical classes I took.

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