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Youth UPF

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Religious Education at Schools

Prof Bertil PerssonAddress given at House of Lords, British Parliament,

9 December 2014, 6.30 p.m.

Seminar arranged by Universal Peace Federation

and its youth department Youth UPF Interfaith Council.

Hosted by Lord Nazir Ahmed of Rotherham.

It's a very great honor for me to come down here from the country of Alfred Nobel and ABBA. I'm invited to deliver some basic academic thoughts on Religious Education at schools.

Religion - it's a concept which creates many contradictory emotions, notions and thoughts. To some it's about celestial joy like for example listening to choir-singing in Westminster Abbey, to others it is "the people's opium". To some it's peace movement and social reforms, to others inquisition, military and racist activities. And to some religion is something marginal or uninteresting while for others it is subject for intensive studies. And some are saying "I'm an atheist so do not talk with me about religion".

Religion is a Latin word derived from the verb religo [re-ligo] meaning re-establish, re-establish entire harmony between human being and "That which we call God", like yoga in Buddhism and  Hinduism. (1)

Thanks to the British professor in comparative religion Ninian Smart (1927-2001), UN has adopted a definition of religion. It runs: "Religion is an individual's faith in a reality (transcendent or earthly) which defines and gives content to his view of life, determines his way of living, his patterns of behaviour and his values." To this must be added: Unlike a philosophy a religion must contain a cult ceremony. (2)

Within this framework we have two kinds of religion. For pedagogical reasons I've together with professor Smart launched the following descriptions: With big L Life-affirmative and Life-promoting religion (good religion) which leads to peace, survival and "peak experience" (3) and Life-denying and Life-destructive religion (evil religion) which leads to wounded nature, death and holocaust. (4)

Good religion is authorized by the basic Article 1 of UN's Declaration of Human Rights: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

This means that religious education at schools is bound in law to the approved definition of religion and to Article 1  and these must be the basic documents for the textbooks. So when I now will instruct about how to produce a legal textbook in religion it's also the way how to teach in the classroom. (5)

Now I give you the basic criteria.

1. Textbooks must be deeply rooted in holy scriptures, catechism, hymn-book and other dogmatic documents of respective religious community.

2. Manuscript must be composed by official representatives of respective religious community. Where appropriate, the manuscript ends with corrections of most frequent errors and hearsays.  Those of world religions must contain an authorized glossary of key concepts.

3. After pedagogical measures by the pedagogical textbook-producer and publisher the final version including illustrations and tasks for rehearsal must before printing be remitted to the official representatives for approval.

In Sweden, for instance, this plan was provided by law in 1970. (6)

But we must notice the following fact. Of the world religions only two are based on fixed dogmatic elements. It's Christianity and Islam. Actually, this means that among them exist many different interpretations. One day, one of my students said to me: "Bertil, now I know what I'll write my thesis about. I'll write about the woman in Islam." After a while of silence I asked her: "Which Islam?" There are several different accepted schools in Islam. (7) Similar is the situation for Christianity. So in religious education it is of crucial importance to teach that these two world religions are far from homogeneous in belief.

Concerning Christianity, it's of greatest importance to declare that Jesus was not a Christian! Christianity is not the same as the teaching of Jesus, and Jesus has never created the Christianity. Very early after the execution of Jesus a Jesus-movement arose which in Roman Empire got political and  especially Greek mythological interpretations. They became related to Jesus as a person and not to his message which was the real fact behind the Jesus-movement. The biblical concept son of God was interpreted at the council of Niceae in 325 as Jesus was God. As a consequence a series of decisions arose in the Occident and so was Christianity established. I argue: a respectful education and a successful religious dialogue must start at the message of Jesus, i. e. at evangelium. It's Christianity and not evangelium which is the obstacle to fruitful discussions. Muhammad, for instance, was in his heart evangelical.

In all world religions and religious communities some elements of evil religion may appear. It's human. There is just now a movement of sect-fighters. They argue that such is in fact the world religion or the religious community in question. I've seen such bad description in many textbooks. So I stress the significance of following the criteria I've focused. (8)

In a lecture in Geneva some years ago my listeners became very astonished when I argued that the concept "in a spirit of brotherhood" in Article 1 in UN's Declaration of Human Rights has lost its original meaning and must be completed with obligations. It's more and more rendered egotistically as "I have the right to... It's democracy", implied unlimited. The choice of words in Article 1 derives from The Declaration of Independence of 1776 when the United States was established. At that time brotherhood was a concept for the sense of the golden rule "Whatever you wish men to do for you, do likewise also for them" (Matth 7:12). (9) This means: when we discover evil religion, we must do something about it. Today we have two dominating evil religions spread: neo-Nazism and djihadism.

Neo-Nazism is today's version of Nazism, the religious and political ideology behind WWII. I have founded that its basic ideas trace back to the former Catholic monk Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels (1874-1954) in Vienna who around 1900 formulated an ideology with elements from among others Martin Luther's anti-Jewish writings. Luther (1483-1546) has contributed to lay the basis of today's  anti-Semitism. This is an image not popular to talk about but for me as a scholar and peace ambassador it is a necessity. Luther's anti-Judaism characterizes not only the evangelical-lutheran Symbolic Books. (10) But in general he follows a traditional, originally Catholic, way of writing about world religions and religious communities. Judaism and Islam are described by Christian theologians, but, actually, only Islamic experts and Jewish experts are specialists on their own religion. It's not Christian theologians who have competence to say what Jews and Muslims are believing. This bullying manner is still insidious all over the world and in a long run causes anti-Judaism, islamophobia, different kinds of racism, hatred of aliens and foreigners and anti-cult movements. This is extremely necessary to furnish the young generation with knowledge of this kind of evil religion.

In connection to this, it's of greatest significance also to observe the following in the religious education. At the studies of the Jewish holy scriptures, Tanach, in Christianity called Old Testament, there is a 1800 years old tradition in especially the Western Christianity that these texts are interpreted by Christian theologians. You find it in biblical encyclopedias, textbooks in religion, every Sunday in the church, in books published by Christian publishers. This is a crime against the Jew Jesus and his disciples, against the Jews and against human rights. (11) This is an important argument to put an end to high-school-studies where they are using course books on Old Testament published by Christian theologians. 

At the same time as Liebenfels´ ideology was introduced it was supported by the anti-Jewish Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion, originally a tract composed at the order of the Communist regime in Russia. Its 24 paragraphs, wrongly presented as protocols from the first Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, are arguing that the Jews have drawn up plans for how the Jews will conquer the whole world. The tract became one of the main sources for Hitler and the Nazi regime. Hitler ordained them to be used in the school. Today it is used as a book of facts by several Israel-hostile movements in the Islamic world. Some years ago state-imams in Iraq, Iran and Syria told me that they have two books as keys for understanding Qur’ān, they are Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion and Hitler's Mein Kampf. My researches show that especially Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion is a source of inspiration for today's djihadist movements. (12) This means that the original sense of the key concept djihad in Qur’ān is misused. This word has the same sense as when apostle Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians in the Bible is using the metaphor "Put on the helmet of salvation and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph 6:17). Djihad means to combat all egotistic thoughts and deeds in a peaceful way. In Qur’ān  djihad is holy war not war. For war there is another word: harb. (13) Avoiding to include evil religion in religious education is a treachery to the young generation, to Article 1 and to God.

The 17th-century English philosopher and statesman Francis Bacon (1561-1626) has coined the phrase "Knowledge itself is power". (14) Tomorrow (10th of December) the Pakistani seventeen year old lady Malala Yousafzai is a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for her strong, peaceful fight for young ladies´ human right to go to school. For the Talibans who shot her, knowledge is a dangerous power. (15) In this way for the Nazi politicians and this Nazi ideology are still inspiring djihadists. It's of crucial importance to equip the young generation with knowledge to perceive what is really happening behind what is going on in the world today.

Now to my closing words. My intention with this mini-lesson on  religious education at schools is to show how to realize Life-affirmative and Life-promoting religion (good religion) which leads to peace, survival and "peak experience" and to give perspectives on  Life-denying and Life-destructive religion (evil religion) which leads to wounded nature, death and holocaust. Therefore I am so glad about the initiative by Youth UPF Interfaith Council that has organized this seminar. I congratulate you for your responsibility and your purposefulness to improve the world also through observing religious education at schools. Thanks so much to Lord Nazir Ahmed of Rotherham who is hosting this seminar. I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation and round off with quotations by important persons in my 50-year-long experience as educator in religion:

Buddha: "People should have right ideas of things - ideas that are based on careful observations - and understand causes and effects and their significance correctly [...] There can only be peace if the mind has become rid of worldly passions." The Teaching of Buddha, Tokyo 2003.

Prophet Muhammad's cousin Ali: "Ignorance is mankind's enemy."

Johann Amos Comenius (1592-1670), the Czech 17th-century pedagogue who with the book Didactica Magna [The Book of Great Learning] has laid the ground to modern schoolsystem all over Europe: "To improve the school is the first step in improving the world."

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013): "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to  change the world."

Jesus: "The very truth will make you free." (Joh 8:32)

Endnotes

(1) With the phrase "That which we call God" Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), Dominican friar and Doctor of the Catholic Church, begins his five proofs of the existence of God. Ref. McDermott, Timothy (ed.), St. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologiæ. A Concise Translation, London 1989.

(2) Ref. Persson, Bertil, The Key Concepts of Humanity, in Dialogue & Alliance. A Journal of the Inter-Religious Federation of World Peace, Vol. 20, No. 1 Spring/Summer 2006 pp. 31-44;  Smart, Ninian, The religious Experience of Mankind, Englewood Cliff 1969; idem, Philosophy of Religion, Oxford 1970.

(3) Ref. Maslow, Abraham, Religion, Values and Peak-Experience, New York 1973.

(4) The descriptions are based on Professor Gershom Scholem (1897-1982) at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who has been my teacher in Judaism. He taught me to use the phrase "That which we call God". Scholem taught: God is The Inaccessible Life, The Inconceivable Life, The Indescribable Life, The Interminable Life, The Unimaginable Life. Life is the real sense for "That which we call God" in all world religions. See Appendix 1 or outline in Persson, Bertil, Sect Fighters. An Idea-historical Study, Stockholm 2013 p. 168. Also available in Russian, БОРЪБА  ПРОТИВ  СЕКТ [The Fight Against Sects], Mосква 2012.

(5) Ref. Hodgkin, Rachel & Newell, Peter (eds), Implementation Handbook for the Convention of the Rights of the Child, [UNICEF] New York & Geneva 2002; Persson, Bertil, Applied Scholastics. The Key to Efficient Education, Stockholm 2006 (in five languages); United Nations, Human Rights Training. A Manual of Human Rights Training Methodology, New York & Geneva 2000; idem, Legislative History of the Convention  on the Rights of the Child, Vol. I-II, Geneva 2007; Youth for Human Rights International, United Human Rights Handbook, Los Angeles 2005.

(6) Ref. Persson, Bertil et al., Religionsboken för grundskolans högstadium [The book on religion for the senior level of the nine-year school], Stockholm 1978, 1982, 1986, 1989. The book got a follow-up for training of teachers: Svanberg, Ingvar & Westerlund, David (eds), Religion i Sverige [Religion in Sweden], Stockholm 2008. In the standard work Nationalencyklopedin [The National Encyclopedia], Vol. 1-20, Höganäs 1989-1996, all religious communities are described according to the law. 

(7) Gibb, H. A. R. & Kramers, J. H. (eds), Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam, Leiden 1974; Kazi, A. K. & Flynn, J. G. (transl.), Muslim Sects and Divisions, London etc 1984.

(8) This kind of evil religion is in most cases the basis of sect fight and has its root in Nazism. Ref. Arweck, Elisabeth, Researching New Religious Movements. Responses and redefinitions, London & New York 2006; Barrett, David V., The new believers. Sects, 'cults' and alternative religions, London 2001; Fautré, Willy & Dericquebourg, Regis, FECRIS: Europäische Föderation der Forschungs- und Informationszentren zu Sektfragen, in Zeitschrift für Glaubensformen und Weltanschauungen / Journal for the Study of Beliefs and Worldviews, Heft 1 2013;  Freedom of Religion or Belief. Anti-Sect Movements and State Neutrality. A Case Study: FECRIS, in Zeitschrift für Glaubensformen und Weltanschauungen / Journal for the Study of Beliefs and Worldviews, Heft 2 2012; Kimball, Charles, When Religion Becomes Evil, San Francisco 2002; Kushner, Harold, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, New York 1981; Persson, op. cit. 2013; Poewe, Karla, New Religions and the Nazis, New York & London 2006.

(9) Ref. Slater, Rosalie J., Noah Webster. Founding Father of American Scholarship and Education, in An American Dictionary of the English Language, [Facsimile] San Francisco 1967. About the dictionary Slater writes: ”it contains the greatest number of Biblical definitions given in any secular volume”. She also gives an account of the role Webster's definitions played for the text of  The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America of 4th July 1776.

(10) For instance, Luther's books Von den Juden vnd ihren Lügen. M. M. Luth., Wittemberg 1543; Vom Shem Hamphoras. Vnd vom Geschlecht Christi Matthei am j. Capitel. Dr Mart. Luth., Wittemberg 1543; Von den Letzten Worten Davids. D. Mart. Luther, Wittemberg 1543. Ref. Brosseder, Johannes, Luthers Stillung zu den Juden im Spiegel einer Interpreten. Interpretation und Rezeption von Luthers Schriften und Äusserungen zum Judentum im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert vor allem im deutschsprachigen Raum, München 1972; Ehrlich, Ernst Ludwig, Luther und die Juden, in Strauss, H. A. & Kampe, Norbert (Hg.), Antisemitismus, Von der Judenfeindschraft zum Holocaust, Bonn 1985;  Gerlach, Wolfgang, "... Dass man ihre Synagogen verbrenne". Luthers Antijudaismus und seine Erben, in Staffa, Christian (Hg.), Vom Protestantischen Antijudaismus und seinen Lügen, Tagungstexte der Evangelischen Akademie Sachen-Anhalt, Bd 1, Magdeburg 1993; Kremers, Heinz (Hg.), Die Juden und Martin Luther - Martin Luther ind die Juden. Geschichte - Wirkungsgeschichte - Herausforderung, Neukirchen 1985; Linden, Walther (Hg.), Luthers Kampfschriften gegen das Judentum, Berlin 1936; Müller, Johann Baptist (Hg.), Luther und die Deutschen Texte zur Geschichte und Wirkung, Stuttgart 1983; Sasse, Martin (Hg.), Martin Luther über die Juden:Weg mit ihnen!, Freiburg im Breisgau 1938; Vogelsang, Erich, Luthers Kampf gegen die Juden, Tübingen 1933.

(11) Ref. Berlin, Adele & Brettler, Marc Zvi (eds), The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford & New York 2004; Kessler, Edward & Wenborn, Neil (eds), A Dictionary of Jewish-Christian Relations, Cambridge etc 2005; Vermes, Geza, The Religion of Jesus the Jew, London 1993; idem, The Authentic Gospel of Jesus, London 2004; idem, Jesus the Jew. A Historian's Reading the Gospels, London 2006.

(12) Ref. Persson, op. cit. 2013, pp. 82-85, p. 157.

(13) Ref. Heinzmann, Richard et al., Lexikon des Dialogs. Grundbegriffe aus Christentum und Islam, Vol. 1-2, Freiburg, Basel & Wien 2013; Herf, Jeffrey, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World, New Haven & London 2009; Sageman, Marc, Leaderless Jihad. Terror Networks in the Twenty-First century, Philadelphia 2008.

(14) The Advancement of Learning, London 1605.

(15) Ref. Yousafzai, Malala & Lamb, Christina, I am Malala. The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, London 2013.

APPENDIX 1

 

Excerpt of Persson, Bertil, The Key Concepts of Humanity. A Compendium, Universal Peace Federation, New York 2005, Jerusalem 2006, Stockholm 2007.

 

Region

Religion

Originator or Prophet

Sacred texts

“That which we call God”

Africa

African Religion

summary of local experiences of Life

---

e. g. Chi (= spirit = Life)

Far East

Confucianism

K’ung Fu Tzu [K’ungCh’iu] (551-479 B. C.)

I Ching

Ch’i (= Life[breath])

Daoism

Lao Tzu (c.580-c.500 B. C.)

Tao Te Ching

---

Shinto

syncretism with roots in ancient experience of Life

Kojiki

Nihongi

Seimei (= Life)

MiddleEast

Buddhism

Buddha [Siddhattha Gotama/Sakya Muni] (c.560-c.480 B. C.)

Tipitaka [Pali], Tripitaka [Sanskrit]

--- (= Life)

Hinduism (with rise in the Vedic religion)

summary of local experiences of Life

Veda, Upanishad, Mahabharata (book 6 =BhagavadGita), Purana

Brahman (= Life)

Jainism

Parśvanatka (c.8th cent. B. C.), Vadhamana [Mahavira] (6th cent. B. C.)

a number of canonical

literature

Jiva (= soul = Life)

Sikhism

Guru Nanak (1469-1539)

Guru Granth Sahib

Akal Purukh (= Life)

Near East

Christianity

Jesus (7 B. C.-30 C. E.)

Bible (=  Tanakh [Old Testament] + New Testament)

Alaha (= Life)

Muwahhidoon [Druze religion]

Hamsah bin Ali (985-?)

Rasa’il al-Hikma

al-Mawla (=Life)

Islam

Muhammad (570-632)

Qur’ân

Al-Lah/Allah (= Life)

Judaism

Mose (13th cent.B. C.)

Tanakh

l’Ehjeh ’Asher ’Ehjeh (Ex. 3:14) (= I am who/what/ that/which I am, The Eternal,  The Living Being, Life)

Mandaism

Yuhana [John the Baptist] (c.7 B. C.-29 C. E.)

Ginza R’ba

Hayyi (= Eternal Life, Great Life)

Samaritarianism

a wing of Judaism

Torah (= 1-5 Books of Mose)

‘lhym [Elohim] (= Life)

Zoroastrianism incl. its original forerunner Zarathustrianism (incl. Parsism)

Zarathushtra [Persian], Zoroaster [Latin] (11th cent. B. C.)

Avesta [Persian], Abistag [Pahlavi]

Ahura Mazda [Persian], Ohrmazd [Pahlavi] (=Almighty Highest = Life[giver])

 

The chart is worked out together with representatives of the respective religion.

Ref. Barrett, David B. & Kurian, George T. & Johnson, Todd M., World Christian Encyclopedia. A Comparative survey of churches and religions in the modern world, Vol. 2, Oxford 2002 pp. 252-254; Hicks, John, God Has Many Names, London 1980; Walsh, Thomas G. & Anderson, Gordon L. & Shimmyo, Theodore (eds), God and World Peace. An Exploration of the Significance of God for a World in Crisis, Tarrytown 2003; Wilson, Andrew (ed.), World Scripture. A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts, New York 2001.

 

 

 

 

Bertil Persson is retired professor of Comparative Religion. His list of merits spans several fields. His positions include: school principal for 30 years, pedagogue of dyslexia, Ambassador for Peace connected to UNESCO (International Association of Education and World Peace; University for Peace) and ECOSOC (Universal Peace Federation), hymnologist, historian of churches and ideas, introducing into Sweden Aramaic as the language of Jesus, consultant of Scandinavia to The Near East Churches and to Religiöst Forum [Religious Forum] /  Sveriges Interreligiösa Fredsråd [Swedish Interreligious Peace Council], author of text books on religion, ordained minister of The Anglican Communion, expert on religions at The Swedish Government and at Swedish and foreign organizations, expert in an international Jewish-Christian-Islamic dialogue group (Universal Peace Federation), Dr of Theology on a dissertation about The Near East Churches and their establishment in the Occident (Geneva Theological College). In 1973 he was the founder of the journal Religion & Livsfrågor [Religion & Vital Questions] as official newspaper of Föreningen Lärare i Religionskunskap [Society of Teachers of Religion]. In 1996 he started Dyslexi [Dyslexia] as official newspaper of Svenska Dyslexiföreningen och Svenska Dyslexistiftelsen [Swedish Dyslexia Association & Swedish Dyslexia Foundation]. He has acted in an advisory capacity with the Ministry of Education and Research, Ministry of Health and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Employment and is one of the advisors of Forum Religionsfreiheit Europa (FOREF). He has been active in the process which led to the establishment of Universal Peace Federation and became its first president of Sweden. He has had a number of assignments at the request of members of The Royal Bernadotte Family. For his works of humanitarian, pedagogical and religious-historical achievement and for his works as scientific author he has been awarded a number of honorable doctorates and distinctions, among them, Top 100 Educators 2005-2008, awarded by Cambridge Biographical Centre, England.