Can education can be religious?

Chee Loh
4 min readOct 13, 2021

No one wants to touch the topic of religion even with a ten-foot pole. Religion is sacred, sensitive and explosive. Religion is also exclusive.

And in my opinion, the way religion is taught to the young as well as adults is so full of nation-destructive methods that I could write a book on the subject.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

This, I believe, is not true of any one specific religion, it is true of all religions. I could sit in on a religious sermon or lecture in any faith and I would be able to identify many aspects of it that I would construe as “nation-destructive”.

If we are to create a harmonious global order of people respecting one another and having kind and compassionate thoughts for all, we need to rethink our religious education a mite. And so I would like to offer four educational aspects of religion that need to be addressed if we want to live in such a world.

One nation-destructive methodology I see in religious education is to place every adherent in a fenced-up place or tight box so that they can all be “safe” from the “outside” world. At first glance, this seems like a logical educational method — and yet, upon further examination, it also seems a silly one.

Do we teach our children to survive in this world by creating a “safe box” around them or do we teach them the skills needed to face any challenges that life throws at them?

If you notice, education in this country, from kindergarten to PhD level, does nothing more than fit you into a safe box. That is why some societies never invent, innovate or produce interesting and original thoughts. The education construct caters directly to the box that was created.

Is this going to be our future? A nation of people like a box full of screws, nuts and bolts?

I would teach religion so that adherents can face all manner of challenges because the soul can only grow with every challenge it faces down. The soul can never grow from an instruction booklet, nor can it grow in a safe box. Bigots, extremists and radicals grow in the tightest and safest of boxes!

Secondly, religion teaches rituals, dress codes, dietary taboos and mannerisms, and it builds houses of worship. All of these have a great tendency to differentiate adherents of one religion from others.

This act in itself is not a problem of nation destruction. The problem is when the adherents expect others to understand and comply with their own preferential ways. This identity construct is so strong that it produces social and political conflicts without anyone knowing the fundamental teachings of the religion itself.

Thus, I recommend that the teaching of rituals, dress codes and dietary taboos as well as the architecture of religious edifices must come with the original intent and purpose of the religious idea.

We are currently just teaching “physical identity” that has a solid presence, but we should be teaching philosophical meaning that does not necessarily sit quietly in a box made for it.

Thirdly, there is a prevalent narrative in most religions that to convert others to one’s own faith is the highest act a person can carry out for his or her religion. I have never understood why that is the accepted case. This makes religion seem like a commercial product that needs to be sold to others.

I can’t convert my children into architects like me, so why am I concerned about converting others to my religion? I have donated 90% of my architecture books to two private universities because when I retire, none of my children will be following in my footsteps.

Daddy is a great academic and public intellectual, so what? None of the children care two sen about this because they have their own lives to live, in their own way. As long as my children maintain a close relationship with my wife and me and with each other, I have no desire to convert them to follow my thinking.

Religion, to me, is a personal search for peace that has a formula for a global life of harmony. Inherent in each and every religion lie the jewels of humanity that can be harnessed towards this end without having to convert anyone.

Fourthly, each religion is never separate from the social, political and economic narratives of a country. Unfortunately, one cruel deed by bad religious adherents done onto others not of the same faith etches that incident in people’s minds as a “religious conflict”.

There is too little emphasis placed on teaching religious history and conflicts that are purely the result of human vanity, pride and arrogance.

One of the most important textbooks that has yet to be written is an unveiling of the social, political and economic forces that place one religion against another. If this is not done, then we will all burn in ignorance now and a thousand years into the future.

I believe it is high time that the United Nations looks at how religions can be taught as a great heritage that can spark spiritual growth and not as a weapon of extremists.

The UN can go further by setting up a teaching college for religious teachers that will equip them with a global educational tool. Is this not an important thing to do for the future of our children and the whole world?