Guest Column

Walking the religion tightrope

2017-07-02 06:11
Gayle Edmunds. Pic: Lucky Nxumalo.

Gayle Edmunds. Pic: Lucky Nxumalo.

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Gayle Edmunds

Despite the best brainwashing efforts of a pre-democracy, all-white government school in rural KwaZulu-Natal in the 1980s, I have gone my entire life without religion. At boarding school, I was forced to attend church on Sundays, so I visited them each and eventually settled on a Catholic one – it was the shortest service and the incense smelled good.

My sermon-length research was so thorough that my mother got a call from the school informing her that I was having a “spiritual crisis”.

The Johannesburg High Court ruling this week that no public school can adhere to and promote one single religion seems like a no-brainer in a country where the Constitution is paramount. Religious tradition, like manners, should be taught at home. Values are universal and we don’t require religion to learn them. We know right from wrong, whether we are religious or not, and whether we are prepared to admit it or not.

All religions share a common teaching – love one another, respect one another and care for one another. This is what should be emphasised in schools – a universality of the human experience through religion, no matter whether it is paganism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or a hybrid spirituality.

Similarly, children need to be properly informed about how religion is used as a tool to oppress. How, in the hands of men across time, religious teachings are regularly twisted to exert control over others through fear – to justify genocide, gender violence and superiority of one group over another. History is also chockful of wars started by one religion or another because neither side was willing to accept what our Constitution espouses – live and let live.

My parents’ collective line on religion was to take from it whatever seems sensible and useful – and be sceptical of those who deal in absolutes and tell you that you are going to hell, or that what they believe is right and you are wrong. Chances are, they are fanatics who are working a money or fear angle.

I was exposed to most other religions in one way or another and I was encouraged to keep an open mind and question everything.

As a parent, I have already had to have an honest conversation with my own child about what happens to you when you die, as well as the concepts of angels and heaven.

To make a decision about their own spirituality, everyone should have as much information as there is available from as many credible sources as possible.

Follow me on Twitter @GayleMahala

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  religion
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