Religion remains a hot topic of debate. And with news headlines constantly attributing acts of terror to extremist religious groups, it can be easy for some of us to become afraid or even hostile towards people of some religions. The Westboro Baptist Church and the Islamic State, or ISIS, are two examples. Some who see the controversial things the Westboro Baptist Church says may think Christians are divisive and angry. Some people may get the same impressions about Islam by watching footage of ISIS. So in this article, we’ll explore the idea of teaching religious tolerance to kids.
To be clear, teaching religious tolerance to kids is a very complicated matter — it can’t be completely addressed in one blog post. But we’d like to give some suggestions that may help get a productive discussion started.
Understanding why we stereotype other people is important when teaching religious tolerance to kids
Stereotyping other people happens all the time, regardless of whether we like it or not, and regardless of whether we are talking about religions or not. This can be an unfortunate part of our world, but it’s important to remember people who hold stereotypical views against others aren’t necessarily bad.
Psychology Today says stereotyping is often inevitable. According to the theory of evolution — and we tolerate that there are other theories counter to this — it is a natural human instinct that helped us survive for thousands of years. When our ancestors were still living in caves, it probably helped to categorize things based on limited interactions. For example, it’s probable not all sabre-toothed tigers liked human meat, but if a caveman saw one tiger eat a person, it was likely a smart decision to avoid petting all tigers in the future!
This was a great quality to have in the past, but in today’s world, it can be a problem. This is an important point to note when teaching religious tolerance to kids.
The theory of evolution suggests that stereotyping didn’t hinder us much in ancient times because we usually lived in small groups of people who had similar physical features and beliefs (e.g. families, tribes). But in the present day, we are encountering a huge amount of people from around the world who have different values and appearances. Furthermore, it’s usually rare for our interactions to be life-and-death scenarios.
It might be a good idea to explain this to your kids. It could be productive to tell your children stereotyping isn’t evil but that it is an ancient survival mechanism. This realization will help students realize all of us have to guard against stereotypical beliefs about people, and that we should show tolerance — not hate — even to those who are misguided by prejudicial beliefs about religions.
Ask your children what (if any) stereotypical views they may have about religions
Talk to your kids about negative religious stereotypes. Ask them if watching the news, TV or movies make them feel scared, anxious or even angry towards people who practice a religion. Keep in mind you may have to rephrase this question in many different ways. For example, ‘are you afraid of X religious group’ may not get an answer. But asking children if they are afraid of people who wear X clothing may help your kids start a discussion. When teaching religious tolerance to kids, rephrasing questions can be crucial to having a productive conversation.
Compare your kids’ experience with media portrayals of religions
The final step to teaching religious tolerance to kids is getting them to compare their experiences with what they see and hear in the media. Ask your children if they know anyone who practises a religion that is represented negatively in the news. Are these acquaintances or friends as bad as TV might make them out to be? And if your kids have had negative experiences with people who practice a certain religion, ask them if that means all people of that religion are bad.
Keep asking thoughtful questions. Be attentive and ‘read in between the lines’ of what your kids are saying. Intelligent discussion is often a great way to teach religious tolerance to kids!