Education and Religion – Are They Separate and Does This Matter?

Education is inherently spiritual in nature, although there has been much said and done over the years to mask this purpose. Yet, at its very core, the goal of an educational system is to change minds so that information can be transferred, to present cultures and characters to the learners so that they can see how those values have been successful (or not) over the years, to share systems of order, organization, and structure that benefit all people, and to do all of this from the time of youth through adulthood. The word education comes from a Latin term (educatus) having to do with “leading forth” and “rearing” of a child. In this sense, educational goals are no different than the goals of discipleship in a religious context, and this knowledge must impact all that we aim to teach or share with others.

One primary tenet of education is to present data and transform the understanding of information in the mind of another. That does not necessarily mean that we are going to convince another of our opinions, although that does happen in education, but we are certainly trying to transfer knowledge to someone else. This may take the form of sharing of information, teaching someone to learn a new skill, or showing how to apply the knowledge for their personal use and enrichment. Once this information is presented and students learn to apply the information correctly, the next step in education is to seek the advancement of the student because they possess this knowledge. Knowledge increases awareness and competency, and this is good for all involved – both the student, and the student’s community. With knowledge, a student can take positive action, and positive action is the evidence of the learning. Another pillar of education is the reviewing of history and the knowledge left behind by other cultures and civilizations, as well as of the character of those leaders. What area of learning does not have its heroes and villains, its good examples and bad? None come to mind. All arenas of education – history, science, philosophy, math, literature, and yes, even religion – have their cultural stalwarts emblazoned on the annals of history and in those stories, there is much to learn of both positive and negative behavior. But none of this is unique to an educational system. Every step of the learning process and its goals can be said to be also true of the process of discipleship. And, the sharing of faith and converting of disciples far predates the structure of an educational “system.” The making of converts has at its heart the transference of information, the hope of application, and the betterment of a society. Therefore, education is inherently theological in nature.

So while we have tried to separate the role of the church from our educational system, we cannot ignore that they are more alike than dissimilar, and more compatible than not. This is why it is so critical to look at what we are teaching, and what information is being transferred. We must look at the ways in which religion can benefit our educational system, not harm it. Not only that, but the methods that we teach, and how we present the information, must be shared in meaningful ways – ways in which our students can obtain and connect with the information itself. Unfortunately, there is so much information out there; we must also give students tools to filter this information and a sense of the purpose and benefit of having this information. Otherwise, it will become as static on a radio to them. The value we place on education does matter, just as does the value that we place on our faith. Christians must acknowledge the need to study and learn the Bible regularly. Scripture is pretty clear about that, as seen in this passage from Deuteronomy 6:7, “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Loosely translated, that implies that we should be studying God’s word all day long, and that seems like a pretty high value.

We must remember that we have a choice in this country when it comes to how we educate our children. And we must remember to apply the basic goals of faith to our educational choices. For instance, does the educational program that you are using include time for spiritual as well as mental growth, or does it focus only on “fun” stuff? There can be lots of fun in learning, but when the lesson plans emphasize P.E. or Choir, for instance, over core material and calls to application, then there is something missing. The program or lesson is void of “fruit,” and empty. Another implication of our educational choices is the effect of them on our character and the character of our students. If religion and history have shown us anything, they have shown us that time and time again, a leader of good character can impact many for a positive change, but a leader of poor character can tear down those around him or her. This truth is not only for history. A Christian should be concerned for their character and reputation at all times. As the saying goes, you are a walking billboard for Christ and what you “preach” will always reflect on the kingdom. But this applies to education as well. What values are being emphasized and stressed in your educational system and how is that benefitting your reputation, or the reputation of your student? These are not light-hearted questions, but nothing of permanence or long-standing value comes without reflection and evaluation. What we do to educate others matters, how we teach it matters, and what value we place on the application of the material at hand speaks volumes of our character.