This blog is a personal account of the presentation given by Daniel Baril about Quebec’s Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) Program, at the Montreal Humanist Centre, on Wednesday October 21st 2015.
The Ethics and Religious Culture program may not be a religious indoctrination course, but it is no exaggeration to say that it very closely resembles one. Indeed, this course, which since 2008 has been compulsory at both elementary and secondary levels of the Quebec school system, promotes religion and pseudoscience with a total absence of critical thinking.
The ERC program covers the principal religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism as well as Amerindian shamanism. The pupil learns about the basic beliefs of each of these religions, such as the Ten Commandments which god allegedly gave to Moses, the revelation of god’s word to Mohammed by the angel Gabriel, the five pillars of Islam, etc. The pupil also learns that shamans have supernatural powers and that they communicate between the natural and supernatural worlds. All of these various beliefs are presented more or less as if they were historical facts. There is no allowance made for criticism and any attempt to contextualize is limited to the religion with which a particular belief is associated. For example, it is stated that “For Christians, Easter is an important holiday.” It is interesting to note that Mohammed is the only one whose image is left blank. In a previous version of the textbook, Mohammed was presented with a veil and a pencil stroke in place of the mouth in order to give him a somewhat more human aspect.
The program also deals with pseudoscience schemes such as astrology, chakras, magic and creationism. These are presented and explained essentially in the same way as religions. Since pseudoscience is more fashionable, young people are more attracted to the ideas advanced by pseudoscience than they are by the more old-fashioned tenets of religions.
The explanations given sometimes get lost in conjecture. The textbook says things such as, “God is this or that but is not this or that…” or that “God is the father, but he is not a paternal father” or “God is beyond human comprehension…” Sometimes it gets comical.
In addition to the theory thus presented, the ERC program also has practical exercises for the pupils to complete. However, the exercises are always presented as if it were completely normal for each and every person to engage in religious practices. For example, the pupil is asked to: “Discuss your religious beliefs with the other pupils in your class.” Or again, the program will present to the pupils a typical weekend for a practising Christian or Muslim, but never for a person having no religious practice to carry out, as if such a situation were impossible. And yet, 80% of pupils do not practise any religion. Furthermore, atheists, agnostics and non-believers are almost completely absent from the program. Only at secondary levels IV and V does the course address the question of non-belief, but it does so with no particular perspective.
In the definition of competencies defined by the program, we read that, “In a pluralistic society such as ours, a diversity of values and norms co-exist and are taken into account by individuals who consider ethical questions. It is important, in such a context, to practise independent, critical and creative thinking to protect oneself against the effects of resignation and moralism, and finally, to know and appreciate the fundamental values of Quebec society. To live together in our society, it is essential to acquire an understanding of the phenomenon of religion.” It would appear that the basic precepts here require re-examination, especially in light of the fact that, from one religion to another, and even within a single religion, there exist incompatible ideas and tenets.
Another troubling aspect of the ERC program is that all beliefs and religions are presented as if there were no conflict among them. There is a total absence of critical stance and everything is shown in an idyllic light. This must lead children and teenagers to wonder what is happening when they observe so many religious conflicts on television.
Is there a political agenda hidden behind this program? One thing is certain, faculties of theology benefit because the ERC program assures their continued survival for the foreseeable future. Is this what multiculturalism is all about? And what long-term influence will the program have on young children? Will the promotion of tolerance lead to resignation and an attitude of anything-goes?
Programme Éthique et culture religieuse, on the site of the Ministère de l’Éducation, de l’Enseignement supérieur et de la Recherche of the government of Quebec.