Tradition has intimately linked moral values to religion. People talk of Christian values, of Islamic values, and so on. Ontario is a pluralistic society. So which moral values do we decide to teach in our schools and colleges?
Religious prophets, sages and seers spent lifetimes researching humans' relations with each other and with nature. One of their key insights is the existence of an Unseen Reality that causes everybody and everything to exist.
The nature of this Unseen Reality is spiritual -- not material. Spirit is infinite and subtle; material is finite and gross. Spirituality teaches that the infinite and subtle underlies the finite and gross. This is also the teaching of modern science.
Religion strives to unify individuals into communities. For this purpose, it uses the insight of the Unseen Reality to make us recognize our oneness. The purpose of human life is to behave with each other and with nature, fully believing in this underlying oneness.
"Good," therefore, is that which fosters oneness; and "evil" is that which divides us.
Acknowledging this insight today is no more a "leap of faith" than the scientific finding that unseen energy is the causal reality of all matter.
Matter is finite and can be seen or felt by our senses. Energy, on the other hand, is limitless and beyond our sense perception. Energy is unlike any matter and cannot be defined or understood in material terms.
The existence of One Unseen Reality, which is the cause of everything, is equally meaningful to people of all faiths and to people of no faith. This aspect of religion is its core spirituality -- which is nothing but unifying. Had religion simply stayed teaching core spirituality, the question of teaching values in Ontario today would not have posed any concern. Neither would it have posed any concern in the global village the world has now become.
The insight of One Unseen Reality knows no boundaries. So why do religions often limit it within the bounds of their own communities?
The infinity of the Unseen Reality makes it beyond description in words. But human curiosity compels religions to speculate on its nature.
Different concepts, persons and images of the divine emerge. They all have local scope and meaning. People identify their concepts of God with the Reality itself. Suddenly my "God" and my prophet become better than yours. Social, legal, political and economic issues get embroiled with religion, further complicating and localizing religious values.
It is ironic, with religion, that what starts off unifying people into communities becomes the thing that divides them. Community is good, but divisive tribalism is not.
It is obvious that religion is ineffective as a vehicle of teaching shared human values to a pluralistic society.
Why, then, does religion persist in our discussions about teaching human values?
We are familiar with the religious pattern of seeing differences. But we fail to see the underlying oneness that religion's core spirituality teaches. Religion relates an individual with his or her specific community; but its core spirituality relates us all. Differences do not vanish, but we learn to deal with them in the light of the essential oneness.
Religion is the basis of exclusive tribal values. Core spirituality is the basis of shared human values. Secularism may exclude religion from governance and education. But science and spirituality both deal with invisible realities underlying the seen universe, so I believe they both deserve respected positions in education today.
Core spirituality is shared by all and must form the basis of a shared value system. Without being anchored in spirituality -- as opposed to religion -- teaching of human values lacks meaning and depth.
So how can we switch our thinking from religion to spirituality?
I recommend ongoing research at our institutions of higher learning into what should be taught and how.
Our capacity to see oneness between ourselves and nature must be a major goal of values education to address the crises facing humanity today.
~~Originally published by The Kitchener Waterloo Record at http://news.therecord.com/sections/faith/article/348295