By Ding Gang Source: Global Times Published: 2019-3-13
Almost all emerging economies in Asia that became independent after WWII are grappling with religious problems. Opposing pulls among ethnic groups and religions born out of such problems are one of the principal reasons behind unrest and disputes between neighboring countries.
Emerging economies still need a constant process of secularization to solve these problems. What is disconcerting is the push away from secularization - with some countries returning to religion.
Some political leaders reaffirm the religious belief of citizens or use the resurgence of religion to gain support and votes. This has not only delayed or even thwarted modernization, but also worsened disputes among faiths.
India could be a typical example. The return to all-pervasive Hinduism has exacerbated the conflicts between New Delhi and Islamabad. Meanwhile in Myanmar, the combination of Buddhism and nationalism has provided soil for extremism.
The colonizers tried to solve religious problems by isolating believers of different faiths. Such method, if adopted again, would probably create more antagonism. Only secularization can enable people of different faiths to get along.
Secular education is a precondition to social peace. During my visits to several Asian countries, I found students of elementary and high schools wearing uniforms that hide their religious belief. Nonetheless, religion hasn't given up attempts to infiltrate schools. In some countries, there are even religious courses taught by schools with government support.
These schools will be unable to instill a modern outlook among their students and fail to nurture talent that countries need. The first step to modernization and industrialization is to help bring up open-minded people with basic working skills.
Nothing is more important than secularization of education in countries with multiple cultures and religions. What a responsible government should promote is not religion but modern education. Only after the young generation master basic knowledge and skills can they work with different religious and non-religious people in the same factories, schools and hospitals, to name just a few.
Education is supposed to reduce the impact of religion, teach youngsters skills to make a living in secularized societies and to integrate with people of different faiths, as well as keep them away from extremism.
Western developed countries have undergone such secularization. Until today, religious elements are banned in public elementary and high schools as well as universities in the US and Europe. When it comes to religion, teachers tend to be very cautious. Some schools even don't allow the use of languages associated with certain religions during religious festivals.
"Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's. (The Bible - Matthew 22:21)" The West has accomplished modernization as countries have always insisted on this principle. Although religion has a profound effect on people's spirits, secularized education has opened up citizens' minds, generation after generation.
It is perplexing that some Western scholars have been aware of the resurgence of religion in Asia but have intentionally or unintentionally overlooked restricting religion from entering the public domain, especially the field of education.
They use their so-called standards for human rights to judge others but mix up the inclusiveness of modern society with necessary restrictions on religious influence.
Such a view will finally affect their perception of the society they live in.
If a religion is allowed to infiltrate the public domain, spread around and develop without limits, the foundation on which Western civilization stands would be shaken.
The author is a senior editor with People's Daily, and currently a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.