Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Religion does harm: Canadian Residential Schools

The government of Canada has just concluded the Truth & Reconciliation Commision with a final report.

In this document, they have summarized the mistreatment up to torture and death that aboriginal Canadian children endured at the hands of religious groups that took children away from their homes and "instructed" them in civilization.

 Roman Catholic, Anglican, United, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches were the
major denominations involved in the administration of the residential school system. The government’s partnership with the churches remained in place until 1969, and, althoughmost of the schools had closed by the 1980s, the last federally supported residential schools remained in operation until the late 1990s.
 For children, life in these schools was lonely and alien. Buildings were poorly located, poorly built, and poorly maintained. The staff was limited in numbers, often poorly trained, and not adequately supervised. Many schools were poorly heated and poorly ventilated,and the diet was meagre and of poor quality. Discipline was harsh, and daily life was highly regimented. Aboriginal languages and cultures were denigrated and suppressed. The educational goals of the schools were limited and confused, and usually reflected a low regard for the intellectual capabilities of Aboriginal people. For the students, education and technical training too often gave way to the drudgery of doing the chores necessary to make the schools self-sustaining. Child neglect was institutionalized, and the lack of supervision created situations where students were prey to sexual and physical abusers.
In establishing residential schools, the Canadian government essentially declared Aboriginal people to be unfit parents. Aboriginal parents were labelled as being indifferent to the future of their children—a judgment contradicted by the fact that parents often kept their children out of schools because they saw those schools, quite accurately, as dangerous and harsh institutions that sought to raise their children in alien ways. Once in the schools, brothers and sisters were kept apart, and the government and churches even arranged marriages for students after they finished their education. The residential school system was based on an assumption that European civilization and Christian religions were superior to Aboriginal culture, which was seen as being savage and brutal. Government officials also were insistent that children be discouraged—and often prohibited—from speaking their own languages. The missionaries who ran the schools played prominent roles in the church-led campaigns to ban Aboriginal spiritual practices such as the Potlatch and the Sun Dance (more properly called the“Thirst Dance”), and to end traditional Aboriginal marriage practices. Although, in most of their official pronouncements, government and church officials took the position that Aboriginal people could be civilized, it is clear that many believed that Aboriginal culture was inherently inferior.
You can find the summary here:

These religions were entrusted by the government to care for these children and civilize them. Instead of the intent they committed cultural genocide. Religions, not the government, treated young people badly, tortured children, pedophilia, erased their culture, wiped out their language, starved them, humiliated them, refused to treat illness, among many and all in the name of a moral authority that turned out to be worse than "savage".

Religion does harm. Good people use religious justification based solely on religious piety to commit inhuman acts against fellow humans. It is systemic, it is documented, and it is offensive humanity.