Hmm…I think that the idea that the overhaul of textbooks is still ‘ongoing’ after nearly 5 years is a red herring. I recall that my college professors used to be able to issue new editions of books every 2 years to prevent students from using cheaper 2nd hand ‘old edition’ books, for instance. I imagine that, with adequate political will, revised textbooks could have been out by now. I suspect that the real reason for the delay is that the Saudi government fears that acting will further reduce their support – a non-trivial issue given their lack of representative government. But, that’s well beyond the scope of this blog.I'm trying to remember if I ever heard about other religions as a small child. I lived in the Bible Belt until I was 12, so I was aware of Protestantism, and had Protestant friends. I knew about Judaism from reading the Old Testament (and listening to our record of the soundtrack of Fiddler on the Roof). I can't remember where or when I first heard of Islam or Buddhism. My parents, while never speaking disrespectfully of any other religion, were always very thorough in instilling a love for Catholicism in myself and my siblings.
Rather, this report brought to mind how important education is as a transmitter of values, religious or otherwise, positive or otherwise. I remember stuff which a wonderful nun taught to me as a 7-year old boy, for instance. Things about Padre Pio, and Maximilian Kolbe (whose cell I eventually visited when I had the opportunity), and other figures – I suppose my Sunday school and Cathechism classes were a combination of lecture and case study (which, coincidentally, is apparently practiced by the best Universities). One thing I do not remember though, was any form of focus on the negative, except for known ‘hot war’ enemies, and even then within context (school textbooks in my country would also note that there were positive sides to the enemies we had faced).
I also remember being very offended the first (and only) time I as invited to pray, in a group, ‘against the power of Islam’ – I had difficulty understanding why the person leading the prayer seemed so offended by Islam (this was in the UK). Having a very large number of great muslim friends, and having taken the time to study Islamic courses (of my own volition), this seemed to me to be quite presumptuous. I would rather pray that there is greater understanding, on both sides, and that, over time, Muslims obtain political freedom and liberty, and can make free religious choices (many muslims do not have that option, for instance, in Saudi Arabia).
I had a friend whose parents were Unitarians but wanted their children to be able to "decide for themselves" on religious issues. This always struck me as odd. Parents make all sorts of decisions for their children -- what clothes to buy them, when to feed them, what kind of books or television shows to allow in the house. A child absorbs the religious attitudes of his parents as surely as he picks up on their preferences in food, reading material, and hygiene. In fact, the only way a child won't pick up his parents' religious beliefs is if they matter so little to the parents that they never speak of them, practice them, or celebrate them communally.