Secular Religion: Create a school for Life Skills

by phil on Saturday Jan 3, 2009 3:24 PM
mainfeed, secular religion

Our culture is probably more secular than it has ever been since the Ancient Greeks (were they even that secular?) And so, where do people turn to learn Life Skills? Traditionally, people have turned to religion. But, for many, the mixing of supernatural ideas and "how to live" is an undesirable combination. Take even Buddhism, for example. The Buddhist practice of Theravada meditation has widely understood benefits to your entire life. However, it's hard for some people to adopt because the practice is taught together with alien concepts such as samadhi, nirvana, or chakra points. Those extra ideas can be a distraction from the basic, core teachings of mindfulness.

By Life Skills, I'm referring to knowing how to manage your happiness, your relationships, your health, career path, the development of your character, and your communication skills. Stuff like that.

We generally acquire Life Skills passively, such as through parenting, observation, and trial-and-error. But there is an incredible demand for taught Life Skills. That's partly the reason people gravitate to organized religion. But even outside of religion, there's still an obvious, unsatiated demand for Life Skills. Look at how successful the following books are: The Secret, The Alchemist, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and The Purpose-Driven Life. All of these books attempt to answer that most awesome question: "How shall I live?" We are all hungry for answers.

In Middle School I took a class on Life Skills, and it was fascinating to me. We were taught how to resolve conflicts, manage anger, and effectively communicate our needs. Unfortunately, we were much too young to appreciate the lessons. These ideas would have been better delivered as a High School class or a Freshman seminar. Unfortunately, there's no room for Life Skills teaching. The emphasis for late teens and adults is usually placed on topical competency in major fields, such as mathematics and science. Even Literature—an indirect, secular vehicle for Life Skills—is dwindling as a respectable use of time at school.

A Life Skills school is needed. This school could ride on the wave of the positive psychology movement. Or it could house researchers in philosophy, communication, and psychology. Or better yet, this Life Skills school could just be an ordinary University that just so happens to require all Freshmen to take a heavy load of Life Skills courses. Whatever strategy the regents use, if a University could provide a world-class education, and somehow incorporate the concept of "Life Skills" in its title (just like Brigham Young University implies Mormon life philosophy, and Liberty University implies Baptist), then people will send their sons and daughters there.

Empathy, compassion, respect, honor, dignity, humanism. Where do we pick up those ideas? Some atheists, funnily enough, will send their children to Bible school. For many non-religious (not anti-religious) people, it simply sounds better to send your kids to Catholic school than public school. It'll make them "good," so the thinking goes.

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