SCMP :Schools criticised for narrow view of religion (21 Jan, 04)

Amid the Church of Zion controversy, educators say students should be taught about different faiths

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

POLLY HUI

Schools are being urged to make more effort to encourage analytical thinking among their students after hundreds of teenagers were found to have joined the controversial Church of Zion.

The sect is said to encourage its followers to take hydrogen peroxide in order to boost their health.

Educators criticised many schools for holding a narrow-minded view of religious education by educating students only about the religion they believed in.

“Religious education should no longer be about indoctrination or about claiming that all religions but yours are false," said Chan Shun-hing, assistant professor at the department of religion and philosophy of Hong Kong Baptist University. “To avoid a repeat of the Zion incident, students should be taught to compare the strengths and weaknesses of different religions with a critical mind.

“In the 21st century, there is an urgent need for dialogue between different religions to allow for diverse communities and to prevent further terrorist attacks," he said.

Many of the largest school-sponsoring bodies in Hong Kong are religious groups.

Ho Hon-kuen, vice-president of education pressure group Education Convergence, said many students learnt about mainstream western religions only as a legacy of the city’s colonial history.

He said it was crucial for the government to educate students about other religions. Hong Kong should learn from Taiwan, which opened the Museum of World Religions in Taipei last year to encourage harmony between followers of different religions, he said.

“Teenagers nowadays easily fall prey to radical religious sects as they have to face many problems generated from unsupportive families and the poor economy," Mr Ho said.

It was revealed last week that many students in Yuen Long and Tin Shui Wai had been approached by followers of the Church of Zion, who are said to have told them that drinking hydrogen peroxide could cure a range of illnesses.

The sect insists it has not given chemical-laced drinks to its members. But its leader, the Reverend Leung Yat-wah, admitted he told followers that hydrogen peroxide was a health tonic.

Chow Wing-kan, a Yuen Long District Council member who had talked to 50 students approached by members of the sect in Yuen Long and Tin Shui Wai, said as many as 600 out of the 2,000 members of the church were primary and secondary students and some were six years old.

Mr Chow said it was urgent teenage members of the church be given counselling.

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