Saturday, May 06, 2006


Literally Rubbish

I've always had a bee in my bonnet about religion and the assumption that if you're British and your religion isn't obvious then the default position is Christian. Until the recent upsurge in the debate over creationism and evolutionary biology, however, I really didn't think that literal interpretation of the bible was something I was ever going to have to get exercised about. It seems, though, that since ever greater numbers of Americans have started shouting about how some guy in the sky created the earth in six days a few thousand years ago and then sat back to survey at his handiwork, British nutjobs with the same beliefs have felt emboldened enough to start shouting about them here.

Thanks to New Labour's woeful education reforms, all it takes is £2million to build your very own city academy — the government will stump up the rest of the cash — and when you've built it, you can dictate what is taught there. So far four — rich — evangelical Christians have jumped at the chance, and there are now four schools in Britain where creationism is taught alongside evolutionary biology and given equal credence. What is it they say about America sneezing and Britain catching cold?

Then there are the individual faith schools — C of E, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, etc., — where, although they have recently been instructed by the government to let a few infidels in along with children from other faiths, the history of the earth is doubtless being taught with a slant peculiar to whichever faith is in the driving seat.

All this, of course, will come as no surprise for anyone with more than a passing interest in the issues involved. It certainly hasn't surprised me. What has surprised me lately, however, is my eight-year-old daughter coming home from her non-denominational primary school and telling me that they have been having Christian assemblies where Old Testament tales are being taught as truth. So far they have had Noah's Ark and Adam and Eve. And if I was alarmed by that news, I was astonished by the the response my daughter got to the question she asked after one of the assemblies had finished.

'Why did god forbid Adam and Eve from eating the apple?'

'Oh, I don't know. It's like when your mum or dad tells you not to do something, and you don't know why you'renot to do it, but you know that you shouldn't because if you do they'll get cross.'

Lame or what? Okay, so I can undestand the woman not wanting to get into the whole original sin thing with an eight-year-old, but she started it! Of course, having done a little research on the subject I find that her answer was probably quite consistent with the belief that god did it simply to test Adam and Eve's (blind) obedience, but why so coy about just saying it was a test of obedience?

My first instinct was to have my daughter exempted from these ridiculous assemblies, but having taught both my children that when faced with something that seems incredible, you should check it out, do it again, look for the simplest expanation, etc., as per the rules of science, I decided to hang fire on that. Instead, I have written to the head teacher, asking for an explanation.

I don't object to my children being exposed to information about all sorts of different religions and creeds — within the context of religious education lessons — or even to them being taught that the basic principles of christianity (love thy neighbour, etc.) form a good, basic moral framework for life. What upsets me is when Christianity, or being religious in general, is presented as the only moral framework for life, the implication being that unless you are religious, you cannot be a good person and lead a moral life.

Bearing in mind the fact that if I was asking for my faith to be represented he would be bending over backwards to accommodate me, I've asked him to let me know what arrangements he has made to tell the children in the school about living a good life with a secular worldview. I've even volunteered to find a speaker.

That was over a week ago and so far, I've had no reply. Watch this space.

Hi Atheist Mum!

Good to hear your views. My son goes to a school in Enfield (Enfield Grammar). He started coming home and telling me about a Christian group which speaks in assembly and offers kids free sweets and biscuits if they come to a group and learn about Jesus (didn't our mothers warn us about accepting sweets from strangers?). Then I looked in the small print and noticed the school has links with a local church.

Apparently, someone was given a detention for saying "Oh my god". And I thought this was 2006, not 1606.

Even in his design technology class the teacher told the class they were created by god.

I would complain, but my son doesn't want the embarrassment. Which I understand. Luckily, he knows what religion is about. But I still had to counter claims that there was historical evidence that Jesus rose from the dead, which he learnt in RE.

But rather than send my son to school with an open mind, I'm forced to counter the religious indoctrination by being skeptical.
Hello there, caught your blog by random. All I can say as a parent facing up to similar issues is good luck and keep at them. Many primary teachers have never given these issues a moment's thought. The key argument is "inclusion". And if you want a good organisation to join with some great resources I suggest the British Humanist Association
Wow, I've got comments! How thrilling. Great to know there are other parents out there concerned about the same things. Half the time I'm made to feel like I'mj being paranoid. Simon, I sympathise. My son was okay about me complaining, but when I told him I was going to try to arrange for a speaker to come to the school and talk about secular worldviews he said: 'It won't be you, will it?' He says there are so many religious people in the school that he thinks he'd be bullied.
Fun this blog stuff isn't it?

My son tells me if you're a known athiest at his school you get tagged as being "evil" in some way - partly in jest, I presume. Luckily, he's not the only one. I don't think religion has any place in schools.
My girlfriend & I took our littl'un to a local junior school the other day where she will be starting in September. Now I'm a typical pagan Brit and my girl is a U.S. citizen, Democrat and scientist with FSM, "pirate fish" and Darwin badges on 3 of our cars =) When I stepped out of the school I asked if she saw the few religious items in the school hall, reflecting a number of faiths? As soon as I mentioned this she had a look of terror on her face LOL

So, the next few months will be interesting :)
I'm enjoying your writing. I had three daughters.We did not get them baptised.We did not discuss religion. One day when they were 10, 7 and 4 they together asked us (Ruth and me) if they could be Christened. They had attended our village C of E School.I was really disappointed but agreed.They became 'typical' christians. Initial enthusiasm followed by indifference. I keep quiet about the strengh of my opinions about religion. At 63 I'm thinking of changing.I will look at your other writings, then who knows? you may inspire me to follow your example!
I detest faith schools!
Thrilled to hear from you, fido. And touched that my writing is helping you to reconsider your 'neutral' stance on religion. I think we are at a truly critical point in history, where if people like us don't stand up to be counted, we may lose the right to do so completely.
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