The other day I walked into one of my schools for a regular tt coaching session and what was I confronted by? A hall half full of kids being drilled into the wonders and joys of the perennial Christmas Carol. ‘Hark the herald angel sings, glory to the new born king’. I recognised the words because I’d had them drilled into me during my own school days some fifty years ago. It was a particularly incongruous scene because at least half the students were from a Muslim background. It felt wrong and not just because of any Muslim sensibilities. After all these years it was the same old story. Someone, somewhere seemed to think that rolling out the Christmas agenda was a form of upholding British values. On this, I must tell them, they are misguided. So much nonsense has been uttered on this spurious topic of ‘British values’, but the reality is – they don’t, per se, exist. What does exist, are the half-formed, half-forgotten remnants of the European Enlightenment which had at its core, the separation of Church and State. I say half-formed because western nations seem to uphold this concept in a most haphazard and very uneven way. France and the US are probably the most zealous in implementing this core principle but Britain’s policies, of all the Anglo-Saxon nations, are probably the least robust. Britain continues to finance its existing religious schools and is bending over backwards to expand the religious sector. Furthermore, successive British governments  have allowed religious indoctrination to creep in through the backdoor in what is left of the state comprehensive sector.  A few carols may seem like a bit of harmless Christmas fun, but the wider implications are anything but harmless.

If we want a glimpse into what happens when religion is allowed to toxify the state education system we need look no further than the six occupied counties of Ireland where a staggering 96% of children attend rigorously segregated religious schools. And now Britain seems to be carelessly sleepwalking into a similar nightmarish scenario where children end up in Jewish Schools, Islamic schools, Sikh schools, Hindu schools and various denominations of Christian schools. It doesn’t take a great soothsayer or sociological professor to work out where all this might lead in the coming years. Do we really believe that children attending a Jewish school are going to be given an objective discussion on the Palestinian question? Do we really believe that children attending an Islamic school will have a reasoned and rational debate about evolution? Do we really imagine that children attending Hindu schools will be inculcated with the concept of secularism? The answer is a resounding NO to all three scenarios. And will any of these religious schools offer their students a rational understanding of sexual and gender diversity. Not a hope in hell.

I take the Richard Dawkins position on all of this and make no apologies for it. All forced religious instruction of children is tantamount to physiological child abuse. All religion is accumulated superstition and to foist it upon a young enquiring mind is to do that child an irreparable harm. But having said that, I would fight tenaciously for the right of all religious communities to have free and unfettered right of assembly provided they did not contravene the secular laws of the land. And, such assembly must be in their own time and at their own expense. Not a single penny of state money and not a single second of formal educational time should be squandered on such activity. To do so is an affront to the ideals of the European Enlightenment. If we want to stand up to the religious bigots of this world whether they be in ISIS or the American bible belt or in the Hindu nationalist parties, this is the place to start. Uphold the secularism that we profess to believe in and in so doing establish a clear line of demarcation between those that dream of imposing a global medieval caliphate and those that cling to the powers of rationality, humanism and scientific endeavour.   

Amidst all this creeping religiosity it was welcoming to come across the findings of the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life. Chaired by former high court judge, Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, its findings, whilst perhaps not as rigorous as I might have wished, were certainly a step in the right direction. In short the commission found that; ‘The arguments in favour of retaining compulsory Christian worship in UK schools are no longer convincing.’ In place of compulsory Christian instruction would be a ‘time for reflection embracing children of all faiths and none.’ That, if thoughtfully implemented, would be a significant step forward.

There is a place for religion in schools and that is in the history, sociology and literature lessons. It is here that the demystification process can begin. It is here that we can tell our children about the wonders of evolution and of the universe itself and why primitive man turned to superstitious belief because they had not yet developed the scientific tools to explain their world.  It is here that we can categorical refute the superstitious notion of ‘creation’ that is claimed, by some high priests, to have occurred a mere six thousand years ago. No child should have to leave school with that infantile thesis any more than they should have their highly receptive minds befuddled with fantasies about heaven and hell. There are no angels in an imaginary heaven and there are no eternal fires in an imaginary hell. The only heaven and hell is the ones we humans have the power to create right here on planet Earth and we should be totally intolerant of those that argue otherwise.  

End JPK Copyright 11/12/15

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 16 December 2015 10:36 )