Religious Observance vs Comparative Religion

Ah well. One can hope they don't take it seriously, I guess.

One can only hope they don’t take it seriously, I guess.

This interesting and welcome article in the on-line BBC News will no doubt garner a heap of support. As it should. Whether or not the City of Edinburgh Council will have the gumption to take on the Church of Scotland and the other denominations that have their religious hooks into the (devolved) education system and curricula in Scotland is another matter entirely. And I can’t add my name because I live in Fife.

The Headline reads: Parent calls to remove ‘religious observance’ in non-denominational schools

‘A parent in Edinburgh has launched a petition calling on the city council to look at banning religious observance in non-denominational schools.’

The article does point out that parents are entitled to let their children ‘opt out’ of such religious observance, however that option tends to isolate and disadvantage the child. And, it appears, that parents are not being apprised of the right to opt out. Another BBC on-line News item several months ago

‘… only 20% of parents asked by YouGov on behalf of the Humanist Society of Scotland said they had picked up this information from schools.’

There has been a suggestion that if the damn thing is to stay, then the legislation or regulations need to change to allow the option of ‘opting in’. I can’t see that option flying though. I do remember opting out in the ‘50s and with a few others spent the weekly religious period in the library. I don’t recall being traumatised though or feeling victimised. I think we few, we happy few, felt we had escaped – whew!

My preference, like that of Veronica Wikman the parent, is to get rid of religion all together in schools. The only way to treat religion is through an historical perspective. Teach Comparative Religion. Teach that human beings have, from time immemorial, developed ideas of supernatural beings and events to explain what was, at the time, un-explainable. List and discuss various religions and why beliefs were held. Not a problem really. We teach history and the differing views held by different factions in wars, political movements, patriotic stances etc.

Ms Wikman’s point and that of the Edinburgh Secular Society that is backing this petition, is that the churches’ schools chaplains have unfettered access to vulnerable children. Indeed, the media contact for the ESS likened it to direct marketing and said it was inappropriate when he was on BBC Radio Scotland’s programme a couple of days ago.

The religious callers to the programme tried to rationalise their trenchant views in various ways. One said that because the streets were not safe anymore, that children were exposed to a sense of spiritual community and growth in the safety of the schools. Another tried to say that indoctrination was not the aim, but to grow up as healthy human beings children had to be taught about ‘light’ and ‘dark’ – I heard this woman on talk-back and the religious over and undertones were blazingly apparent. They are getting more clever at marketing the BS, that’s all.

School kiddies in thrall (I hope not)

School kiddies in thrall (I hope not)

I realise that in the western world, at least, religion is fading and a good thing too so far as the intellectual health of our societies is concerned.

With the churches targeting the poor of Africa and with Islam moving outwards into the further reaches from its home base in the middle east, we are seeing quite a battle being enjoined for the hearts and minds of ordinary people.

All religions are charged by their superstitious godhead through the holy books to proselytise. Islam is more violent than modern day Christianity but Judaism is more barricaded against the outside world. The slight resurgent hiccup in religious extremism being experienced in post industrial western cultures will fade fairly quickly, I would think – a generation maybe. But Islam is still a fierce wild eyed ideology that threatens and carries out murder for apostasy or conversion to another religion. It also has some deeply held belief that its particular brand of religious law needs to supplant the laws of any land it starts to populate. This, of course, is a problem with two cultures clashing in a single society and this is what is happening now in Britain and in some European countries.

I seriously think it is time to get religion out of everywhere in society except the churches premises. Out of education system, out of health and hospitals, out of the armed forces, out of the legislature and out of the judicial system.

It is time – to quote several politicians’ catch phrase. Maybe parents of other countries could try to eradicate the assumed arrogance of the religious to easy access to schools. To say they are not trying to indoctrinate is simply disingenuous and they need to be called out on that.


More on Religion in Politics and Education


Well, the pious and most precious Pickles has signed into law that part of his Localism Bill, creating a ‘general power of competence’ that overrides the High Court ruling on the illegality of prayers in the formal business papers of Councils in England.

He said he would do this in his massive hissy fit after the ruling was handed down and 7 days later, he did. He knows best after all. He must do, he is an evangelical christian and, ipso facto, seriously believes in the literal word of the christian bible. The only problem is that no one knows which version or edition of the bible he uses. There are hundreds after all.

However, the Communities Secretary does seem to have decided that he is the arbiter of what is right and proper in all local authorities in England. It’s enough to make me mutter sotto voce “bring on separation Scotland”.

Not that Scotland has much to crow about really. The Scottish Parliament did away with prayers at the time of Devolution but, as a sop to the religions, substituted a weekly 5 minute Time for Reflection (TFR) delivered mainly by Church of Scotland clerics. No Muslims yet. I believe there have been a couple of Humanists.

The Scottish Parliament's debating chamber

The good christians decided to form a group called the Parliamentary Prayer Group and attend each TFR. They call themselves non-denominational, but in Scotland that usually means Church of Scotland.

This photo from their website is taken in the Public Gallery and shows the Group in place. The times I have been, I have only seen the ageing ladies each wearing a bright red blazer and sitting in a block in the front rows to increase their visibility to the Chamber. There are about 20 or so of them and they smile a lot.

Photo-op for the Parliamentary Prayers

Devolution happened in 1999 and a deal was done between the new Scottish Parliament, the Catholics and the Church of Scotland to keep school prayers (suffer the little kiddies) in place and ensure that religious representatives had unelected places on local education committees.

Public funding is still in place for religious schools and I have come across the absurd situation where within the confines of one school property, the Catholics enter from one side and the Protestants from another. Two staff rooms, toilets, school rooms and playing fields. And, of course, two different complements of teaching staff, all in one building – a big building.

Shared separation at Motherwell primary

This is an excerpt from a letter written to the Belfast Telegraph on school integration:

‘In the Scottish shared-campus experiment, the old segregation problem still persists once children walk through the door, or, to be more precise, separate doors. In one attempt at a shared campus in Lanarkshire, the Catholic Church’s demands for separate facilities even stretched to different toilets for Catholic and non-Catholic teachers.

 The director of the Catholic Education Service in Scotland is on record as stating, “We are very concerned that the sharing of facilities, like staff rooms, will erode the Catholic ethos of a school.”’

Don’t you find this to be a bizarre state of affairs in the 21st century? I have lived in Scotland for four years now and I have to say, I am learning more about the absolute idiocy of religion than I thought I ever would, especially in this country.

I really find it hard to believe that this sort of thing goes on in a mature, western society that is supposed to have emancipated itself from such religious bigotry in the 1800s. By the middle of that century the Scots were amongst the most literate people in Europe. This was the time of the European and Scottish Enlightenment after all. This little country boasts such people as David Hume, Adam Smith, Francis Hutcheson, Dugald Stewart and Adam Ferguson. And then there were all the scientific, engineering and medical advances that emanated from Scotland. There is so much innovation to have come from Scotland that other countries looked to Scotland for inspiration and erudition.

David Hume and Adam Smith in Edinburgh

What happened? Or, probably a better way to ask that question is why weren’t those wonderful achievements built on to the eventual eradication of superstition and religious dogma and bigotry?

Maybe the dénouement is still to be read. Reason and science certainly seem to be suffering a new endarkenment in the world in terms of acceptance, funding and government backing. Schools and teachers seem to be less prepared to undergo rigor in curricula or instruction. The mass media pump out poorly researched articles while TV has Buffy the Vampire with vacuously high ratings. Or Big Brother or other silly reality shows of which there is a growing and mindless plethora.

Even the BBC which the above letter writer refers to as Believers’ Broadcasting Christianity is the media apologia for religion in this island.

It’s enough to make you despair. Really.

Free from Religious Indoctrination