I just read a link on the Richard Dawkins Foundation website about a petition in the UK to have collective worship removed from non faith based schools.
For those that wish to read it, it’s here: http://richarddawkins.net/article,4503,Nofaithnoworship---epetition-response,Number10govuk
For those that wish that I would stop posting links that require lots of extra reading (especially when you get sucked into reading the ensuing debate in the comments section and all of the tertiary links and tangents) here’s a brief synopsis. A group of secular parents in the UK drew up a petition and presented it to Number Ten, stating their unease with their children being subject to “collective worship” (broadly Christian based) in public schools. “Sure”, they admit, “we can choose to have our kids not attend this and therefore not subject to the indoctrination it involves, but that means they are being isolated from their peers and made to stand out as different.” They argue that collective worship should be restricted to the domain of “faith based” schools, churches and in the private home.
The government responded by glibly dismissing these perfectly valid concerns of parents with some off handed excuse about it being part of the tradition of education in this, a broadly Christian nation.
There are many obvious counter arguments to this response available: the UK is no longer broadly Christian; traditional educational exercises such as whipping children and teaching them that the earth is flat and heretics should be flayed alive have now assumed their rightful place as being confined to the somewhat shameful shelves of pre-modern and less knowledgeable history.
But it got me thinking about the local primary school in Australia in which we have had to specifically state that we do not want our children to attend “Christian Religious Education”. (They had to stop just referring to it as RE, because it is not. It is Christian indoctrination.
It is, of course, our right as parents to not want our children exposed to such one sided and manipulative teaching, but the result is isolation and being branded as different. And when you are 10 and the new kids in town, you just want to fit in as much as possible, so it’s kind of a Catch 22. (For the record, the boys are smart enough to recognize CRE for what it is, and are quite happy to hang out with the other infidel kids in the library and get a head start on their homework so they can come home and concentrate on important things, like getting more air at the local dirt jumps).
My question is this: In a modern, enlightened and mostly secular society, why is it that Christian groups enjoy the privilege in State schools (need we remind of the supposed dis-connect between church and state?) of being granted access to young impressionable minds to emotionally manipulate, and indoctrinate with messages of fear and loathing for the only life they will ever get to live?
I agree wholeheartedly, in this society, Christianity, like Islam, Buddhism and Judaism, is an important part of many people’s lives, and part of the history of the nation, which young people need to know and be educated about.
But surely, if religion is to be taught, it should be in a cultural studies class, by teachers who are:
a) qualified to teach; and
b) impartial when teaching young people of the various religious doctrines followed by a diverse range of communities living within our society.
Religion should be taught as comparison, history, anthropology and so as to understand the place it held 100 years ago and the reasons it does not hold that hallowed place in society now. And if Christianity is to be taught, why should not Buddhists or Muslim Imams have access to Christian kids in state schools, or for that matter, why shouldn’t atheist humanist philosophers be able to present children with “all of the options” in Sunday School class?
I challenge churches to allow their children to be taught all of the options (by people who wholeheartedly believe those options) within their churches in the same way that Evangelical Christians are allowed access to children in state schools.
Religion as indoctrinarian, taught only by one sect, has no place in secular government schools in Australia.
Personally, I have issues with young people being subjected to this indoctrination anywhere, but if it going to happen, then surely it should be confined to church schools (which should then not receive government funding to perpetuate their shaping of young minds), churches and the homes of the faithful. If young people were not indoctrinated at such a moldable age, until their minds had already grasped the facts and knowledge that is able to be known about the world, say if it was only allowed to teach young people religion after their 18th birthday, I dare say that the churches would be a lot emptier than they are now. Sure there are those who would still “convert” – those who feel like they need something which it appears religion is offering, but most young people, when only confronted with such magical fantastical thinking after they have learned to analyze and think for themselves, would rightfully set these myths alongside the other great mythologies of human history, such as Homer, the Norse pantheon and the Vedas. Fascinating, yes, with something valuable to say about human nature, of course. But the inerrant word of god that should shape their every thought and action? Not a chance.
Government schools in a secular nation should be a place where children are taught within an enlightened framework, and where they learn about religion, it should be in terms of examining why people believe the whole range of things that they do about the world, a place of learning and knowledge, not Iron Age explanations for what was unknown to Iron Age people presented as modern truth.