Opinion: Losing faith in the Lib Dems

There must be few things more insane that we do as a nation, than to segregate our children’s education along the lines of which one or other of the ancient and now defunct religious mythologies are subscribed to by their parents. Simply writing it out in full has me reaching for the revolver. And if ever you wanted to hear an argument against faith schooling in just two words, they would have to be “Northern Ireland” – and so right on cue, following Saturday’s debate at Harrogate, we were given a chilling reminder of the havoc wreaked by generations of religious apartheid in that province, with its thirteen miles of “peace walls” still dividing the warring communities of Belfast.

But evidently this is a state of affairs insufficiently insane for Liberal Democrats who rejected sensible proposals to phase out faith schooling in England, instead opting narrowly for Tim Farron’s hopeless compromise of requiring schools to prove their inclusiveness over a five year period, whatever that means. James Graham has written an excellent piece (with lively discussion) about everything that is wrong with Tim’s amendment, describing it as being, “little more than a state-commissioned fig leaf scheme.” Certainly its full subtleties were lost on the BBC, who declared simply that, “Lib Dems back state faith schools.” Needless to say, that is not the headline I was looking for.

Under the Farron scheme, while we avoid the unspeakable evils of selection by ability or aptitude, faith-based selection for existing schools would remain intact. Yet if any form of selection were to be permitted, this must surely rank as the most absurd. As if parents didn’t suffer enough angst over the prospective quality and location of their child’s school, they also have to contend with questions of theology which are as ludicrous as they are obstructive. Under present Lib Dem policy, there would be no end to the spectacle of pushy parents with an eye on the local faith school, attending church for the first time in their lives and pretending to worship God alongside the regular churchgoers who have just been pretending for a bit longer.

Another argument, advanced by the great Vince Cable I understand, is that it is essentially illiberal to oppose faith schools. To this I have always posed a simple question: whose education are we talking about – the parent’s or the child’s? The assumption is that parents have an inalienable right to transmit their cultural prejudices to the next generation, and that the state should fund this, both now and maybe later on when we have a divided society to mend. The principle of liberty cannot readily apply to education; if it did, many children might choose not to attend school at all. What we are actually enacting here is the “despotism of custom” of which J.S. Mill spoke long ago. I sometimes wonder whether all the Mill fans in the party ever made it to chapter three of On Liberty from which these snippets are taken (my emphases):

Where, not the person’s own character, but the traditions or customs of other people are the rule of conduct, there is wanting one of the principal ingredients of human happiness, and quite the chief ingredient of individual and social progress. . . . The mental and moral, like the muscular powers, are improved only by being used. The faculties are called into no exercise by doing a thing merely because others do it, no more than by believing a thing only because others believe it. . . . The despotism of custom is everywhere the standing hindrance to human advancement, being in unceasing antagonism to that disposition to aim at something better than customary, which is called, according to circumstances, the spirit of liberty, or that of progress or improvement.

Over the past couple of years, I have been variously told that I don’t understand secularism, that it is not the same as atheism or religion bashing, and that I am generally an embarrassment to the cause. But I think I do understand secularism. Secularism simply means that religion should be kept separate from the institutions of the state, for the compelling reason that historically whenever they were mingled, things never seemed to turn out for the best. It’s a fairly straightforward deal: you (religion) leave us alone, and in turn we’ll leave you alone to get on with your prayers and rituals in the church, synagogue, mosque, temple – that is to say where religion belongs. Not in our legislature, our courts, our schools, where it so clearly doesn’t.

But it never seems to work out that way in practice. Faced with an innocuous enough proposal to end selection by faith – a proposal entirely in line with our core values of fairness, equality, freedom from ignorance and conformity – Liberal Democrats baulked at the prospect. The result of this sort of timidity is that we end up in a very strange place. Instead of backing the “one true religion” (theocracy), or backing no religion at all (secularism), we are effectively endorsing all religions equally at the taxpayer’s expense. I’m not sure what the name for that is, but I’ll just call it “total madness,” because if there is one thing we can know for sure, it is that the competing and contradictory claims of religion cannot possibly all be true.

I suppose I ought grudgingly to acknowledge the gentle progress made at Harrogate – no faith-based selection for teachers or head teachers (despite Farron’s best efforts), opt-outs for collective worship and religious instruction. But overall, we missed an opportunity to move decisively against the principle of faith schooling – a policy position that would be intellectually sound, clearly communicable, and more popular than you might think. So in the light of last week’s result, I have decided to make a subtle alteration to my Lib Dem membership card.
Laurence's Membership Card
And to be honest, I’m starting to wonder whether I should even bother to renew it. It looks like I’ve only got a couple of weeks remaining. Any suggestions?

* Laurence Boyce is a Lib Dem member, and occasional contributor to Lib Dem Voice.

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107 Comments

  • Andrew Duffield 13th Mar '09 - 4:52pm

    Laurence – I suggest you get yourself selected as a conference rep and make sure you’re there the next time this one rears its head. With 50 more like-minded delegates, reason would have prevailed.

  • Liberal Neil 13th Mar '09 - 5:03pm

    I think the reason the majority of conference reps went for a more pragmatic approach is because the reality of most faith schools is far less dogmatic than the picture your article paints.

    In much of the country C of E schools, particularly in the primary sector, are not that different to non-C of E schools,a dn are part of the traditional fabric of the local community.

    There would therefore be little to gain by interfering with them.

  • You’ve got it right. I am dismayed by this utter shyte myself.

    Not going to go into detail as it is too depressing & angering.

    Normally I don’t particularly like Laurence Boyce, but there’s no better defender of secular values against offence-takers & relativists on this site.

    I hope Clegg finds that his constant ringlicking towards the religionists is worth it.

  • Ian Stewart 13th Mar '09 - 5:49pm

    wow…….get to the end of this thoughtful piece and the comments, and find the advert..
    ….”Learn Hebrew Online”!

    shalom.

  • Oh for heaven’s sake! I think many libdems are far giving far too much vent to their own anti-religious prejudices in this debate, these prejudices can be no less visceral than the anti-secular prejudices of religous fundementalists in education.

    The key issue is surely to look at the quality and professionalism of education providers rather than obsessing about the underlying value system of the educators. On this criteria many church schools can claim a better record than some of those in the purely state sector – so lets look at the evidence before adopting a blanket policy to prevent faith organisations operating in the education market.

    And take the same evidence based approach to the issue of fee paying schools also!

    Dogma on either side of the debate is profoundly iliberal.

  • David Heigham 13th Mar '09 - 6:01pm

    Why is it that I find unbending secularism nearly as repellent as Catholic inquisition; Othodox heresy hunting; Muslim campaigns for jihads against Shias, Alawis, Christians or Sufis; Hindu supremacism bent on extripating Mohammedanism and Christianity; we’ll be saved you’ll be damned Protestants, etc.?

    Maybe it is because there are secularists who, like their religious counterparts, will not answer ‘Yes’ to a request that I misquote from a bloody, persecuting tyrant “I beg you gentlemen, in the bowels of [whoever you happen to revere], think it possible that you may be wrong.” Remember, to impose secularism dogmatically is to impose a faith.

  • Grammar Police 13th Mar '09 - 7:27pm

    I always wonder what people expect you to say when they wave their membership card in front of you (often metaphorically) when they’re complaining about a particular policy?

    We believe in internal party democracy, don’t we? The pro-amendment reps won, and so that’s what our policy is.

    There’s lots of good reasons to stay a Liberal Democrat, Laurence – in my opinion – but if the failure to adopt your position on this issue is the be-all and end-all, then let your membership lapse. That’s something only you can decide.

    Being a member of a political party is a compromise. No one is ever going to agree with or even necessarily know all party policy. But you’ve generally got to believe that together, working as a group/series of groups, we can influence the world in a direction we want it to go in.

  • Martin Land 13th Mar '09 - 8:29pm

    Grammar Police: Spot on! Being a member of a political party is about making compromises.

    But if you are a member of the Conservative Party you would not unreasonably be upset if your leader decided to espouse the principles of socialism (though the reverse of course, does not apply to New Labour).

    Likewise we belong to a party which is based upon certain key principles. I would hold that the continuing existence of faith schools is contrary to those principles and I consider that our failure to oppose them is yet another of the shabby compromises which are increasingly prevalent in our party.

    It would seem that the price Liberty is no longer constant vigilism, but a fear of the media.

    One wonders what price we are prepared to pay for electoral success?

  • Martin Land 13th Mar '09 - 9:40pm

    Sorry Geoffrey; a charming picture, but just use my acid test. For C of E School, Catholic School, Muslim School or Jewish School, substitute Conservative School, Liberal Democrat School, Labour School, BNP School, UKIP School. Creeds have no role in Education, be they political or religious. France manages to have an educational system which is totally secular and, incidentally far more successful than ours…

    Note: I have strong, personal religious convictions; I would count myself as deeply religious in fact. But it’s something I mention but rarely and never seek to impose on others. I would not want my views imposed upon others nor do I impose them upon my own children. God has his place in my life, but it’s not in my schools, please.

  • Martin Land 13th Mar '09 - 9:47pm

    Sorry; Laurence, living in Cambridge you think too much.

    Go to Parkside; get on the X5.

    First Stop St Neots Market Square – 30 minutes later.

    Get off; knock on my front door (I live on the square).

    Collect large pile of beautiful glossy leaflets.

    Deliver.

    As you walk through our leafy lanes, gentle streets and greet our charming residents, feel renewed, reinvigorated, purified, more in touch with your inner Liberal.

  • Neil McGovern 13th Mar '09 - 9:59pm

    Hi Laurence,

    I voted for amendment 2 (anti-faith schools) and against the other amendments.

    Why? Well, I was almost ready to abstain on amendment 2, but then I remembered *why* I was for it. As a Roman Catholic school child, I remember the feeling of others going to ‘first confession’ and feeling left out. The peer pressure on children to conform with the rest of the class, despite not actually understanding the complex issues involved with what they’re doing is something that I cannot accept.

    I was also quite annoyed that Tim’s amendment passed. I do have a lot of respect for Tim in other areas. He’s the MP that I first met and introduced me to the Lib Dems (he was on a ‘political speed-dating’ type event at my school in Kendal), and I know from my parents, who still live in the constituency how respected he is. In an age where politicians are, quite frankly, hated so much, it’s a huge achievement. However, I completely disagree with his proposal. It not only waters down a compromise solution, but it completely impractical and (for me) morally wrong.

    Our children deserve better. They deserve the best education, irrespective of their beliefs. They deserve the best education irrespective of the belief of their parents, and they deserve the best education irrespective of the belief of a particular head teacher.

    So, why remain a member? My suggestion is to look at the rest of the policies. Look at what we’re doing locally. Look at the record we have on civil liberties. We are the only party who truly holds a third way, a fresh change, a different type of politics which engage local people, which can show the world a better place. One not based on fear, bigotry, lies and deceit, but on a culture where politics is for the people. That is why I’m a Liberal Democrat.

    As an aside, if you do want a chat about anything, you know how to get in touch with me. How about a Cambridge Lib Dem Drinks? 🙂

  • Laurence, do you want us to opt out of the ECHR; because that is the logical next step. The ECHR enshrines the right of parents to bring their children up in their faith.

    Northern Ireland – so much for secularists basing their pronouncements on fact and logic!

  • Laurence – as ever – is of course absolutely right on religion issues.

  • Paul Griffiths 13th Mar '09 - 10:35pm

    Nick Clegg didn’t make this policy. The FPC didn’t make this policy. Conference made this policy.

    Sometimes the choices that Conference makes baffle, sadden and infuriate me. But the fact that Conference can make these choices is part of what keeps me a member of the Liberal Democrats.

    To quote Aaron Sorkin: “Decisions are made by those who show up.”

  • I find myself in a similar situation Laurence.

    I have been a Lib Dem member for a few years now, with my membership up in a few months. I doubt i’ll bother to renew it.

    My biggest joy with the Lib Dems is that under Nick Clegg we are now a Centre Party. That is a fantastic achievement, and makes the Lib Dems far more moderate and representitive than any other party has come close to. It shows what a holy grail that is when New Labour was a centre party (now back to raving socialists) and all they accumplished there, and now the Tories are fighting tooth and nail to get there.

    However, this only applies to the Parliamentary Lib Dems. As the activities of the grassroots shown through the media and this website clearly demonstrate, the Lib Dem grassroots are still as eccentric and ideological as ever, and IMHO, would be better suited to the Greens than the Liberals as it is under Clegg. However, you’ll probably get your way again soon enough, and the Liberals will lurch back to the left when Clegg departs.

    So despite the leadership pulling in one direction, a moderate centrist direction, a direction I support wholeheartedly, the vast grassroots network are still raving left wingers.

    I find that very disappointing. I, like many in the country, am quite moderate. I’m governed by common sense and reason. It’s why I agree with the expansion of Heathrow. Yes, i’d like a greener society, but I also recognise how vital it is for the economy and the people of the south east in terms of jobs for Heathrow to remain the hub of Europe. President Sarkozy of France is only too keen to pick up the slack should we allow heathrow to wither, and has openly said so. So it would be a yay for green issues and communities in the immediate vacinity, but a calamity for the economy and the workforce. What of them and their families? Expanding heathrow is an absolute must, and everyone thinking rationally rather than ideologically agrees.

    I didn’t mean this to be such a rant, and i’m sorry if i’m being overly harsh, i’m just so frustrated!

    I am a Nick Clegg supporter (also a big fan of Lynne Featherstone and Vince Cable). I am a moderate, who’s politics lives in the political centre. The parliementary lib dems reflect my views almost entirelly. Yet i’m still in the wrong party, as everyone who isn’t a lib dem MP is far more left wing than I am.

    Seriously, if you met me you’d probably think I was a Tory.

    Perhaps I should be? If so, isn’t that sad? That someone who is a moderate centrist can only find the greatest support with the Tories. How depressing is that?

    So, what do you think? Am i in the wrong party? Should I kindly leave my membership card at the door and go follow Cameron if I want a political home for my views?

    As someone who wants to get far more involved in politics, and would love to one day stand as a Lib Dem MP, I find myself at the cross roads. I have no stomach for the Tories or Labour, and cant really stand either of them.

    Apologies for the long rant!

  • Grammar Police 13th Mar '09 - 10:58pm

    “That someone who is a moderate centrist can only find the greatest support with the Tories. How depressing is that?”

    I’m sorry, but this just isn’t true.

    A decent 40-50% of Tory members I have met (at least) are not “moderate centrists”. And indeed, having met a number of real life left-wing socialists, I can safely say that even the most left-wing Lib Dem pales in comparison.

    The tone of your post made me wonder if either (a) you’re not really what I would describe as a moderate, and you’re really a Tory, or (b) you’re a member of another party thinking that they can cause trouble by saying such things. But then again, it’s late, it’s been a long week and I can accept being wrong – so don’t hold it against me ;o)

  • Richard Church 13th Mar '09 - 11:00pm

    Laurence,
    Is any other serious political party calling for an end to selection by faith in new faith schools?

    Is any other major political party calling for existing faith schools to demonstrate inclusivity in their admission policy?

    Is any other major political party calling for an end to compulsory religious worship in schools?

    Is any other major political party calling for calling for no discrimination by faith in the employment of staff in faith schools?

    I get annoyed and frustrated by not getting everything I want in policy debates, but then I remember that on this as on a host of other issues the Liberal Democrats are a million miles ahead of Labour or the Tories.

    Resigning is easy, achieving is hard.

  • I wish faith schools had never been invented. To those who claim an inaliable right to bring up their children in their own faith, I would really have liked to say (a) send them to Sunday School, and (b) why not let them think for themselves.

    But faith schools do already exist. Lots of them. For so many British people, a faith school is a key part of their lives.

    A serious political party should know that if it really wants to try to take on faith schools, and win, it is going to have a hell of a fight. And understandably so. Anyone who has worked all their life to build up a respected institution is going to fight, tooth-and-nail, to stop some politician from tearing it down. You can almost hear the impassioned cries of “educational vandalism” already.

    So the next government has, in a sense, a stark choice to make. It can try to get the economy and the environment right. Or alternatively, it could dissipate a great deal of its time and energy fighting the faith schools. It would, quite honestly, be pretty much one alternative or the other.

    That’s why the Labour and Conservative parties, who are serious candidates to form the next government, would not dream of trying to abolish faith schools. (Except perhaps in Northern Ireland, where I accept there is a much stronger case for doing so.)

    If we want to look like a serious party of government, we have to take a similar stance. Which is why the Conference compromise didn’t look great, but it was the right decision.

  • It always amazes me how keen people are to believe that indoctrination is sufficient to instil a permanent personal faith. It is not. I have run the full gamut of educational options, having started in a secular state primary, moved to a private “Christian” prep school, gone overseas and studied online, come back to a secular state sixth form college and then read English Literature at UCL (the first constitutionally secular university in our country).

    In every single one of these educational institutions, I was buffeted about by assertions of belief by teachers who espoused particular ontologies. In no one school did I feel more put upon than at another; I always felt as if there were a prevailing orthodoxy which imposed its view of the world onto me and forced me to live within it, if not personally, then at least academically.

    The concept of brainwashing or indoctrination is almost always mentioned, in my experience, by people who are more concerned with challenging another view than propounding their own. This phenomenon is not exclusive, neither to secularists nor to ‘religionists’. It gets mentioned as a defence mechanism when people believe passionately that they are right and that people should live by their rules.

    Please try to remember that from the other side of the divide, whatever side you’re on, people think in a different way to you. When you speak of parents’ ‘cultural prejudices’ you can be a secularist, like Laurence here, or you could equally well be a passionate Christian or Muslim. A Christian might take issue with Laurence’s jaundiced view of religion’s impact on our state – given the many benefits that have sprung from the actions of Christian politicians. A secularist might take issue with the constant cries of the more febrile religious that morality can only come from a higher authority.

    I can see your argument. But I think the state should represent the people. While the people are individuals, they will necessarily have different beliefs, views, ontologies, whatever. And that includes children. Rather than jettison so-called “faith schools”, we DO need to show that they are genuinely inclusive of all, and that they do not discriminate against those who do not share their views, while at the same time we strive to ensure that alongside whatever ‘faith school’ provisions there are, there are other equally good educational choices available for those of different faiths or none.

  • “As a Roman Catholic school child, I remember the feeling of others going to ‘first confession’ and feeling left out.”

    Attending a Quaker school there was a similar feeling towards the (small number) of classmates who went off to confirmation classes.

    This probably has more to do with children’s attitudes than the approach of church schools.

    I was so heavily indoctrinated by my religious education that I think I’ve been to a Quaker meeting 4 times since leaving school (3 funerals and a wedding as the film was nearly called).

  • Martin Land makes a series of excellent points which should be listened to.

    Children should not be defined by their parents’ religious beliefs, & certainly taxpayers’ money should not reinforce this.

    Youngsters should be taught how to think, not what to think, & then they can reach a verdict on competing claims religious & otherwise.

    Yes, this is a somewhat unrealisable idea in its pure form, but at least stop asking me to pay for the kind of idiocy that Jennie Rigg’s daughter is subjected to.

    Those, like myself, who live in large cities often do not consider the lack of meaningful choice that some have in education.

  • You who talk of “Catholic children”, “Muslim children”, or “Baptist children” would not mention “Trot children”, “neo-Nazi children” or “bloggertarian children”. I see no difference, in both cases they are too young to have meaningful opinions of their own.

  • “France manages to have an educational system which is totally secular and, incidentally far more successful than ours…”

    No it doesn’t Martin; France gives state aid to faith schools which are sometimes incorrectly described as private schools, they are in fact fee-paying equivalents to British faith schools.

  • Just because something has been around for a long time (e.g. Church & Jewish Schools) & have worked reasonably well in the society that we used to have does not mean that they will go on doing so in the society that we have now got. It is also misleading to call them ‘Faith’ schools. The Faith is Christianity,Islam,Hinduism etc. ALL Faiths preach love understanding & tolerance.

    Catholicism, Anglicanism, Shia, Sunni etc are Doctrines. It is Doctrine that preaches hate. There should be no place for doctrinal schools.

  • Thanks for all the comments guys. I have replied to many, but as before my comments just go nowhere. Hope to be with you before too long. Grrrr.

    Laurence Boyce.

  • Laurence Boyce 14th Mar '09 - 11:55am

    OK, if I omit my URL, then the comments appear to go through. I have been told that all the comments I submitted yesterday will have been lost, so I’m going to begin all over again, you’ll be delighted to hear!

  • Laurence Boyce 14th Mar '09 - 12:35pm

    Some short responses . . .

    Andrew Duffield, I can’t really afford anything at the moment never mind a trip to conference. In any case, my presence would probably just have made things worse!

    Asquith, you should like me more. I’m great!

    Grammar Police, I probably won’t leave the party on reflection.

    Felix Holt, thank you for your undying support!

    Mat and Jennie, thanks for everything. Not sure if I can change my tone now! All the best for H.

  • Laurence Boyce 14th Mar '09 - 12:38pm

    Now I think I’m going to work my way up . . .

  • Laurence Boyce 14th Mar '09 - 12:41pm

    “Faith is Christianity, Islam, Hinduism etc. ALL Faiths preach love understanding & tolerance. Catholicism, Anglicanism, Shia, Sunni etc are Doctrines. It is Doctrine that preaches hate.”

    That sounds like a fairly moot distinction, as well as a pretty broad generalisation.

  • Laurence Boyce 14th Mar '09 - 12:48pm

    Tom, that was a very thoughtful response. I think the indoctrination stems principally from the church and the home. But why should the state schools then back this up at the expense of the general taxpayer?

  • Laurence Boyce 14th Mar '09 - 1:07pm

    Richard Church,

    When you set it out like that, I can see that we are still the most secular party and I will almost certainly remain a member. You talked me into it! But where’s the logic in one policy for new schools and another for existing schools? – not that any of this was your fault. You must surely realise that as the third party, we near clear punchy policy positions to sell on the doorstep. Obviously I would have preferred “Lib Dems to phase out faith schools,” but I might have settled for “Lib Dems to end selection by faith.” Instead, what we have is too complicated to be so clearly expressed, so the BBC just says that we “back faith schools.” What was Farron playing at? Did you have words with him afterwards? I would have roasted him.

    I really appreciate what you guys are doing. I feel I must owe you £10 for this year’s membership. I will send it off straight away as a gesture of good will!

  • “And if ever you wanted to hear an argument against faith schooling in just two words, they would have to be “Northern Ireland” – and so right on cue,”

    This is complete nonsense. If your argument holds then how come NI has had faith schools as long as the mainland UK but none of the similar problems have emerged.

  • Laurence Boyce 14th Mar '09 - 1:42pm

    Because, Hywel, there can be many factors involved in an overarching problem, if that isn’t too difficult a concept. Have there been any reports surrounding Northern Ireland which have not highlighted the effects of segregated education? On the mainland, faith schooling was fingered in an official report as being a contributory factor towards the Oldham riots. (I picked this up from an excellent article by Simon Titley which is well worth a read.)

    Do you think that faith schooling has either bettered or worsened the situation in Northern Ireland?

  • Lots of things were fingered as contributory factors to the Oldham riots. The weather was a significantly greater factor than schooling.

    The point you were seeking to make is that the Northern Ireland situation is an end result of faith schools. That clearly isn’t borne out by the English experience.

  • Laurence Boyce 14th Mar '09 - 2:01pm

    “Laurence, do you want us to opt out of the ECHR; because that is the logical next step. The ECHR enshrines the right of parents to bring their children up in their faith.”

    David, I think invoking the ECHR is a bit of a red herring to be honest. Here is what article 9 actually says: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” It doesn’t say anything about raising children and certainly can’t be invoked as justification for taxpayer funded faith schooling.

    “Northern Ireland – so much for secularists basing their pronouncements on fact and logic!”

    Not quite sure what you mean there. Faith schooling has been universally cited as being part of the problem. Since last week’s bloodshed, I have heard numerous radio discussions about NI and faith schooling. What a pity that a footnote to those discussions could not be that Lib Dems are proposing to phase them out.

  • Laurence Boyce 14th Mar '09 - 2:02pm

    I repeat my question Hywel: do you consider that segregated education has either improved or worsened the situation in Northern Ireland?

  • Laurence Boyce 14th Mar '09 - 2:28pm
  • Grammar Police 14th Mar '09 - 4:10pm

    Glad to hear it Laurence!

  • Laurence Boyce 14th Mar '09 - 4:12pm

    “Why is it that I find unbending secularism nearly as repellent as Catholic inquisition; Orthodox heresy hunting; Muslim campaigns for jihads against Shias, Alawis, Christians or Sufis; Hindu supremacism bent on extirpating Mohammedanism and Christianity; we’ll be saved you’ll be damned Protestants, etc.?”

    I don’t know David. You’ll have to answer your own question. All I can say is that if the worst religious extremists ever did was to write a strongly worded article, then the world would be a much safer place than it is today.

  • Laurence Boyce 14th Mar '09 - 4:27pm

    “For C of E School, Catholic School, Muslim School or Jewish School, substitute Conservative School, Liberal Democrat School, Labour School, BNP School, UKIP School. Creeds have no role in education, be they political or religious.”

    That is a deadly comparison, Martin, and one which ought really to have settled the argument by now, but strangely hasn’t. But it’s particularly pleasing to hear it from someone who is “deeply religious.”

    Thanks for the invite to St Neots. I think I will take you up on it! Probably at a time you are least expecting! Perhaps I can even cure you of religion!

    But I deliver leaflets now in Cambridge. We don’t have glossy ones though. Are you sure yours are environmentally friendly enough?

  • Laurence Boyce 14th Mar '09 - 4:32pm

    Thanks Paul, love you too.

    So you don’t pretend at all when you’re in church? You’re absolutely certain about it all? You sound a bit like one of those terrifying extremists to me!

    Were you a Harrogate rep? How did you vote?

  • Paul Griffiths 14th Mar '09 - 5:17pm

    I think David (@ 13 March 10:12) may have been thinking of Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights:

    “No person shall be denied a right to an education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.”

    As I understand it, the ECHR, including this Protocol, was incorporated in UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998. On the face of it, however, I don’t think this requires faith schools. But then I’m not a lawyer.

    Of course, there is also the rather more open-ended Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26(3):

    “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”

  • Laurence Boyce 14th Mar '09 - 5:29pm

    Neil McGovern,

    Thanks for that impassioned response and especially for voting for amendment 2! Do you think that your vote was typical or exceptional among the Cambridge reps? How many Cambridge reps are there? Who are they? I know so little . . .

    You are absolutely right about the pressure to conform at school, and at a stage when no child can realistically grasp the issues. What with conformity being highlighted on the membership card, one might have hoped for a better end result. But I’m sure I will renew the card. I really just waved it around because of my hilarious alteration. Not sure if anyone got the “joke” though, it was printed so small.

    We must have another drinks sometime – last year’s series petered out after a while. I seem to be spending far too much time in the Golden Hind at the moment, largely as a result of redecorating my house, so you could always try popping in there at random!

    No, I’m sticking with the Lib Dems. You useless bunch!

  • Laurence Boyce 14th Mar '09 - 5:32pm

    Technical question: as the Farron amendment went to the vote, is there any chance we can actually see a list of names? Not that I want to start a witch-hunt or anything!

  • Paul Griffiths 14th Mar '09 - 5:41pm

    “…is there any chance we can actually see a list of names?”

    Nope. It’s done by counting raised hands clutching VOTING cards.

  • matt severn 14th Mar '09 - 5:45pm

    In a free society, a parents right to be responsible for thier children, including thier childs education, must be vital. As long as church schools teach the cirriculum whats the harm? The state does not always know best.

    No school should be allowed to deselect children from poorer backgrounds, or to omit science teaching or sex education teaching or to cut special needs budgets.

    As long as strong oversight makes sure that church schools adhere to these rules, any child sent there has a good a chance as any in the state school system to a great education, and am better chance than most.

  • Laurence Boyce 14th Mar '09 - 5:46pm

    Sorry, I meant count not vote. As I understand, it was too close to call, so there was a count which came to 292-241.

  • Laurence Boyce 14th Mar '09 - 6:02pm

    I think David may have been thinking of Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights: “No person shall be denied a right to an education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.”

    Thanks Paul, I was unaware of that. It’s an extraordinary statement and one which I wholly reject. Parents can not expect to have it all their own way, certainly not at the taxpayer’s expense. I note that the word “conformity” is explicitly used – at least in the Lib Dems, we know that is a bad thing. I just can’t see how this can be put into practice. If there are three members of a zany sect in the whole country, the state has to cater for their every need? I’m stunned.

  • Laurence Boyce 14th Mar '09 - 6:29pm

    “Ultimately, religion in school is a bit like advertising aimed at children on the telly. I’m uncomfortable with indoctrination, but feeding kids a little bit of bullshit can help inoculate them against even greater bullshit later in life.”

    James, that is the sort of argument which makes me weep. Does truth not matter any more? Will anyone be grateful to have been so inoculated? They could easily end up feeling betrayed. Worse still, they might simply have caught the disease. So we want our children to develop a bullshit detector – don’t you think we might feed them the scepticism of David Hume rather than religion?

    Incidentally, this highlights another problem with faith schooling. It’s not just what gets taught, but what inevitably doesn’t get taught – the enlightenment philosophers, evolutionary theory (covered in depth I mean, not in some superficial manner), etc.

  • Laurence Boyce 14th Mar '09 - 8:18pm

    Thanks Mat. I’m going to blame Farron anyway. You see it wasn’t just this. It was the stem cells too. Same with Vince Cable. These guys are obviously Christians of some sort. (Can anyone confirm that?) Was everyone clear where they were coming from? It’s only that I detect a general degree of naivety about the strength and depth of religious vested interest.

  • “So the view seems to be that people shouldn’t be allowed to bring up their children the way they want in case they bring them up badly.

    Forgive me for observing that this doesn’t seem to be a very liberal view.”

    If you think it’s liberal to believe that children are the sole property of their parents and have no rights of their own then your idea of liberalism isn’t one I’ve ever come across before.

    But even if we accept that ridiculous premise, let’s take it to it’s logical conclusion: the state is already preventing me from bringing up my child as I see fit by sanctioning the teaching of bronze-aged superstitions that I reject in all the schools near where we live. Where’s my rights? Choice in education is a zero sum game. Increasing choice to one group necessarily reduces it for everyone else.

    Of course, I could follow the lead of the those who support sectarian schools by grouping together with other non-believing parents to demand explicitly atheist sectarian schools where kids are taught that there is clearly no god and that anyone who claims otherwise is either a fool, a madman, a coward or a charlatan, as I happen to believe. I don’t though, because a) I don’t think the state has any place aiding me in inculcating my own or anyone else’s children with my beliefs, and b) my metaphysical beliefs have nothing whatsoever to do with my child’s education anyway.

  • Laurence Boyce 14th Mar '09 - 8:34pm

    It’s a bit of an oxymoron too. Education should be carried out in a spirit of free inquiry which is antithetical to “faith.” We reluctant Lib Dems must stick together!

  • Laurence Boyce 14th Mar '09 - 9:20pm

    You talk such a lot of sense Iainm. Of course there’s a zero-sum game in education, as there is with everything in life. The way some people talk, it’s as if we could afford to have every conceivable stripe of school stretching down the road as far as the eye can see.

    (If there’s one thing that might stop me writing these articles, it’s that I always seem to end up promoting religious paraphernalia via Google ads. I’d so hate to think that all I’d ever achieved was to help someone find God.)

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Mar '09 - 10:23pm

    Charlotte


    Faith schools is such a vulgar Americanisation, don’t you think?

    No, the USA does not have such things, it supposes its constitution bans them.


    The state should spend not one single penny on schools run by religious organisations, ever, full stop.

    It should only allow schools which teach its own ideology? Since when did you become a socialist, Charlotte?


    Hey, you want to brainwash kids? You do it with your own money and your own time.

    It’s cost free – voluntary aided schools aren’t funded at any more cost to the state than other schools, if they didn’t exist, the same kids would cost the same money to educate in other schools.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Mar '09 - 10:35pm

    What is the real ideology of this country? What is it that our kids are constantly brainwashed with? Conventional religion? No.

    It’s the religion of celebrity, of being cool, of having the things fashion tells you that you must have, of having a dominant personality, of thinking quiet and thoughtful people are losers, of thinking that rich and famous are the only good things to be, of acting tough, of being overtly sexual. This is what our kids are brainwashed to be by what is poured into them by the entertainment industry and by modern attitudes.

    We don’t kick this, oh no, we kick some poor pathetic survivor of older attitudes which perhaps raises a token flag of opposition to the dominant religion I talk about above, because it’s fun and makes us feel good to demonstrate our own superior attitudes when we do it.

  • Laurence Boyce 14th Mar '09 - 11:24pm

    Good point Matthew, why do we just kick religion? Could it be that, in the present context, there are no schools with an ethos specifically dedicated to being a bad-ass celebrity? Maybe there should be, and then we might all wake up a bit.

    By the way, your Pope is the biggest bad-ass celebrity of them all.

  • Laurence Boyce 14th Mar '09 - 11:28pm

    OK, gotta go now. Kathleen is chucking me out. See you guys tomorrow.

  • Neil McGovern 14th Mar '09 - 11:31pm

    Lawrence; thanks. I doubt I was in the majority of any of the Cambridge reps, both 1 and 2 were heavily defeated. The actual paper as presented by FPC was actually *good*. They’d already done the compromises.

    As for voting reps, I’d suggest asking the local team. Not sure who’s membership secretary at the moment, or on the exec. I think Rod is chair, possibly.

    However much I dislike the outcome (although it could have been a lot worse…), one of the most important points to me is that we, as a party, made it. It was not handed down from the executive. The LD Conference is a true policy creation forum,not a rubber stamping exercise. I’d recommend any member to come to Bournemouth next time.

    And I suppose the Golden Hind is in my ward. Just 🙂 I’ll try and organise a proper drinks one soon.

  • Wonderful post, Laurence. What a pleasure to read such a fine articulation of the secularist agenda.

    Even better to do so on a Sunday morning…

  • Laurence Boyce 15th Mar '09 - 3:32pm

    Thanks Eldoc, much appreciated.

    Thanks Neil. I’ve just emerged from the Golden Hind again. Oh dear! I’m sorry 2 was so heavily defeated. I naively thought that might have been the close one. Ah well . . .

  • David Evans 16th Mar '09 - 1:55am

    There must be few things more insane that we do as a party than spend our time driving a wedge between those who do good because of their religious faith and those who do good without such faith. And even more sadly, it often seems to be Laurence who wants to do it.

    Do give over Laurence and accept the Liberty of those with faith and the Democracy of the decision.

  • Dave: not so long as the liberty of those with faith impinges on everyone else’s, arguably even including that of their own children.

    Thanks for my first laugh of the day though. Seeing someone defend the concept of sectarian schools by accusing others of driving wedges between groups in society is proper comedy.

  • Laurence Boyce 16th Mar '09 - 6:42pm

    “There must be few things more insane that we do as a party than spend our time driving a wedge between those who do good because of their religious faith and those who do good without such faith. And even more sadly, it often seems to be Laurence who wants to do it.”

    David, I’m not actually that keen on driving wedges between party members either. You must realise that I am a bit of a pantomime villain in this respect. Nevertheless, it’s undeniably true that I often employ strong language, and occasionally have a real go at a particular individual. The frustration arises because we are so far behind the curve on secularism. Last year, Parliament repealed the blasphemy law. In 2008! 1908 would have been better. On faith schools, as Iainm has pointed out, I am asking for the wedges to be removed. Who is holding up the process? It’s not secularists, is it?

    Both within and outside the party, progress is being held up by religious types who may well pay lip service to secular values but, when the moment of truth arises, try to hang on to their existing religious privileges. Somehow they just can’t bring themselves to trust solely in God, and decide that they really need the institutions of the state to do a bit of the work for Him. They might talk the talk, but they rarely walk the walk.

    Unless I am very much mistaken, that is what people like Farron are doing. Popping up to claw back a bit in their own direction, without being explicit about where they are coming from. Making arguments along the lines that faith schools are a reality we can’t change – a conservative argument in other words, not a liberal argument. Of the 292 who voted for the Farron amendment, I suspect that the majority were simply Christians, not happy with the way things seem to be heading.

    Of course some of them might say, “I’m not going to budge my position as long as Laurence is saying nasty things.” But then they never budged before I turned up, or the time before that, or the time before that either. Reform is long overdue. It hasn’t happen simply because religion is a massive vested interest feared by politicians. If there were one party that ought to be fearless in the face of a vested interest, you might think it would be the Lib Dems. You might be mistaken.

    By the way, of course I accept the democratic outcome. Doesn’t mean that I can’t criticise it. Lib Dems will also have to accept the democracy of the ballot box, as secularists weigh up whether to vote for such a watered down position on faith schools, or opt for more immediate benefits on offer from the other parties. It is for this reason that Lib Dems should be developing bold and clear policies on every issue, not just this one.

  • Simon Wilson 16th Mar '09 - 7:13pm

    Laurence says: “I’m not actually that keen on driving wedges between party members either”
    So why do you keep on doing it?
    Who are you to make prejudiced asumptions about what motivated those at conference to vote for the amendment or complain about “people like Farron”? I didn’t see you at conference articulating your views or putting them to the vote.

  • Laurence Boyce 16th Mar '09 - 7:32pm

    Yes, “people like Farron” isn’t very good, I know. I’m speculating. Where is Farron coming from? I’d really like to know. I wish we had the Spring conference on video, like the Autumn conference. Then I might not have to make such wild guesses.

    By my overall point is that secularism is the thing that keeps religion where it belongs and thereby avoids a certain degree of antagonism. And yet it’s rarely something that I hear religious people arguing for. Why not?

    If Farron had got up and said, “I’m a Christian and let me explain why faith schools are a bad thing from a Christian perspective,” he would be my personal hero. So what exactly did he say?

  • Simon Wilson 16th Mar '09 - 8:10pm

    Tim’s Christian faith is certainly no secret.

  • Laurence Boyce 16th Mar '09 - 8:28pm

    OK then. What about Vince Cable?

  • Simon Wilson 16th Mar '09 - 8:36pm

    Likewise along with Paul Rowen who moved the amendment in question

  • Laurence Boyce 16th Mar '09 - 8:52pm

    OK then, so it pretty much looks like we’ve got Christians arguing in favour of faith schools, and atheists arguing against. I wish it wasn’t like that. I wish all of us could see the advantage of working towards a secular settlement, and be pulling in the same direction.

    But it is like that. It’s Christians v atheists. It’s Christians trying to hang on to their historic privilege and atheists trying to wrest it from them. There are two versions of this argument. The polite version which is what you heard at conference, or the impolite version which you get here.

    But it’s basically the same deal. And it’s unnecessary. And it’s not entirely my fault.

  • Simon Wilson 16th Mar '09 - 9:45pm

    It does not have to be that way though.
    I happy to blow my cover though as an Anglican priest who fully supports the principles behind the Accord coalition. I do think that there is a place for faith schools but only if they are proved to be transparent and inclusive.

  • “Lib Dems will also have to accept the democracy of the ballot box, as secularists weigh up whether to vote for such a watered down”

    Why is it OK to pander to the wishes of extreme secularists but not to those of religionists (if there is such a word)

  • “Why is it OK to pander to the wishes of extreme secularists but not to those of religionists (if there is such a word)”

    Hmmm. Does “extreme secularists” in this context mean “people who don’t think schools that receive public funding should be allowed to select on religious criteria”?

    If so, I think it would be better if you tried to come up with a rational argument, rather than simply branding those with a different view as “extreme”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Mar '09 - 11:03am

    Andy


    What is an extreme secularist? Either you believe in the separation of church and state, or you don’t.

    No, this is not the issue. Non-separation of church and state means there is one church which is controlled by the state. If this were the issue then Catholic schools would not be a problem because the Catholic Church is indeed separate from the state, that separation took place in the 16th century.

  • Wow, one of the longest debates I can remember on LDV!

    The problems with faith schools are, in my view, just as pronounced in Scotland as in Northern Ireland (especially around Glasgow.)
    I don’t have a problem with faith schools – I just don’t think it’s right that a) there’s such a close link between church and state and b) that taxpayers money should be used to promote ANY faith or belief over others. I’ve no problem with kids being taught about religion – I just object to them being told that one religion is more important or more correct than the others.

    It does go on. My wife attended a Catholic secondary in the West of Scotland during the late 1980s. During the RE lesson, in order to appease non-Catholics (of which my wife wasn’t one) a vote was taken to see if they wanted to carry out a class Mass. The vote went against the Mass, but the teacher went ahead anyway with the children who did not want to participate told to copy out pages of the Bible instead! I’m not saying that this is commonplace – I hope it isn’t – but it does show where the priorities of the school lie.

    I hope that we can move – in both England and Scotland – to a policy where state schools are probably not totally secular but where children learn about different religions (and none – let’s not forget atheism) and allowed to make up their own minds. Indeed, I’d go so far as to allow the Churches the opportunity to opt schools out of the state sector in order to make them independent, fee-paying schools – they can then be free to follow the religious teachings they prefer.

  • “Hmmm. Does “extreme secularists” in this context mean “people who don’t think schools that receive public funding should be allowed to select on religious criteria”?”

    It means the people Lawrence was suggesting would not vote for us on the basis that this policy wasn’t “pure” enough for them

    “If so, I think it would be better if you tried to come up with a rational argument, rather than simply branding those with a different view as “extreme”.”

    The rational argument is why is it a fair point to criticise this policy for pandering to the interests of one belief group and then to suggest a similar approach for a different belief group.

    Not voting for a party because a policy isn’t precisely what you would want it to be is a pretty fair definition of extremist IMO.

  • David Morton 18th Mar '09 - 12:56am

    Superb artcile and discussion thread. However I remain unconvinced by much of the tone.

    1. Realpolitik. The reason the compromise on this issue is so messy is not just because the views are so split and so strongly held its only because they are both rooted in differing strands of liberalism. Family feuds are always the most intense.

    I would strongly defend faith schools on grounds of localism, choice and diversity of providers. Opponents tend to push secularism,rationality and seperation of church and state. These arguments are all within the liberal family.

    What I slightly balk at is the tone of some posts that because they lost the vote that there voice is not being heard. If the party ever voted to abolish faith schools completely you’d have rupture with hundreds of councillors and many MP’s and candidates demanding a free vote.

    I’m sure it would be similar if we ever enthusiastically endorsed them.

    Ergo its all a mess because it is a mess. But thats life in a democractic party. At least at conference abstract policy is debated openly. In all to many councils concrete decsions are taken in closed committee !

    2. Laurance. The articles power comes from the rhetorical device that you were agonising over wether to stay in the party? the picture of the membership card is a nice touch. however you seem to have very quickly steped away from the ledge ? Did you perhaps protest too much ? Or have you seen the light ?

    3. the party is stuffed full of actual and cultural Christians. i have never, ever heard anything approaching the level of angst over religion in the party as you get on this site. Have I led a sheltered life or is it a democgraphic thing ?

  • Laurence Boyce 18th Mar '09 - 5:46pm

    It was a joke, David. I’m glad you enjoyed it because it took bloody ages! Anyway, I’ve just sent off my membership fee, so the panic’s over.

    Hywel, the policy isn’t pure enough for anyone. It’s a fudge which is just going to get lost in the noise, which I assume was the intention.

  • “Hywel, the policy isn’t pure enough for anyone.”

    Of course it isn’t. The only way you get purity of policy is to go down the route of the Popular Front of Judea.

  • Laurence Boyce 18th Mar '09 - 7:34pm

    I’ve always been much more of a Judean people’s front man.

  • Bruce Wilson 20th Mar '09 - 4:26pm

    Laurence, I will ignore the emotional blackmail. If you want to sulk, go and sulk. The fervour with which atheists react against religion always surprises me (religion vs anti-religion?).

    Religion for some people is very important and the road to secularism is not an easy one. Western sociey went through this change about two centuries ago. A secular western today will not be aware of the transition involved.
    Space must be made for peoples’ beliefs. They are not all terrorists. Cut them some slack.

  • Yes, religion is important to some people. So what?

    Stealing is important to some people.

    People liking something does not make it Lib Dem policy.

    The problem is that religion is being forced on those who do not want it to try and placate the religious. That is the problem, not atheism vs theism.

    As to the reference to blackmail, the entire voting system is based around the idea that people will not vote for some things and will vote for others. To call this blackmail is to denegrate it without proposing a clear alternative. Voting is a powerful idea.

  • Laurence Boyce 21st Mar '09 - 5:06pm

    “Space must be made for peoples’ beliefs.”

    Sure, I can do that. But space to school children according to the beliefs of their parents? I’m afraid my generosity doesn’t extend that far.

    If you really respected people’s beliefs, then you would be against faith schooling which so clearly seeks to insert a pre-established world-view into the minds of young children.

    By the way, the fervour is easily explained. Some of us have just had enough.

  • I’ve had enough. Just want to send my 5 year old kid to an infants school where she’s not taught about someone getting nailed to a cross and coming back to life.

    I don’t want her to watch Saw 5 yet either, it’s a personal choice, I know I should probably be more open-minded, but I think she can learn about this stuff in good time.

  • David Evans 23rd Mar '09 - 6:07pm

    Iain,

    Sorry for the delay, been by-electioning. However, in response to your comments on 16 March,

    “not so long as the liberty of those with faith impinges on everyone else’s” As we all know, virtually every one of our liberties is at the expense of someone else’s and often everyone else’s to some extent or other – so if you propose that argument surely you must deny all liberty; otherwise it may seem this logic is specially for faith schools?

    As for the “arguably even including that of their own children”. Well, I chose to teach my children about the importance of respecting other’s liberties. Was that actually wrong (not arguably, anything is arguable if you want to make an argument).

    As for the joke about “driving wedges” – ignoring the golfing contradiction – I didn’t put faith schools there, nor did most if not almost all people currently living (the relatively few, but nonetheless important new state faith schools are a different and difficult matter). However, my view is that the approach adopted by Laurence and apparently supported by yourself sadly does drive that wedge. My objective is simple, make the maximum liberal improvement with the least effort. Then we as a party can improve the most things overall.

    That’s the hardest thing about my being a liberal, I have to make compromises between which liberties I fight for, because god hasn’t given me time to right them all!!

    David

  • David:

    “not so long as the liberty of those with faith impinges on everyone else’s” As we all know, virtually every one of our liberties is at the expense of someone else’s and often everyone else’s to some extent or other –

    Erm, that’s exactly the point I was making, in direct response to your demand that L (and by extension anyone who agrees with him) simply shut up and accept the situation because it’s about “their” liberty. Glad to see you acknowledging the fallaciousness of your own previous argument.

    As for the “arguably even including that of their own children”. Well, I chose to teach my children about the importance of respecting other’s liberties. Was that actually wrong (not arguably, anything is arguable if you want to make an argument).

    You’re missing my point (or at least trying to side-step it). The “others” whose liberties you teach your children to respect are not the children whom the state is helping to indoctrinate, but their parents.

    In actual fact I’ve seen very little evidence to suggest that it is even the parents by and large who want faith schools. Survey after survey shows that most parents want community schools and explictly oppose the creation of new sectarian schools, with the possible exception of parents in some muslim communities. If you can provide any such evidence I’ll gladly look at it.

    It seems to me that the primary agitators for the provision of our sectarian education system are religious institutions and their associated pressure groups, and it is fear of picking a fight with these lobbies that leads political parties into gutless cop-out decisions like this one, under the fig leaf of “workability”.

    As for the joke about “driving wedges” – ignoring the golfing contradiction – I didn’t put faith schools there, nor did most if not almost all people currently living (the relatively few, but nonetheless important new state faith schools are a different and difficult matter).

    Sorry, but that’s probably the single most absurd argument in support of sectarian schools that I’ve ever read.

    However, my view is that the approach adopted by Laurence and apparently supported by yourself sadly does drive that wedge.

    It surely tells us something about the mentality of religious people when an attempt to increase equality can be cast as a divisive move.

    That’s the hardest thing about my being a liberal, I have to make compromises between which liberties I fight for, because god hasn’t given me time to right them all!!

    You’ve chosen to fight for sectarianism against secularity and for division against inclusion. I can understand why you might find it difficult to reconcile that with your claims of liberalism.

  • I fear you are just misunderstanding – nowhere did I demand Laurence shut up; merely suggest we would all be better off not falling into the trap of wasting so much time perpetually re-opening old arguments, even worse one that has just been lost. You may want to spend your life deconstructing sentences by taking them out of context, and applying your own interpretation, which was never in the original at all. I propose to spend my time on things I can change for the better – I suggest you consider it too.

    All the best,

    David

  • I am fundamentally opposed to the idea that the state has ultimate responsibility for the education of my children. Their physical protection, maybe. But their educational well-being, who’s to be the judge of that? Will the “truth” change with each election? And what happens when the EU gets involved? And Turkey joins?

    Of course I want them to come to believe what I believe. Not because they must be like me, but because I believe what I believe is true, (whilst admitting that I may be wrong. That is the paradox we have to live with.)

    That is where I find the ‘secularist’ argument repeated here to be unwittingly symmetrical. You want to protect children from being indoctrinated – well wouldn’t any sane person want that? But one man’s prejudice is another man’s conviction.

    “Since the sceptic does not consider it rational to doubt what he himself believes, the advocacy of ‘rational doubt’ is merely the sceptic’s way of advocating his own beliefs.”

    If I decide to send my children to a school (any school), I obviously don’t expect everything they see and hear there to conform 100% to my world view. But I will try to ensure that their ‘exposure’ to ‘harmful’ experiences or influences will be gradual, and adapted to what I judge to be their ability to handle it. Just as I would do for what they watch on the TV, or for what I give a weaning baby to eat (or where I plant a sapling, for that matter).

    It is entirely normal to grow up as a child believing whatever your parents tell you. But that isn’t sufficient to carry that belief through growing up and into the rest of your life. So there is no need to succumb to jihadist-or-fundamentalist-behind-every-lamppost hysteria.

    Whatever their public posturing may be, I humbly submit that the majority of people are just muddling through life with a jumble of not-necessarily-coherent, half-thought-out beliefs which have more or less ‘worked’ for them so far, and for which they have managed to find some supporting community.

    Whatever else I manage to transmit to my children, I hope that I manage to instil in them respect for others, and the courage to be themselves.

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