Opinion: Pulpit politics

Several issues have placed religion and it’s role in politics in the spotlight this week.

Labour has found itself in hot water over allowing a free vote on the bill that will allow the creation hybrid human-animal embryos. Meanwhile, across the pond, Barack Obama is assessing the damage done to his campaign by the comments of his pastor, Jeremiah Wright. The Pope’s baptised an Italian born Muslim convert as part of his Easter message in what was a somewhat ill-advised piece of showmanship. Here on Liberal Democrat Voice we have had quite a lively debate around faith schools.

First, let’s set some parameters for the debate.

Religious faith, or lack of it, is a matter of personal conviction – but the business of government is to govern an entire society comprised of different levels and types of individual belief. Modern, democratic states must be secular (not atheist) in nature. This is especially true in the age of the ‘war on terror’, when fundamentalist ideologues try and portray secularism as merely a covert tool of Christian domination.

Secularism is a cornerstone of moder democracy, it is a founding principle of democratic nations and direct and principled break from a past in which rulers claimed legitimacy from divine inheritance. It is more than just a fancy word, it must be at the heart of democracy because it is the principle of the predominance of the people’s will over patronage allegedly handed on down from the heavens.

It is not essential to have religious faith to share a set of moral values or indeed to ‘belong’; it is easier and far more healthy to unite around human centered values in beliefs, such as belief in the innate capacity of humanity to better itself. More often than not, religion does more to divide than unite, as we are seeing day-after-day in the world at large.

It coheres a specific ‘group identity’ but part of that process is unity against the other groups. Saying religion is a unifying force is a bit like saying a love of football unites a nation – try telling that to a room full of Tottenham and Arsenal or Manchester United and Manchester City fans.

It is perfectly understandable that somebody’s religious faith may inform and even guide their personal political convictions. This is fine in a local activist; but when those convictions become a matter of state or governance then they must always be set aside. Labour MPs should be allowed to vote as their conscience dictates; that is a matter of elemental democracy. However, there conscience must be guided not by scriptures but by a hard-headed assessment of which course of action best serves the people they govern; this is the only acceptable criterion for judging a piece of legislation.

So, when we come to faith schools it is not merely a matter of ‘freedom of conscience’, as has been insisted. As I have said above, governments govern in the name of all the people and preferential treatment for, or discrimination against, faith schools is equally unacceptable. Often as liberals we have to grapple with tricky balancing acts between different sets of contending rights. Reading Joe Otten’s original Lib Dem Voice piece my feelings were mixed; I warmed to the parts where core secularist values were upheld but balked at certain points.

Parents have the right to raise children as they see fit; but those children also have the right to develop, as fully functioning individuals, their own sets of beliefs formed by their own judgment. We would not accept schooling in a particular political train of thought, and it is unacceptable for a particular religious one to be taught as the all-defining truth – let alone be the criterion for entry to a state-funded school, or the bar that denies a child their basic right to education. All religious education must be strictly neutral and taught in the spirit of educating to understand.

Schools must work on the assumption that the child they are admitting is an individual with no set pattern of belief and has the inalienable right to develop their own. I am afraid that I do not agree with the right of parents to determine their child’s religious belief at any age. Children who do not have a self-professed faith should be chracterised as non-committal until such a time as they feel able to make their own choice; those that wish to stipulate a faith should do so under conditions where parental pressure cannot be brought to bear.

Providing for each ‘faith identity’ is precisely the course of action that is fragmenting our society, because within that ‘provision’ accusations of favoritism and sectional jealousies grow. Where there is no provision, where a state maintains the strictest neutrality there is no room for this growth. A tolerant, secular state which respects the rights of the individual while maintaining its neutrality is one that can heal the wounds that are beginning to appear within our society. When it was suggested that,

there should be parallel provision for all such faith identities represented by a reasonable number of pupils, with philosophy and ethics for non-believers,”

I find myself in natural opposition to this proposal. This kind of policy has failed, and it is the core reason multiculturalism is so fragile. In practical terms, it means the segregation of children from the start, division not unity. Neutral provision of religious education would allow for the free intermingling and exchange of ideas, and the development at an early age of a healthy culture of critical engagement with different ideas. I think the differences on this issue are small, as has been demonstrated in the ensuing debate.

But as is sometimes the case there is devil in the detail.

* Darrell Goodliffe is a party member from Peterborough.

Read more by .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.
Advert

104 Comments

  • But Joe, you are proposing seperate classes or am I wrong?? One for each faith identity and another for non-believers…i believe that is unfeasible….this to my mind is segregation and it will achieve the precise opposite of the goal we both want too…

  • What is a faith identity, Joe? It strikes me as a convenient muddying of the waters, whereby kids who don’t have any faith still get rubber-stamped as having a ‘faith identity’.

  • Is it really necessary to have religious history and comparative religion as subjects as schools? I’d hate it if, say, economic or political history were bumped aside to make way for religious history. To your average British person, religion just isn’t that important.

  • We’re not up against the average Brit though, we’re up against a coalition of highly vocal and highly motivated minorities, and their respective churches/ faith organisations.

  • Well, exactly. State-funded faith schools are terribly unpopular, yet the political parties haven’t caught up. In fact, most of them are going in the opposite direction!

    Possibly the electoral system favours the concerns of religious groups who can swing marginal seats.

  • Thanks for the replies…

    MartinSGill raised a good point about Christians seeing secularism as a tool of covert atheist which of course it isnt…frankly I think all the different ‘faith communities’ are feeling fragile right now ….as has been pointed out however a strong secularist agenda is actually as beneficial for the different communities as it is for non-beleivers…

    Joe…I think you are hoping that the intergration will take place outside the classroom if you can just get everybody into one school which frankly I dont see happening…you might as well keep the seperate schools and say the way to bring people together is at a good local youth club, the division is still institutionalised….

    Children learn from experience….the intermingling of ideas, the necessary honest and critical exploration of the ideas can only take place in the classroom which is the proper framework for it happening…they wont go out into the playground and say ‘lets discuss our religious faith’…they will go out and only MAYBE play together then troop back into their seperate classes with their own faith identity and any positive work will be effectively wirtten off in that instant….

    As has been also pointed out elsewhere it is a logistical nightmare as well as politically unadviseable in my opinion….

  • Joe,

    I think we can agree on where we want to be with this…the end goal is not in dispute but how you get there. How can we have that ‘critical’ approach be achieved when at the crucial point, the point where children are learning about these ideas they are sectioned off into their own ‘faith identitiy’. What does that say to them? I think the message is quite clear, in these matters your fellow pupils are different from you, they have different lessons and are taught different things.

    Lets get down to brass tacks; this kind of approach is exactly what is wrong with multiculturalism and it is why the multicultural project is so fragile because under the guise of tolerance we have an instituted policy of division starting at the very top – ‘celebrating difference’ instead of ‘bringing people together’. I’m saying if we get back to core values, like secularism, we can proceed on a basis that both respects the rights of individuals but encourages people to come together and unite around commen ideas and principles.

    It is a classic symptom of the stick being bent too far…yes there was and is prejeudice and injustice and an intolrence to difference faiths but in correcting that we have gone too far the other way and now we are in a situation where our approach is having the opposite effect of what we wish to achieve.

    You said that ‘one size fits all doesnt always work’ as if it was a straight jacket – it isnt, it is more a big tent under which each group has their own proper freedom and space but under which they can all come together.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Mar '08 - 4:38pm

    Should schools which teach in the medium of the Welsh language be banned on the grounds that it should be up to the children if they want to be Welsh or not, and it is obviously divisive to teach some kids to speak a special language of their own which others can’t understand – look at all those wars between different tribes with their own languages in other parts of the world?.

  • Matthew, with all due respect you are conflating two entirely different things. What language it is most practical for a child to speak is dictated by where they are born. My answer to your question would of course be no but both Welsh and English should be taught.

    If schools started to discriminate against English-speaking then of course I would have a problem with that and it would strike me as a highly impractical thing to do in any case. Language is a necessary tool of communication a religion is a set of ideas that you can choose to believe in or not…a closer comparison would be with politics not languages…would you like to see hardened Conservatives, Labourites and even Lib Dems set up their own schools and insist that political alligence was an entrance criteria?? I rather think not….

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Mar '08 - 1:12pm

    Darrell, no it is not an entirely separate thing. In both cases it is about schools which have a focus on a particular culture. There is no need for anyone to grow up speaking Welsh as their first language as there simply are no monolingual Welsh speakers left. There are Welsh medium schools in parts of Wales where there are relatively few Welsh speakers.

    People like their children to go to Welsh medium schools because they like their children to grow up surrounded by Welsh culture – it is not, as you are suggesting, an issue of necessity.

    If the argument against faith schools is that parents have no right to force their own culture on children, then I would say the same applies to schools which teach in a language which isn’t a necessity, it is kept alive to preserve a particular culture.

  • Language and religion are two quite different things. One is a method of communication, the other is a belief system.

    There is no Welsh religion, no Irish religion, no Basque religion, no Catalan religion.

    Children are taught in those languages because their parents wish to preserve that language and its associated culture.

    As long as the children are also taught English (or Spanish, or whatever), I don’t think it is objectionable.

  • I am sorry but i have to differ, religion is not culture. Religion is an organised body of ideas which perscribe a truth which those who follow it live by its rules and shape their lives through them. The only rule of a Welsh speaking culture is that you speak Welsh; the Welsh language in and of itself has no views on homosexulaity, abortion or any other contentious issue that religion perscribes on.

    In fact the Welsh language is a product of its enviroment, ie, being in Wales, where as religion isnt just produced by an enviroment but takes an active role in shaping it and perscribing on what it would be well beyond merely which language communicate in. This is why I insisted that if you are to compare religion with anything then politics is a much closer comparison.

    I dont think it is helpful to the debate to consider the two things together because to my mind they are clearly so different as to bear little comparison. It might be possible to draw the occasional comparison but I really do not think they should be considered as part of the same thing…

  • Just as an addendum, slight typoitus I am afraid, speaking the Welsh language in no way presupposes a view on these issues….to me religion and language are not very alike at all….

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Mar '08 - 8:20am

    The trouble is here I am writing to a bunch of people who may have no religious beliefs, but are culturally Protestant. To the Protestant, religion is just about belief “justification by faith alone”, to the Catholic it is about practices “justification by works”.

    To suggest that culture and religion are entirely separate things is obviously nuts. Do you suppose, for example, you could separate Indian culture from Hinduism, or Arabic culture from Islam, and make them entirely separate things?

  • You dont have to be Indian to be Hindu so yes I would suggest they are seperate things….maybe i misspoke a little, stretched the point a bit but the central point on what i said about the Welsh language remains valid…how does speaking Welsh propose a overarching world view like religion does??

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th Mar '08 - 7:44pm

    Darrell, on 27th March at 8.15 am you argued “the multicultural project is so fragile because under the guise of tolerance we have an instituted policy of division”. Others have argued against faith school on the grounds it means children growing up in the same street not knowing each other, and having this difference between them.

    Now what could be a greater difference than actually having some children speaking a separate language which is incomprehensible to others, and going to a special school where this is done? It seems to me a great many of the arguments used against faith schools can also be used against Welsh language schools.

    I take the position that if people have the right to try and pass their Welsh culture to their children – and I strongly support that right – people must also have the right to try and pass on their Catholic culture to their children.

  • But language is only one part of a cultural typestry….because immigrants are forced to learn the English language to intergrate their religion is often the last defining thing that gives them a seperate identity, hence the link to multiculturalism….

  • Matthew Huntbach wrote: “To suggest that culture and religion are entirely separate things is obviously nuts. Do you suppose, for example, you could separate Indian culture from Hinduism, or Arabic culture from Islam, and make them entirely separate things?”

    Wrong. Buddhism is rooted in Indian culture. It may be practiced mainly by people who are not Indians, but its sacred language is Sanskrit. Arabic culture, too, is distinct from Islam. Many Moslems are not Arabs, and quite a few Arabs are not Moslems (some are Christians and others are Jewish). The Arabic language predates Islam.

    One of the few languages that genuinely is inextricably linked to religion is Yiddish. All speakers of Yiddish are Jewish. But most Jews don’t speak Yiddish (indeed, the State of Israel has tried to airbrush this language from history). So it is not true to say that Judaism and the Yiddish language are co-terminous.

    Separate language schools are an unfortunate necessity, “faith schools” are not. While it is possible to teach children of Protestants and Roman Catholics in the same class, it is not possible to teach Spanish-speaking children in Basque or English-speaking children in Welsh. So it is necessary to have separate schools, just as it is necessary to have separate schools for children with special educational needs.

    Note how Matthew surreptitiously attributes sectarian motives to critics of “faith” schools. I for one have criticised religions other than Roman Catholicism, and do not recognise the description of myself as “culturally Protestant”. Presumably the Inquisition would disagree.

  • Matthew Huntbach 31st Mar '08 - 10:46am

    By “culturally Protestant” I mean that your understanding of what religion is shows signs of a cultural background in Protestantism. An Italian or Spanish critic of Catholicism may well be fiercely opposed to the religion and as atheist as you are, but the emphasis he or she would put on things and his or her understanding of how the religion works would tend to to be different.

    This goes back to my point that there is no objective standard of neutrality in the way you and others argue. What you think is neutral comment about religion actually shows your own bias, and the same applies to me. So NONE of us can actually say “I am so objectively neutral that I have the right to dictate what the state teaches about religion, and nobody may dissent from this, I will ban state funding to anyone who teaches it in a way with which I disagree”. That is why I feel a true liberal approach must permit a diversity of provision.

    Having said that, I do make the compromise that I would say state support for religious education also entails state inspection of religious education, and that it should be withdrawn if that religious education is done in a way which encourages hate for other religions or refuses the right to opt out on making up one’s own mind.

  • “and as atheist as you are”

    But I am NOT an atheist. Neither am I “culturally Protestant”, as far as I am aware.

    I reject the claims of most organised religions, but that doesn’t make me an atheist.

    I refute your post-modernist claim that there is no such thing as objective truth. That is a cop-out and is patently untrue.

    When a Roman Catholic takes Communion he does NOT cannibalise part of Jesus’ body. FACT.

    God did NOT make the world in six days. FACT.

    Should the state be funding the teaching of such deceits?

    Now, what “faith” school provision should there be for the Japanese? Should Japanese children be required to attend Buddhist schools and Shinto schools simultaneously?

  • MartinSGill 31st Mar '08 - 2:37pm

    Matthew, you are creating a strawman. Because people have their own views doesn’t mean they can’t teach neutrally. If you’ve ever done any debating lessons/coaching you’d realise that it’s possible for people to argue passionatly for things they are strongly opposed to; albeit it takes more skill.

    Faith schools exist to ensure that people don’t teach neutrally, but explicitly teach their favoured beliefs to the detriment of all others.

    It’s perfectly possible to be neutral (and by that I mean unprejudiced or judgemental) when teaching religion.

    Teaching neutrally how religions deal with homosexuality, for example, could be done in the following manner.

    “Catholic catechisms state that homosexuality is a sin and that it is an unnatural act and an affront to their God. Many Catholics in Europe do not subscribe to this view, while Catholics in Southern America and Africa strongly support the Vatican’s position. The Church of England has a number of gay priests and bishops. Again believers are divided by locality, with Europe and North America in favour of gay clergy, while the African members of the CoE strongly opposed. In recent years this has caused a lot of tension in the CoE between different congregations worldwide.”

    Follow by information about Islam, Judaism, humanism, etc. The discussion can then continue into looking at the various religious texts and the passages, books, history the different factions use to support their positions, and why.

    Such a lesson is entirely non-judgemental, it’s not biased towards any one religion nor, most importantly, does it advocate any one position as correct or inherently superior. It doesn’t even judge on whether homosexuality is acceptable or not. They’ll eventually learn that the majority opinion in this country is in favour of gay rights and hence discriminating against them is illegal. They can then decide for themselves if they share the majority view or not, or even if they want to be catholic and disagree with that church’s official position. It’s entirely up to the kids (and the influence of their parents on them).

    That is what I consider neutral teaching of religion, no single faith or belief is disadvantaged because no single faith is given preferential treatment.

    Non-neutral, or prejudiced, biased, and judgemental teaching is of the following:

    E.g. for a Catholic School:

    “Our church believes that gays are unnatural and sinners acting against the word of god. Most in this country don’t agree with this, but they are acting in opposition to the teachings of the church and the church believes by doing so they are endangering their souls and their chances of gaining entry to heaven.”.

    Can any faith teach religion neutrally? I believe that some do try but simply the the existence of a faith school is proof that they have no real interest or intention of being non-judgemental or non-prejudicial. Certainly any message of neutrality or imparitality and fairness is lost simply by having been taught in a religious school.

    Teaching religion fairly, non-judgementally and non-prejudicially is exactly what they were established to avoid. Any child that’s undecided (which should be considered the default) or that’s decided against that school’s faith is being discriminated against.

    As an aside, I’ve always wondered that if the only three schools (or one school if I’m in the country-side somewhere) in my neighbourhood were religious schools, and I was an atheist, if I could sue the government for religious discrimination for not providing my kids with a school that caters to my non-religion? Being a reasonable man, I’d settle for a secular school, one that favours no non/religious view over any other.

    Isn’t that a risk any government supporting faith schools automatically faces? Another argument for secular schools.

  • Matthew Huntbach 31st Mar '08 - 5:00pm

    Sesenco – ok, I appreciate I don’t know your exact religious background, but your comments on religion do suggest to me an unconscious influence of Protestantism – all I mean by this is that I suspect you have grown up in an Anglo-American background, where the default assumption on how religion is tends to be influenced by the former (Anglo) and current (US) Protestant majority.

    Martin – yes, I am well aware one can argue something opposite to one’s own beliefs. It’s something I often find myself doing, to the point where people often don’t see I’m putting a debating point rather than strictly my own position. To some extent, I’m doing that here. I have in the past so successfully put the Protestant/Unionist position on Northern Ireland in internet discussions that I was often accused of being a dyed-in-the-wool Protestant whereas my real position would be moderate nationalist.

    However, it isn’t always easy to know if you are neutral or not. For example, what you put as neutral comment on the RC Church, I regard as precisely the sort of judgmental and prejudicial approach you accuse religious people of. That is, you want to paint the RC Church in negative terms, so you will place an emphasis on fringe issues like the homosexuality issue which actually do not get the emphasis you seem to believe they do in Catholic teaching. I do not believe the wording and emphasis you choose to place on this issue is anything like what would be used in a British Catholic school.

  • MartinSGill 31st Mar '08 - 5:56pm

    I’m sure gays will be pleased to know that the discrimination they face in the RC church is a fringe issue. If it’s such a fringe issue, why did the RC Church protest so loudly about the recent equality regulations?

    I chose that topic because it’s the contentious issues where the problems will arise and it’s the contentious issues, and current issues, where we should be educating children. We’re surely trying to give them the knowledge about our society so they can become a integral part of it, not shield them from it.

    Please highlight for me where in that small passage I either did not tell the truth or prejudiced one religious group over another? Which part paints the RC Church in a negative light? The fact that there is dissent in the church over it’s stance, or the official stance itself?

    Should one lie about or obfuscate the church’s position, or that some members object to it? With that approach we’d have to prevent teaching about the KKK being racist because it paints them in a bad light. A KKK member would surely object to us not extending their ideology the same protection as you wish for the RC Church.

    If you are RC, could it be that you are a bit sensitive about the RC Church’s attitude to this issue and consequently see negativity where there is none? If you don’t approve of the official church position, then work to change it or leave the church. Whatever your opinions though, it doesn’t change the official Church’s position, and that’s what should be taught, along with the fact that some object and their reasons for objecting to it. If I replaced the words “RC Church” with “Islam”, or “Scientology”, would you still consider the passage negative, or would it suddenly become neutral and fair?

    Is the correct way to educate kids to hide the truth from them, to gloss over the contentious issues?

    That’s why I object to faith schools, because that’s what they are most likely to do, even if they do it for ostensibly noble reasons. What’s worse they will gloss over their contentious issues but not extend that courtesy to other religions (or non-religious), since there are no sensibilities to protect; which amounts to essentially a dictionary definition of indoctrination.

  • Matthew Huntbach 1st Apr '08 - 1:27pm

    Yes, I would certainly regard it as unfair and biased if someone’s approach to “teaching the truth about Islam in a neutral way” were to pick out bits from the Quran which advocate violence and intolerance towards other religions, and for that person to say “there, I’m being entirely neutral, this is what the religion teaches, I’ve taken it from their holy book”.

    Of course there are debates within the religions on these issues, and there are extremists within the religions who do just this picking out the nastiest bits and placing a nasty interpretation on them. I am content to note that not once in the Gospels is Jesus recorded as saying anything like “gays will go to hell”, or in fact as saying anything about homosexuality at all. One might contrast that to the numerous occasions on which he is recorded as being critical of rich people and those who let others suffer.

    In my experience of the RC Church, this sort of charitable “love your neighbours” message is far more likely to be what one would hear than a “God hates fags and they will all go to hell” one. In fact I have not once heard a sermon preached with this latter message, or seen a piece of writing in a Catholic newspaper or magazine which has that message.

    There is certainly room for a debate on the official position of the RC Church on these matters, how it comes about, its nuances, whether it can be changed. But I can hardly trust someone who is hostile to the RC Church, as you obviously are, to be able to explain its position in a neutral way, as you claim to be able to do. What you experience religion to be about is simply not what I experience it to be about, and there, perhaps we can just agree to differ.

  • MartinSGill 1st Apr '08 - 2:18pm

    In fact I have not once heard a sermon preached with this latter message, or seen a piece of writing in a Catholic newspaper or magazine which has that message.

    So what you are saying is that the Vatican doesn’t count as valid source for Catholic messages?

    How about the Pope’s own words (Washington Post, the article generally deals with the Church’s official hard-line, i.e. church documents, stance against homosexuality)?

    But he also came down hard on homosexuality as both a proclivity and a practice: “Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency toward an intrinsic moral evil and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.”

    So… the inclination isn’t a sin… merely the act (and he’s on record since becoming Pope of reaffirming that as a Mortal Sin). But merely having the inclination is a sign of an intrinsic moral evil. Remind me of expected the punishment for sinners and evil people in the RC Church?

    From the Vatican Web Site the Catholic catechisms, i.e. the official teaching of the Catholic Church:

    2357 […] Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,140 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law.[…] Under no circumstances can they be approved.

    Oh, and in case you were wondering what the punishment for sin is (same site)…

    1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.”

    So… evil people (sinners), I presume that also includes intrinsically evil people like those with the inclination to being gay, will burn in hell. Remind me again why you believe the RC church does not hold this stance?

    Yes, the good bits exist as well, and there are a lot of them. Most of the day-to-day work done by Hamas is charity work, supporting needy people, education, electricity, medical supplies. Should we therefore not teach our children that they are also terrorists? That is the type of lessons you are advocating. I’m sure hamas faith schools do a very good job, just as RC faith schools do, of glossing over the less appealing parts of their nature.

    Would you support Hamas funded faith schools in this country that teach that Hamas is a charity, while failing to mention it’s a terrorist organisation as well?

    Most of my family is catholic, and they are religious. I don’t think they are bigots, I know they aren’t. I also know that they go out of their way to make sure their kids (my cousins) understand that the views of the catholic church on many issues, the things the kids hear about in the news and are taught at school or in church are not the views they hold, nor do they believe them to be right. They at least are honest enough to acknowledge that official church teachings and messages are not just the rosy messages you claim them to be.

    The only reason you’re not out screaming at the injustice of Hamas being labelled a terrorist organisation is that, unlike the with the RC Church, you’re not wearing Hamas tinted glasses. Could it be because you didn’t go to an Hamas faith school, but an RC one?

  • MartinSGill 1st Apr '08 - 2:27pm

    able to explain its position in a neutral way, as you claim to be able to do.

    I never claimed I could. I’m pretty certain I could, but you are right, I’m hostile towards the RC church. I consider it a force for evil. A bunch of super rich layabouts thinking they hold the key to the truth about the world and trying to impose their views on everyone else.

    I would not make a good teacher for religious education, which is why I am so certain that faith schools should not exist, as the bias of their teachers will be equally evident. That’s what you are failing to grasp.

  • “This is fine in a local activist; but when those convictions become a matter of state or governance then they must always be set aside.”

    Surely this negates the very way that consciousness and identity works. Its impossible for someone to not be guided by their beliefs to some extent. Everything that happens to us as we grow up shapes our perspective and everything we do is in light of that.

    Its far more appropriate to advocate a multicultural society than a secular one, or else you deny people the freedom to excercise and follow their own convictions. Why is your belief in secularism so infinately superior to another’s belief in christianity or in sikhim or islam that you seek to supress them?

    We follow our convictions and beliefs in choosing a political party, wherever those convictions come from we should not discriminate against someone based on the elements of their life which shape those beliefs: religious or not.

    It seems that you want to spread your religion of secularism, and to demand that others put aside theirs to fit in with it. We must have a tolerant society where people are free to excersise their beliefs so much as that does not infringe on the freedom of others. Your notions certainly seem authoritarian rather than liberal.

    The idea that parents can decide the religion of a child in a free society even if they want to is just daft. Whether they go to a church school or not, people make up their own minds. That’s just part of being human. Their parents may not like it, or may try to encourage their child on a particular path, or even put significant pressure on them: but actually deciding what someone else believes?

  • “Why is your belief in secularism so infinately superior to another’s belief in christianity or in sikhim or islam that you seek to supress them?”

    Er… Who, exactly, is seeking to suppress what?

    I am quite happy for people to practice these religions if they so choose.

    But try practicing Christianity in Saudi Arabia.

    The point about secularism is that you can believe what you like, but the state remains neutral.

    “we should not discriminate against someone based on the elements of their life which shape those beliefs: religious or not.”

    I don’t think anyone in this thread is calling for religious believers to be discriminated against.

    “We must have a tolerant society where people are free to excersise their beliefs so much as that does not infringe on the freedom of others.”

    Of what do we have to be tolerant? Widow burning? Female genital mutilation? Arranged marriages? The stoning to death of adulterers?

    “The idea that parents can decide the religion of a child in a free society even if they want to is just daft. Whether they go to a church school or not, people make up their own minds.”

    Easier said than done.

    How “free” is an Amish to walk away from his church? When the consequence is disinheritance and lifetime banishment? And when one speaks only German in an English-speaking country and has no qualifications?

    And what of a Moslem woman who rejects an arranged marriage and is hunted down by her family and subjected to an honour killing?

    Oh, sorry. I forgot. Honour killing is a precious symbol of Islamic moral superiority over the infidel which we are required to “respect”.

  • MartinSGill 1st Apr '08 - 3:18pm

    It seems that you want to spread your religion of secularism, and to demand that others put aside theirs to fit in with it. We must have a tolerant society where people are free to excersise their beliefs so much as that does not infringe on the freedom of others. Your notions certainly seem authoritarian rather than liberal.

    Strange, why is it that whenever religous apologists object to something they label it a “religion”, even when it’s nothing of the kind. Could it be that it then allows them to think of it as just another cult they disagree with and can ignore, instead of having to engage with it? Maybe I should give up trying to spread my libdem religion, or my human rights religion as well?

    Secularism is the freedom of people to believe what they wish and not have the state or anyone else interfere with their beliefs or disadvantage them because of them. Which is basically what you want. This applies to everyone, even your kids. Faith schools disadvantage those people that are undicided, or not of that faith. Cultural “sensitivity” in our laws and attitudes means that in many cases issues and human rights are ignored because “it’s their culture and we musn’t interfere”.

    Everyone should be treated equally by the state and by the law. Secularism accepts that it’s impossible to provide equal and identical funding, time, resources and support to every conceivable culture or religion, therefore the only viable and fair alternative is that we should provide support to none of them. That is the fairest and most liberal approach, and that is what secularism is all about.

    The idea that parents can decide the religion of a child in a free society even if they want to is just daft. Whether they go to a church school or not, people make up their own minds. That’s just part of being human. Their parents may not like it, or may try to encourage their child on a particular path, or even put significant pressure on them: but actually deciding what someone else believes?

    It’s not hard. Religions have been doing that for time immemorial. The reason people are now able to make up their own minds is because a lot of what is taught now is generally secular in nature. People are taught facts and the way to discover and verify those facts without reference to religious doctrine. Doctrines and revelations, even if taught as fact, as they always have been and still are in faith schools, are now countered by scientific reasoning and critical thinking (ironically often built right into the unreasoning faith structures of modern religion), skills the church made considerable efforts throughout history to keep exclusive to it’s priesthood, i.e. it’s ruling elite, already vetted by them. Almost all “original” naturalists and philosophers were priests for this reason. The very reason we have this free society you mention is because we’ve pushed back the influence of religion and religious indoctrination of your society and our children. Faith schools are an attempt to try and maintain as much of old “truth by revelation” teaching of religions as they can.

    Religions re-invented themselves as bastions of morality once they realised that they could no longer maintain their all encompassing control of all aspects of our life. (See how long and hard religions have persecuted scientists). This withdrawal from a force dominating all aspects of life (c.f. sharia law in Islam) to one dealing mainly with morality is something that Islam for example (especially outside Europe) has yet to do. Saudi Arabia is the type of society European countries were a few hundred years ago; trying to repress all access to non-church-approved knowledge and items to ensure people aren’t free to make up their own minds.

    I’d actually argue that in Europe protestantism was the first step towards our free-er society, rejecting the authoritarian, centralised, dictatorship of the catholic church for a more personal and individual relationship with God (protestantism also re-introduced the humanist approach to morality and ethics to Europe). Secularism is merely the next step in this process, and a necessary one if we want people of different religions to be able to peacefully exist.

  • Matthew Huntbach 1st Apr '08 - 11:34pm

    Martin, Protestantism in England was introduced by the state smashing up the diversity of religious orders and shrines which existed in England, and insisting that everyone worship in the way the state said so. In many other places, Protestantism has meant the rigid literal interpretation of scripture in the place of the acceptance of allegory in Catholicism. Have you ever studied what life was like under Calvin in Geneva? To insist that Protestantism was necessarily more liberal than Catholicism is to deny history. I’m not saying this to suggest the reverse is necessarily true, but to indicate the actual position is more complex than your simplistic way would have it.

    In reply to your earlier point, you might consisder the following words from Pope John Paul II in his book “Crossing the Threshold of Hope” (page 186):

    “Can God, who loves man so much permit the man who rejects him to be condmened to eternal torment? The silence of the Church is, therefore, the only appropriate position for the Christian faith. Even when Jesus says of Judas, the traitor, ‘It would be better for that man had he never been born’ his words do not allude for certain to eternal damnation”.

    So the Pope’s position was that we cannot say for certain that anyone will go to hell. This is the general tone of discussion in the RC Church on these matters these days. Sure it is a change from the bad old days, when there was a tendency for things to be put the other way round.

    On homosexuality, you have not quoted article 2358 of the RC catechism where it says of homosexuals “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

    There are liberal and conservative tendencies in the RC Church as there are in other religions. You seem to want to view it, and for it to be portrayed in what you would claim as “neutral” teaching only in terms of its most conservatve tendencies.

    Regarding Hamas, I am sorry that in the Muslim world the conservatives and pro-violence people seem to be so successful at the moment, and Islam’s history of toleration and its more liberal streams seems to have been sunk. It is very necessary for those who come from a Muslim background but who have a more liberal interpretation of that religion to stand up and witness to that, rather than to remains silent and let the violent extremists do all the talking. As I’ve said, my position is that if Islam were taught openly in state funded schools we would be in a better position to question it and to challenge those who teach it in a way which emphasises violence and intolerance than we are when Islam is passed on in the way it is now – through private organisations often funded and staffed from dubious backgrounds. If we had state funded Islamic schools, we could and should make sure they are NOT dominated by extremist factions of Islam like Hamas.

  • MartinSGill 2nd Apr '08 - 11:43am

    You may well be right about protestantism, at least in the UK. My impression of protestantism and its effect/influence/origins comes from a protestant theologian, so she might well be biased. I also agree that it’s a lot more complex.

    While I disagreed with Pope JP2 on many issues he wasn’t anywhere near the medieval throwback that Ratzinger is. I seem to recall at least one cardinal remarked around the time of Ratzingers selection that he would probably set back relations with homosexual communities.

    Article 2358 is one that ratzinger and other catholic church spokesmen might want to remember when they talk about insisting that adoption agencies or employers are allowed to discriminate against homesexuals. Of course… they might well argue that because gays are “intrinsically evil”… any discrimnation against them isn’t “unjust”; a nice opt-out that. Of course the other catechisms labelling homosexuality as “unnatural”, untolerable etc is hardly treating the matter with “sensitivity”, “respect” or “compassion”.

    That’s the point though of my arguement for comparative religion. You can add that article into the discussion. Hiding the articles I quoted though, which seems to be what you think faith schools should do, is dishonest and deceptive, deliberatly misleading. It’s a biased view of RC.

    I suspect that the real lesson for comparative religion is somwhere between your rose tinted view and my more negative view. The problem with faith schools though is that your rose tinted view prevails. Your not providing kids the knowledge to make a critical evaluation of the issue and willfully witholding that knowledge amounts to indoctrination. I’d want secular schools when talking about secularism to mention France and the secularists there a century or two ago who actually were militant and physically attacked and destroyed churches and religious symbols (current religious apologists just use the phrase “militant secularist” on outspoken secularists as a means of discrediting them by generating fear and distrust of them by implications of violent tendencies. By the same definition the Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury are militant christians).

    Forcing Islamic schools to conform to our view of their religion is a step a government should never take. Government should not interfere in their religion at all. They can teach whatever they want, as long as they don’t do it with government money or break our laws.

    In schools kids should be taught our laws, and should be taught all possible views with equal weighting, and consequently how those views led to our laws. They should be taught about religion and how views differ between and within religions and non-religious value system. The laws should also apply equally to every single person, regardless of their religion, culture, ideology. Treat everyone equally, don’t make exceptions because someone or something is religious or of a specific religion.

    Faiths schools are intrinsically unable to teach objectively and fairly about their religion and therefore they, by their nature discriminate against anyone and everyone not of (or yet of) their faith.

    Christian faith schools in this country have led directly to creationists like Peter Vardy running schools. That’s proof enough that a faith school system cannot prevent people with an open agenda of indoctrination from teaching our kids. A secular system would at least prevent them doing it with state money; and forcing kids to go to such a school because there are no others in the area or because the others are full. It won’t eliminate it, you’ll always have the odd teacher who’ll proselytise, but you’d be making it considerably harder and you’d have a framework that can stop them which is not forced to discriminate or single out any one religion or ideology.

  • It’s interesting that the apologists for for faith schools rarely if ever mention the rights or best interests of the child as a justification for their position.

    Its always exclusively about the rights and interests of the parent.

  • MartinSGill 2nd Apr '08 - 1:56pm

    Its always exclusively about the rights and interests of the parent.

    Something I’ve remarked on often enough. It’s not surprising though, the faith school proponents are basically just mimicking the structures they already live under, which are totalitarian and authoritarian. The authorities being their local priest, church leaders, their holy books and eventually their gods. God being the ultimate dictator. That many may consider him benevolent doesn’t change what he is.

    Faith schools are merely an extension of “divine right”; the “divine right” of religious parents to impose their ideology (and hence the source/justification of their rule and authority) on their children.

    It makes faith school proponents that are also anti-monarchy rather hypocritical. Why remove the monarchy, people are free to make up their own mind and leave the country. Isn’t that what they say about children and religion, that they are free to leave?

    In practice, it’s never quite that easy to leave. The cost (emotional/social even financial) is very high.

  • Matthew Huntbach wrote:

    “Martin, Protestantism in England was introduced by the state smashing up the diversity of religious orders and shrines which existed in England, and insisting that everyone worship in the way the state said so.”

    So who introduced Roman Catholicism into England, if it was not the state?

    Roman Catholicism was imposed with an iron fist. Those who dissented were burned at the stake. Up until the dissolution of the monsateries, the Church owned a third of all the land.

    So the Reformation not only weakened the ideological hold of the Church, leading ultimately to the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, it also had the effect of finishing off the feudal system (by increasing the diversity of land ownership).

    Even if we reject the Prayer Book or the doctrines of Luther and Calvin, we cannot deny that the Reformation was an unqualified good. It ended the Middle Ages.

    “As I’ve said, my position is that if Islam were taught openly in state funded schools we would be in a better position to question it and to challenge those who teach it in a way which emphasises violence and intolerance than we are when Islam is passed on in the way it is now – through private organisations often funded and staffed from dubious backgrounds.”

    A devious defence of “faith” schools. Firstly, having any kind of segregated school entrenches separation. Secondly, having a “safe” state-funded “faith” school is no guarantee that the “back street” versions will go away. In much the same way that licensed brothels don’t do away with illegal brothels; and licensed brothels continue to exploit women under the nose of the state.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Apr '08 - 10:54am

    So much to comment on here …

    Martin: “Your not providing kids the knowledge to make a critical evaluation of the issue and willfully withholding that knowledge amounts to indoctrination”

    Where have I advocated withholding knowledge? I have not. I would certainly wish a faith school to provide full knowledge and experience of its faith, so that pupils in it can make an informed and mature decision as to whether they wish to continue with that faith. I was suggesting that you wished to withhold knowledge by taking some things out of the context in which they occur and over-emphasising them. On homosexuality it is a matter of fact that the issue does not exercise RC leaders nearly as much as you seem to imagine, and that fiery denunciations of it from the pulpit just don’t happen. Certain evangelical Protestants seem to get far more worked up about the issue. I would think it appropriate at senior level for a Religious Education lesson to involve discussions of the Church’s position on homosexuality, which would involve contributions from a variety of sources, including the catechism sections you note.

    “Forcing Islamic schools to conform to our view of religion”. No – I would like them to reflect Islam in the full, and not Islam as it is interpreted by wealthy Saudi Arabian Wahhabis, or Islam as interpreted by the sort of extremists who volunteer to do instruction when it’s a free-for-all. Also that if the Islamic education is done in the open as part of the state system, even if it is not controlled, it is more open to debate and interaction. While ultimately, yes, I would like to have mechanisms to ensure faith education doesn’t get taken over by extremists of that faith, and doesn’t act in a way which is intolerantly illiberal, I would hope that those mechanisms would not need to be more than light touch.

    “Christian faith schools in this country have led directly to creationists like Peter Vardy running school”. I am not advocating that sort of faith school. Indeed, that is the equivalent of the wealthy Saudi Arabian Wahhabiist approach which I condemned above. I am advocating faith schools when there is a demand for them and what is taught in them reflects that demand. That is NOT the same as a faith school provide because some wealthy individual who advocates an extremist form of that faith is willing to put up a large amount of money to propagate it, and children go to it not because they or their parents advocate that extremist approach to the faith, but because the school is a “good school” due to this wealth subsidy. So the argument for state funding of religious education is the argument AGAINST the Vardy approach, that is, it ensures religious education isn’t of the form put forward by wealthy people.

    Iainm: “It’s interesting that the apologists for for faith schools rarely if ever mention the rights or best interests of the child as a justification for their position”.

    I have already said on many occasions in this debate that I recognise the conflict. That is I do see a balance between the liberal right of parents to bring up children as they wish, and those children’s own rights. There’s room for a huge amount of debate on where that balance lies. But – a deliberate straw man here, I’m not saying you’re suggesting it – the extreme case of the argument “protect the best interest of the child against parental interference” can get pretty nasty, involving state indoctrination, and the sort of things associated, for example, with the Maoist “cultural revolution”.

    Martin: “It’s not surprising though, the faith school proponents are basically just mimicking the structures they already live under, which are totalitarian and authoritarian. The authorities being their local priest, church leaders, their holy books and eventually their gods.”

    Well, there you go again. You are not inside my head, and I am afraid your attempts to get inside my head and tell me who you think I am are ludicrously wrong. You have your own jaundiced belief on what it is to be religious or what motivates people to practice a religion, it does not concur with my own experiences. So stop trying to tell me who you think I am. I am a free person, and I can make up my own mind, I don’t need some authoritarian person like you telling me that I hold views because of why you think I hold those views.

    Sesenco: “Roman Catholicism was imposed with an iron fist. Those who dissented were burned at the stake. Up until the dissolution of the monsateries, the Church owned a third of all the land.
    So the Reformation not only weakened the ideological hold of the Church, leading ultimately to the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, it also had the effect of finishing off the feudal system (by increasing the diversity of land ownership).”

    I would suggest you read the great radical, William Cobbett on this matter:

    http://www.exclassics.com/protref/protint.htm

    I am not saying “Catholic good, Protestant bad”, but I am arguing against the old Whig interpretation of history “Catholic bad, Protestant good”. Yes, of course ultimately the Reformation was an important part of the development of liberalism. That does not mean it was always – or even mostly – pursued with a liberal aim.

    Cobbett himself was not a Catholic, but he was able to see through the hypocrisy of the state establishment and its interpretation of history at the time in a way that you, nearly 200 years later, obviously cannot. That is, he could see how the official interpretation of the English reformation as promoting freedom was used to hide the way in which it involved state control, the establishment of the new aristocracy loyal to the Tudor establishment, and the loss of the charitable aspects of Christianity.

    Part of the reason I have an interest in Catholicism is seeing how Protestantism leads to the evil of the “religious right” as seen for example in the USA. Similar is seen in Islam – it is the Islam equivalent of Protestantism, the Wahhabbi stream, which is driving the evil of Islamic Fundamentalism. That is, the removal of an overall authority which can rein in fringe elements, and the insistence on a text-alone based approach to religion, does seem to lead to an environment in which extremists flourish and moderates in religion are forced out.

  • I think that those who have argued support for faith schools is a matter of parental choice should take a look at the front page of todays Independant…it claims that faith schools are asking for contributions *before* admission, neglecting children in care, asking about the material status and occupation of parents at admission interviews….how is this increaseing parental choice??

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Apr '08 - 11:16am

    Darrell, there is nothing intrinsic in faith schools which mean they must do this, nor does the article suggest that most faith schools do this (it seems to be an issue particularly with Jewish schools, and they have counter-claimed that there are specific Jewish-related issues which lead to these requests for a “voluntary” contribution). I am happy to condemn those faith schools which abuse the system in this way.

  • I beg to differ actually, faith schools are already selective schools because they are selecting pupils on a faith criteria….once the principle is enshrined that selection is ok most are seeming to think why not just go the whole hog…and you also must have misread the article because it says of the sample taken 96% of the schools abused the code and the sub-header is ‘vast majority are illegally excluding poor pupils’.

  • Matthew, how can you claim to be a Christian and reject what the Bible tells you? Genesis says that God made the world in six days. That is the literal word of God. If you don’t believe it, you are not a Christian.

    The religious “moderates” want the power and status that goes with controlling people’s minds, but they reject those bits of the belief system they find embarrassing or inconvenient. They want to have their cake and eat it. At least the fundamentalists are consistent.

    The debate about “faith” schools has very little to do with “faith” and everything to do with keeping the power structures intact.

    Where did you acquire the belief that the Church’s charitable work ended with the Reformation?

    Walk through any town or village and count the number of almshouses founded by the Church of England.

  • MartinSGill 3rd Apr '08 - 12:46pm

    Well, there you go again. You are not inside my head, and I am afraid your attempts to get inside my head and tell me who you think I am are ludicrously wrong. You have your own jaundiced belief on what it is to be religious or what motivates people to practice a religion, it does not concur with my own experiences. So stop trying to tell me who you think I am. I am a free person, and I can make up my own mind, I don’t need some authoritarian person like you telling me that I hold views because of why you think I hold those views.

    I was talking about the general (even abstract) religious structure (one that applies to pretty much every organised religion/ideology); every person has their own twists on things of course. I was not making any attempt to “get in your head”, maybe you only feel that way because you recognised yourself and it seems to have made you angry; as infered from your personal attack on me and your call for me to shut up (in not so many words).

    Do you, or do you not behave in a way that you believe God wants or commands of you, are you a “follower” of a religion? If the answer is “Yes”, you do, then I am right. You base your knowledge of what your god wants / commands of you on the teachings/laws/rules/commands of your church and/or the bible; they are called “command”ments for a reason. You might “interpret” what you don’t personally agree with (what exactly gives you the right to “interpret” the commands of your god, or the arrogance to presume you know better than your church leaders / holy books who must surely be closer to the truth than you?). However you come by it, in the end you are doing what you think your god demands of you. If the bible didn’t exist you’d not even know of your alleged god’s existence, his alleged messiah, nor what they allegedly want of you. The entire master/slave relationship is made very clear in the bible, not least by refering to your alleged god as “The Lord”; the ultimate master and you his “servant”.

    Religious people are slaves to their god(s); even if they don’t think they are slaves to any cleric or book. Attacking me personally for pointing out a truth you might find uncomfortable doesn’t change it. Just because their god tells them to be nice to people instead of telling them to go kill everyone, doesn’t make them any less of a slave.

    You want the state to fund, through faith schools, your desire to make slaves of your children, as commanded/expected of you by your “Lord”.

  • I think that one of the issues with a pluralistic state is that this is a temporary state of affairs. What I mean is that we have moved from a Christendom model (where broadly – although not exclusively – laws have been framed around a Christian perspective) – to a “middle ground” – which I fear is only a waiting room until another model comes along.

    In the meantime the laws are not been framed around a long termist set of values but from those who are in power. Currently we have Labour and increasingly they are becoming more and more authoritarian and “nanny state-ish”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Apr '08 - 10:58pm

    Sesenco “how can you claim to be a Christian and reject what the Bible tells you? Genesis says that God made the world in six days. That is the literal word of God. If you don’t believe it, you are not a Christian.”

    You are Ian Paisley, and I claim my five pounds.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Apr '08 - 11:04pm

    Martin, I’m not attacking you personally, I’m simply saying that no I don’t recognise myself at all in what you are saying, and I am rather fed up with you trying to pigeonhole me into your preconceived ideas. Like most militant secularisst, of course you are happiest with “fundamnetalist” approaches to religion, and so you try to deny the legitimacy or even the right to exist of someone who has a a respect for religion, but sees it as myths and practices around which a community is built rather than literal truth. You are only exposoiing your own intolerane in your refusal to accept the right of someone to be different from you.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Apr '08 - 11:08pm

    Richard, the state religion these days is the worship of wealth and celebrity. The celebrities are the gods and godesses whose lives we follow and who we adore, the big businessmen are the priests who encourage us to follow this religion. That is, popular entertainment has taken the place which religion used to occupy in people’s lives.

  • Matthew Huntbach wrote (referring to Martin S Gill):

    “Like most militant secularisst, of course you are happiest with “fundamnetalist” approaches to religion, and so you try to deny the legitimacy or even the right to exist of someone who has a a respect for religion, but sees it as myths and practices around which a community is built rather than literal truth.”

    Right. So you are a symbolic Christian, like Don Cupit and his preposterous “Sea of Faith” movement? It’s all a load of rubbish, but it does give a few manipulative people the opportunity to have power and status and lord it over the poor and ignorant, so let’s not ruin the fun. Is that what you tell the priest when you go to confession?

    I’m old-fashioned enough to think that either the claims of Christianity are true or they are false. If we really will go to hell and burn for eternity if we refuse to grovel to priests, then that is a pretty good reason to grovel to priests.

  • By the way, I have more respect for Ian Paisley than I do for Don Cupit. At least Paisley has prevented Adams and McGuinness imposing a final solution on Ulster. For Cupit, crossing the road to the off licence would be a substantial achievement.

  • MartinSGill 4th Apr '08 - 8:57am

    Like most militant secularisst, of course you are happiest with “fundamnetalist” approaches to religion, and so you try to deny the legitimacy or even the right to exist of someone

    You are only exposoiing your own intolerane in your refusal to accept the right of someone to be different from you.

    Michael you appear hypocritical. You have spent as much time trying to pigeon-hole me and crawl into my mind and tell me what I think.

    I respect individuals. I also respect your right to be different. I even respect you, or I wouldn’t be debating politely with you and giving you the chance to show that there’s a reason to respect what you believe in. So far you’ve failed to do that; merely highlighted the inconsistencies in how you piece your collection of beliefs together.

    I have no respect for what you actually believe, no more than I respect racist, homophobic, or anarchist beliefs; there is no rational reason to believe what you believe is true. They (and you) are free to believe what they want, free to be different, but they have no right to demand I don’t ridicule and criticise or oppose their beliefs; and neither do you.

    You are free to ridicule and criticise my beliefs, which in fact you have been doing all along, yet you demand that I’m not allowed to do that with yours. It’s a double standard and extremely common amongst the militant religious like yourself.

    but sees it as myths and practices […] rather than literal truth

    This is not a secularist view. It’s the view of anyone that doesn’t share your particular religion or set of beliefs; including every other religion and those Christians that have a different “interpretation”. Religious belief is all about the willing suspension of disbelief, aka faith; it’s encouraged. Religion (and other dogmatic ideologies like communism) are the only places in life where willing suspension of disbelief is considered a virtue and encouraged. Willing suspension of disbelief is what’s required to read fiction and fiction painted as truth is called deception.

    Faith schools are wrong because they encourage the treatment of willing suspension of disbelief as a virtue. All the worst atrocities in history have happened because people believed “on faith” the views of their leaders. We shouldn’t be encouraging that.

    You have the right to your beliefs, you have the right to exist and hold those beliefs, you even have the right to act on those beliefs, what you don’t have is the right to impose those beliefs on others, or expect special treatment, or deny others their rights (the same rights you have) because of your beliefs. That’s why I oppose organised religion because everywhere I look it’s the religious organisations trying to impose their views on me, or trying to get special treatment for themselves, for no other reason than “because God”. They assume they are morally superior simply because they have suspended their disbelief.

    There is no rational secular reason for having faith schools. There’s no rational secular reason for discriminating against gays. There’s no rational secular reason for slavery, oppressing women, opposing embryo research. There’s no rational reason for discriminating against other faiths, but that’s what faith schools are designed to do.

    If the Catholic church (or you, for that matter) actually managed to make a coherent argument opposing embryo research/faith-schools/discrimination that didn’t come down to “because god”, but was based on rational, secular arguments I’d listen.

    They problem is they and you don’t, because they can’t. The “good” values of religions, those accepted in a liberal secular democracy, are the ones that have a rational secular justification. Religions just copied those values from other sources anyway. The oldest moral stance, the golden rule (treat others as you wish to be treated, or in Jesus-speak “love thy neighbour”) was first recorded on ancient Egyptian stone tablets 4000 years before Jesus was alleged to have been born; making it older even than Judaism, and Jesus simply a plagiariser.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Apr '08 - 9:27am

    Martin, where have I tried to pigeonhole you? I have accepted that you hold different beliefs to me, but I have not tried to suggest other reasons than you have stated for holding those beliefs or stating them. I could have said, for example, that you oppose religion because you oppose its concern about loose sexuality because you are a sexual predator who likes to prey upon young children. That would be grossly offensive, though I have seen articles like that in certain religious publications. But it is the sort of thing you and others are doing when you try to get inside my head, analyse (and get it completely wrong) why I hold my position, and suggest that if it isn’t because of a religiously fundamentalist belief it must be because I wish to exercise power and lord it over other people.

    My concern throughout this debate is simply one of tolerance – that we accept the right of people to have beliefs and practices different from our own. I think I have made a coherent argument for faith schools on the ground of liberalism and plurality, nowhere in my argument have I used the line “because God says so”. The fact that you continue to accuse me of using that line just indicates that you are a rather stupid and intolerant person, and to be honest I don’t think I’ll bother debating with you any more on those grounds. It is pointless debating with people whose only response is to parrot back their original lines rather than to engage in what one is actually saying.

  • Matthew, you seem to have confused Martin S Gill with myself. We are quite different people and are (probably) approaching this debate from a slightly different starting point.

    Now, will you answer the following question? Do you believe in a symbolic God (as Don Cupit does), a personal God (ie, the one who looks like a man and made the world in six days – Cambrian through to Pleistocene), or an impersonal God (an intelligent force which present day science is unable to observe directly).

    I ask you this in the light of your comments above. You seem to be saying that Christian beliefs are false, but we should pretend they are true in order to preserve a culture.

    Will you give a straight answer to my question?

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Apr '08 - 9:55am

    Laurence, I made my point about Sesenco because he was indeed adopting exactly the position about Christianity that an extremist Protestant would make – that the only legitimate form of Christianity is one which is based entirely in the Bible and takes a completely literal approach to it. That is to deny history and reality – since the Bible was a product of the organised Church and not vice versa, and arguments about whether it is literal truth or allegory can be found in some of the earliest Christian writings from the time before the canon of the Bible was even established. Since the Catholic Church has long accepted that the world was not literally made in 6 24-hour days, Sesenco is saying that the Pope is not Christian – which of course is just the sort of thing someone like Ian Paisley would say.

    I joined in this debate to argue for religious tolerance and liberalism, not for precise theological positions. Tolerance means you accept the position that people you oppose have and take it as face value unless you have very good reason not to. I don’t mean by “accepting” here that you have to drop your own case and agree to it, all I mean is that you accept that it is a legitimate case, and you don’t accuse them of holding it only for nefarious reasons. That is, you agree to disagree.

    My own experience of Catholic schools is that they are simply not as their opponents paint them, and my own experience of Catholic priests and Catholic people in general is that they are simply not as their opponents paint them. They do not have the mentality that has been continually ascribed to them by contributors to this discussion; my belief that they are sincere and have been seriously misrepresented by the opponents of faith schools does not depend on any personal beliefs of myself in the tenets of that faith. You may argue against those tenets, fine, I have no problem with that. You may suggest that my observations may happen to have been fortuitous and your own observations are different. But when my observations are themselves denied and I am accused of saying what I say due to some hidden illiberal agenda, that is to accuse me of being a liar, and I do strongly object to that.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Apr '08 - 9:57am

    Sesenco, I joined this group to argue the case for personal tolerance, not to argue for any particular religious position or to make any personal statement of faith. So, no I won’t answer your question.

  • My concern throughout this debate is simply one of tolerance – that we accept the right of people to have beliefs and practices different from our own.

    Except, of course, for our children. They have no right to have beliefs and practices different from our own, because they are our spiritual property to do with as we please, to warp, intellectually and morally, in whatever way our faith dictates, yes?

    I think your idea of a “coherent argument” must differ from mine.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Apr '08 - 10:08am

    Iainm, no. I have made my position clear, and I won’t bother repeating it.

  • Matthew, this is what you said about your own beliefs in an unguarded moment: “and so you try to deny the legitimacy or even the right to exist of someone who has a a respect for religion, but sees it as myths and practices around which a community is built rather than literal truth.”

    If this really is your position, then you are a theological fraud, like the Reverend Don Cupit and the (no longer) Reverend Anthony Freeman.

    You are demanding that the state pay for the indoctrination of children with rubbish.

    Why would you wish to keep a community together which is based on falsehood? As a means of social control (which is how Nicholas Van Hoogstraten and John Patten see religion)? If that is so, then you reveal yourself to be an authoritarian conservative, in the mold of Roger Scruton or Simon Heffer.

    I am not surprised you refuse to answer my question.

  • apologies for the broke quote tags on the first paragraph of the previous post

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Apr '08 - 10:16am

    So, Sesenco, would you e.g. snatch Jewish children away from their homes because being brought up in those Jewish homes with Jewish culture is “indoctrination” into that culture? What does that make you?

  • MartinSGill 4th Apr '08 - 10:19am

    No Matthew, I don’t accuse you of “wanting”. Many religious people though do want to and some don’t even realise what it is they are doing.

    Be it Muslim parents that force girls to wear veils, or forced marriages, or Christian parents that punish kids (physically or emotionally) for so much as questioning god/Jesus/religion; or even disown them.

    They just “know” it to be right because they’ve grown up with it and been a part of it all their lives. If all religious people were as tolerant as you seem to be I’d be less worried. People who’ve grown up with slavery and been immersed in it all their lives have just as hard a time seeing that it’s wrong.

    I just have to look around me at creationists, religiously inspired homophobes, sexists, at religious trying to curtail freedom of speech by trying to bring about “respect for religion” gag-laws, or getting critical/satirical films/shows banned.

    The problem is that your tolerance only goes so far. You don’t show tolerance towards the kids and their right to discover their own beliefs by putting them into a prejudiced environment.

    Many individual Christians might be good and tolerant but many others aren’t. It’s impossible to protect our kids from the intolerant, because the tolerant justify and protect the rights of the intolerant.

    Can you honestly say that you, or any other religious person, are not prejudiced when it comes to your religion? Of course you are, you think your view is right, and the others are wrong; just as I think you are wrong.

    Secular schools promote a balanced environment; everyone will have their prejudices towards what they think is true; ideally you’ll have lots of different prejudices and truths all balancing each other out. A faith school does not have that balance. It’s biased and therefore denies children an environment where they are free to learn and decide for themselves.

    The intolerant love them because they help them keep their children’s freedoms suppressed; and you’re helping them.

    Please answer these questions:

    Do you believe that your religion is the best possible view to hold? Do you think it succeeds on it’s merits? If it does, why do you need faith schools, surely in a secular school your religion, which succeeds on it’s merits, will also be successful?

    Faith schools are an admission that religion cannot stand on it’s merits alone, but needs extra push.

    Tolerance means you accept the position that people you oppose have and take it as face value unless you have very good reason not to.

    There being no evidence to support their basic position is a pretty good reason.

    …and you don’t accuse them of holding it only for nefarious reasons

    I don’t accuse them of holding it for nefarious reasons. I actually think that most honest religious people, be they suicide bombers or dedicated peaceful teachers do what they do because they believe it to be true, because they believe they are doing the right thing.

    The problem is they believe it based on no evidence and because they live under a system that encourages, promotes and celebrates that lack of evidence of justification. Religion and organised religion in particular intrinsically works to promote itself. Organised religion is nefarious; most religious people just cannot seem to see the whole picture, because they are a part of that picture.

    I don’t doubt that you or other religious people see no harm in faith schools, that most of you have no nefarious intentions. Yet what you are actually doing is nefarious, even if you don’t think that’s what you are doing.

    How do faith schools promote the individual freedoms of children to receive a non-prejudiced education?

  • MartinSGill 4th Apr '08 - 10:23am

    So, Sesenco, would you e.g. snatch Jewish children away from their homes because being brought up in those Jewish homes with Jewish culture is “indoctrination” into that culture? What does that make you?

    Strawman.

    Culture and religion are different things. I actually know a couple of “Jewish” atheists, and know of many more.

    Additionally the state should never do that. Just as the state should never fund faith schools for exactly the same reason. The state should not support nor restrict unless it absolutely must.

    Removing kids is restricting, funding faith schools is supporting. Both are wrong.

  • Matthe Huntbach wrote:

    “So, Sesenco, would you e.g. snatch Jewish children away from their homes because being brought up in those Jewish homes with Jewish culture is “indoctrination” into that culture? What does that make you?”

    Read what I wrote, Matthew. I said the STATE should not pay for the indoctrination of children with rubbish.

    Presumably you are saying that religious Jews don’t actually believe the tenets of the religion they practice? Are you? Does this only apply to Jews, then?

    What does that make YOU, Matthew?

    Oh, I forgot. Kidnapping Jewish children was something one of the early 20th C Popes did.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Apr '08 - 11:13am

    Sesenco, if it is “indoctrination” to send children to a school where they are taught in more detail about one religion than another and encouraged to take part in its ritual practices, then it is indoctrination to do the same at home. If this indoctrination is wrong because it acts against the children’s freedom to decide on their own culture, then it is as wrong to do it at home as it is to do it in schools. Therefore, the corollary of the argument that it is wrong is that children should be snatched from homes where it is done.

  • Matthew, the difference is that the state pays for the one, not the latter.

  • MartinSGill 4th Apr '08 - 11:26am

    If this indoctrination is wrong because it acts against the children’s freedom to decide on their own culture, then it is as wrong to do it at home as it is to do it in schools. Therefore, the corollary of the argument that it is wrong is that children should be snatched from homes where it is done.

    That’s the view many churches have had throughout history, and many religious still hold. It’s errant nonsense and your conclusion doesn’t logically follow from your predicate.

    Yes, it’s wrong to indoctrinate children. It’s also wrong to remove children from their parents. For the most part it causes greater harm to remove the kids than for the parents to indoctrinate them. The exception being parents, who through their religious indoctrination/beliefs, endanger the lives of their children, e.g. by denying/withholding medical treatment.

    Since indoctrination is wrong, yet only indirectly harmful, the state has no justification for actively preventing it; yet it should under no circumstances condone nor promote/support it. Therefore the state should under no circumstances fund faith schools.

  • “If this indoctrination is wrong because it acts against the children’s freedom to decide on their own culture, then it is as wrong to do it at home as it is to do it in schools. Therefore, the corollary of the argument that it is wrong is that children should be snatched from homes where it is done.”

    My word

    Even if it is as wrong, morally, ethically and intellectually, to indoctrinate children at home as it it is to indoctrinate them at schools, it is not the state’s place to take that sort of position on religion, which is the whole point!

    The difference between the two situations, which I really shouldn’t need to spell out to anyone who claims to be a liberal, but evidently I’ll have to, is that in the case of indoctrination at home, this is happening in spite of, or with no reference to the state, whereas in the case of indoctrination in the schools is happening with the active conivance and assistance of the state.

  • We can debate this point as much as people would like but I have to say work today for me provided a concrete example of why the supporters of faith schools are wrong…

    Quite innocently one of my collegues remarked that she had been baptised but wishes she hadnt because she doesnt believe in God and had told her parents as much…

    Now, the challenge to faith school supporters is this…what gave her parents the right to make that choice for her at an early age? One now, that with free will and ability to make her own descisions, she now repudiates?? However, in practice she cannot unbaptise herself. What gives parents the right to determine a childs beliefs??

    There is all the difference in the world between parents protecting and rearing there children and those self-same parents determining what a child should think and believe. Faith schooling is pigeon-holeing of the worst kind, the correct approach for parents is to say ‘this is what we beleive is right and why’ but thereafter leave such descisions to the individual child to make at the time they see fit…the only time a parent should be empowered to overide these rights is when that child places themselves or others in direct danger by their actions..and this is certainly not the case in the faith school debate. A lack of religious schooling will not make a person necessarily a danger to themselves or necessarily deprive them of a conscience…in reality a secterian schooling is far more likely to make a child ignorant and inconsiderate of the wider world.

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Apr '08 - 11:16pm

    Darrel, so parents should not tell children any stories, not talk to them about their politics, not try to get them interested in any sports or hobbies or art anything else they like, should not enrol them in any clubs or societies, should not get them to train in any musical insttrument, etc etc in case the child should reject that in later life and feel bitter about it? Instead, the state should take over, and give all children a strictly neutral bland and unbiased education with parents told “butt out – it’s OUR business how your child is brought up, not yours”?

    Darrel, where is your evidence that children who have gone to faith schools are more ignorant and inconsiderate of the real world? Where are these marauding gangs of ignorant and inconsiderate Catholics who must exist if what you say is true?

    I see faith schools as doing just what you say is right – informing children of the basis of their parent’s faith and giving them some experience of it, but letting them make a decision about it as they grow older. What I read from the opponents of faith schools in debates like this is that most of them seem to have a very odd and prejudiced idea about what goes on in them. They seem to see Catholic schools of today as if they are still like those small private convent schools that used to exist but have long disappeared.

  • Matthew,

    How on earth can you conflate the telling of stories with religious indoctrination?? Neatly avoided the central point of what I said with your smoke and mirrors response though didnt you…

    Frankly ive had a couple of experiences of people who have had a Catholic upbringing who have frankly been messed up..not least by the doctrinal, repressed and anti-human approach of the Catholic church to sex and relationships…

  • Religion and its notions of sin can lead to serious self-esteem problems in people who are made to feel sinful for having perfectly natural urges and feelings, i’m sure there are plenty of instances out there where its has led to serious self-harm, depression and all that kind of stuff….as well as intolrence, prejeudice on other grounds (remember the story from the Independant, parents were quizzed about what their marital status was something that should have nothing to do with a childs education)…

    I am not saying parents should butt out but frankly where in your reply do you answer my question? What gave my collegues parents the right to take the determination of her faith out of her own hands…surely your postion now puts you well outside of liberalism?? It puts you against an individuals ability to freely determine their own belifes…of course parents can talk to their children about these things but they have absolutely no right to predetermine what that individuals belifes should be by pigeon holeing them at such an early age…

  • Throughout this dialogue Matthew has done his very best to whitewash Roman Catholic “faith” schools. They are just like other schools, he tells us, except that they operate a system of apartheid based on the “faith” identity of their parents and they indoctrinate children with Roman Catholic beliefs.

    Now, I have no personal experience of Roman Catholic “faith” schools, so as a child and teenager I had little idea what they were like other than my general suspicion that they were rather nasty places. Then, when I went to college and university and met former pupils, my suspicions were confirmed. The picture that emerged was one of unrelenting brutality and a menacing background of sexual abuse.

    Pupils who committed the most trivial infractions were flogged (for getting sums wrong, for instance). And priests buggered boys routinely. If parents complained, the bishop might tick them off or move them somewhere else. But, by and large, sexual abuse was regarded as a perk and tolerated.

    So I am jolly glad I was educated in a broadly secular environment. Vile hypocrites all.

    A particularly repellent feature of the Roman Catholic Church is its exploitation of the poor and ignorant.

    An example of this is the pagan cult at Lourdes. On the one occasion I visited the town I thought I had landed in Blackpool, so awash was the place with tacky souvenirs. The supplicants who queued up to kiss the rock had to purchase and light candles. But no sooner had their lips made contact with the grotto than the priests snuffed out the candles and resold them. As for the townspeople, well they continue to vote Socialist and Communist rather than the parties favoured by the town’s biggest employer.

    Every time I hear some RC cleric slag off the New Age Movement, I think of Lourdes.

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Apr '08 - 8:43pm

    Darrel: “What gave my collegues parents the right to take the determination of her faith out of her own hands…surely your postion now puts you well outside of liberalism”.

    Parents do many things to their children which those children might later wish they hadn’t done. In this case, some water was poured in the child as a baby and some words said. The parents chose to invest some ritual significance in that, the child was perfectly at liberty to reject that ritual significance, which she seems to have done so. She has not been forced as an adult by it having happened to believe anything or do anything.

    What else would you say parents should be banned from doing with their children on the grounds the children may later disapprove? No taking of children to the Arsenal ground in case the child grows up to be a THFC fan?

    You are in effect saying that liberals should forcibly close down any religion in which children participate in services. Baptisms of infants banned, the police set to raid churches where it might be suspected this happens. Bar Mitzvahs to be smashed up by the force of the law. Is this to be Liberal Democrat policy?

    Sesenco, how you describe Catholic schools bears no relationship to my personal experience, nor to that of anyone I know who has been to a Catholic school. I think you will find that flogging, for example, is no more permitted in Catholic state schools than in any other state schools. My father when a child was sent to a Catholic school because his parents (who were not Catholics) did not want him to be beaten and in those days it was believed that Catholic schools used less corporal punishment than other schools.

    As for Lourdes, well I was there only recently. People go there of their own free-will, they buy tacky souvenirs because they like tacky souvernirs (most clerics rather look down on them and the shops that sell them). There is no compulsion to buy candles and light them, access to the rock, the chapels, the taps and the baths is all completely free. All the candles on sale are new ones, none of them are melted with burnt wicks which would be the case if what you said was true. You may find it hard to believe, but people go to Lourdes again and again because they like this quaint ritual. Many people find a great sense of peace in it. You may not like it, but so what? There’s a lot of things people do that I find silly and irrational and I wouldn’t like, but I wouldn’t pour scorn of them for doing it. I think the modern religion of celebrities and the like, with all its tackiness and sales techniques, and just as artificial as anything in Lourdes, is bad, but that’s my taste. Anyhow, I think I was right in identifying you with Dr Paisley.

  • Matthew,

    But the point is that she had no choice, no voice when it was done and that is wrong and it would seem you think that she had no rights either. Once somebody is born, brought into this world, they come into it with rights and one of those rights is the complete freedom of their own conscience free from any predetermination or imposition by others.

    Lets get back to where we were. Faith *schooling* and i emphasise that words is wrong because it conditions children to believe in the exclusivity of their own sect and thats what we are talking about. All religions are sects by organisation, each has their own holy text, each has their own hirechical leadership and own icons, along with their own interpretation of historic events. It doesnt matter if you are the Wacko Taco collective with 2 members or the Catholic Church with billions, you are still a sect.

    No of course it is not to be Liberal Democrat Party, yes frankly I would think parents doing that are wrong but its not something the state has a say in and rightly so. Education is a matter of public policy which we all have a stake, its a matter that ultimately comes down to society and the state as a collective custodian and expression of society. It is not a matter of private interest and action which is down to the individual/s in question; there are very clear dividing lines and trying to blur them to support your argument doesnt do it any credit.

  • Matthew Huntbach wrote:

    “Sesenco, how you describe Catholic schools bears no relationship to my personal experience, nor to that of anyone I know who has been to a Catholic school.”

    I don’t believe you. I have, myself, met numerous people who experienced brutality at Roman Catholic schools. The boarding schools were worse than the day schools, obviously, as were those run by priests and monks rather than lay teachers.

    Cardinal Basil Vass banned flogging in RC schools in 1985 because he feared the state would beat him to it (pun intended).

    “My father when a child was sent to a Catholic school because his parents (who were not Catholics) did not want him to be beaten and in those days it was believed that Catholic schools used less corporal punishment than other schools.”

    And the moon is made of marmalade.

    “All the candles on sale are new ones, none of them are melted with burnt wicks which would be the case if what you said was true.”

    You have now taken to calling me a liar, I see. For the record, I witnessed the resale of partially burned candles by priests along with both my parents in August, 1972.

    “You may find it hard to believe, but people go to Lourdes again and again because they like this quaint ritual. Many people find a great sense of peace in it.”

    They may well do, and I have no problem with that.

    What I do find objectionable is the dishonesty of the Church in pretending that the cult is Christian when in fact is it unashamedly pagan.

    We will never know what, if anything, Bernadette Soubirou saw in that grotto, but what is certain is that she never claimed to have met the Virgin Mary. That was invented by the Church to give them an opportunity to fleece the gullible. Just as the monks at Glastonbury invented the tall story about the abbey being founded by Joseph of Arimithea.

    Matthew, why are you going to such extraordinary lengths to defend the indefensible? Are you angling for a Papal honour?

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Apr '08 - 10:57pm

    Sesenco, I attended a Catholic state primary school 1964-71, and a Catholic state secondary school 1971-1978, and did not experience any of what you put forward as the norm for such schools. Nor in my encounters with other people from a Catholic background have I heard such things put forward as the norm for Catholic schools. Nor did I encounter them as the norm when I had some responsibility for Catholic schools as a Local Education Authority councillor, or when my wife had some responsibility for them as a Chair of the Board of Governors for one. I think you will find these days, in any case, there are few or no state Catholic schools run by religious orders. If private Catholic schools did such things, then that is an argument for my point that religious education is best placed under state supervision.

    I cannot speak for Lourdes in 1972, I was writing of what I observed as it happens two weeks ago.

    I am writing what I write in defence of what I have observed. You may have observed differently, but I have no reason to lie. I have been an active memeber of the Liberal Democrats for 30 years, and I am saddened that it is now considered by some of my fellow party members that I no longer welcome in the party for standing up for religious freedom.

  • Dr Huntbach, those who have spoken of the brutality of the RC education system are legion.

    The following come immediately to mind:-

    Lord McNally (Christian Brothers, Blackpool)
    Alfred Hitchcock (Jesuits)
    Spike Milligan (nuns)
    Auberon Waugh (Benedictine monks, Downside Abbey)

    And bear in mind that Hitchcock, Milligan and Waugh remained practicing Catholics all their lives, so none had any motive to lie or exaggerate.

    By denying what everyone knows to be true, you insult the victims but deceive no-one.

  • MartinSGill 7th Apr '08 - 12:24am

    I actually believe that most RC schools nowadays (especially those supervised by ofsted) are nowhere near as bad as Sesenco describes. Although I have no doubts that they used to be that bad.

    The Jesuits are actually in my view the most honest order in the catholic church. They at least openly (or they used to) say that their whole purpose is to educate kids to make them good and obedient Catholics, something current RC schools like to tone down in their aims.

    For me it’s a matter of liberal and human rights principles. Children have rights. They have the right to not be put into an environment that promotes the unprovable. They have the right not to be segregated for something they don’t even have a choice in nor, initially at least, an understanding of yet or an opinion on. They have the right to chose for themselves.

    As far as faith schools go, Michael, you are not a liberal in my view. What I don’t understand is why you value the rights of the parents over the rights of the children. If you felt that way about everything you’d not support the right of the state to remove kids that were being abused (emotionally or physically) by their parents by social services, yet I suspect you do. Parents are allowed to raise their kids in the manner they consider best, so surely the state should fund schools that help parents that wish it to emotionally abuse children? I think the problem is that you don’t think that religion can cause harm, because it hasn’t hurt you nor those around you. I recommend you read some accounts of people that have left religion and who have suffered great emotional harm before they managed that. Not because of any intentional abuse, but because what they were taught was taught as truth and they believed it all.

    One of the most striking stories I’ve ever heard was of a catholic woman who told the story of how when she was 8 years old two things happened to her. The first was a priest sexually molested here and the second was her best friend dying. She didn’t give the abuse a second thought, all her nightmares for months were about her best friend burning in hell because her friend was a protestant girl and this catholic girl truly believed as she was taught that those who did not follow that faith were living in sin and would go to hell.

    Faith schools are there to help spread the “truth” of catholic belief (or any other religion), they are there to ensure that more 8 year old girls learn that living in sin will send you to hell.

    The schools don’t even have to teach that directly, all they have to teach and reinforce the message that catholic belief is the truth. Then whenever kids encounter catholic teaching, they will consider that also to be truth.

    I’m all for freedom of religion and just as importantly freedom from religion; the right to not be forced to follow or obey a religion. The children have the right to be free from religion, the state should not be allowed to deny them that right. In a religious state school the children have their right for freedom from religion taken away by the state.

    In a secular school the right to freedom of religion is not taken away. They can have religion at home, during holidays and if they want to, they can carry it with them in their hearts and minds.

    A secular school does not violate the rights of children to freedom from religion. They also don’t accept one ideology or the other as truth and reinforce that.

  • MartinSGill 7th Apr '08 - 12:28am

    Mark, if you were the norm then religions would be themselves clamouring to have faith schools removed and have less religious education (bit like the catholic church initially refusing to let the bible be translated out of Latin to prevent the lay-followers from reading it).

    Faith schools must work though and they must benefit religions somehow, which suggests that the majority of people just accept the “truth” they were taught there. That’s why they still exist and why the churches/mosques want more of them.

  • and I am saddened that it is now considered by some of my fellow party members that I no longer welcome in the party for standing up for religious freedom.

    But you aren’t standing up for religious freedom. Just the opposite, you are standing up for religious subjugation and sectarianism.

  • “I am saddened that it is now considered by some of my fellow party members that I no longer welcome in the party for standing up for religious freedom.”

    I didnt say that…I said outside of liberalism in a broad sense as a body of ideas not outside of any political organisation. I can totally see how you see it from that perspective but thats not what in practice you are standing up for, you are standing up for a system of indoctrination and as has been proved by the Independant article of unacceptable elitism and the denial of children of the right to a proper education.

  • Are people here really not capable of understanding the notion of “freedom so long as it doesn’t infringe on anyone elses”? Or in your little universe, for some reason perhaps fgm, honour killings etc are not infringements on freedom?

    Behaviour which infringes on the freedom of others should not be admissible in a liberal society. Of course not. If the best school in your area happens to be a faith school, then you are not infringing on anyone’s freedom by choosing to send your child to that school I really think its ridiculous that you compare faith schools with FGM and honour killings. How crazy!

    The majority of church schools (I don’t know much about muslim or jewish schools but know at least 3 teachers in Church schools across the country) simply aim to be run on the basis of Christian values (Traditionally love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self control if I remember correctly-). This attitude is why a lot of people of different religions send their children to said Church schools- as they tend to promote tollerance and understanding. Yes… tollerance. I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what these kinds of schools ACTUALLY say and do. And I’m talking about the majority here, there will always be a few exceptions.

    The other thing I was talking about… I do think that there should be less official “religiousity” in the ceremony and in public life. But I don’t think that a person CAN fully seperate the experiences and beliefs that make them who they are from their public role.

    For example, many religions call people to humanitarian work, traditionally helping widows and orphans and the elderly etc. Ideas of wanting to create a better society and to “put something back” for many people come from their religious background and beliefs, and this can form much of the reason a person looks to participate in public life, to get involved with politics or to campaign for things like human rights, social change, freedom and equality.

    “Secularism is the freedom of people to believe what they wish and not have the state or anyone else interfere with their beliefs or disadvantage them because of them.”

    I do appologise if I have misunderstood, but this wasn’t actually what you seemed to be propigating. What you seemed to be suggesting was:

    * If one person arrives at their political position by secular means then that’s allowed.
    * If another person arrives at their political position because of their religious beliefs/journey/background then suddenly they must try to divorce everything they are, their life’s experience and their spirituality from their public life.

    Or should we simply ban people with a religion from public office?

    Can’t you see why these attitudes comes across as discriminatory and incredibly illiberal? This is clearly not concurrent with the above statement either. You don’t seem to know which idea you’re really arguing for.

    So is it acceptable that the political position of a public figure is informed by their religious journey & beliefs or not? Either their religious perspective should not be infringed on by the state saying “you can’t let your religion cross over into your public life” OR we should allow religious freedom and people can arrive at their political beliefs however they like (providing of course that doesn’t involve infringing on the freedom of others.)

  • “Are people here really not capable of understanding the notion of “freedom so long as it doesn’t infringe on anyone elses”? Or in your little universe, for some reason perhaps fgm, honour killings etc are not infringements on freedom?”

    But thats the whole point Ruth, Faith schools do impinge on the freedoms of others…namely the children that are sent to them as i illustrated with my example…

  • MartinSGill 7th Apr '08 - 6:06pm

    Behaviour which infringes on the freedom of others should not be admissible in a liberal society. Of course not. If the best school in your area happens to be a faith school, then you are not infringing on anyone’s freedom by choosing to send your child to that school[…]

    Wrong, you are infringing on the right of the child to go to a school that doesn’t teach unsubstantiated bronze age ramblings as literal or any other kind of truth.

    Further more you are infringing on the right of the child not to be pigeon-holed or segregated based on the ideology of their parents. You are never going to get a tolerant society by taking the kids of the various religions of this country and sticking them in separate schools.

    In secular schools kids from all faiths and none would mix and they’d have to practice tolerance everyday… in sectarian schools tolerance plays second fiddle to respect for the schools own religion.

  • MartinSGill 7th Apr '08 - 6:06pm

    The Cantle report that looked into the riots in Bradford a few years ago concluded that the racial and religious self-segregation promoted by having faith schools contributed directly to the riots.

    Yet people still want more of them when the whole concept of faith schools is anathema to social integration.

  • Matthew Huntbach 8th Apr '08 - 10:36am

    Sesenco, on 6th April you write of “the brutality of the RC education system” and list several schools all of which are of a type which no longer exist in the state sector – run by religious orders and in most cases private, not part of the state system. Quite a big part of my argument is that state oversight of faith schools is a good guard against religious education becoming abusive. One of the reasons I am supportive of the state Catholic education system is that I believe it has helped tamed and liberalise English Catholicism. I suspect it is no coincidence that unpleasant religious extremism and illiberalism in England now tends to occur amongst Muslims and evangelical/pentecostalist Protestants – who DON’T have a state education system.

    You accuse me of lying, but I have not denied what you have said happened. I have noted that I have not personally observed it, and I do not believe it to be the norm in the state Catholic schools of today. Neither have I observed ever any Catholic saying “Protestants will go to Hell”, let alone known of that being taught in state Catholic schools. Maybe that sort of thing was being said in the 1950s, I wasn’t around then. I report only what I observe, if others have observed differently than fine, but I have no reason to lie.

    Laurence on 6th April, you ask is Lourdes “just a contemptible fraud?”. Most people go to Lourdes, many returning time and time again, not because they expect any sort of “miracle cure” but because they enjoy it – they like the pleasantness of the surroundings, and the quaint ritual, and the companionship, and the like. You may not like it fine, I don’t like pop concerts of sports occasions, or many other sort of communal gatherings which other people enjoy. Each to their own tastes.

  • Matthew Huntbach wrote:

    “and I do not believe it to be the norm in the state Catholic schools of today.”

    I didn’t actually say it is the norm in state Catholic schools today. Clearly it isn’t, for the simple reason that the state doesn’t permit overt physical abuse (indeed, Cardinal Vass outlawed it in 1985). What is very clear is that is WAS the norm in the days when the Church was allowed to get away with it; as the victims will testify in their millions.

    “Neither have I observed ever any Catholic saying “Protestants will go to Hell”, let alone known of that being taught in state Catholic schools.”

    This is what the Church used to say to the IRA. It isn’t wrong to kill Protestants, becuase they will go to hell anyway. I recall Auberon Waugh writing about it in his “Private Eye” column. It is what he was taught at Downside Abbey.

    So Lourdes is just a holiday in the Pyrenees? Well, not according to the Catholic Church, it isn’t. It is the place where the Virgin Mary appeared to a young woman in the mid 19th century. Hence the alleged miracle cures. (In the 1950s, Dr D J West carried out a study of Lourdes cures for the Society for Psychical Research, and was unable to find cures of any kind, miracle or otherwise.)

    Lourdes is a fraud because it is a pagan cult dishonestly presented to the faithful as Christian. Cults based on healing springs were at one time legion in Europe. There was one in Bath in Roman times, and one at Bitburg in Germany long before that. Every spring, like every village and every house, had its protective god. If you made him/her an offering he/she would cure you (or not, as the case may be).

    Many people see apparitions, some veridical, most not. Bernadette Soubirou reported a classic apparitional experience. What she most clearly did not do is claim to meet the Virgin Mary. That was concoted by the Church.

  • MartinSGill 8th Apr '08 - 11:50am

    One of the reasons I am supportive of the state Catholic education system is that I believe it has helped tamed and liberalise English Catholicism. I suspect it is no coincidence that unpleasant religious extremism and illiberalism in England now tends to occur amongst Muslims and evangelical/pentecostalist Protestants – who DON’T have a state education system.

    That is the only saving grace of most of our current faith schools and it’s only a saving grace because faith schools are monitored and governed by a secular government. Having secular schools would add that extra level of protection from extremism and fanaticism. You could almost argue actually that enforcing such values on faith schools is an attempt to secularise them by stealth; I approve of the intent, just not it’s lack of honesty; although if it works… While this might decrease the chances of indoctrination, it doesn’t help with the problem of segregation that faith schools encourage.

    Are you arguing for having state faith schools for muslims/pentecostalists as a way to pacify those populations? That smacks of imperialism. It comes down to dictating terms to religion: “teach only what we want you to teach”.

    Wouldn’t it be better to have secular schools that teach about all religions (and none) equally and without bias and actually allow religions (even sub-religions/schools-of-thought) to fully put their points across, albeit in an environment that promotes critical evaluation and comparison?

    The problem with faith schools again is that critical evaluation and comparison is discouraged (actively or passively) for their own religion; it is “truth” after all, it must be, why else would their parents believe it and send them to a school that supports and encourages it?

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • Mark Frankel
    ' an atmosphere of structural individualism pervades our lives. Common needs are repeatedly neglected ..' But the welfare budget is five times the defence budge...
  • Mary Fulton
    Cheer up! Current polls suggest we could win 10% of the vote and around 65MPs - just about perfect proportionality…....
  • David Langshaw
    Just to add to the Singapore imagery, it's worth remembering that the Japanese advanced all the way down the Malayan peninsula on bicycles....
  • Geoff Reid
    In the midst of the alarms and excursions of an election campaign - and the necessary simplifications - it is very refreshing to be reminded of the ground on wh...
  • Bill Le Breton
    Fantastic piece. Thank you....