Atheism Central for Secondary Schools
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"It is possible to pay another man's debts on his behalf, but it is not possible to make a guilty man innocent by suffering in his place."
Carl Lofmark, _What is the Bible?
"...if devotion to truth is the hallmark of morality, then there is no greater, nobler, more heroic form of devotion than the act of a man who assumes the responsibility of thinking.... the alleged short-cut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit destroying the mind."
Ayn Rand, "Atlas Shrugged"
"The good, say the mystics of spirit, is God, a being whose only definition is that he is beyond man's power to conceive- a definition that invalidates man's consciousness and nullifies his concepts of existence...Man's mind, say the mystics of spirit, must be subordinated to the will of God... Man's standard of value, say the mystics of spirit, is the pleasure of God, whose standards are beyond man's power of comprehension and must be accepted on faith....The purpose of man's life...is to become an abject zombie who serves a purpose he does not know, for reasons he is not to question."
Ayn Rand, "For the New Intellectual"
"Christians say that...without exception...their God answers all of their prayers; it's just that He sometimes says "yes" and other times "no," "maybe," or "wait." Of course the same could be said of the rain-god,"Bob."
Rev. Donald Morgan
"I am resigning because of the pressure from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The burden of it has become intolerable. My quarrel is not with the community [the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary] here or the Catholic Church in this country but with the CDF in Rome. They are using techniques that seem to belong to another age. They are behaving like the Inquisition. I feel bullied." Independent Jan 13 2000
Dr. Lavinia Byrne, Catholic ex-nun, author of Woman at the Altar, which set out the arguments in support of women priests. The book was banned by the Vatican and 1300 copies confiscated. Dr. Byrne also opposes the Vatican's teaching on artificial birth control. Dr. Byrne became a nun at the age of 17 and was a contributor to Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
I can't say I've encountered any serious problems with my ageing RE teacher, although I find it slightly irritating that she is overtly - or perhaps just unsubtly - Christian. In fact, most of the textbooks and worksheets which are given out seem to act not as teaching aids but as religious propaganda - a particularly annoying example is a certain textbook which claims to look at 'both sides of the argument', and deals with issues such as the problem of suffering and why exactly people believe in God, which puts forward a problem and then smugly 'solves' it in an extremely one sided, pro-religious way. The worksheets we are given out are also pathetic - the most recent was one which looked at the reasons for believing, and not believing, in life after death. While the points in favour of this belief were carefully picked out and well explained, the anti-life after death arguments were seemingly picked just to make the whole idea seem farcical - I think one of them read something like, 'if you have no physical body when you die, then how will the spirits be able to recognise each other in the after-life?'. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
Atheism Central: Laura's experience is probably pretty typical of (effectively compulsory) religious education in the UK (details). There is really only a pretense at handling the issues and no merit is given to non-theist views or ethics.
I have made my 'stand' against RE already by not handing in the necessary coursework, meaning that I won't get entered for the exam. Unfortunately, I still have to go to the lessons.
Atheism Central: Laura is obviously fed up with handling a subject that does no more than pay lip service to her world view while acting as a form of propaganda for what is opposed to it. The following points are worth mentioning:
1. No one has the right to force you to pray to a god or gods. To do so is simply immoral. Don't do it if you don't feel right about it. Nothing in UK law says anyone in a school can make you. In England and Wales 51% of the school days each term must have a collective act of worship of a broadly Christian character (relating to the traditions of Christian belief and according a special status to Jesus Christ). This is not the same as saying you must say the prayers themselves. (See details at foot of page.)
2. As an atheist or an agnostic you can be the victim of religious discrimination too. If you feel that you are in an environment which consistently views atheism or agnosticism negatively then it is reasonable to take action of some kind - for instance, by not doing your homework. Make sure, however, that your school realises that the issue is a religious one - don't say "I need the time to do my other homework." You won't find many teachers in the UK who would put up more than token resistance to a claim of religious discrimination. There may be other atheists in the class who do not make the claim - that is not relevant.
3. It is not your job to explain yourself. You need do no more than state your belief. If a Moslem goes to an RE class s/he is not required to explain why s/he's a Moslem. It's unfair to ask you to do it. Besides this, the burden of proof is very much the other way: "More radical claims need more radical proofs." The burden of proof does not lie with you. Atheists never find themselves speculating how many angels might fit on the head of a pin!
4. Do consider whether your actions would be hurtful to your parents. If your parents would not understand your actions - or not support them, it may be best to restrict yourself to the odd argument with your teacher.
5. If you attend a religious denominational school where religious belief is an integral part the admissions policy it could well be best to keep your mouth shut or restrict yourself to the odd disagreement. (That's not very stirring stuff, is it?)
Your parents could be religious people who would be hurt by your actions. Alternatively, they could be amongst the multitude of 'crypto-religious' who know that religious denomination schools in the UK consistently get better results than nondenominational ones. (Naively thinking that this has something to do with religion, rather than self-selection by motivated parents, the government has recently - Jan 2000 - suggested greatly increasing the number of church schools). Parents might not believe a word either - they may even attend church to convince the school of their belief. In this case you should know about it - ask them if you are not sure. A surprising number of those who attend church/mosque/synagogue do so consciously for reasons other than religion.
The most damaging possibility is that the school might seek to expel you or not allow you to continue after age 16. They probably wouldn't expel you if you simply said you were an atheist - their agreement is with your parents, not you. But they probably would expel you if you refused to attend RE class (legally this would require a parental request to the school). I suspect this would also be the case in many denominational schools if you openly refused to do homework.
6. You could inform yourself as much as you can and confront your teacher with your views both during class discussion and in written assignments. Don't let them get away with it! Other pages on this site will tackle this point more and more fully as the months go by.
This is probably the best option of all. You'll learn a lot and become clearer as to where you stand. It will provide a starting point for the rest of your life. You are responsible for what you think - so start thinking!
Moslem students should be very careful - especially any of those in the Islamic world who may be reading this page. In many Moslem countries changing religion or professing atheism or agnosticism is likely to be met with extreme social exclusion - even from one's own family. It is quite likely that you will never be able to express your beliefs without running the risk of extreme violence. Since the family (the mothers really) are responsible for arranging for you to marry you are unlikely to find a sexual partner within the law. In some Moslem countries it is a serious offence to leave the Molsem faith, whether this is to take another religion or to reject religion altogether. Take heart by visiting the Homepage of ISIS the International Society for Islamic Secularization. Unfortunately the e-mail address given does not work - although that is hardly surprising in the circumstances - they are brave people. To quote from their pages:
"Someone who does not live in an Islamic society cannot imagine the sanctions, both self-imposed and external, that militate against expressing religious disbelief. ĎI donít believe in Godí is an impossible public utterance even among family and friends ...So we hold our tongues, those of us who doubt."
Islam and the State
Islam lacks a central source of authority - there is no real hierarchy of responsibility. This, combined with the strongly authoritarian nature of the religion, with its emphasis on unquestioning obedience to rules, makes it an ideal instrument of State control of the population. The State is aware that the Imam's Friday sermon generally reaches more people even than television. This can be very constructive - it is a good way for the State to conduct a road safety campaign, for example.
The negative consequences are that the Imam is required to mouth the political message of the government to people whose religion already tells them they must do what they are told. The message of the government carries with it the authority of the Imam. What the Imam says in the mosque is the subject of close scrutiny by the Secret Police, even in some of the most 'liberal' states. The Imam, of course, is under no illusion as to the involvement of the Secret Police - and the potential threat to his physical well-being that they represent. (It is no surprise that American Atheists so jealously guard the Separation of Church and Sate implied in the American Constitution).
Against this background anyone not publicly professing a belief in god (by going to the mosque) is also saying, by extension, that he opposes the State. The rulers of such countries are not fools - they know the power of religion because it is an instrument of their own power. As a result they can see that tolerance of alternative religious viewpoints would be tantamount to permitting wider political freedom (readers may know that historically the Church of England was known as 'The Conservative Party at Prayer' and that Methodism and the Liberal party were virtually synonymous).
Some of these States are also so fragile politically and socially that they are set to implode. The ruling class would be swept away in such a process so it is hardly surprising that a threat to religion is seen as a threat to their wealth and status. (Oddly, some of the wealthier states fund terrorist or revolutionary groups abroad (by definition people who are not ready to conform to the wishes of authority) without realizing, apparently, that these same groups will one day turn on the hand that fed them.)
In such a potentially explosive environment atheism cannot survive publicly - the atheist makes an enemy of everyone (see Tolerance). Against such oppression even someone who nurtures atheism within himself, defending rationality privately, is a true hero.
In January 2000 Konca Kuris, a Turkish 38 year old devout Muslim intellectual was found dead, having suffered one day of torture by Muslim fundamentalists for every year of her life. She was so badly mutilated that she could only be identified by dental records. 32 other bodies weere found with hers.
Konca Kuris had spent her life arguing in books, articles and television appearances, that Islamic teachings had been perverted and used against women. She insisted that Islam does not require women to cover their heads, or be separated from men at funerals, or in school. She recommended that public prayers should be said in Turkish instead of Arabic. When she spoke of the fundamentalists, with whom she had once had links, she said "... these people want to play God, no one has the right to do that." A realistic observer might note that such behaviour is a common problem with religion.
Though it has been denied, the Turkish government has been charged with complicity in murders of this kind since the fundamentalist can be relied upon to do their dirty work for them (against the Kurdish PKK guerillas). What seems most likely is that elements working for the state, in the police and in local government, who are sympathetic to the fundamentalists, have decided to look the other way when the fundamentalists have committed human rights crimes. It has been claimed that security forces knew of the locations of 'safe-houses' where victims were tortured and murdered but chose to take no action. What is widely known in Turkey is that fundamentalist Moslems have been seeking, and achieving, positions of power in the State infrastructure, and are disproportionately highly represented there. Because Islam lacks a central source of authority, a wide variety of Moslem groups can claim legitimacy in the pursuit of their own agendas, thus creating a very complex situation.
In the troubled political circumstances of most Moslem countries it is very difficult to advance human rights reform within the context of religious belief. Even in Turkey, which has been a secular state since the days of Kemal Attaturk, there are bitter divisions between different social groups, with the fundamentalists at one end and the secularists at the other. These divisions inhibit the healthy political and social development of the country, in turn hindering its economic growth. Such countries are caught in a vicious circle: fundamentalism helps cause social and political instability which in turn provides the ideal conditions for fundamentalism.
Islam needs a Renaissance, an Age of Enlightenment, but in the midst of such bitterness, where is it going to come from?
Did you know? The Qu'ran does not say it is forbidden to drink alcohol. It only says (quite reasonably, really) that no one should pray while drunk. If you can find anything in the Qu'ran that says otherwise, please write in.
Well, various people have written in with this quotation from the Qu'ran:
[5:90] O ye who believe! intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination of Satan's handiwork: eschew such (abomination), that ye may prosper.
eschew = to avoid habitually especially on moral or practical grounds (from Webster's online dictionary)
Habitual avoidance does not mean forbid and so this quotation is not evidence that the Qu'ran forbids the consumption of alcohol. The practices described appears to apply to our ability to prosper - not prospering presumably never sent anyone to hell - but this is clearly good advice, and to be commended. Of course, the original words were in Arabic - but I'm sure the translators were not incompetent.
In practice, of course, most Moslem countries permit the sale of alcohol, and in those which do not there is a thriving black market in alcohol. There is also a high consumption of alcohol-based perfumes.
The material below is abridged from 'Collective Worship & School Assemblies' - a leaflet published by the British Humanist Association.
State schools can apply on behalf of parents to their local authority's Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE) for exemption for some or all of their students from the act of collective worship - and alternative worship must be provided for pupils so exempted - parents being entitled to withdraw their children from this also. These exemptions are covered by Section 71 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. Independent schools are not covered by the Education Acts, but are governed by their foundation deeds, or policies agreed by their boards of governors.
Teachers: cannot be required to attend or lead collective worship and may withdraw during the religious part of assembly (but can be required to be present during the non-religious part); cannot be required to teach RE unless explicitly employed to teach it; cannot be disadvantaged in their employment if they exercise these rights. However, up to one fifth of teachers in voluntary controlled and foundation schools may be employed as reserve RE teachers - other staff having the rights described in the paragraph above. For further information ask your teaching union.
Relevant legislation in England & Wales:
Act - Section 25, establishing collective worship
Also of note:
The 1994 OFSTED Handbook for the Inspection of Schools states that while spiritual development is considered to be central to assembles and collective worship"'Spiritual' is not synonymous with 'religious'; all areas of the curriculum may contribute to pupil's spiritual development."
Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own legislation - contact the Education Department, New St. Andrew's House, Edinburgh EH1 3TG, or the Northern Ireland Department of Education, Grammar Schools and Secondary Schools Administration Branch, Rathgael House, Balloo Road, Bangor, County Down N1, BT19 7PR.
No letters will be published without first receiving permission from the author. Students in UK schools (or elsewhere) will never be identified by their full names unless they contribute to the guest section, and then only when specific permission has been given by a writer aged 16 or over.
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