You know, I couldn’t agree with Johann Hari more:
Forcing children to take part in religious worship every day is a law worthy of a theocracy, not a liberal democracy where 70 per cent of adults never attend a religious ceremony. That’s why the Association of Teachers and Lecturers – one of the teachers’ unions – has recently moved to ask the Government to stop forcing its members to take part in this practice.
Why does this anachronism persist in this blessedly irreligious country? For all their whining that they are “persecuted”, the religious minority in Britain are in fact accorded remarkable privileges. They are given a bench-full of unelected positions in the legislature, protection from criticism in the law, and vast amounts of public money to indoctrinate children into their belief systems in every school in the land.
He’s right of course. It makes me cringe when I hear Christians whinge on about how terribly they’re discriminated against. They’re now prevented by law from discriminating on religious grounds, which only the most devout believe is actually discriminating against them, but a large body of Christians feels its previously unquestioned privilege to be under threat. When asked of course they can’t articulate why, and it’s not surprising they can’t – Hari’s analysis is entirely right, Christians retain unparalleled privilege in all facets of British life, even to have television programming embedded in the law and BBC charter.
I can understand why the unelected, faltering religious institutions cling to this law so tightly. When it comes to “faith”, if you don’t get people young, you probably won’t ever get them. Very few people are, as adults, persuaded of the idea that (say) a Messiah was born to a virgin and managed to bend the laws of physics, or that we should revere a man who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year-old girl. You can usually only persuade people of this when they are very young – a time when their critical and rational faculties have not yet been developed – and hope it becomes a rock in their psychological make-up they dare not pull out.
But why do the rest of us allow this fervent 5 per cent of the population to force the rest of our kids to follow their superstitions? Parents can withdraw their children if they choose – but that often means separating the child in an embarrassing way from her friends and exposing them to criticisms from the school, so only 1 per cent do it. Most don’t even know it is an option.
More importantly still, why is worship forced on 99 per cent of children without their own consent or even asking what they think? As the author Richard Dawkins has pointed out many times, there are no “Christian children” or “Muslim children”. I was classed as “Christian” because my mother is vaguely culturally Christian, although at every opportunity I protested that I didn’t believe any of it. Children are not born with these beliefs, as they are born with a particular pigmentation or height or eye colour. Indeed, if you watch children being taught about religion, you will see most of them instinctively laugh and ask perfectly sensible sceptical questions that are swatted away – or punished – by religious instructors.
I saw Dawkins rail against this on one of his programmes, and he too was right. It should be offensive to any reasonable person to even consider defining their children as they define themselves, without even giving them the option to decide for themselves. I was brought up in two different forms of schooling – both a secular International School in Hamburg, Germany, and a C of E public school. As Hari suggests later in his piece, the reason my parents enrolled me in the latter institution was because of their better than average results, but in hindsight it was an illusion. The college left me with far fewer social and analytical skills than I would have had had I attended other local schools, but also had its results undermined the moment a secular grammar school formed locally. I was indoctrinated into being nominally Christian, but fortunately the idea was and has remained intellectually offensive for the reasons Hari lists earlier. Not all of my peers were so fortunate however.