Can a 13-Week old Child Have a Religion?


I’m confident that this is just the very beginning of a process that will leave me feeling depressed and mentally exhausted.

I have just filled in a very simple one-page application form for a nursery for my son, and one of the questions was “Religion”.

I put “n/a” on the basis that this loveable, mammalian sleep-thief can no more be described as a Christian, Muslim, secular Jew, Scientologist, Zoroastrian, Atheist or Buddhist as he can a Capitalist, Blairite, militant Communist or euro-sceptic, liberal but right-of centre Conservative.

As I explained here, religious segregation of adults is bad enough but of children it is inexcusable. Mercifully, this particular nursery is open to all children and does not seem to discriminate on the grounds of religion or lack thereof, as many primary and secondary schools do, but why is it necessary to even give children these labels? Can’t children just be described as….children?

My son has the right to choose a religion when he is old enough to decide these things for himself, in the same way that he is entitled to decide his own political affiliations, and it’s not for me or anyone else to decide these things for him. The poor guy is burdened with my genes, after all, and I think that’s quite enough of an impediment for anyone. The least I owe him in return is the right to form his own conclusions on matters of conscience.

From what I have seen of this nursery it appears to be a secular environment, so maybe they just haven’t properly thought through the reasons for even asking this question. Maybe it was dreamt up by a consultant or some prick from human resources (or ‘human remains’, as my dad used to call them).

I was discussing this application form with a colleague at work. Unlike me, she didn’t seem to be bothered about the religion question and said to me, “They’re probably just trying to be inclusive”. Inclusive! Yes, that makes sense, let’s be inclusive by giving these kids divisive religious labels.

The practical effect of this, in terms of successfully applying for a place at this nursery and how he is treated once there, is likely to be negligible if any. But looking to the future and a possible skirmish later down the line with a primary or secondary school which does have the legal right to discriminate on the grounds of religion, I’m reminded of something that one of the testosterone-fuelled instructors at my gym is fond of saying to me and his other victims: “If you’re thinking to yourself, ‘this doesn’t hurt much at the moment’, then don’t worry, I promise that’s all going to change really soon.”

And that’s not all, folks. Some weeks ago my son had to go to hospital for a very minor, routine procedure. Again, there was a simple one-page admission form, just long enough to record information that was vital for him to receive the proper medical treatment – name, age, GP, medical procedure, etc – plus religion. The bland but glossy marketing material of the prestigious, marble-floored private hospital where the procedure took place emphasised how the institution was at the very cutting edge of medical and scientific progress. To paraphrase Ian Hislop, if that’s progress, then I’m a Zoroastrian.

I find highly disturbing even just the idea that the religion of a (then) three-week old child – which effectively means the religion of his parents – could have any bearing whatsoever on the medical treatment he is about to receive.

My son, and any infant, has the right to be treated by medical practitioners acting in his or her best interests to deliver the best possible treatment based on sound, objective medical reasoning, regardless of the religious beliefs of his or her parents – and if need be, in spite of those beliefs – and again regardless of and in spite of the purported religion of the infant. And if this question has no medical relevance, why the hell is it on an admission form, for a hospital?

Tony Blair once said:

Religious faith and how it develops could be of the same significance to the 21st century as political ideology was to the 20th. Leaders, whether of religious faith themselves or not, have to ‘do God’.

The mass-murdering liar has a point. But whereas he seems to be saying this with relish, I agree with blood-curdling fear.