Regular readers of this blog may be familiar with some of these arguments from previous articles, but I thought it would be helpful (for myself and others) to have these set out conveniently in one article in the context of faith schools.
* Somewhere hot and dusty *
* Probably *
* Hundreds of years ago *
* Allegedly *
* During the stoning off-season *
* If there ever was one *
* In the evening, just after ‘I’m an Israelite – Get Me Out of Here!’ *
* Lights, camera, thunder! *
* The laws of science are either temporarily suspended, or were not fully formed yet *
* A bearded character with a large gold medallion in the shape of a ‘G’ nested in his white chest hair (let us call this character ‘God’) appears above a mountain (let us call this ‘Mount Sinai’) to an intrepid traveller who has just completed a long, arduous journey but who is not, for the avoidance of doubt, in any way delusional or imagining things (let us call this traveller ‘Moses’) *
* Yes, for it is he, Moses! The much-loved winner of the inaugural (and final) Sea-Splitting Championships (weight division: Super Middle-East) *
If only we could make light of the religious segregation of our children, too.
And so to business.
Commandment 1: We are not a Christian country (culturally)
It’s often argued that we are a ‘Christian country’, in a loose cultural sense. None other than our Prime Minister, David Cameron, recently said so. As I explained in my letter to him here (I’m still waiting for a reply; I don’t have faith), this is no more than an arbitrary historical choice, for the United Kingdom could also be described as a caveman country, a witch-burning country, a dinosaur country or a Labour country.
Commandment 2: We are not necessarily a Christian country (statistically)
Some argue that we are a ‘Christian country’ in a more objective sense, by reference to surveys which specifically ask people their religion. As I explained here (in the third section) this approach is problematic in terms of general survey accuracy and also phrasing of the question.
Commandment 3: This country is great in spite of Christianity, not because of it
Even if you accept that we are a ‘Christian country’, either on woolly cultural grounds or hard and fast statistics, you need to acknowledge that our main social advances (and especially moral ones) have been in spite of the Church and its teachings, not because of them. See Steven Pinker’s article here for a good discussion. Many decent religious people (be they the cultural, census-ticking type, or the hallelujah-singing, churchgoing type), as well as many decent non-religious people, are either blissfully unaware of the nasty passages of the Bible or, if they are aware of them, they deliberately choose to ignore them. Why do they ignore them? For moral reasons.
Commandment 4: Even if we are a Christian country, so what?
Even if you accept that we are a ‘Christian country’ it doesn’t follow that our education system should be empowered to discriminate on the grounds of Christianity (or any other religion) in the selection of its pupils or staff. We wouldn’t (or we shouldn’t), on that same basis, accept religious discrimination in the delivery of our other public services – the police, the NHS, defence, bin collections – so why the special (mis)treatment for our education service?
Commandment 5: Not all religious people agree with each other
Even if you accept that we are a ‘Christian country’ it doesn’t follow that all Christians (or all members of other religions) agree with their co-religionists generally, or on matters of their faith (see here, third paragraph from the bottom, for examples based on my own experiences), or that they agree specifically on state-provided sectarian schooling. I know many people who identify themselves as belonging to a particular religion (in a cultural or secular sense) as well as many others who are religious, and in both cases who find the concept of faith schools of any flavour, including their own, repugnant – anywhere, especially in a supposed democracy which is meant to treat people equally regardless of their religion or lack of religion. They do not accept for a moment that their religious freedom should be synonymous with the religious privilege of state sponsorship.
Commandment 6: While we’re on the subject, why not have racial discrimination, too?
Even if you accept that we are a ‘Christian country’ and that this should be transposed to the workings of our constitution, of our legal system and of our public services then you must also accept that we are, predominantly, a racially white country (historically/culturally, and statistically) and that this facet of our identity must also be faithfully transposed when determining our proper way of life. Unless, of course, you accept that religious discrimination is perfectly acceptable but racial discrimination is not. In which case you need to be honest about that uncomfortable discrepancy and justify it – if you can – without reference to a circular argument of religious freedom which, in this case, is at the clear expense of religious discrimination against those of no faith or those of the ‘wrong’ faith.
Commandment 7: Thou shalt not be a hypocrite
Religious people (and sometimes non-religious people who are happy to go along with the whole farce of faith schools) who are in favour of faith schools often say that the non-religious, or those of the ‘wrong’ faith, are hypocrites for sending their children to a faith school. What about their own hypocrisy, though, in shamelessly hoovering up godless or ‘wrong-faith’ tax pounds? As this banner says, ‘Don’t thank God for faith schools. Thank the taxpayer.’
Commandment 8: Not religious ethos; selective ethos
Good results of faith schools are often attributed to their ‘religious ethos’ but even the Church of England’s head of education, the Bishop of Oxford, Rt. Rev. John Pritchard, seems to accept this is not the case (see paragraph 11 of that link). Faith schools are successful because they are selective. It is wholly unsurprising that a selective school generally performs better than a non-selective one.
Commandment 9: Suffer the children
Faith schools set a terrible example to children: that religious segregation of children, religious discrimination of their parents in obtaining a public service they are entitled to receive, and religious discrimination of teachers in the workplace, is absolutely fine – because it is sanctioned by the state. This also demonstrates to them the wider idea that practices which would normally be completely reprehensible can be justified very easily: in the name of religion. Don’t religiously discriminate, kids (unless you want to religiously discriminate).
Commandment 10: Thou shalt think for yourself
Actually, I reckon nine is enough. I don’t want to be dogmatic so maybe you can think of an additional argument to make it up to ten.
* The skies clear*
* Moses advises the United Kingdom and all other countries to amend their laws and constitutions to outlaw faith schools and other state-sanctioned religious discrimination *
* They do*
* Religious bigotry and bloodshed continues, obviously, but at least all countries are henceforth committed to religious neutrality and these matters now have a chance of being discussed calmly and rationally *
This post has been sent to Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Education, via standard electronic mail with the following message:
Dear Mr. Gove
I am no-one of any significance, just a voting taxpayer who thinks people should be neither disadvantaged nor advantaged because of their religion or lack of religion. I’ve written a blog post that you might find interesting. Here it is: