Thursday, September 28, 2006

Faith no more

I'm just reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (Guardian review). For those of us that spent our school days making intense, and supposedly clinching, arguments to religious friends of the type: "if God made the world, then what made God?", Dawkins' polemic offers an unvarnished orgy of smugness - the simple joy of having what you have long held to be certain read back to you with great erudition and scholarship. One of his best and angriest propositions relates to the indoctrination of children with religious ideas.

"I want everybody to flinch when they hear a phrase such as 'Catholic child' or 'Muslim child'. Speak of a 'child of Catholic parents' if you like, but if you hear anybody speak of a 'Catholic child', stop them and point out that children are too young to know where they stand on such issues, just as they are too young to know where they stand on economics or politics."
On the same note, I really can't bear the idea of 'faith schools'. And there are a lot of them (6276 primary and 588 secondary - see chart above & DFES stats for England). A dictionary definition of 'faith' is 'complete trust or confidence'. But the essence of good education is curiosity, scepticism and open-mindedness - the antithesis of faith. A range of arguments is advanced for these institutions, such as better performance etc (see discussion here). I don't think they add up to much and certainly not enough to justify contaminating an education with a predefined belief system granted immunity from scrutiny and challenge.

Despite so much religious madness in the United States, the founding fathers were wise enough to keep religion and government apart. The 'Establishment Clause' of the First Amendment of the American constitution both provides for religious freedom, but requires separation of church and state - a principle regularly upheld by the Supreme Court. I really wish we had a simple constitutional separation like this... There is nothing to stop children indulging in folklore and fantasy outside school, if their parents can make them.


Anonymous said...

I don't think you can make judgements about so called 'faith' schools unless you actually went to one. As someone who went to a Catholic school I never felt that I was somehow being brain-washed. Indeed we also learnt about other religions and the many similarities there are with other faiths. Many of my friends left school to go to university not choosing to continue to practice Catholicism. There is always a choice. Faiths schools merely provide a means of parents choosing to send their child to a school that teaches them about who they are and what values they stand for. What's so wrong with that?

Clive Bates said...

Hmmm... I suppose it would be okay to have views on slavery without having been a slave?

Some points in response:

1. Comparative religion is not the preserve of faith schools - it is widely taught in other schools. It probably is important objectively to know what millions people believe even if you think it is patently wrong, and as long as it isn't taught as truth - much as one might be curious about teutonic myths, Marxism or cargo cults.

2. "...teaching them who they are". In what sense does a Catholic school teach you who you are? Molecular biology, natural selection, psychoanalysis, existentialism? If it is different to how any other school does it, then what is it other than indoctrination? If it is no different, what is the purpose of the religious character of the school? The point is that education is about questioning who you are and what the world is.

3. Same with the 'values they stand for'... whose values are these? The parents? What happens to the vlaues that aren't the parents' - are they given less weight?

4. What's wrong with it is that to the extent that they offer anything different to secular schools, there can only be a bias in favour of a system of supernatural belief that will be guarded from challenge by reason and overstated in its importance. To the extent they offer nothing different, then what is the point of the religious designation? (well, its increasingly about forming selective schools for base secular reasons, but that's another story).

The fact that so many go on to reject the faith of their faith school is hardly surprising given the absurdity of the belief system on offer. But it's hardly a justification for starting out by emphasising it.

Anonymous said...

The response to 'Faith no more'is typical if you don't know that you were brainwashed at school.