Wednesday, August 08, 2007

God bothered

A couple of weeks ago I attended a meeting at a South Tyneside primary school and saw something I found to be disturbing. This school is what's commonly known as a 'faith school'. I've never visited a faith school before.

These types of school have never bothered me much, except perhaps for their discriminatory practices where children from families with the same religious orthodoxy as the school would get enrolment priority before children from another religion or from a non-religious background. Often these schools are defended not on the basis of religion, but that of education - statistically, those who attend faith schools tend to do better in exams than their contemporaries in mainstream (not overtly religious) schools.

It could be that a culture of religious belief is responsible for the grades, or that children attending these schools tend to come from homes which value and instill aspiration, hard work, discipline and reward. Or a bit of both.

At the meeting my mind wandered during a particularly dull discussion and my eyes scanned the walls of the school hall for a bit of light diversion. I found a section on wall which could be summarised as "Postcards to God". The wall contained a number of small cards with a short bit of text on them. Here's some examples:

"I belong to God's family, I feel special."

"I belong to God's family, I feel loved."

"I belong to God's family, I feel happy."

And so on. Each card also held the name of child, and by the handwriting I would guess the age of the authors to be around 8 to 10 years old.

This is when it struck me how divisive faith schools are.

As an aside, I must admit, I don't even like the term 'faith school'. The two words somehow seem incompatible with each other. Faith is something you believe without reason or evidence. It's the ideology of ignorance. Where children are 'taught' creationism as an alternative science to evolution, as in places like the Christian fundamentalist Vardy schools. This is loony indoctrination, not education.

The subtext of the Postcards to God is one of group superiority. "I belong to God's family, I am special" logic has a flip side which implies that those who don't belong to God's family are not special, not loved and somehow less worthy.

The world of religion is full of terms for those who don't follow your particular cult - gentile, unbeliever, infidel, heathen, heretic - all pointing to those outside your religious 'family' with an alien otherness. It's fortified with lessons that those who don't believe in your god and follow the rules are going to spend the afterlife in an eternity of torment, whilst believers and martyrs will be rewarded with an eternity of infinite bliss in paradise.

Sounds pleasant, but from such ideologies killers are created, comforted and confident that their god approves of and rewards their atrocities.

We could point fingers and select religions for particular criticism. Suicide bombings by Muslim extremists are a recent manifestation of killing in the name of religion. But Muslims who have lost their marbles don't have all the fun to themselves. Scratch the surface of an atrocity and chances are religion is somewhere underneath.

The cash to run faith schools comes from tax payers, who are funding the ignorance and indoctrination of next generation of religious bigots. Schools should be where we teach our children how to think - not what to think.


trigger17 said...

On your own admission you have a tendency to "mind wandering". Could this be the reason why your post ends up with part-truths, untruths and just weird conclusions? Can I just take a few?
Firstly, the cash to run faith schools does NOT all come from tax payers. In CofE schools the church bears a large part of the cost particularly for buildings. The local parish church also has to find a certain amount to cover some of the ongoing costs.
Secondly, your conclusion on the Postcard to God topic is completely wrong.The flip side to the I belong to God's family, I feel special, you state, is that someone who is not part of God's family is not special, not loved and therefore less worthy goes completely against the teaching of Christianity. The Christian faith teaches that God loves everyone, unconditionally, warts and all. In any event what is wrong with feeling special or happy because someone loves you? Love is the greatest gift that anyone can receive.
Thirdly you talk of discrimination in a selection process. Do you not think that selection goes on in non-faith schools? And what about the child of 11 accepted into the new school of their choice whereas their friend whom they have sat next to from the age of 4, is not accepted because they happen to live on opposite sides of the back lane - is this not discrimination?
Rossinisbird, you really need to rethink this one. It might be an idea to have a good look at the curriculum for R.E. - I am now a little out of touch being well into my 70's but I don't think schools are now allowed to indoctrinate.

rossinisbird said...

Thanks for the message trigger. You will note I didn't specifically aim at Christianity in my blog post(not intentionally anyway), but since you have a bee in your bonnet about that particular superstition I'll try to answer your comments.

"the cash to run faith schools does NOT all come from tax payers"

Perhaps I should rephrase this. Much of the funding comes from the taxpayer, and it could be argued many DfES or LEA aided faith schools couldn't survive without public cash. Recently in the growth of religious 'academies', like the Vardys' Emmanuel Foundation, most of the opening capital, and all of the running costs is paid from the public purse. However, the tiny sum donated allows the 'Vardy schools' to fill the brains of children with the Vardy brand of religion. Fast food chains and junk food manufacturers would love this kind of marketing opportunity.

"The Christian faith teaches that God loves everyone"

Everyone? Including Muslim suicide bombers? What about Hitler and Saddam Hussein?

Okay, I'm being facetious. Of course you wouldn't admit that your god loves those folk. But where does the US godhatesfags and the UK's homosexual-hating Christian Voice fit in with the 'God loves everyone' ethic? Did the Christian faith teach them that? Perhaps it's not your flavour of Christian faith but the fact that such extreme opinions exist (at least I hope they represent an extreme minority) based upon faith only goes to reinforce the feeling that religion as a whole is divisive.

If the message really is that God loves everyone, then shouldn't the Postcards to God say "God loves everyone, including me, and that makes me feel great!"? But they don't say that - the emphasis is on those in God's family.

"Love is the greatest gift that anyone can receive."

There I agree with you trigger, as long as it's from a real person and not some imaginary deity.

"Do you not think that selection goes on in non-faith schools?"

Selection on religious criteria doesn't happen in non-faith schools. The rest of your point on this is about the bureaucratic nonsense of catchment areas. If you consider that to be discrimination, then you're only reinforcing my point that discrimination is wrong.

"I don't think schools are now allowed to indoctrinate"

But they do. As I mentioned in my post, schools like the Vardy academies mentioned above are allowed to teach the supernatural belief in 'creationism' with the same emphasis as the science of evolution. At the private Grindon Hall Christian School in Sunderland teachers must include the Christian message (whatever that is) in every lesson. Every student must have at least one bible.

Perhaps faith schools don't breed hate, but they sure provide a fertile soil of bigotry and ignorance. Religion should be separated from mainstream education and similarly separated from the state.

Curly said...

I am neither a creationist or an evolutionist, I believe what I believe as a result of my (non faith based) education. I am not superstitious either.

Most scientists who follow the Darwinian principles agree on eon thing, and it is now universally accepted. It's called the "big bang" a point long ago in history considered to be the starting point for the universe as we know it. The scientific community widely hold the belief that the "big bang" was caused by the collision of two atomic particles.

I have yet to read of the names of any leading scientists who can proclaim or even suggest where these two minute pieces of material came from or how their paths were set upon collision in what could only be described as a void.

Perhaps, in a non superstitious and rational manner, you could help us out with a viable suggestion?

rossinisbird said...

Curly, just because we currently don't know why or how the big bang happened or what came before (if there was a before) doesn't presuppose that we will never know, as I'm sure a physicist would tell you. A 1100 years ago the Vikings believed the wind was Thor farting. Now we know it's due to climate and weather patterns - through the application of science and rational thought. Medieval cartographers filled in the blanks on maps with "Here be dragons". The preface to the big bang seems to have attracted the same kind of shorthand.

Based on past performance it's probable that our understanding of the birth of our universe will follow the same path of scientific discovery. Conversely, the same statistical function tells us that it's highly improbable that a god is responsible for the big bang.

The religious presumption that because science hasn't (yet) explained a phenomenon so a deity must be responsible is little more than mystical fantasy - certainly not rational.

Rather than give in to the intellectually void sterility of anthropic reasoning, there is a challenge knowing that there are still mysteries out there for us to explore - and eventually explain through science.

David Potts said...


Every post you make I have to go and get out the dictionary. I'm a simple soul so please just use plain English, buddy.

Re. your comments. A wise man once said "I'd rather go through life believing that there is a God and finding out that there isn't, than go through life believing there isn't and finding out that there is"

It's no secret that I have strong religious beliefs, but I don't try and impress them upon others. One's faith is a personal and private thing. I respect your views, you and (I hope) you respect mine.