All Publicity, Good Publicity?

20 11 2009

All Publicity, Good Publicity?

I went through period when I felt there was nothing I could or should comment upon. Suddenly it seems to have changed! The latest piece of info-speak that I have come across that seems intellectually incredible comes from the Humanist Society’s website where there is comment upon their ‘billboard campaign’ against labelling children, complete with comment from Richard Dawkins. Expounding on some of the bad rationale from the God Delusion this dogma declares:

We also believe that labelling children is coercive because it:

  • places an expectation on the child to conform to her parents beliefs
  • removes choice and decreases autonomy by limiting the options available; by constraining the child to think that their religion is “a given”.
  • can act as a threat, either because there is an implied risk of parental disassociation if the child rejects the religious beliefs, or because inherent in the religion itself are explicit metaphysical dangers (judgment, Hellfire etc) associated with disbelief or apostasy.

Now I have some well-founded objections to this as follows:

1. Intellectual Dishonesty playing with half-truths

I come from the Christian part of the world that is neither Anglican nor Catholic and I have so say that in my reasonably wide experience, children from our families are not labelled, and we do not label other children. Yes, I understand that where there are ‘faith schools’ there is often a bias in favour families from a clear faith, but that is more linked with the work and ethics ethos that goes with Christian faith and “The faith” is not the big issue at many such schools. In Catholic schools there appears to be a stronger leaning towards identifying children as coming from Catholic families but, I would suggest from local knowledge, the emphasis is on the family and not the child. I suspect the same is true of the Muslim families.

The vagueness of the dogma is thus all-embracing and does not cover the majority of the Christian population (I’ll say more on this below). It is only a vague truth therefore and there would be a sense of integrity in this dogma if they specifically aimed it at faith schools (which they do in other posters) and at specific religious groupings. Aiming at the whole audience is careless and sloppy, and intellectually indefensible.

2. Utterly Inaccurate

In the Christian world at least, links to faith schools are minimal – most of our children don’t go to such schools, simply because there aren’t enough of those schools. Put those schools aside, therefore, and my experience tells me that these three ‘reasons’ above are unrealistic and verging on the absurd.

My wife and I are both practising Christians. We have three children who are now in their late twenties or early thirties. They are all bright kids who think for themselves. Where there are religions or religious expression that is authoritarian then it may be that there could be a shred of truth in these things – but the vast majority of Christendom does not fit in the category of authoritarian. My own children came to church with us, made their own decisions to be Christians without pressure put on them. They have had plenty of opportunity to reject those beliefs whenever they wanted but have not done so, seeing their faith as the best alternative in a world of mixed values and being very happy with their choices, being aware of all the others!

I have also known a number of other children who grew up in a Christian environment but rejected the life and beliefs of their parents and went their own way. They have also turned out to be those who have struggled with life and have not got a happy outcome – but that has nothing to do with their supposed feelings of ‘guilt’ of leaving the Christian fold (which is absent), but simply because of the life choices they have made, similar to so many of their peer group in the world, who similarly are struggling with the wonders of a humanistic lifestyle and its outcomes.

3. He who lives in glass houses….

Possibly the greatest hypocrisy and deception in this dogma is the implied claim that while Christians impose values on their children, atheistic humanists don’t! You must be joking! Richard Dawkins is crusading for the hearts and minds of the children of this nation on a platform that many of his scientific peers think is abhorrent. From my own observation, I would suggest that crusading humanists may well be those who impose their views far more than their Christian counterparts.

My wife is an RE teacher and her curriculum requires the students to analyse the historical evidence for Jesus Christ and the resurrection. What she increasingly finds is that many of her students who come from atheistic families (i.e. mother and father deny belief) are literally incapable of objectively analysing the factual evidence that is there in history. They have been so indoctrinated by their parents that they are intellectually incapable of being objective when presented with accredited historical data. They are UNABLE to be unbiased. Now that is far more worrying, I suggest.

I recently came across the following quote which starts with a supposition and goes on to recount an experience. It is worth bearing in mind:

people who have been given a faith-based education are generally more tolerant when dealing with people of other religious and non-religious faith traditions than those who have been nurtured in an intentionally anti-religious or ‘secular-humanistic’ environment. The way in which Muslim parents actively seek out Christian ethos schools is testimony to the fact that they believe those schools are more likely to encourage a tolerant and warm attitude to their own religious beliefs, than a school which may deliberately exclude the idea of the divine. Lord Sacks was educated at St Mary’s Primary School. Comments the Chief Rabbi, ‘I got more tolerance in that Christian school than I suspect I might have had if I had gone to a secular school where no faith was taken seriously at all. That was when I discovered religiously based tolerance – the religious roots, the foundations of tolerance.’

Intolerance is clearly alive and well in the humanist camp, but here is my closing thought. I am aware that there are many unthinking people who mindlessly subscribe to the thoughts of the Humanists, but it strikes me that anyone who knows anything about the reality  of the individual child’s ability to make up their own mind, will know that this language from the humanist website is empty posturing and must simply be a means of gaining publicity – except it does not show them up in a good light, and one wonders if, in fact, this publicity is good publicity, or rather it shows them as bigoted zealots with an intellectually empty cause?  Sad!

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