Wednesday, 4 September 2013
Secularists' petition against religious observance
Members of the Scottish Secular Society (Popular Front) on a school visit
One of the bewildering factors of modern Scottish public life is the succession of letters from various people claiming to be chairmen (and it's inevitably chairmen) of this or that Secular Society in the Scottish press.
I think there are four main groups on the go at the moment: the Edinburgh Secular Society, the Scottish Secular Society, Secular Scotland and the National Secular Society. (If I've left anyone out, I apologize.) Anyway, their current campaign is to get religious worship out of schools and they've sent a petition to the Scottish Parliament to do this. (My comments below are about the position of non-denominational schools. My position on Catholic schools is quite simple: if you send your child to a Catholic school, you should expect them to engage in Catholic practice. Full stop.)
I've posted before on this in connection with a related attempt aimed at Edinburgh Council. The current petition takes the initially more plausible tack of arguing for an 'opt-in' rather than an 'opt-out':
Lodged by parent Mark Gordon and Secular Scotland, the petition calls for the Scottish Government to change the law so that religious observance, such as attending a church service or religious assembly, becomes an opt-in choice rather than the current opt-out basis.
(From The Scotsman here.)
OK. Sounds fair enough: more choice. What's wrong with that? Well, schools run on the basis that children work in large groups: if you don't do that, you start facing difficult choices about resources and viability. If S1 all go to the local Church of Scotland for a session, fine. If Johnny goes to the Church, whilst David goes to the Synagogue, whilst Ewan goes to the Quaker Meeting House etc etc, it all gets fiddly and the school will probably stop doing it because it's too much hassle. Moreover, most (all?) events at school are done on the basis that in the judgment of the teachers concerned they're a positive contribution to a child's development. Accepting the teachers' professional judgment is part of the educational covenant you enter into with the school: whilst there may be occasions for an opt out, the rule should be that what teacher thinks goes.
So really, this boils down to an attempt to make religious observance more difficult to run in schools with the clear hope that they'll gradually drop it. Opposition to the petition is based on the view that such observance is a positive contribution to a child's education and, whilst opt out should be allowed, non-participation shouldn't be encouraged.
Putting aside, for the moment, the exclusive truth claims of the Catholic Church, mainstream religions are a way of seeking truth, beauty and goodness in life. They are not the only way but, historically and culturally, they are the main way. If the secularist groups had a positive suggestion to make about the content of such a 'time for reflection' (and, yes, that's the description that the 'narrow confines of tolerance' (as Neil Barbour of the Edinburgh Secular Society describes it in a letter to The Scotsman today) of the Church of Scotland suggest for religious observance (in that Church's evidence to Parliament, (PDF here)), then it might be worth listening to. But instead, their only contribution is the attempt to impoverish: to remove rather than to debate.
On a final related point, 'secularists' often claim that they are simply about ensuring a level playing field in public life rather than having any animus against religions. Really? How about this from the Scottish Secular Society's website comment on the Catholic Church's opposition to the petition:
Catholicism can be argued to be the most greedy of that power. Simple steps such as translating the Bible into a form accessible to all have resulted in bloodshed and upheaval, and the history of the Catholic Church is drenched in the blood of innocents.
Thankfully in modernity the Church no longer has the ability to persecute those who deny their dogma. Their power, along with their followers, is on the wane, and they know it. This is the root of the opposition. They fear they are in terminal decline, and so all change, no matter how minor, is met with hysteria and fear. The sad irony is that secularism has no wish to end faith, no position on faith at all. Faith is of value to millions on the world, millions in the UK, and it will continue to be so in the future. We simply ask for faith to be a private matter, for the end to privilege for religion, and for parity of faith and non-faith in the public arena. That is a huge challenge for an institution which has evolved to be as much about the worship of power and influence as it is about the worship of God.
So we have no position on faith at all, but Catholics' faith is drenched in the blood of innocents. (But we still have no position on faith at all.)
It's almost enough to make you adopt 'Jime's Iron Rule' (from the blog Subversive Thinking )
In previous posts, I've formulated what I've called "Jime's Iron Law", which is a purely empirical finding according to which hard-core atheists and "skeptics" are demostrably stupid, irrational, illogical, structurally impaired to rational thinking, that is, their cognitive functions don't work properly specially regarding (but not limited to) spiritual or religious matters.
Hardcore atheists and sceptics whose feelings are hurt at this characterization should take it up with Jime. Me? I of course have 'no position on atheism at all'.