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Monday, 27 April 2009

Countering the bullshit

Well, they can’t say they haven’t been asking for it.

There could well be a counter to enforced religion in British schools, if an organisation backed by Professors A C Grayling, the philosopher, and Richard Dawkins, the biologist, is a success.

According to the UK’s Telegraph, atheists are “targeting schools” in a campaign to challenge “Christian societies, collective worship and religious education”.

The way it is worded by Jonathan Wynne-Jones, the Telegraph’s religious affairs correspondent, is indicative of criticism, as if this countermeasure against brainwashing were an all-out assault with Scuds and tanks and AK-47s in every school playground and on every college campus.

I may be wrong (and he does quote the nontheist side in his piece), but why does he have to say “targeting schools”? If they’re about giving an alternative to the religious indoctrination that’s aimed at school pupils, of course they’ll target schools. What does he think they’ll do? Target branches of the National Secular Society?

The organisation is called the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies (AHS). The paper says:

The federation aims to encourage students to lobby their schools and local authorities over what is taught in RE lessons and to call for daily acts of collective worship to be scrapped. It wants the societies to hold talks and educational events to persuade students not to believe in God.

Chloë Clifford-Frith, AHS co-founder, said that the societies would act as a direct challenge to the Christian message being taught in schools.

She expressed concern that Christian Unions could influence vulnerable teenagers looking for a club to belong to with fundamentalist doctrine.

Is that phrase “to persuade students not to believe in God” in the federation’s articles or rules? Somehow I doubt it. I suspect – though may be wrong – that this wording is that of Jonathan Wynne-Jones, who is, after all, writing for a right-wing, Establishment, pro-religion newspaper.

In particular, says Clifford-Frith, some students are being told that homosexuality is a sin and that they should believe the Biblical account of creation.

“We want to point out how silly some of these beliefs are and hope that these groups will help to do that,” she said.

The Telegraph says the number of groups reported by the AHS to be active on campuses has risen from seven in the 2007/8 academic year to twenty-five in 2008/9, including societies at the universities of Oxford and Durham.

Of course, the religionists are taking it all in their stride and welcoming the chance of debate. Not! Well, not if this claim is true:

Leeds Atheist Society claims to have experienced discrimination, vandalism, theft and death threats from religious groups on campus, who oppose the open expression of an atheist viewpoint and blasphemy.

The paper quotes Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute as saying, “Atheists are becoming increasingly militant in their desperate attempts to stamp out faith. It is deeply worrying that they now want to use children to attack the Christian ethos of their schools.”

You can’t help but feel sorry for anyone who can utter this drivel and believe it. What Calvert and his ilk can’t see is the irony of the phrase “they want to use children”. What, Mr Calvert, the way religionists use children all the time, right from baptising them without their consent at the age of a few days or weeks, to indoctrinating them with fairy stories as truth right from an early age in schools?

That sort of using children?

And "use children to attack" Christianity? Is that what these societies are about: attack? Not just providing a means for like-minded pupils and students to resist the brainwashing?

I doubt very much that atheists and agnostics and freethinkers on school and college campuses are going to disrupt religious groups. If they do, then they’re bang out of order. All groups should have the right to hold gatherings and believe what they wish to believe – religious groups included.

Presumably, these societies of nonbelievers want there to be debate and an opportunity for young people to feel they’re getting support if they want to rid themselves of fantastical stories about sky fairies told as fact.

As things stand, most nontheist schoolkids are pretty much on their own. If they have a school society they can belong to, they can counter religious nonsense in their schools with whatever means are open to them – such as (in the case of some sixth-formers) opting out of religious indoctrination or (in the case of younger kids) putting pressure on their mums and dads to write letters telling the schools to excuse their offspring from religious assemblies and the like.

Having such a society on campus or within schools’ societies and clubs will, or should, make some pupils curious. Provided no one forces anyone to do anything against his or her will, all should be well.

And get this:

In a further development to strengthen the role of atheism among the younger generation, the first summer camp for irreligious children or the children of nontheistic parents is being held this summer.

Not “questioning” or “nontheist” or “freethinking”, note, but “irreligious”, which means hostile to religion or indifferent to it. But the use of that word in this context suggests that irreligion is somehow a break from some norm, rather than the default position that we find ourselves in at birth: i.e. with no religion.

So what are the Deluded Herd worried about? Do they fear that their emperor’s new clothes will be seen for what they are: a figment of the imagination? Is their “faith” not strong enough to equip them with the wherewithal to argue their corner?

Religion has been an organised force for a long time. Nonbelief is now organising itself, and, because it will have to argue from reason and not from blind faith in impossible phenomena, it will have a good chance of honing itself into a formidable opponent.

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