Friday, May 08, 2009

"The Independent" rattles a cage

Now don't get me wrong. I like "The Independent" If I had my choice of daily newspapers in the UK, that would be the one. Yes, it is radically philosophically different from me - it is pretty humanist, and I am a Christian. But for the most part, I value its approach.

Not universally, though. This commentary was, in my opinion, a misguided and misinformed contribution to the new-religious/new-atheist "culture wars". There were some things that I agreed with - yes, faith schools do tend to pick up highly motivated children from wealthy families. Yes, I would agree with Hari and Dawkins that there are no "Christian children" or "Muslim children" (though I think that approvingly citing Dawkins in any context in a debate about the rightness or wrongness of religion shows the writer's presuppositions). But deep down, I think Mr Hari needs a hug - he evidently hasn't been able to deal with some things that scarred his childhood.
Irrespective of what the child thinks or believes, they are shepherded into a hall, silenced, and forced to pray - or pretend to.
Well, I have two children at a state comprehensive school in Surrey, one of the most conservative parts of the country. They simply don't have an act of collective worship every day. Where they do have assemblies, they don't generally have a religious dimension. But forget the fact that this doesn't reflect what is happening today - except in the paranoid fantasies of the new atheists who imagine the arrival of a theocracy next week. I finished O-levels in 1984. By the time I left (again, a state comprehensive), we had stopped singing hymns in assemblies, and any prayers were pretty perfunctory. Again, this was not in a radically left-wing part of Inner London, but in a middle class commuter town in Sussex. A fair number of assemblies had no religious content whatsoever, and they certainly didn't take place daily. I find it hard to believe that Christendom has managed to extend its grasp on the education system at all in the intervening years.
scientist Gregory S Paul
Who is Gregory S Paul, and why haven't I heard of him? I did a little googling. Here's some background on him. And here's some more. Here's the executive summary: Paul's research on religion and society has been debunked. Hari should not be quoting it, let alone leaning on it.
Very few people are, as adults, persuaded of the idea that (say) a Messiah was born to a virgin... You can usually only persuade people of this when they are very young.... if you watch children being taught about religion, you will see most of them instinctively laugh and ask perfectly sensible sceptical questions that are swatted away
So, Mr Hari - are children instinctively sceptical, unlike adults? Or are they easy to persuade, unlike adults? How about you make a decision about which way you want to play this before you write the article?

There is a real debate to be had about the role of religion in public life. But poorly informed, badly researched and unbalanced articles like this one don't contribute to it.

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