That Humanist


Faith Schools
February 4, 2008, 4:35 pm
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Faith schools (Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, and now Hindu, Jewish), paid for in the most part by British tax payers, are growing stronger and more isolated. Imagine a Jewish faith school in the heart of London, which shields its trusting students from the rest of society so much that the students have heavy Jewish accents, without a trace of that London cockney. Schools where children are taught evolution, but where most students don’t end up “accepting it” (in the words of a teacher at said school). Or a similar faith school, that teaches Noah and the ark together with lessons in science. How is this anything other than miseducation, under the guise of “faith education.”

The BBC has an interesting article about how Faith schools are to get their own vetting. Moreover, this body has been set up in the name of “community cohesion.” Why should “some private Muslim and Christian schools in England” have their own joint inspection body? What is so special about these schools?

Will this joint inspection body overlook the teaching of science and creationism in the same class, overlook those students that don’t “accept it” because of a dogmatic bias in the education, but now do so uniformly across two religions and with a better understanding of why said schools have such a bias? And how does this contribute to community cohesion? When you don’t even have the accent of the country in which you are born, how can we really expect cohesion? How can we expect integration, feelings of shared welfare?

Here‘s a story of a Jewish school reprimanded (by the “powerless ombudsman”) for not taking on a non-Jewish student. Their rules of admission state that the “school gives preference to Jewish children, then siblings of pupils, and thirdly to ‘children of families not of the Jewish faith demonstrating particular moral and/or religious strengths which are not likely to conflict with the Jewish ethos of the school’.” Perhaps their idea is that they’ll accept students outside of the faith if there’s a good chance of converting them to the faith.

The British Humanist Association web site has some great information about faith schools, which I won’t repeat here. As humanist though, surely these faith schools demand our attention. These schools are teaching ignorance to the young – to those that aren’t in a position to know otherwise. Many would I find this repugnant, immoral, and an abuse of authority.

Post Script: The Telegraph has an article on how Female Muslim medics ‘disobey hygiene rules’. Apparently the medical students are not washing their hands properly because the indecency of exposing their arms appears to outweigh their knowledge of science, bacteria and the spread of diseases. So strong is their sense of morality, that they’d rather indirectly spread disease (and perhaps death, albeit inadvertently) – quite contrary to their chosen station.

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So how do you deal with religious belief in someone you like?
January 25, 2008, 3:57 am
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Wherein I consider how I treat my friends, and how a government agency considers “three little pigs” offensive to Muslims.

Friends

A friend recently asked me how I dealt with religious belief in someone I liked, and in particular, if I would be bothered by their beliefs and how they spent their time.

I responded with, “Well, I guess I tend not to behave any differently,” and “I respect people – but I don’t respect religions,” which sums up the situation quite nicely.

I have a wonderful friend who is religious. That doesn’t stop me from talking to her, nor does it make me switch into some evangelical atheist mode. At the same time, if she said something that did relate to her belief system, I may say something about it if I didn’t agree. It would also not stop me from discussing one of my passions, evolution or humanism for example.

In other words, I treat my friends equally, irrespective of their religion, without tiptoeing around topics. I believe this is honest and respectful. Perhaps I have lost potential friends due to this. I can quite imagine someone being offended by something I’ve said, though without them telling me their belief system I would not know.

Should we go around assuming someone may be offended by secular humanism given that we know that (depending on context) many people we meet may be religious? No. Do you go around assuming someone may be offended by a description of the wonderful cannelloni you had last night given that there is a probability that you may be talking to a vegan?

Government

My relationship with my friends is quite different to that of a government and its people. How does a government deal with religious belief in its people? In Britain there is a push to respect multiple faiths in schools and elsewhere by the government (at least I perceive that there is – I should find proof).

But how far do you take this? Clare wrote about “a test to see whether a particular decision is secular or whether it privileges religion.” Now take for example this BBC story that Three Little Pigs considered ‘too offensive’ by a government body . I’m not sure if this is respecting Muslims, or insulting them.

It’s obviously a decision that privileges a religion. Perhaps they’re doing it for “respect” of that religion, or to promote “multi-faith”.

But this brings with it a host of questions: Why only that religion though? Should we expect a ban on the phrase “The cow jumped over the moon?” Does the size and vociferousness of the religion determine how much respect the government should give it? What about my beliefs about a secular government?

I’m hoping this particular case is simply a bad decision by a few individuals obsessed with political correctness, but it does highlight concerns about just what respect means to a government. Unlike the situation with a friend where there are only two parties involved, here there are multiple parties, each with their own beliefs, rights, wishes and traditions. I like to treat my friends honestly, equally: the government, it seems, has no such desire.