Individualism

I sound like a lecturer, but before I start I’d like to remind anyone reading in Edinburgh that THIS WEDNESDAY 23rd January, the Edinburgh University Humanist Society will be showing the Richard Dawkins “Dawkumentary”, ‘The Root of all Evil?’, at 6pm in Room 3 of Appleton Tower, George Square. It will be followed by a group discussion on topics raised in the documentary.

Today I had a politics lecture on ideology in the British political system. It was rubbish, but it’s got me thinking about things only tenuously related, so that’s always good. Anyway the vast majority of socially liberal people are concerned about people’s rights and liberties: the right to free speech, freedom of assembly and things like that being the main ones, (although today someone started harrassing me with leaflets and stuff while I was eating my lunch in Teviot. I’d like people to care more about my right to eat in peace).

Another of the more highly esteemed basic rights is the freedom of religion, ie:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.

Source: Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Now call me ultramodern, but I think this is a bit out of date. Ok, everyone generally accepts that this also includes the freedom to follow no religion (although it’d be nice to have it in writing one of these days), but I think that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought” and “to manifest his religion or belief in teaching” can sometimes be very slightly contradictory. Only a little bit, not completely.

How can you have freedom of thought if you’re not making informed choices? Anyone who doesn’t have the whole story will naturally believe what they’ve been told. I think you know where I’m going with this, bloggers. The right “to manifest his religion or belief in teaching”, which has been cemented into International Law, basically gives any religious nutcase (no offence) justification to set up a faith school and brainwash kids that are too young to know any different with nonsense. I’m fairly certain that anyone who knows that we can explain the world without resorting to a fairy tale would not choose to believe religion, not unless it had been instilled in them from a young age or it was a big part of their family’s culture or some other excuse which has nothing to do with what’s correct and what isn’t.

I now firmly oppose teaching religion to children in schools. Earlier I wasn’t so sure, but it’s sick. How can we encourage our children to be thinking for themselves, rather than just regurgitate facts in exams, when from such an early age they’re being brainwashed with some dodgy worldview which doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, but permeates much of their lifestyle? Especially in an environment where they’re otherwise being exposed to useful, factual information. It’s just plain confusing and it shouldn’t be allowed. I remember once when I was about 8, we’d just finished RE and were moving on to our science class. The teacher asked the question “how do we see?”, and one kid replied without hesitation, “because Jesus is the light of the world.” It’s not right to expect kids to separate facts from fiction for themselves at such an early age.

But what about if parents want to teach their kids about religion privately? Personally I’d probably charge them with child abuse, but it’s a subject of some controversy. As the child is under the age of consent, the parents make decisions in her name, so they decide whether they can teach her or not, even though they themselves are the ones teaching her. It’s the equivalent of telling them repeatedly in all seriousness that if they don’t do something pointless like clap their hands 30 times at midday, then a big scary man will come and torture them forever. It’s probably perfectly legal, but I’m sure you’ll all agree it’s wrong. Actually it’s not the equivalent at all, that’s exactly what it is, just replace the hand clapping with praying, believing nonsense and following the 10 Commandments.

In my opinion, religion should not be taught. It’s spreading lies. Maybe teaching it to people who have already given consent by becoming a member of the church would be ok (and of course I don’t think baptising children counts, they can’t consent). But I don’t think many will turn to the church if it hasn’t been part of their lifestyle previously. It should be there if people want it, but it shouldn’t be taught as the norm, as is the situation now.

But what about teaching about religion? Censoring religion is no better than brainwashing kids in faith schools, so we shouldn’t do that. Religion has also been a big part of our culture, so it is definitely worthy of being taught about. BUT I think it should be made perfectly clear that it’s not necessarily true, and I think other non-religious worldviews should be taught alongside it, such as humanism. It should be in the history books by now anyway.

Maybe religion should be taught similarly to the way we teach about political or philosophical ideologies. Often religion, philosophy and politics are very closely linked, so it’s certainly appropriate.

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