Maybe god doesn’t want to go to school

June 4, 2008 at 11:46 pm 22 comments

In America, apparently, many people say they want it but can’t get it, and in the UK many don’t want it, but can’t get rid of it – god in school, that is.

As a school pupil I had to endure it every day – the compulsory hymn and routine prayers. Just imagine it, 600 teenage boys with their mind focused on one thing (and believe me, it wasn’t god or their Latin homework), growling the hymn as quietly and as nonchalantly as possible (you could get punished for not singing), then standing and trying to provoke other people to laugh during the troubled stillness of the prayers being monotonously intoned by the headteacher. It was a ‘really meaningful’ religious act.

The Roman Catholics were excused, of course. As I remember it, we didn’t persecute them or try to burn them in the school yard at break-times. They were held in awe for having the mysterious secret that enabled them to avoid the daily assembly torture as well as escape the compulsory Religious Education lessons where we quizzed the aging teachers about sex (again, and again, and again, and again).

By the time I became a teacher the hymns had gone, but in the schools I worked in, there had to be an inspiring little homily, usually on a religious theme, and there were still prayers. Although at the time I was a Christian, even I could see the pointlessness of it.

The staff would be betting on how often the headteacher would repeat the same story. When he was often called away at the last minute, the deputy headteacher, knowing I was ‘one of them’, would often grab me with a look of horror as he was about to walk on the stage and say: “You couldn’t just go and do something religious could you?” I was happy to oblige, 1) because helping out the senior management wouldn’t harm my career, and 2) because I worked in church youth groups in my spare time I had a fund of ready made bible stories I could quickly adapt. Staff colleagues seemed to be mystified by the fact that I could pray in public without reading anything from a book, but the teenagers did what all teenagers do during prayers in school – they tried to provoke other people to laugh during the troubled stillness. I could see that it was really far from being a meaningful religious act.

Religious communities have their own schools outside of the state system and have been debating the precise purpose of those schools. For example, in 2001 the Church of England issued a report, “The way ahead: Church of England schools in the new millennium,” which marked a radical shift in its position. The report called, in effect, for a subordination of the service to the nurture function. C of E schools, it announced, should be more “distinctively Christian,” with a mission to “nourish those of the faith; encourage those of other faiths; challenge those who have no faith… religious education and collective worship should be seen as an integrated experience, with collective worship acting as an expression of what is taught in many RE lessons.”

Despite what is happening in the religious schools, the state sector has never seen its role as being overtly evangelical. However, there is an understandable argument that the function of schools is to produce educated, model citizens, and there seems to be this lingering view amongst some in the establishment that one of the best ways of doing this is to give them a forced daily dose of exposure to Christian ritual. (Perhaps with Anglican Bishops still in the House of Lords, and the monarch still as head of the Church, that is not surprising.) Like cod liver oil, a forced daily dose of exposure to Christian ritual may be revolting to take, but it does you good.

It is also worth remembering that this belief in the daily dosage in schools is taking place against a background of predictions that the Church of England, at least, is facing a serious crisis about its survival. The authors of the annual book of church statistics Religious Trends which is produced by Christian statisticians argued that the fall in attendance is so precipitous, the Church will soon become financially unsustainable. As congregations age and die, there will be no money from collection plates to support the Church’s infrastructure and keep on paying the pensions of retired vicars and bishops.

The really good news is that some people are beginning to question whether forcing children to endure exposure to religion is against their human rights. As a recent e-bulletin from the British Humanist Association points out:

A report from Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights (13 May, 2008 ) calls for any child of ‘sufficient maturity, intelligence and understanding’ to be given the right to withdraw from compulsory religious worship in schools. Currently, only sixth form students have the right to withdraw themselves, and other children can only be withdrawn at the request of their parents, but the Human Rights Committee have said that this violates children’s rights to freedom of belief and conscience. Writing in support of the Committee’s report to Minister for Schools and Learners, Jim Knight MP, the BHA said, ‘We agree with the JCHR that the law is clearly inconsistent with the European Convention on Human Rights and that children of ‘sufficient maturity, intelligence and understanding’ should be permitted to withdraw themselves from prayer and other worship.’

If there has to be compulsion for school assemblies, god has to go. As Andrew Copson, BHA Director of Education and Public Affairs, commented:

‘The best situation would be the replacement of the law requiring religious worship with a law requiring inclusive assemblies that would be suitable for all children. For as long as the current law remains, however, children must be allowed to decide for themselves whether they wish to participate. To compel them to pray, or worship in other ways, is a clear interference with their right to freedom of belief – one of the most important rights that we enjoy.’

And of course, if I were god, I would want to stop being forced into schools. I would gain no pleasure in gaining worship by compulsion, whether it be from torture or the threat of a school detention. If I were god, I could read hearts and could recognize a sham when I saw one.

– AThinkingMan

Entry filed under: AThinkingMan. Tags: , , , .

“De-conversion is not possible since you were never converted” De-converts United for Prayer in Every School (DUPES)

22 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ted Goas  |  June 5, 2008 at 12:25 am

    Great post! I reminded me of a discussion that my fiance and I are currently having. We’re pretty much atheist (well technically agnostic) and plan on having kids in the next few years. We’re debating how to handle the teaching of religion.

    It would be unfair to deny children religion all together, though equally unfair to ‘brainwash’ them at such an early age. What’s in the best interested of human rights in this case?

    To have religion taught as part of state supported education should be out of the question, though. Especially since so many religions have different, equally unsupported beliefs of their own.

  • 2. Bacchus  |  June 5, 2008 at 6:13 am

    I can see the argument you make Ted regarding not denying children religion. I see religion as part of ones heritage, to better understand their roots and history itself. Religion doesn’t have to be a bad thing in ones life, it just unfortunately is controlled by some bad people. Otherwise, some aspects of religion, and I reluctantly say Christianity, are beautiful. But those aspects are not something that can only be achieved by believing the books, but can be achieved respecting the teachings without going to the extreme.

  • 3. Obi  |  June 5, 2008 at 9:20 am

    Ermm…I’m afraid I don’t have the experience raising children (I’m 17) on my side here, but I must say that I see no reason to raise children “religiously”. As could probably be guessed, I’m an atheist. I’d raise my children teaching them to be model citizens and take care of their fellow human being; teach them to think rationally, logically, et cetera; and to believe things only when someone has shown you proof. I don’t feel that religion is necessary at all to live a happy or moral life, not to mention the fact that many (all?) of them are false to begin with….

    Just my opinion, take what you want from it.

  • 4. LeoPardus  |  June 5, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    Dude! Do you realize how lucky y’all are? You’ve got state-sponsored religious force feeding in your schools!!!! Your country and others with similar programs, like Denmark, have the highest percentages of atheists and lowest church attendance in the world.

    The programs are massively successful!!

    For cryin’ out loud, DON’T you and your fellow atheists, humanists, etc, screw it up. Compulsory religion is the finest killer of religion ever seen. I’d give my left nut for the various Christian groups here in the US to finally succeed in getting religion back in the schools.

    I’m convinced that the main reason that we still have such strong religion among the US populace is the state’s hostility to religion. We CANNOT pray in schools. We CANNOT teach anything from the Bible in schools. We can hardly even display the 10 Commandments in public. This all gives massive amounts of fuel to religious people to scream “Persecution!” And that gives them life and energy.

    Then our political leaders get up and say they are devout and that they’ll do something about this persecution, and that gets them votes.

    Damn ATM, you’ve got religion in school that no one likes, and that gives you very little religion anywhere else in society. What a boon! Almost makes me wanna move to bonny, old, England.

  • 5. athinkingman  |  June 5, 2008 at 12:08 pm


    Now, why hadn’t I seen it like that! 🙂 You’re right, of course!

  • 6. Ubi Dubium  |  June 5, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    Well, I’m now raising 2 children, and we are not teaching them “religion”, we are teaching them “about religion”. We are teaching them about different faiths, about cultural heritage, and above all, to think critically about everything. (When a theist protests to us “If you don’t go to church, then what about Sunday School?” we just reply that we’re “Home Sunday Schooling”.)

    As an example – the other day UbiDubikid #1 asked me “Who’s Sodom and Gomorrah?” Great opportunity! I got out a bible and read her the whole story. Her reactions:
    Why would an omniscient god need to go find out whether there were any good people in the city? Shouldn’t he already know?
    How can god be OK with a man offering to turn his two virgin daughters over to a sex-crazed mob?
    How was what happened to Lot’s wife in any way fair?
    What about the women and children living in those towns – how were they in any way deserving of destruction?
    And she didn’t think a mob of gay men were very likely to try to break down a door.

    (She’s very perceptive.)

    We celebrate the secular aspects of the religious holidays with the kids because it’s family tradition. And we make sure that they are learning about the religious background for cultural literacy. It seems to be working well so far. They approach religious stories and claims with the same critical eye they bring to internet rumors and tv advertising.

  • 7. LeoPardus  |  June 5, 2008 at 12:57 pm


    I think your child rearing Rawwks. 🙂 And I especially love “Home Sunday Schooling”. Great turn of phrase.

    Your daughter is indeed perceptive. Glad to know she can regard rumors and ads with skepticism. She bids fare to do well in the world.

  • 8. LeoPardus  |  June 5, 2008 at 1:18 pm


    Back in my early Christian days, I was in the crowd that wanted prayer, religious instruction, etc. back in school. Then I met and married a gal from Denmark. I learned that they had prayer, religious instruction, religious assembly, etc. and that Denmark had one of the lowest percentages of believers on earth.
    Later I worked with some blokes from England. I got the same story. I also heard the same story from a Swedish friend.
    The more I learned, the more I saw that religion that was sponsored, taught, and promoted by state/school was the most consistent correlation I could find with areligiosity in society.
    It was rather ironic that I found myself set against Christians and with atheists back then. Of course now the situation is reversed, so I cry loud “amens” whenever I hear religious folks screaming for prayer in school.

  • 9. Obi  |  June 5, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    Now that I think of it, I completely agree with you, LeoPardus. Too bad we’ll never get religion into schools in this country…

    I can’t believe I just said that, haha.

  • 10. TheNerd  |  June 5, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    A big reminder of how good we have it in the US, even with all the dumb laws people try to pass. Thanks! 🙂

  • 11. TheNerd  |  June 5, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    LeoPardus: I only regret that I don’t have a left nuts to give for my country.

  • 12. LeoPardus  |  June 5, 2008 at 3:13 pm


    Well you could always give a boob. On the other hand, we have more than enough boobs in this country.

  • 13. LeoPardus  |  June 5, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    Y’all think we could start a new movement?

    Atheists/Agnostics United for Prayer in Schools

    You just KNOW such a group would get media coverage, as they would want to know just what the hell we were up to.

  • 14. LeoPardus  |  June 5, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    Better name:

    Atheists Intent on Religion is Schools (AIRS)

    Motto: We don’t want to put on AIRS; just prayers.

  • 15. Bobbi Jo  |  June 5, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    Leo, you’re making me laugh!! Do you think the “christians” would get confused and think that if atheists want prayer, then christians should not. they might start a group called Christians Intent on No Religion in Schools. CINRS (pronouced sinners).

    Ubi, how old is your daughter? quite perceptive. Reminds me of mine.


  • 16. Ubi Dubium  |  June 5, 2008 at 5:05 pm


    Thanks for the compliment, but that would be Dubichick!

    Bobbi Jo:

    She’s 14. High School Freshman next fall. How old is yours?

  • 17. Bobbi Jo  |  June 5, 2008 at 5:14 pm

    She’s only 7 but she is already asking some pretty tough stuff. Not to that extent, but close. When she was 3, I was reading the story of baby Jesus to her and she asked where babies come from. I’m like, uhhh, well Jesus is totally different than the rest of us…but uhhh…I must have mentioned something about an egg because when she was five she asked for a baby sister. I told her it wasn’t that easy, and she said “yeah, just crack an egg in your tummy, mom.” Just recently she asked me how we know that God exists. She definately challenges me.

  • 18. baba1342  |  June 5, 2008 at 5:56 pm

    Bobbi Jo, evangelically i recommend for your daughter’s case. You might find it helpful, despite the fact that the author haven’t answer his muses, and for sure the next posts will soon be published.

    I myself put more interests over our holly-celebs-wood instead of deities.

  • 19. LeoPardus  |  June 5, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    Bobbi Jo:

    CINRS LOL. I love it.


    Oops. Pardon my gender identity failure. Well now I know. Your Dubichick-let sounds quite precocious. Bet she’s a handful at times.

  • 20. Aussie  |  June 6, 2008 at 3:00 am

    My kids were one of the reasons I deconverted. Everytime I heard myself explaining about Creation or miracles of Jesus I started thinking “I can’t believe this crap I’m saying”

  • […] more I learned, the more I saw that religion sponsored, taught, and promoted by state/school was the most consistent correlation I could find with an areligious […]

  • 22. Eve's Apple  |  March 19, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    Prayer in schools? Well, when people ask me, I tell them I went to a praying school and a non-praying school and I couldn’t tell the difference between the two. Because I had learning and social difficulties caused by undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome, I was constantly teased and bullied by the so-called normal students, and not one person in authority in either school ever stepped in to put a stop to it. On the contrary, i was the one disciplined, restrained, punished, etc. So I have very strong feelings regarding prayer in school. If you want to teach children lip service, if you want to teach them hypocrisy, if you want them to end up leaving the faith later on, go right ahead and force the little ones to pray. For most of them it will go in one ear and out the other and they will be all right; but for a few tender, sensitive souls, it will cause them much pain as they wonder why God who supposedly loves and cares for them allows others to pick on them.

    Funny how you never hear about prayer in the workplace though. I bet some of the ones who are clamoring the strongest for prayer in the schools would be the same ones screaming in protest should their employer institute daily prayers!

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