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‘Religion in School’ Opinion Piece named Article of the Week by Cultnoise!

My latest Cultnoise article “Does Religion Have a Place in School?” has been named Article of the Week!

Click the link above to read the feature on the Cultnoise website or read the full article below.

Does Religion Have a Place in School?

One day, during an RMPS (Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies) lesson in secondary school, I started asking my teacher a few questions about Christianity. I was always confused by the mix of love/hate messages portrayed by the religion. The paradox between ‘love thy neighbour’ and seeing radical Christians in America holding signs with messages such as ‘God hates fags’, ‘God hates whores’ accompanied by images of Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana, and other discriminatory and incredibly offensive slogans, I found it hard to wrap my head around what Christianity was really teaching. So, I started asking my RMPS teacher some (admittedly morbid) questions about Heaven and Hell.

“Miss, if a baby dies or a child dies before having the chance to learn about and believe in Christianity, would they still go to Heaven?”

“No. They would go to Hell.”

“Just for being a non-believer?”

“Yes.”

Many years before this instance, I had already decided that I didn’t believe in Christianity’s image of God. I hadn’t, and still haven’t, ruled out the existence of some kind of cosmic entity, some kind of force or being; some kind of reason for our existence. But ever since being told to participate in the Lord’s Prayer every morning in primary school, I just didn’t have any faith in what we were being taught. The Bible stories that the local minister recited to us in assembly every week didn’t make any sense to me, and I just didn’t buy the idea of Christianity.

Later in my education, I couldn’t believe it when this teacher informed me that all non-believers go to Hell according to Christian belief. What kind of God would send innocent people, especially children, to Hell simply for not believing in Him? I thought. I thought God was supposed to be loving, accepting and forgiving? How can He ‘love us all’ but send those who doubt him to Hell? Isn’t that a bit harsh?

Image courtesy of naosuke ii, via Flickr

There are many reasons I choose not to believe in Christianity. In my opinion, their teachings can be construed to promote homophobia, transphobia, sexism, racism, sectarianism and a host of other prejudices; not to mention that Christianity essentially teaches that a bad person can still go to Heaven if they’re Christian but a good person will go to Hell simply for not believing in Christianity.

‘I was born Roman Catholic but I lost faith when the Pope decided to tell me everything I loved and believed in was wrong. [The church] said Spongebob Squarepants is gay and he’s a sinner and he should burn in hell. And Harry Potter was a sin. And working women. I was like “Enough! First the gays, then Spongebob and now Harry Potter? Get out my house!” I was not having it. And the working woman thing? It was a moment for me.’ – Ariana Grande, Metro

In this day and age, religion is sadly still used, not by all, but by some as an excuse to be discriminatory, offensive and even violent towards others. To me, Christianity, along with many other belief systems, is rife with contradictions, ignorance and forms of bigotry. Fundamentally, I don’t believe that you need to be a follower of religion to be a morally good, wholesome and kind person.

I do, however, have an enormous amount of respect for those who follow religion without pushing their beliefs on others, or using them as an excuse to be rude or intolerant. In our generation, when the majority of religious groups are in decline, it takes a lot of courage to put your heart and soul into a religion, to dedicate yourself and have blind faith in a belief system that you have no proof to support. I understand that many people find great comfort and guidance from religion and I believe that is a truly remarkable thing, and does a lot of good for many people. What I don’t agree with is how some still use religion as justification for misguided wrongdoing, martyrdom, ignorance, intolerance and for their own personal agendas.

Image courtesy of Omar A, via Flickr

Last month, the Scottish Education Minister said that Creationism should be banned from being taught in science classes in Scottish schools. In my experience of being in the Scottish education system, I have no recollection of Creationism ever being taught in SQA Standard Grade or Higher Biology classes. However, that is not to say that Creationist theory is not undermining or discrediting to the teachings of biological, and particularly evolutionary, theories in our schools. If Creationism had been taught in science at my school, I frankly don’t believe students would have allowed it. By SQA Higher level, pupils are no longer impressionable or naive and I believe that the teaching of Creationism in a scientific context would have caused upheaval among my classmates.

The Scottish Secular Society filed a petition arguing that they were not opposed to Creationism being discussed in Religious Studies lessons but that: “Pupils must be taught about evolution as firmly based science”.

Without still being in state education, it’s hard for me to determine how much influence Creationism in science has in Scottish schools but I believe that to have any teachings that portray Creationism as truth in science lessons is inherently wrong. Promoting a theory that has no credible, scientific evidence to support its legitimacy just because some teachers, pupils and/or parents may believe in the Christian faith is frankly absurd. If I started my own new religion tomorrow and devised a theory for how the Earth came to be in existence, should that be taught in science classes? Of course not, because I would have no evidence to support my claims. Creationism and other religious theories belong in RMPS classes and in no other area of the school curriculum.

Studies concerning religion, morality and philosophy have a fundamental place in education. Of course, pupils should learn about the faiths of the world. Religion has a huge presence in everyday life and, subsequently, we should all be educated on these matters. But to include parts of one religion in science classes is not only biased against the theories of other religions but it is irresponsible and reckless teaching because Creationism is simply not relevant in the context of biology, chemistry and certainly not in physics. The purpose of science is the search for truth and if it comes to a toss-up between teaching Creationism or teaching the Theory of Evolution, pupils should certainly be taught about evolution.

Religion in school will always be a topic that causes a lot of debate and disagreement. Should we still have separate schools for Protestants and Catholics? Doesn’t that just encourage division, intolerance and disruption? Should children who are young and impressionable really be encouraged, and sometimes even pushed, to believe in a religion they can’t fully understand yet? I could go on.

What is clear in this debate is that school is a place for frank and honourable education and no beliefs from any religion should ever be allowed to obscure or disrupt the teaching of facts.

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