Posted by: Paul Chiariello | April 1, 2011

Teaching Humanism in UK Religious Education (RE) Classes?

In England Religious Education (RE) is taught to primary and secondary school kids across the country.  This includes Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Judaism.

Recently, in Blackburn with Darwen Council in Lancashire, Humanism was added to the curriculum to represent the large and growing population of those with ‘no faith.’

You can check out a few very short articles here at the British Humanist Association, the Daily ExpressMail Online and a related article by theLondon Evening Standard.

However there has been a lot of backlash against the decision.  Here are a few quotes:

Lesley Williams, whose 13-year-old attendsWitton Park Business and Enterprise College, “It is wrong. I can understand children being taught about other faiths but being told God doesn’t exist is not right.”

Councillor Salim Mulla, chairman of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, “I don’t think it is right. People are born into faiths and are brought up in that faith and that’s how it should stay. The non-faith beliefs send a wrong message to the children and confuse them. Values are very, very important. I don’t think the non-God aspect should be introduced into the curriculum.”

A local Catholic priest Father Michael Lavin, “I think that four years old is too young to be learning about atheism, at that age they hardly know what Christianity is…. It is difficult to get youngsters to understand theology and spiritual concepts. Children tend to struggle when you are making the first Holy Communion.”

Here is what the Mail Online article states as the main points of Humanism that will be taught:

  • Humanists reject religious and superstitious beliefs.
  • Instead, they believe we can make sense of the world using reason, experience and shared values.
  • They say we can make the best of life by creating meaning and purpose for ourselves, and choosing to take responsibility for our actions.
  • Humanists do not believe the universe needs a divine power to determine its value.
  • It is important to act morally towards others, not because of a divine imperative, but because people have inherent dignity.
  • Humanists believe that we have only one life, it is our responsibility to make it a good life, and to live it well.

————-

The article above discuss some of the counter points, but I’d like to add and make some of my own.

First, is the obvious point that if your religion is the revealed Truth from God and He works in your heart personally to encourage you, you don’t have much to fear from adding the idea that maybe God doesn’t exist.

Demographic Split in UK

Second, Humanism should be taught simply to represent the beliefs of a major proportion of the society.  “None” is the second largest census category (and I’m sure ‘Not Stated’ is disproportionately ‘None’ too), behind only the indigenous religion of the island.

Increase in Atheists as a percentage in US (Similar for UK)

Third, It is important people are exposed to this world view.  There is a large and growing population of Humanists and those without a faith while they also display what is, more or less, hatred for them.  Many Christians claim that they are an oppressed majority, but the numbers simply don’t seem to agree.

According to Gallup Polls and other surveys, here are the 1999 percentages of people saying they would refuse to vote for “a generally well-qualified person for president” if they were also:

Catholic: 4% (1937: 30%)
Black: 5% (1958: 63%, 1987: 21%)
Jewish: 6% (1937: 47%)
Baptist: 6%
Woman: 8%
Mormon: 17%
Muslim: 38%
Gay: 37% (1978: 74%)
Atheist: 48%

Another more recent poll gathered similar data:

Jewish: 10%
Evangelical Christian: 15%
Muslim: 38%
Atheist: 50%

Only 68% of people felt that atheists could be moral.  General opinions of atheists:

Very Favorable: 7%
Mostly Favorable: 27%
Mostly Unfavorable: 19%
Very Unfavorable: 33%

The overall negative attitudes about Atheists have been decreasing over the past 40 years, but almost all demographics have received more acceptance.  Obviously if you believe atheists are evil you’ll say this trend is a bad thing, but I doubt that is you since many of those people don’t know how to use the internet very well.

Fourth, I understand Humanism as a default.  The main tenet, if there really is any, to Humanism is using reason and experience to make decisions and learn.  All of the other religions believe this.  They just tack on spiritual methods, revelation and God.  However, how do you decide which revelation and whose God to pray to?

It seems only a true revelation has the validity to be believed on faith.  In other words, other religions’ revelations are man-made and therefore can be understood and dismantled using reason and experience, as well as faith in your own revelation.  But about that last part, all revelations disagree, otherwise they’re just different parts of the same revelation (which is fine if you want to go down that road).  So obviously if you rely on one, you can ‘disprove’ the other.

Seems you need to use reason and experience to be able to see which are the wrong revelations.  Unless you want to randomly pick one or just see whichever you feel personally most comfortable in (which pretty much negates any rationale for converting others).  I could go on in this line of reasoning but that is another post…. onwards to the next point.

Fifth, Buddhism is atheistic too.  So the quotes and articles above that say introducing atheism to children is confusing or morally wrong should be trying to get Buddhism out of the curriculum.

Sixth, to the quote above that says, “The non-faith beliefs send a wrong message to the children and confuse them. Values are very, very important.”  Maybe these back to back sentences aren’t directly related, but still what is implied is that Humanists don’t have values.  This is simply wrong.  The fact that people believe this is one of the reasons it should be taught to everyone.

Take for instance the book the Rights of Man by Thomas Paine.  Easily the most important book in mobilizing and justifying the American Revolution by setting up the radical idea of human rights and the illegitimacy of Kings.  However, Paine was an outspoken and avid atheist.

For those who have taken an Intro class in Ethics you will also know about the rational ethical systems outlined by Kant, Mill, Aristotle and Spinoza (the last again an outspoken atheist), all of which rely in no part on God but rather reason and experience.

That Humanism (and atheism in general) does not have values or ethics is simply inarguably wrong.

Seventh, and last, I want to point out that the argument that ‘these kids would be too young to teach such a difficult subject to’ is a thinly veiled attempt at maintaining the right to brainwash children.  If they are too young to understand, don’t teach them anything and let them learn and decide later.  Also, why teach them about other religions, won’t that also excessively confuse them?  Back to point one above, this should not be a problem for people who actually believe their religion.  Plus, it rings nicely with the whole free will thing.

Instead, Christians understand, as Proverbs 22:6 states, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”  However, much as this seems to deny free will and any motivation, even possibility, for converting others, it also points out the fact that what you teach children when they are young will hold a special place in their reasoning.  And no one wants to give that up.

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