Worship of a Christian character in schools is neither ‘meaningless’ nor ‘nonsense’

Faith School med“The concept of compulsory worship has always been a nonsense. Schools have long wanted the government to take on the bishops in the House of Lords and change the law. School assemblies are a valuable way to reinforce the ethos of the school. They often contain the spiritual element that is missing in many children’s lives but having a law which imposes Christian collective worship is nonsense.”

This was the assessment of the legal requirement for schools to hold a daily act of collective worship ‘wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character’ by John Dunford, the general secretary of the Association of School and College leaders in 2010.

Four years later and little if anything has changed. On Monday the National Governors’ Association (NGA), which represents more than 300,000 school governors across England, announced that it will now  seek the abolition of the requirement that has been in place in its current form since 1988. This was their opinion:

‘[I]f the ‘act of worship’ is not in your faith then it is meaningless as an act of worship. The view was taken that schools are not places of worship, but places of education, and expecting the worship of a religion or religions in schools without a religious character should not be a compulsory part of education in England today.’

This is just the latest episode in a long and drawn out battle over the place collective worship should, or should not, have in our schools. Britain is the only Western democracy to require worship in non-religious publicly funded schools. In some ways, given the level of opposition from some quarters, it’s remarkable that successive governments have held firm and not watered down the requirement or abolished it altogether. The National Secular Society (NSS) has described collective worship as ‘a violation of young people’s and their parents’ rights’.  The British Humanist Association (BHA) is working hard to increase the number of humanists on local authority Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education (SACREs). These have the power to approve applications from schools to replace ‘broadly Christian worship’ with other more inclusive forms. Both the NSS and BHA have campaigned for years and lobbied government to end compulsory worship in schools. On its website the NSS states that it ‘will and use every possible opportunity to challenge the existing legislation’. The NGA’s statement  has been another one of those opportunities.

Those who work in schools will know how much of a headache this piece of legislation is. From my own experience, both as a pupil and a teacher, I have never been in a non-faith school that has met the requirements. A Comres survey for the BBC in 2011 found that 64 per cent of the 500 parents questioned said their child did not attend daily acts of collective worship. The NGA has also said that: ‘Few schools can or do meet the current legislative requirement for a daily act of collective worship, partly because there isn’t space in most schools to gather students together, and often staff are unable or unwilling to lead a collective worship session.’

Space is an issue in secondary schools in particular, but it is perfectly acceptable for the worship to be carried out in classes rather than whole school assemblies. The biggest factor is staff resistance. I remember at my high school the leadership decided that we should have five minutes of time for personal reflection and prayer on non-assembly days. My teacher who was an atheist reluctantly complied and encouraged my class to do it with minimal enthusiasm. We managed to keep it up for a week or so until he decided he’d had enough and we never did it again after that. Since becoming a secondary school teacher  it has been very rare to see staff at any level who have no personal faith show any interest in facilitating collective worship. It is mostly ignored until an Ofsted visit is expected at which point senior staff begin to panic knowing full well they will be picked up on it.

It is somewhat unfair to put all of the blame on teachers though. With the way the curriculum has expanded and increased time pressure due to bureaucratic paperwork and government and management expectations, anything non-academic is routinely relegated to the back seat. Collective worship or times of reflection in any form are just an inconvenience and a distraction from the supposedly important stuff.

The arguments over collective worship and the lack of attention it is given outside of faith schools is symptomatic of a deeper issue – is the role of schools to encourage students to develop and mature beyond just academic understanding and application? On the face of it this could be seen as a ridiculous question. Are schools now essentially factories where children are trained to jump through hoops in order to pass tests and exams? Surely there should be more to education than this? Sadly though this is not so far from the truth.

With a certain degree of irony given what the NGA has said this week, their Governing Matters magazine for July has an article on the recent Schools with Soul report – covered in a previous post here – which analyses the state of Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural Education (SMSC) in schools. The article ends with this conclusion:

‘The report’s deeper message is simple: attending to the social development and personal wellbeing of students has to be a deliberate activity and must sit at the heart of school improvement and transformation strategies designed to close the gap, raise attainment and build inclusion, especially in those schools that serve our most deprived communities. Governing bodies have a key strategic role in ensuring that this is the case… by placing SMSC at the heart of their vision for the school, the learning environment and the curriculum.

‘From this perspective, SMSC is not a distraction from the ‘standards’ agenda; it is the new standard by which we should judge the success of our educational efforts – especially for learners from the most challenging backgrounds. Attainment and achievement flow from inclusion and wellbeing; they do not precede it.’

Collective worship may be a pain for many schools to implement, but the underlying point of it is incredibly significant. If we remove the importance of developing morals and values from education we do our children a massive disservice. When we talk about worship of a broadly Christian character it is not about expecting all children to be praising the Christian God that they may or may not believe in. Worship in a school context means something different to worship in a religious environment. Its aim is to provide experiences which engender self-worth and the appreciation of the uniqueness of each individual whilst giving pupils a purpose and meaning to life and a sense of belonging to a community. The Christian element at its most basic and ‘broad’ level relates to the values that should hold this form of worship together. These are the Christian values of equal worth where all are treated with mutual respect regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religious beliefs, intelligence or wealth. Jesus’ ‘Golden Rule’ of doing to others what you would want them to do to you is the foundation that holds these together. And then there is the attitude to life that putting others before ourselves and giving is more rewarding than selfishness; that we should not be greedy or envious and that we all should work to make the world a better place. Is there honestly a better place to start?

A sensible conversation about how often and in what form schools can realistically perform these acts of worship is long overdue, but there is a vast difference between understanding the importance of spiritual and moral reflection, delivering it in a form that works effectively and scrapping the whole lot in order to placate those who are unable to appreciate its worth.

At a time when there is so much talk about the need for all schools to teach and encourage their students to be responsible citizens, it would seem utterly contradictory to be suggesting that we remove one of the few remaining elements of our education system that is designed to do just that. If we consider that collective worship of a broadly Christian nature is a nonsense, what will we find to fill its shoes as a better alternative? Or do we just leave our children to work out their own morals and values themselves?


Categories: Education, Faith in society

42 replies

  1. A meaningless ‘act of worship’ should indeed be banned from schools. It gives following Jesus a bad name! What should be encouraged by schools are ‘Christian Societies’ where believing teachers are enabled to lead children from believing and/or sympathetic families in the teachings of the Christian faith.

  2. It is nothing short of a national scandal that schools have been allowed to indoctrinate our children with religious nonsense for so long. This abuse of our children must stop, as the article states, schools are for education – not for forcing religious indoctrination down their throats by stealth.

    Morality, something entirely different, CAN be taught to children, and what better place than morning assembly ? (or whatever it is called these days)

    • I knew this was coming.

      To claim that morality can only be achieved by allying it with religion is, of course, absolute nonsense. This article makes a point that Britain is the only western democracy where worshiping deities is required.Does this mean Britain is the only morally sound country in Europe?

      Christians really need to get used to the fact that they have no monopoly on morality. People of other faiths (and indeed, none) are far more moral than many hardened Christians.

  3. May I suggest, given what you say, that you should in fact be asking for the law to be changed, not defending it? Several attempts have been made, with the backing of the British Humanist Association, to reform the law so as to replace worship with the sort of assembly that can deliver SMSC education without the hypocrisy of a pretend act of worship for an audience of whom two-thirds have no religion (at least two surveys of teenagers have shown this, one by two clergymen and the other for the Education Department). One attempt to change the law proposed wording on these lines: “Each pupil . . . shall on each school day take part in an assembly, which shall be directed at least in part towards furthering the spiritual, moral, social and cultural education of the pupils. . . such assemblies should not include any religious worship.” For ideas of how such assemblies could be run, see http://humanismforschools.org.uk/guidance/inclusive-assemblies/

    Meantime, please do not imply what I am sure you know is wrong, that Christianity has any special lien on morality, on “provid[ing] experiences which engender self-worth and the appreciation of the uniqueness of each individual whilst giving pupils a purpose and meaning to life and a sense of belonging to a community”, on the “values of equal worth where all are treated with mutual respect regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religious beliefs, intelligence or wealth”, on the ‘Golden Rule’ (Confucius’s 600 years before Jesus adopted it and found in every system of ethics across the world and through time), on the “attitude to life that putting others before ourselves and giving is more rewarding than selfishness; that we should not be greedy or envious and that we all should work to make the world a better place”. These are universal values. Let every religion and non-religious world-view support them but let none lay exclusive claim to them!

    • Thanks David, I would be happy to see the law being changed, but not so much in the way you propose. Having an assembly every day is challenging in many schools. Reducing the requirement to one or two times a week and then making sure these are done sufficiently well, might be more sensible. Really we’re talking about values rather than worship. It’s not the best word to use. You can’t worship what you don’t understand or believe in, but those pupils who do have beliefs should be encouraged to value them rather than pretending they don’t exist.

      I agree that Christianity can’t lay claim to a special line on morality. Christianity at its heart is about grace and forgiveness, but those values that the teachings of the Bible bring offer a solid foundation for any society. David Cameron has repeatedly said that this is a Christian country and the government appears to be fully behind him on this. So as a country, should this not be the appropriate place to start in terms of morals and beliefs. It is because Christianity is tolerant of those who have a range of beliefs and worldviews, that we are such an open society. If someone has a better set of values to offer that can be embraced by everyone than those held by Christianity (I’m not talking about individual beliefs here) then that’s fair enough, but I’ve not seen anyone present a better way of doing things that doesn’t leave us open to exploitation by less tolerant groups or a whole list of legalistic dos and don’ts.

      • Gillan –

        I don’t want to get into a long exchange as I’m short of time, but (a) I agree with you about assemblies; (b) this cannot be said to be a Christian country with under 44% of Christians and over 50% of non-religious (latest BSA survey), except in a historical or cultural sense and (c) Europe was Christian for over 1,000 years before tolerance came to the fore – all through the wars of religion, for example. It took the Enlightenment – definitely not a Christian enterprise – to open up horizons and start any practical talk of human rights (the philosophes, American revolution, Thomas Paine, French revolution etc). Christianity may have talked the talk about loving enemies but it did not walk the walk until quite recently.

        – David

        • You’re right about the history of this country. We’ve been a ‘Christian’ country for a long time, but that Christianity has been very unbiblical at times. Having said that, liberal secularism has only been around a relatively short time and other faiths are by-and-large still considered foreign.

    • Why should we put others first?

      To do so would be against evolutionary doctrine (‘the survival of the fittest’).

      Indeed, it would be unscientific.

  4. Gillan/David – maybe we’ll eventually get around to distinguishing between Churchianity and Christianity?

  5. I have not heard that Christians claim a monopoly on morality for themselves, quite the opposite. There are clearly people of goodness whether of religious faith or none. In fact Christians claim that we are not wholly moral , that we are flawed within ourselves. The standard laid down by Jesus is unachievable In essence our faith gives us the spiritual resources through confession, prayer, reading scripture and being in community to be better today than we were yesterday part of which is not to judge ( condemn ) our neighbour. The teachings of Jesus are unique and go beyond the Golden rule because they have the power to bring dramatic personal transformation. Please lets not talk about indoctrination and child abuse. If ever a point were exaggerated it is this one. Children live in a secular society and are exposed to a myriad of viewpoints mostly in the media very few of which are religious in nature. A double period of religious education with a short assembly in your local school is not quite North Korea. The vast majority of my school chums at the secondary modern school i attended in the 1970’s were not church going Christians despite daily worship assemblies and weekly Christian religious education but the B.H.A and the NSS love use this emotive term. Children should be exposed to a variety of viewpoints including those of faith so that they can make a well informed choice for themselves.

    • Learn from your last sentence Graham starting with “The vast majority … …” Bully for your school chums in that they didn’t succumb to this intense brainwashing as you so obviously did – the only difference with North Korea is that things are mandatory there (their leader’s wishes) whilst here religion, these days, has been reduced to stealth.

      Daily worship and weekly ‘christian’ religious education is undoubtably religious indoctrination and there is no getting away from the fact this IS child abuse. You (and I) were not being taught good basic human values, we were having the christian myths drummed into our heads.

  6. “Children should be exposed to a variety of viewpoints including those of faith so that they can make a well informed choice for themselves.” – This is what the British Humanist Association has been saying since at least the 1970s – so long as your ‘exposed to’ means ‘educated about’. But religious views must not be privileged over non-religious lifestances – as the BHA said in the title of its 1975 booklet, the education should be ‘Objective, Fair and Balanced’.

    • The problem is that ‘objective’ education about religion can’t be done without missing the point. The whole point of religious experience is that is experience, and you can’t genuinely learn about it without doing it. Learning ‘objective facts’ about different religious groups won’t help anyone make an informed choice about what to believe.

      • Plausible but wrong! (a) How many different types of religious experience do you think a school could induce in children? Remember, 2 out of 3 of them have no religion, while some of the rest have a definite belief of their own and may resist being ‘put through’ an alien religious experience. (b) Is it ethical for school to behave in this way? Is the school to teach about the charismatic denominations by getting children speaking ecstatically in tongues? If that’s a bit extreme, what is the qualitative difference from the religious experience you suggest for the children? (c) What is wrong about learning about religions? Religions are a fact of life and we all need to understand more about them – not just their own claims but the facts of their practices, their histories (the bad as well as the good), relations with each other, and so on. Given the way religion is cleaving the Middle East asunder, it would perhaps help children to know a bit about the European religious wars: they don’t have to ‘experience’ fanaticism to recognise it, and learning that all religions can induce such feelings could be a valuable education and help them to view with some suspicion messages put across when they are in states of heightened emotion. The school’s role is to equip children to face the world, including facing the question of competing religions and their incompatible claims. It is not to do the work of the churches, mosques, synagogues or temples for them.

      • My apologies if this comment precedes David’s reply which starts “Plausible but wrong”

        I agree entirely with David, but would go further by saying not only is it the school’s role to equip children to face the world … it is their duty too to separate fact from fiction.
        All children eventually realise there is no Santa Claus or Sugar Plumb Fairy before they leave school, but there is a surprisingly large amount of parents who simply will not allow their children to know the truth about religion – this is why schools should be teaching our children and not the church and also why the church should be booted out of all school’s for good.

  7. I wonder what the children think…

    One way or the other, whether things stay the same or whether they change, you can bet that children won’t get a say on what happens. And that’s ironic because Christ was the world’s greatest defender of children’s rights.

    • Hmmm … a bit of a contradiction here methinks. Surely children have the right to be taught the truth – not be told religious lies.
      And if anything is ironic – we never hear of this so called ‘christ’ having furious arguments with his claimed father upon discovering the amount of women and children he ordered to be slaughtered.

      If I knew my father was a child killer I’d certainly have something to say !

      • Yes Neil. Children have a right to be taught the truth. I agree.

        In the Bible we never see Christ ordering the slaughter of children and I think it is still Christian policy that Christ is God revealed. Instead Christ speaks up for children and is gentle and kind with them.

      • I’m afraid you have lost me now Nick – how many more ‘god’s’ do you people want.
        At school I was told in the beginning there was this one god, it made the earth, blah blah, then up pops this chap Jesus (and many, many others, I’m sure) who claims to be the son of god.

        Now you seem to be claiming Jesus and god are the same person. So when it is claimed we are all made in god’s image, which god are you now talking about ?

        And if I am made in some god’s image, and I can no longer lift a bag of cement without difficulty, how come this god can move mountains to make earth ?
        It must have taken the breath out of him … but hang on, there was no oxygen until the trees and plants started to grow … … hmmm, something not quite right here.

        I’m also very interested to know why you believe a chap who only exists in fairy stories is kind and gentle to children – my thoughts immediately turn to these dirty priests we have learnt so much about, so what evidence do you have to back up this absurd claim ?

      • Do you mean evidence that Christ was kind to children or evidence that Christ is God?

        As far as I understand it the main evidence is in the Bible stories. Specifically in the gospel stories.

        The stories say that at one point people took children to Christ to be blessed by him but his disciples tried to stop this. But Christ said “Let the children come to me, and do not stop them, because the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Then the accounts say that he hugged the children and blessed them. There is no account of any abuse of any kind.

        Throughout the gospel stories he continues to praise the characteristics of children (specifically humility). He also heals some children and accepts their help in his work (when he feeds the multitude) – he also accepts their honest praise and says that God gives an understanding to children which he stops wise adults from knowing.

        (Basically the evidence for Christ being God is also found in the Bible stories but to an extent that position has to be arrived at as part of a personal spiritual journey as an individual grows).

        I know that you think these stories are fairy tales, but many people believe they are stories in the sense of news stories, or historical accounts rather than fictional tales.

        I think it tends to be agreed that the Christ presented in the Bible stories was gentle to children and even animals. And as far as I understand it the characteristics of God are revealed more in Christ’s character as presented (so the crucifixion is supposed to show God’s love, forgiveness and selflessness etc).

        The only other evidence I can bring is personal testimony…

        I was presented with these stories both in a child’s bible and in school assemblies. These were pretty much my only exposure to Christianity as a child. Even though I didn’t really believe these stories until I was 19 (and didn’t have Christian parents), I found that knowing some of the stories which I had been told at school helped me to come to a decision later on. They didn’t feel alien.

        Why shouldn’t children have a right to hear these stories and make up their own minds?

      • Because they are much more than fairy stories Nick, they have been manipulated so as as to appeal to children at a gullible age and ‘win’ them over to the church’s silly beliefs and false way of thinking.
        Whether this was the intention of the unknown person/s who wrote this particular section you refer to, we shall never know, but it is highly likely that the children’s version of the bible was concocted by the church for one reason only and you eventually swallowed it ‘hook, line and sinker’.

        You sound like you are still young and impressionable Nick, it is time you started thinking for yourself and started to ask difficult questions … you could ask and try answering, if we are made in ‘god’s’ image, this god must have been a living thing and therefore would have been breathing – so how did it obtain its oxygen supply before it ‘created’ the earth ? Try thinking practical – not magical.

      • Thanks for believing I’m young Neil 🙂 But the depressing truth is that I’m 41 and have been a Christian for over half my life.

        I do ask questions and it gets me into a lot of trouble. I even ask God questions.

        Like I say, the general consensus is that Christ is God and therefore Christ created everything including us and oxygen (the only things he can possibly ‘need’ seem to be free-will love and possibly praise and worship (and even these things are presented by others as desires rather than needs)). So it means he created children too – so I don’t see the gospel stories as alien in that sense.

        My belief is that humans are created in his image in many ways – for example in a love for truth and a belief that might isn’t usually right, an anger at injustice and violence and an agreement that love and mercy are good things (and a belief in questioning).

        Obviously Blair and Bush failed to display these characteristics as does Cameron – but that is their choice and I would question whether they are Christian in any meaningful way.

        It’s true though that religion tends to use and abuse people. I’m not a Christian leader so I don’t really have the same responsibilities in that area (although I attempt to show some integrity anyway). My conviction is that despite these manipulations that Christ is alive today and I choose to believe the stories which say this.

        That choice was based partly on questioning – in particular questions of the meaning of life. I choose to remain a Christian every day, despite my many doubts.

        I haven’t swallowed the whole thing hook, line and sinker. I have some huge reservations about Christianity – for example, why is it user-error if it doesn’t work, if prayers don’t get answered etc? Why does it focus so much on self-discipline? Why do we treat each other so badly? Why must we brow-beat each other? Why are so many Christian organisations so obsessed with money? Why does there have to be a hell or a devil? Why can’t there be a structured reward system in which bad people have a servitude role in heaven? Why is there so much prejudice against Christians, especially Catholics?

        Why can’t children hear the stories and decide for themselves?

      • Yesterday, being exasperated with your very evasive reply, I decided we are not getting anywhere so I decided to be benevolent to you.
        But this morning I re-read our comments to each other and remain mystified as to what you yourself interpret to be ‘god’.
        At school and even Sunday school (yes, my parents tricked me into going) I was told god made the heavens and earth (note no claim was ever made about other stars and planets) and that after an extremely vague period of time a man who the western world calls Jesus pops up claiming to be the son of this god.

        Now according to the bible, this god orders that women and children should be killed for one reason or another, presumably years before ‘Jesus’ is born.
        I am aware religious zeal has made believers come up with words like Lord Christ, Jesus Christ, Lord God, the list goes on, but it seems to have left you confused too, but surely if you accept that ‘jesus’ was the son of god, jesus would find out eventually about all the atrocities his old man committed and have something to say about it.

        Of course, in reality, there was no god to issue these orders, the atrocities were based on real events when tribal people were at war with each other and the winner (probably the most barbaric) would write in the history books that this god gave the orders.

        I am at a complete loss though as to why those who concocted and put the biblical stories all together included all these ‘nasty bits’ and still expect people to ‘worship’ this god creature.

        Finally, I remain mystified why you still end your comments “Why not let the children hear these stories …” They have … it is drummed into them in almost every primary school in the country, and if their parents are religious too, they too will lie to their children, and these lies will be repeated at Sunday school and when they are dragged to church.

        The question should be why not let them just be taught morals and have games and education WITHOUT any religious bias or even better why not let the Humanist organisations be in charge of running ALL schools ?

        The fact remains there is not a scrap of real evidence for the existence of a god or even a son of god.
        As for a man with the name of Jesus, I understand this is a western version of another name and that ‘at the time’ this was quite a common name and besides, ever since humans evolved from the other apes and learnt to talk and invented gods to explain things, there must have been many, many men claiming to be a son of god, so isn’t it about time we heard it for the women ?


      • I always appreciate benevolence Neil. It can be rare in internet debates, but it is has greater efficacy than a flame war.

        You are right, we need a whole lot more female messiah claimants.

  8. Funnily enough I dont have a problem with my kids being taught about religion at school. Ive taught them to be open minded and questioning and the truth is they will come across religious people in their lives, therfore an understanding of the basics allows them to enter into debates with a bit of knowledge. However, I do have a problem with religion been taught as truth!!!! I do not want my kids been taught creation over evolution, or that people rise from the dead etc. As for indoctrination, I do have concerns about faith schools, but apart from that I think this is something that mainly happens within families and not in your normal assemblies (apart from maybe faith groups invited in).

  9. Well Neil I was an atheist for many years but found the purely secular life did not really satisfy the soul. I saw a greater truth in the person of Jesus Christ. It was not so much brainwashing as realisation. One of the problems i had in understanding Christian faith was in how to interpret and understand the bible that it was not literal in every respect nor a rigid set of rules and regulations. Christianity was far richer and more meaningful than the stereotypes caricatures and misinformation i has received from popular culture The phrase ”exposed to” is used because in many schools Christianity is barely taught. I am not sure what objective fair and balanced means because some subjects require interpretation and discussion because they are subjective in themselves and besides real life is not really like that. As a Christian i am not sure what privileges i enjoy over any other member of the population but i think there is a lot of expression of ideas in our society and i do not see the humanist atheist being censored in any way.

  10. Sir

    Once Christianity is ejected from State schools – then State schools should remain consistent and eject the plays of Shakespeare as they refer to the Judaeo-Christian God. Further, pupils must not be exposed to great Judao-Christian works of art depicting – you know which scenes.

    Of course by doing that then black and ethnic minorities would fail to integrate into British culture – they wouldn’t have a clue about such concepts as the ‘rule of law’; ‘habeas corpus’ and why all men have equal worth because Judaeo-Christainity holds that all men are made in the image of God.

    Indeed, white, black and Asain school-children will wander round villages, towns and cities asking: who are we; where do we come from where are we going?

    The supreme ethical value in such an educational system must ultimately be: don’t question us; Might is Right.

  11. Faith, whatever one’s personal views, has to have a valued place in our education system. An overwhelming majority of the earth’s population subscribes to a religion. If we do not teach children and young people about what faith is and how it is applied, they will become lost amidst their own views and opinions. And that road leads to close-mindedness. A broad and solid knowledge of other people’s views leads to a wide experience and a better moral and spiritual position upon which to base one’s own future.

    In the school where I work, there are probably 99% of the pupils with a religious background. The school does not hold faith assemblies, and has not done so for many years. In my view this is a mistake and the children’s education is suffering because of that.

    • In response to David all I can say is: So many faiths, so many god’s -no wonder kids are confused.
      Wouldn’t it be better if only we could tell them the truth, the truth being that we simply do not know the meaning of why we (life) evolved.
      But we understand evolution and why it is happening – it doesn’t have to have a ‘meaning,’ but what we do not yet understand is where did the original magic particle/s come from from which the big bang set in motion.

      It is simply amazing that from shear amateurish speculation we end up having all these god’s of one form or another, and worse still – even people claiming to be a son of god !

  12. I am afraid I do not agree with a lot of what you have said both in this post, and in subsequent replies to a few comments. David Cameron saying this is a “christian country” does not change the fact that a majority in this country are not religious, simply because David believes something that conforms to your beliefs or wishes or the historical context you wish to place us in. If David Cameron and his cabinet decided it was a muslim country, I believe you would be as convinced as atheists are of the former.
    There is an enormous disparity between the good from the bible and the bad. To teach children that morals come from the bible is nonsense. I bet you wouldn’t advocate the reading of all the horrendous wickedness and violence in the bible and then teaching children that this is good would you? You know, slavery is fine as long as it is regulated; make a rape victim marry her rapist; kill fortune tellers. They are all in there and I can give you the verse numbers if you are unfamiliar with them.
    As for christianity being a pinnacle of morality, you must remember – as David Pollock pointed out – there are many many societies around the globe that developed that innate human code hundreds of years before Yeshua was even conceived (if that word may be used). Christianity has plenty of immoral teachings. Luke 14:26 for one.
    I also fear that saying worship is essential or important, you are opening yourself up to enormous amounts of acceptance, but acceptance from those who think that maybe…Sharia law is the pinnacle of morality and Allah should be worshipped instead of christianity. The only way to prevent the ‘wrong religion’ from being worshipped or put up as the moral ‘holy grail’ is to have completely secular schools. Religion is a personal belief that does not belong being forced onto children.

  13. We force all sorts of ideas on to our children in secular culture and many of them can be quite unhealthy. You are what you attain, You are what you look like, You are if you are famous, If it feels good its ok, All sorts of sub texts that have greed, ego or power at its root. Wickedness and violence are conveyed into our living rooms via T.V. every day and is proof that not all people can adhere to this ”innate” human code . Is there really such a thing as a neutral moral secular space ? We should be able to discuss the relative merits of various world views including religion. Part of that is exploring what the various accounts in the bible mean bearing in mind that some are describing historical events and are not meant as a moral template. The church does not teach that murder, slavery, rape or violence are good. Jesus in some passages challenges us about the nature of slavery and family but each hints at a spiritual meaning with love at its centre.

    • Graham, Neil has hit it right on the head (below). There was a time when slavery was accepted precisely BECAUSE it said it in the bible, a divine warrant if you will. I don’t know any secular system that says “you are what you attain” or “if it feels good it’s ok”. Eating chocolate feels good, but I see no religious sects saying that exercise is important, do you?
      As for Jesus with love being at his centre, you clearly did not read Luke 14:26. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate thy father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—cannot be my disciple.”
      To quote Black Eyed Peas, where is the love? He said a few other things, but pretty much all of the good stuff was from Seneca, who was thought of as the moral leader of the day. He said way more moral things in his time than jesus ever did. I suggest you look him up.
      “If you want to be loved, love.” – Seneca, Epistulae Morales 9.
      “Take care not to harm others, so others won’t harm you.” – Seneca, Epistulae Morale 103.
      “Someone gets angry with you. Challenge him with kindness in return. Enmity immediately tumbles away when one side lets it fall.” – Seneca, De Ira, 2

      Seneca (4BC – 65AD) wrote all of these before the gospels (70AD-95AD). So maybe you should be looking to stoicism rather than christianity.

  14. Quote: “The church does not teach that murder, slavery, rape or violence are good. Jesus in some passages challenges us about the nature of slavery and family but each hints at a spiritual meaning with love at its centre.”

    Now I wonder why that is Graham ? Do you know the precise date when the church started telling people this is not what your god really said or was it the church responding to a basic human outcry that murder, slavery and rape are wrong ?

    Tony Blair – proof religion should never enter politics.

  15. I have enjoyed reading the stoics particularly Marcus Aurelius but am not familiar with Seneca. The early Christians held him in high regard and stoicism held that it was your behaviour and deeds rather than your words that were considered the true mark of your humanity. Seneca is reported to have been hypocritical in this area, himself being closely aligned to political power, the favorite of a tyrant, a flatterer, was extremely wealthy, an adulterer, called in loans aggressively against the poor and was forced to commit suicide having been involved in a plot to murder the emperor Nero after he had fallen out of favour. Jesus on the other hand challenged authority both of the Roman empire and religious hypocrisy exposing its corrupt nature. He constantly burst peoples bubble to demonstrate the falsehoods on which we all base our lives. He often uses hyperbole to drive home his point. Luke 14.26 is a perfect example of this. We have to think around the text and ask questions about the nature of family life in reality and yet Jesus asks us to love all people. It seems like a contradiction but he is wanting you to think deeper not literally. A.C. Grayling in his Atheist bible has collected a lot of wisdom sayings from a number of philosophical traditions and they are interesting to read and you cannot argue with many of them as ethics. They are the sort of things we read on plaques in craft and gift shops but how powerful are they to transform us. I have recently been reading the life change series of books by Mark Elsden -Dew that recount the stories of lives changed by faith in Jesus and the spiritual power they have experienced, without exception Gods word evoked an emotional response and the process of a changed life was begun. In many instances family relationships that were broken and unhealthy were healed by the couple developing faith and sharing a prayer life. Stoicism holds that we can improve through learning and reason and our own will. As Christians we believe that we are limited in this task and partner with God so that we can share in his spiritual life which he makes available to us. Why is it that over 2 billion people across the world are said to identify with Jesus 2 millennia after his death ?

    • Quote : “Why is it that over 2 billion people across the world are said to identify with Jesus 2 millennia after his death” ?

      Ah yes, I remember that advert in the papers a good couple of years back too … forced to withdraw it I believe.
      Probably the same amount of people believed the sun circled the earth until Galileo proved otherwise.

  16. Agreed statistics can be manipulated to strengthen any particular point and can be prone to exaggeration but looking at a number of studies there is nothing below 29% of world population with most between 2-2.3 billion and one at 1.9 billion. Its a significant number of people worldwide, most of whom are not vexed by the scientific questions but rather the ability to transform people to a better life.

    • If these figures are anywhere near accurate it shows the importance of having intellectual debates to discuss the issues.
      There is an extremely good video (in another blog listed on the right hand side of this page) where such a debate took place in London some years ago discussing whether the Catholic church was a force for good.

      A poll was taken before and after the debate which overwhelmingly showed the audience of 2,500 did not think the Catholic church was a force for good, and you can bet your life the catholic’s put the word out to ensure they had a good turn out. Chistopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry spoke against the motion so you cannot say the audience were “vexed by scientific questions” – it was being faced with evidence of wrong doing and being told the truth that swayed the audience.

      If a similar debate was to take place on whether there is a god living in the clouds (or some other convenient place where it can hide) and whether there ever was a son of god the results would be the same.
      How in this modern day and age a grown man such as yourself can still believe in a god and jesus fairy story is way beyond me – live a good way of life by all means, but do you really need to invent fictional characters to sustain that way of life … I think not.

    • It’s a start, but too little too late in my opinion. Religion, spirituality … it is all the same wishy-washy stuff. I challenge anybody to define ‘spirits’. Having ‘thoughts’ comes from the brain, but spirits or even your soul … where is that supposed to come from ?

      Are ‘spirits’ dead matter, as opposed to your soul, which presumably is live matter ?
      Best methinks that we simply stick to words we all know and understand such as thoughts, thinking, and feelings.

  17. Well I find it interesting that you feel you can relate to a fictional character, but then again, lots of people feel that they relate to Harry Potter. Difference is, they are aware of his non-existence. Tell me Graham, can you remember everything people said 40 years ago – even when you weren’t there? Well, this is the gospels. Mark (the first) written in about 70CE can’t have known ‘Yeshua’ or he would be about 90-100 years old when he wrote the gospel and even for well off people to live to that age now is rare, let alone 1st century palestinian peasantry. The most reliable account of Jesus is Paul, and Paul never even met him, and a number of his epistles are forged. In the legitimate ones Paul does not mention a family, a nativity, any deeds, any predictions, any teachings, not a single parable, he doesn’t describe what he looks like. He basically talks about a celestial version of Yeshua, all he says really is that he died for your sins. The rest of it is fabricated commentary stolen from the old testament, and like I said, stoicism and other Greek schools of philosophy.
    I personally don’t agree that capitulating to and worshipping someone who says [follow me or burn in hell fire for all eternity] is at all necessary to lead a “better” life.

    I am curious about that last comment. Better than what kind of life?


  1. FW: Ditch Christian School Assemblies says NGA – Alpha14 |
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