Wednesday, 7 May 2008

The Case for a Secular State

Let’s get one thing out of the way from the very start – I don’t care about what you personally believe in. I don’t care what religion you follow, or how strong your faith is.

To be honest, it doesn’t bother me if you were to worship a flying rhino, with eight pink legs that can speak French – although, actually, I might come along to see that.

What I do care about is the way that religion is taught to young people around the world and in the UK. Let’s go back in distant time to my childhood; I grew up in a fairly normal, working class family, where my Mother tried to raise me as a Christian. I was sent to the local Church of England school for the first seven years of education – a traditional religious upbringing where you don’t even question your faith or religion – you just accept it. Now, as I grew older, I did begin to question the facts about religion, and soon realised that it wasn’t for me at all – but at least I was left to make that choice of my own free will.

I strongly believe that it wrong for us to have state faith schools in this country – regardless of the religion involved... To my mind, any form of what I would class as religious indoctrination is wrong, and in some cases harmful. I think that it is perfectly possible to raise ones children in a responsible, kind and moral manner; without the need to force your religion upon them at an early age. Let them learn and then make their own minds up when the time is right for them.

I think we could have a more inclusive and fair society if we could manage to raise a generation of children not divided by religious dogma. I don’t think you can separate the rise of evangelical Christianity from the various other extreme forms of faith.

Last night Channel 4 aired a programme called Jesus Camp – it might have been a repeat as I seem to have missed it the first time around. Every so often, I’ll sit and watch something that will infuriate me so much that I’ll just unleash a stream of abuse at the television. My neighbours must, on occasion think that I’m out of my mind.

However, in this case I feel that my anger was justified! The programme featured the ‘Kids on Fire’ summer camp - where children, some as young as five or six, are preached to, taught to fear sin and how to serve the Lord. Now, far be it from me to comment on how other people raise their own children – but let’s be honest, anyone who puts their own children through an ordeal such as this isn’t fit to be a parent in the first place.

Jesus Camp left me dumbstruck. All of these children appear to come from loving families; however they all gave the impression of being brainwashed. I don’t know about you, but I find it slightly creepy to see a nine year old girl evangelising about God, and in the process sounding like a thirty year old. The methods used by the teachers at the camp were more then questionable - shouting at small children and telling the about the evils of sin is not the way to raise your kids.

It’s not right to tell children for example that homosexuality is evil and wrong, that they’ll go to hell unless they follow the word of the Bible to the letter, and most worryingly of all – that they should be prepared to lay down their lives for Jesus, should it be required.

I don’t think that politics and religion should ever mix in a modern society – the rules at Jesus Camp are different though. At one point a life size cut out of George Bush is placed in front of the children – they are then asked to pray for him and his government. Personally, I think they should be praying for the rest of us instead.

The good news is that the camp has now closed.

By all means teach children about religion in school; but teach about multiple faiths. Help them to understand the backgrounds of different faiths and cultures – in effect make it a part of school history lessons. Let them grow up happy without the burden of religion on their shoulders.

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