By Chris Graham
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Those who know me will be aware that I’m an atheist. I always have been, at least since junior school, and probably even before that, had I realised that such a thing existed.
This was despite the fact that I went to a Church of England primary school… no, my parents weren’t practising Christians, but there were two alternative schools whose catchment area our home fell within, and one of those was in a rough area. Once we moved, a similar situation still applied with the same school as I already attended remaining within range, so I stayed there.
At around nine or ten years old, like so many kids even today, I became madly keen on dinosaurs and anything prehistoric. It was probably because we’d had a school trip to the Natural History Museum. I exhausted the books on prehistory in the children’s section of the local library, so was given special permission to take out books from the adult library. (I even tried to read Darwin at that age, but it was too heavy going for a youngster)
With the school being a church school, linked to the local church (St Nicholas… Yeah, Santa Claus!), we had regular ‘scripture’ classes as part of the curriculum. While some of the stories were entertaining, with all the smiting and suchlike… or the miracles from the new testament ‘Jesus stories’ … they all seemed to be just that… stories. They were no more believable than the Greek myth stories we also had read to us, or any other children’s fiction. The big all seeing, all knowing, and apparently able to do anything character in the sky just didn’t seem plausible to a thinking ten year old.
I questioned this with my teachers, and with the local rector who came into the school for some of these lessons, and fortunately (unlike some of the US schools I read about) they were prepared to discuss these ideas. It seemed that at least one of the teachers held similar beliefs to those I was developing.
The rector obviously disagreed, but argued his case politely, fairly… and ultimately ineffectually. We had some great debates, ending with me as an eleven year old asking if it was possible to be un-christened, as I didn’t believe - I’d been christened as a baby because that’s what everyone did back then. It was one of those family occasions. My (also atheist) brother also got done later.
The rector simply told me not to bother with getting confirmed. Many of my school-friends were attending ‘confirmation classes’ at that time. Later, it bothered me that somewhere, I was on a list as being ‘C of E’ and was adding to statistics… but then so were thousands, if not millions, of others.
Religion hasn’t blighted my own life, and neither has my lack of it, but there are many who have had bizarre beliefs (aren’t they all?) drummed into them from an impressionable age which have left them questioning why the world around them, and the discoveries of the rest of the universe, don’t match the ‘truths’ that they’ve been taught were incontrovertible. Many have had, quite literally, a fear of God instilled into them, with promises of totally implausible fantasy afterlife delights, and threats of horrific everlasting agonies, dependent on who they sing songs to… and they tell these tales to children while at their most receptive. If that isn’t child abuse, of a mental kind, then I don’t know what is.
So, to my mind, religious stories taught as fact have no place in schools. Religion is too potentially damaging to tender unformed minds without a developed critical facility. Responsible parents don’t expose their kids to tobacco, recreational drugs, graphically violent TV and movies, pornography, alcohol, or any other things that we all agree are ‘age rated’… so why religion, which is as potentially mind altering as any of these?
I believe that we shouldn’t expose kids to religion until they’re old enough to have developed the ability to rationalise… or is that the point? Is that the only sure-fire way that these god botherers can ensure a constant supply of recruits?
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Click to see: Crime stories by Chris.