The Church of England’s baptism rite is in the news at the moment. Apparently, they’ve noticed that fewer and fewer children are being baptised and have concluded that, rather than people being less and less interested in religion, it is due to the archaic wording of the service. It goes on about “entering the Kingdom of Heaven” – or so they say: I was one month old when I was done so my memory is a little hazy.
Last week as we left Church, we got chatting to the Vicar – all good face-time. Make sure he sees us in the pews and knows who we are for when the all important letter needs signing. He asked if our children had been baptised. If I’d been quick, I’d have just lied and said “Yes”. (I’m sure there’s a record in the CofE somewhere, but he’s hardly likely to check it.) Unfortunately, my wife was quicker and more honest. The children haven’t been baptised. He suggested we do something about it and has offered to come round for a chat.
Hence the title of this post. My bookshelf is full of books by Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Grayling of the “new” atheists, and some “old” atheists like Russell and Flew. Some popular science on Darwin and some sceptical biblical criticism. I even have a copy of the Book of Mormon I pinched from a US hotel room. Thankfully, there’s also a Bible in the house somewhere.
As I contemplate moving at least a shelf-full of the more damning ones, I wonder if we’ve got too involved….
Currently having a bit of a spat in the comments section on a Christina Odone article (on page 3 at the moment) – not with the Blessed Christina herself – mainly with someone called geoffreysmith1.
Although it’s pretty standard fare for faith schools apologists (faith schools teach morality and discipline, they cater for the children of the faithful who should have such schooling provided for them) it does raise an interesting question.
I am pretty sure that at my church the vast majority of the parents of school-age children attending are only there to get the vicar’s signature. (See this post for background.) But I only know this anecdotally. I am very friendly with two sets of parents attending church and know that none of them is the slightest bit religious – in fact we often compare notes on the bits we really can’t stand in the service: for me it’s the blood sacrifice and all the I-am-not-worthy parts; for the mother of one couple we know it was the smug superiority in a recent sermon that nearly had her walking out.
To be fair, there are also the obviously religious Mr & Mrs Faith-Head in the congregation. Most parents I do not know and so don’t know why they are there – or how genuine their belief is.
geoffreysmith1 says in my response to my comment that evidence in this area is hard to come by: if you are pretending to be religious in order to get into the school of your choice you’re obviously not going to say so!:
Oh, you do sound depressed and disconsolate!
All that research and nothing to show for it.
Perhaps the evidence you are trying to find doesn’t actually exist?
Have you thought of that possibility?
I have thought of it but discount it in the light of what I’ve experienced. However, I could be wrong: it would be good to have some hard figures to back this up. As far as I can tell, no-one has done this research. Partly because, as I have said, if you are in my position you are unlikely to admit it publicly, but partly because no-one has a great interest in doing this research: certainly not the Church as it would undermine the credibility of its – already declining – attendance figures. Nor the Department for Education as it might undermine its parental-choice-good and faith-schools-good mantras.
Possibly the British Humanist Association or the Accord Coalition might want to do the research. But they may lack the resources or the access to congregations and schools that would be needed.
It may be difficult to do this research but is probably not impossible. Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola recently produced a report called Preachers who are not Believers (PDF) on a similar topic. It would be good to see someone have a go at doing this for faith schools.
Another good article from the NSS on the pointlessness and possibly damaging nature of religious schooling and RE.
It mentions something in relation to the rights of parents vs the religious requirements of schools:
Yes, parents can exclude their children from such lessons, but as we have seen at the NSS, few would actually do it. Even the most passionate secularists are unwilling to make their children into the odd ones out in class.
When my children first started Primary school I considered withdrawing them from compulsory prayers (but not RE) but did not do so. Partly because of the reasons the NSS suggests (it is probably bad enough being a 4 year old in a big school without being marked out as different from everyone else) but partly because I soon learnt about the local Secondary situation and thought that this might play against my chances of getting them into the school of my choice.
As far as I know, no-one at my children’s primary has been withdrawn from prayers: I think some children whose parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses have withdrawn their kids from RE (but not prayers) as they do not want them to learn about other faiths….
Here’s a thought: what if when, and if, both my children are at the faith Secondary school I withdraw them from RE and/or prayers? I believe the law would be on my side. How would the school react?
(I think it unlikely, however, that I would do such a thing for some of the reasons already stated. Unless – and this is important – either of my children asked me to.)
Got into a discussion with a relative the other day about the whole attending-church-whilst-not believing-a-word-of it thing. What do we tell the children when they ask why we are going to church?
The relative thinks we shouldn’t even let our kids know that we are unbelievers in case it gets back to their teachers. Then to the church. Then the application is rejected. Her argument is that primary teachers meet secondary teachers to discuss intake (true) and this may come up. I was a little worried and spoke to a friend who has taught in primary schools. He reassured me: when primary teachers meet secondary teachers it is usually after pupils have been accepted and it is to discuss academic ability, special needs, behaviour issues, etc. He couldn’t remember religion coming up; even when meeting representatives from the local Catholic school.
I suspect it is more to do with my relative’s belief that “atheism” is a dirty word and should only be mentioned by consenting adults. I, on the other hand, think that children should know that non-belief is an option.
I do worry that the children might come out with something at an inappropriate time or place. The options appear to be (a) lie about everything and assure them church is good, God exists, etc, etc, or (b) tell the truth about everything: your parents don’t believe but we’re doing it to get you into a decent, local secondary school so please keep quiet about it. We have explained it to the eldest and she understands. We have to be a bit more careful with the youngest.
A tricky one.
I’ve been doing this for a while – although I haven’t posted anything for a few weeks – and I’m beginning to get a little frustrated with it. The problem is the need for anonymity.
The posts so far are all of a general nature: my rants and reflections on faith schools in the news. It would be good to have some more anecdotal, amusing stories on the reality of attending church regularly when you don’t believe a word of it. For example, recently one of the congregation passed out during the sermon (it was dull, I grant you, but not that bad). The vicar tried to continue, but the congregation was increasingly distracted. He gave up temporarily and offered prayers for the unfortunate individual – which we were all obliged to join in with. Fortunately, someone else had the presence of mind to call 999 and some para-medics arrived and the patient was taken away. The sermon resumed, but no-one was paying attention. I think a better conclusion might have been to cut it short with Robert Ingersoll’s lines “The hands that help are better far / Than lips that pray”.
However, I need to get the all-important vicar’s signature in the near future. If I post lots of detail, the church I attend – and even I – could be identified. Then I might not get the application approved and all this attendance would have been for nothing.
On the other hand, probably no-one is reading this so perhaps I shouldn’t worry.
Which leads me to ask: What’s Right with this Blog? It’s good therapy for me, that’s what.
I am a parent of two primary school aged children. I am also an atheist.
Where I live in the UK there are two state schools in our locality. The nearest one has the best “raw” academic results for the area; the other – slightly further than walking distance – some of the worst results and is regarded as a “sink” school by many parents. The former is a CofE school which selects on the basis of parents’ faith; the other takes whoever is left. The selection – and self selection by application – of pupils and the good results of the school are obviously not unconnected. (Although this is unlikely to stop the Church using such schools as part of its case for the continuation and expansion of faith-schools.)
As I am powerless to change the system as an individual, and unable to afford the fee paying alternatives, I will put my children’s best interests first. I have started attending church in order to get the all-important Vicar’s signature to ensure I get into the state school of my choice.
This blog details my frustration at having to sit through hours of nonsense in order to get there.