There's a starman waiting in the sky
Hed like to come and meet us
But he thinks he'd blow our minds
There's a starman waiting in the sky
He told us not to blow it
Cause he knows it's all worthwhile
He told me: Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie
David Bowie, Starman
The other night, at a family dinner table in North Wales, we got into a heated discussion about dangers of religious education in the UK state schools. It all started when I said I was not sure what to tell my daughter when she starts asking what happens when we die. I felt uneasy telling her there was no heaven filled with grandparents and pets. Neither did I really want to scare or worry her by explaining that one day we will all just disappear into rotting nothing. ‘She is only 4!’ I said.
So, I was wondering if it would be that damaging if she was told a lie. So what, I thought, if maybe, for a short period of time, until her intellect (hopefully) takes over, she believes in fairies, Father Christmas and heaven? Is it really that bad?
Husband, however, felt strongly about the dangers of any religious influence.
‘Look’, he said, ‘They are already brainwashing them at school! We get no choice as parents. She is being taught that God created life as if it were a fact anyway.’
‘Surely it is not that bad? Father in law suggested. ‘She is in a state school after all, not a religious one?’
That night, we ended up having a very long debate; and that is in a family where none of us were religious! It made me wonder about people who enter into marriages with completely different attitudes to faith.
I could have married someone very Christian, Catholic, Jewish or very Muslim. Well, not really. I could not have. But I have come across situations when an atheist married a religious person. ‘Oh’, my friend said, ‘She is a nice Christian girl. I am not a believer myself, but it is good that she is.’ Good? Why is it good? It might have been good if you were one yourself, but if you are not, you might face interesting problems further in life. Like whether to have a nuchal scan for Down syndrome chance in pregnancy.
‘Why’ my friend’s husband questioned, ‘would we need any tests? You know we will keep this baby anyway, don’t you?’
No, she actually did not know that. Hmm. Slight problema here, I say.
With us, things are easier, as we both believe, or, rather, don’t believe, the same things. And yet, we will have questions that need agreeing upon in advance. Especially now,when I realize just how religious the UK state education is.
The next morning, we were getting in the car to go to the beach when my child exclaimed ‘Oh my God!’ about something.
‘Don’t say that’ Husband corrected.
‘Why can’t you say ‘God’?’ She asked happily from the back. ‘He is the man who sits in the sky, daddy. You can’t see him because he is there, and we are down here, but he is always in the sky, you know?’
‘Oh, is he?’ Husband gave me a sideways glance. ‘And who told you that?’
‘They told us at school!’ She replied proudly, and we both just stared ahead in silence for a moment.
Not only it is assumed that all the children in this country have to be brought up to have an imaginary friend; it gets even more entertaining when they attempt to cater for all tastes and cultures! Doing some reading on the subject, I have come across this entry in a discussion forum on the Richard Dawkins Foundation Facebook page:
“My five year old goes to a UK state school. This last month he has "celebrated" Dwali with a disco and Eid with a feast and he's just about to do Christmas with a nativity play.
This keeps all the parents of different religions very happy. All catered for. Has anyone stopped to think what this is doing to our kids?
He has no idea what is going on. He quotes a mish-mash of religious mumbo-jumbo to me and is confused about what he is being taught, what to think or even (and this is what has PISSED ME OFF) whether it is RIGHT or SINFUL to question things. He has started to think God made the world because he is TAUGHT it in school in a song that they sing. He needs regular de-programming as I explain that no, we do not need to put a sign to Ginesh on our front door, and no we are no fasting for Ramadan. And no you can't say that Abdul is wrong. But yes, he is. And No, Daddy is not going to hell.
Oh fuck. What are they doing?
Someone - please calm me down before I go up to the school and lamp someone.”
So, yes. If you are religious, the UK schools will respect, cater for and honour your views. Because, religion deserves unquestionable respect. Like at my work, where we just got told we have to provide foot-washing sinks for Muslims in all buildings.
But what if you, as a family, are not religious? What if you don’t really want them to teach your 4 year old at school that there is an old man sitting in the sky? Should you not be given a choice, somehow, in this free society?
‘Some people believe there is a man sitting in the sky,’ I told my child that morning. But we don’t.’ I felt that was an honest and fair answer. Not much else I could say or do.