A post with a longer gestation period than usual. Which means that it is rather less topical when I first thought about writing it. But the fact I am not quick witted or articulate enough to commit cyber-ink to cyber-paper should not be an impediment to saying anything.
The latest campaign from Richard Dawkins marketing wing is a full-on plea to parents, teachers and others with responsibility for bringing up and educating our children not to "indoctrinate" them with our own values. Instead we should let them choose for themselves. The spirit of this idea seems very sixties to me. I have this vague memory that there were schools then where outmoded ideas like "lessons" or discipline were seen as unhelpful in a child's development. So they were allowed to do pretty much as they liked. Not suprisingly they chose to run riot.
As a parent I am relieved I did not see this poster about 12 years ago. Then I would have faced a real dilemma. Bring them up as catholics (as I did). Or listen to the wise counsel of Richard Dawkins and keep them away from religion. The problem is that would have opened up a series of difficult questions as to what I should say. What moral compass should I equip them with? Christianity strikes me such a good way to provide children with some standards with which to grow up I fear that any alternative would smack of improvisation. I mean don't steal and don't murder are a bit Old Testament. Perhaps: if you must steal or generally create mayhem, at least don't get caught.
Last week was inter-faith week. I had the privilege of attending a work-based "event" at which a number of speakers from different religious traditions talked about how their faith informed their approach to working life. Among them was a humanist who gave a good account of the humanist perspective about how we should give of our best in this life as its the only one we have. But more strikingly as I listened to the accounts of those with faith - and in particular a Sikh - I was impressed by the thought that the journey we are on to make sense of this world and to connect with God really is a universal one.
Richard Dawkins and other anti-theists wish to win a people for science and rationalism. But I believe the price we would pay for their "victory" is a moral vacuum. And how would that vacuum be filled? Whilst we should stand behind our own beliefs I also think that we should not be afraid to stand shoulder to shoulder with other faith communities and decry this latest campaign for what it is: dangerous nonsense which undermines our role as parents and creates far more problems than it would ever solve. Religions across the world are at heart about our relationship not just with God but with one another too, and whilst they are prone to fall into the hands of those who will distort and pervert religion for more secular ends, the basic tenets of religious faith provide us with far more by way of a toolkit for life than science. And so it is a wonderful way of helping our children understand their place in the world.
One last thought: the Dawkins marketing department obviously aren't parents. The average child having been brought up in a faith-based environment, far from becoming a fully fledged and deluded theist, has a tendency to push back at everything that parental authority can muster by the time they reach their mid-teens. A far more effective poster would have insisted that parents do label their kids; and then left the kids to give their response.