British Schools, Muslim Rules

Not surprisingly, there is much talk on the web this week about the recent Panorama programme featuring British Schools teaching British Muslims the Saudi national curriculum. Of particular focus is the fact that these imported text books teach young children that homophobia and anti-Semitism is okay. Some commentators have put it far more strongly than that.

This sort of bigotry is deeply concerning and children should not be taught it. It encourages segregation and isolation of people groups, which is harmful to everyone. This wasn’t the only thing that bothered me though; the text books features were not in English, which is absurd, schools in this country should teach in the national language, English, and from text books published to this country’s national curriculum. Importing foreign language books that teach to another national curriculum puts those children at a disadvantage in this country. That’s before you get onto the subject of the racist and bigoted matter therein.

Not surprisingly, and even understandably, there are many comments from Muslims saying that this is a twisted reporting of Islam and that not all Islam is like that and the British press are on a witch-hunt against Islam. The question I would like to ask those people is “why are you not joining the people who are rightly criticising those extreme views featured?”.

If Muslims are concerned that there is not anything good about Islam in the British press or on the TV then they should make an effort and change that themselves. Go public in criticising the bigotry of the Saudi curriculum that is being taught in British schools, go public in supporting those who want rid of the absurd system that has allowed this to happen. When the British public see Mulims joining them in fighting prejudice and bigotry then they will see Islam being positive. If all that the British public see is Muslims complaining when some parts of Islam are justifiably focused on as wrong then of course it will reinforce any negative views that are already held.

Of most concern for me in the programme was the fact that the schools are not Ofsted inspected, but instead are inspected by a separate organisation, the Bridge Schools Inspectorate, which inspects faith schools. Faith schools should adhere to this country’s national curriculum first and foremost and the teaching of faith should come secondary to that, minus the homophobia, anti-Semitism and any other bigotry. Self imposed seclusion will only damage religious credibility even further.

David Jenkins and the Mythical Christ

On leaving Zambia and settling into a town in southern England I quickly found myself attending a Methodist church that was just round the corner from the digs that I rented a room out of.

This was the late 1980s and it wasn’t long before the then Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins would hit the news headlines with comments calling into question the reality of the virgin birth and the resurrection of Christ. Instead he said that Jesus lived on in our hearts and minds as we continue to remember him and his life.

I was stunned. How could a Christian say this? Let alone a Bishop! It was absurd to me that anyone who was a Christian leader could believe and teach anything other than these facts as they were reported in the bible. To be a Christian is to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and his physical body as a man was only a temporary home for him. His birth was a miracle, born of a virgin and his death was foretold, along with his resurrection. This resurrection is necessary for the salvation of our souls. To deny both these facts of his life is to deny his divinity. You may as well ditch the whole thing if you can’t believe those.

Why on earth would a bishop deny such things? It made no sense to me at all. To be a bishop you had to be a Christian and to be a Christian you had to believe those two events were real historic events, as written down in the bible. Only an atheist would voice doubt about those.

The complicit Minister

My confusion would only get worse.

Two weeks later I was at a home group meeting, which just so happened to be at the house of the Methodist minister for the church I attended. The subject of Bishop Jenkins and his remarks came up, of course.

Instead of reassuring us all, as I expected, the minister simply confirmed the comments made by Bishop Jenkins. Stating that he was right, Jesus lives, but only through us.

I was speechless, my mind was doing summersaults, how could this be so? I struggled awfully with the concept of what I was hearing to the point where I was unable to voice my thoughts, so I said nothing for the rest of the evening and just absorbed what was being said.

One lady, an older lady who I would have said was in her late 40s / early 50s, was obviously having the same trouble I had but had found her voice. She was visibly shaken, but was able to blurt out that she took these facts as literal and had always been told that, throughout her life. Now here she was being told that was all wrong and she really struggled to comprehend it. She kept repeating that they were supposed to be true facts.

I can’t really remember much more of what was said or discussed that evening and when I left I still felt heavy hearted and dismayed. I really did not know how to respond. I liked the minister very much, he was a gentle and caring man who always had a warm smile and something wise or amusing to say. But today I was struggling and I didn’t know how to explain the deep discomfort that I felt.

It would be about a year later that I left that church. For practical reasons reason more than anything else. I moved to a new rented room which was the other side of town so started attending the Anglican church that was closer to me.

Brief Recap

Before going into my adult experiences of Christianity and young earth creationism I thought it would be a good idea to give brief recap of my beliefs and level of Christianity moving from childhood.

The posts that come under the category of ‘The Beginning’ give the salient points of my upbringing to the age of 18.

What I believed, either through direct teaching or through assumption.

  • God made the world in 7 literal days
  • Up until the time of the biblical flood, there had been no rain, the rainbow account was the first occurrence of a rainbow, ever
  • All the characters mentioned in the bible, and their adventures occurred exactly as stated. This includes:
  • The spiritual gifts listed in the bible are real gifts that humans can and do use
  • God is a personal god of love and has an interest in us as individuals.

In terms of my own Christian dedication, I had no doubt I was a Christian and I had no issue with going to church. I considered it important that I did, the thought of not going to church just didn’t feature. I attended many different churches of different denominations over those early years.

As a person I had very low self esteem, thanks to my parents marriage breakup, controlling step-mother and step-siblings, English public school and probably other factors too. I recall not having much freedom to find and express my own views, opinions and ideas.

Christianity to me was defacto and unquestionable. There had been boys at school in England who challenged Christianity, but the school itself did not, with the majority of teachers being practising Christians. There was even a school Chaplin.

So at 18 years old, I was to leave home in Zambia, with a plane ticket for England and make my way in the big bad world. Of one thing I was certain, I would be looking for a church to attend with the same seriousness as I would be looking for a job.

First experience of Gifts of the Holy Spirit

It was during the years between leaving school and living permanently back in England that I first encountered Gifts of the Holy Spirit. As previously mentioned my parents were going to two very different churches. Mum a Pentecostal and dad a Presbyterian.

It was during a family meal when dad asked about the church mum went to and said something about them speaking in tongues there. I replied that I had not witnessed it happen, which was true at the time, I hadn’t witnessed any speaking in tongues, or any other gifts of the Holy Spirit at the church, yet. Dad, relaxed visibly and said, more to the step mother than to me, that maybe they’d stopped doing it.

I never knew the reason for dad’s concern about speaking in tongues and I never pushed it. I had learnt by now never to challenge or ask questions in dad’s house. Survival meant going with the flow and being as compliant as was possible, or at least giving that impression.

It wasn’t long before I did witness speaking in tongues in a service. I can’t remember at all what my reaction was at the time, or much of the detail of the event. It was to be repeated again not many weeks later and I would witness it quite a few more times before my final service at the church. Life at this vibrant and active church was so much more fun that the staid and boring church dad went to. The songs were sung with much gusto and there was genuine praise and worship going on. Such a different experience to the drudgery and hymns sung without enthusiasm.

I loved the clapping along to joyful and exuberant songs, the swaying and dancing in the isles and those wonderful Zambian voices. Oh those voices, they sing with such beauty and harmony, the sound of which beats pretty much any UK choir you could mention. A spine tingling joy radiates from a host of Zambian voices singing in enthusiastic unison that is almost impossible to adequately describe. Even though my British genes barred me from the honey voiced throng, I was in awe of the wonderful experience of being among that congregation.

Even though I now reject the concept of a God, the memories of being surrounded by a joyful throng of black voices, all singing wonderful harmonies is something I treasure. The men with such deep bass that I could feel it vibrate in my chest, I get goose bumps just thinking about it.

I don’t remember any specific teaching on spiritual gifts at the church, or what other gifts may have been used besides tongues. I only remember that tongues were occasionally used during a service.

I was Away at School when Dad Remarried

The news that Dad and new woman had eventually decided to get married wasn’t broken to me until after the event.

He met me at the airport, on his own, which was unusual, normally the airport run was a family affair and everyone came along. I realised why as soon as he broke the news to me. He wanted to be alone with me, though why I am not entirely sure, maybe he dreaded some sort of teenage strop. Whatever his reasons, he told me as casually as he could and we had the rest of the journey home to recover. While I would later ponder over the various reasons for my (and my brothers) exclusion from this event, it was never voiced out loud.

I can’t really recall what I felt inside, but my response was “I’m proud of you”. It was a lie of course. The years between my parents separating and this moment were full of anger, pain and deep upset. There were many moments when he and new woman had argued and fought. Fights that I never witnessed between mum and dad. These were times when I truly wished dad would leave her and I really could not understand why he didn’t. Life was horrid and the worst that mum and dad has was far better than an average day with this cobbled together group of incompatibilities, trying to call itself a family.

So the news they had finally got married meant that the dream of dad leaving her was over and my brothers and I were doomed to spend most of the rest of our childhood in this very unhappy unit.

The emotional needs of my brothers and I, in this post remarriage family were never met. We were always bottom of the pile and regularly manipulated and bullied by our new step family. Several behavioural issues came to a head over the years and were never acknowledged or even dealt with properly.

Life with mum was a complete contrast, unconditional love, always and never ending.

Through all these years we still went to church. dad to a very traditional Scottish Presbyterian and mum to a very charismatic Assemblies of God church, despite her Plymouth Brethren upbringing. My spiritual life was fed very effectively by mum’s church, while going to church with dad and the new family was utterly tedious. It was immensely boring and something to be endured, just to keep the peace, because speaking out would invoke the wrath of the wicked step-mum.

The Most Insensitive Blog Posting Yet?

Today I stumbled across this blog posting: http://celebs911.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/princess-dianas-message-to-prince-william-on-his-engagement/

The writer claims to be able to channel the thoughts, desires and wishes of dead people. So today, conveniently, the late princess Diana pops up with a special message for her eldest son.

How utterly insensitive. In fact its worse than that, its devious in its blatant untruthfulness. To be so brazen as to claim to have received a message from beyond the grave like that, on a day when William would probably very much like to have her around, is despicable in its deceitfulness.

Amusingly, a quick google search reveals that there are several deluded individuals that claim to have channelled Diana’s spirit. I wonder how much consistency there is between the various messages. That ought to reveal the truth that dead people don’t have spirits, let along the ability to communicate to the living or tell the future.

Grrr, nonsense makes me angry sometimes.

When and How to Come Clean on Atheism

Right now I know I’ve given up on my Christianity, the reasons are many and varied, which will become more clear as I continue this blog. The question that’s bothering me most at the moment is when (and how) to come clean on the matter.

This is really only relevant to one person in my life, and that’s my wife, the person I love the most and whom I least want to hurt and upset. Telling my wife that I have turned my back on the Christian faith that we have shared so many years will be very hurtful to her and its just not something I am ready to do to her.

I know the day will come when we have the conversion where I admit that I’ve made the decision to abandon Christianity and adopted the atheistic conclusion that there is no God. I want to be able to tell her, rather than have her find out, but the right time is always tomorrow and never today. My biggest fear is she’ll work it out and challenge me, which will likely be worse than manning up and telling her.

So for the moment I am in a self induced limbo, knowing the truth about my state of disbelief and going through the actions of Christian every Sunday.

I know there will be many friends who will be very upset as well, our closest friends are all part of the church. Their reaction is far less important to me than my wife’s. Do I tell her at home on a normal day or do I wait until we are alone and away from home? Either way will be emotional and will likely be unpleasant for both of us. What is of more importance to me is how we deal with the after effects.

There is just one person who knows, my brother. I told him very soon after I made the decision, because I knew he had already done the same. He confided in me several years ago and it really wasn’t a surprise for me at all. However, I’ve always been the devout and sensible older brother, coming from me, this news was more surprising.

My brother’s main concern was also for my wife, did she know? Why not? When did I plan to tell her? And critically, don’t leave it too long. I love my brother dearly and his advice is usually very good. He understands my reticence, but cautions strongly against doing nothing.

So I’m doing nothing. One day we’ll have the discussion but I don’t feel capable of having it just yet.

So the pretence continues…..

The curse of the Elder Sibling

As part of the fallout of my parents separation, and eventual divorce, I took it upon myself to take extra care of my younger brothers. It would be many years before mum re-married so made sure I was the man of the house there. Life with dad and the new woman was mostly horrid. New woman controlled the household with an iron fist and we sat at the bottom of the pile of priorities, while her own children got preferential treatment.

The emotional effect on me was devastating. I always did my best to make sure my brothers were okay. This, predictably, ended up with me making decisions about how they should behave and took it upon myself to let them know how much of a failure they were, when they didn’t match my unrealistic expectations. Some people tried to tell me that I was making a mistake, but I didn’t see it.

My brothers did their best to continue growing up as kids, they did their little rebellions and messed about. I was constantly stressed up about being good and at times simply forgot about just having fun.

Part of this process meant that I immersed myself even more into my Christianity. It was the only place where I found peace from the pain of family life.

Looking back, I am embarrassed, even shamed, by how I acted. My relationships with my brothers suffered greatly as a result. At the time when they needed me to just be a fun brother I became a bossy older sibling. Talking it over with my youngest brother recently, he was very philosophical about the whole thing and insisted he understood why I did it. He then teased me about being a goody-two-shoes. I am so glad to have such a reliable and dedicated brother. I owe home much.

The saddest part is that our middle brother makes no effort to contact us and despite efforts from both of us, we have had no relationship with him for more than 10 years now. It hurts us both immensely but we have no idea how we can change the situation.

Oh how I long to change my past, and how I fear that some of my actions all those years ago have contributed to the situation that exists now.

As a young pre-teen adjusting to the reality of separated parents, the wisdom I have now would have been of immense value then. Instead, the pain of life drove me deeper and deeper into my bible and the comforting arms of Christian belief.

To be, or not to be, a Dick

I thought I’d take a break from my autobiographical posts and put down some thoughts on the current big topic in the Atheistic and Sceptical arena. That is, how to behave towards those who believe in the unbelievable. That’s not just religion, though the topic does appear to centre mainly around those with religious beliefs, but any superstition and what sceptics love to call ‘woo’.

Reading some blog posts and opinion on the subject you’d be forgiven for thinking that there are only two choices; lambast anyone who dares to hold an unprovable belief with as much ridicule as possible or embrace anyone and everyone so long as you can find some common ground with them, no matter how tenuous.

Save us from the Accomodationists!

What I find most frustrating when reading various comments are the highly vocal people in the anti-accomodationist camp. These are the easiest to identify on the imaginary grey line I mentioned above, they would be clustered very close to the lambasting extreme.

To the anti-accomodationist there is nothing more pure than the utter sanctity of science proven conclusion. If you can’t back it up with the science method, then it does not belong and don’t you dare go mixing with those folks who believe without proof, or you’ll taint the purity of reason. Usually these are the same people using the label ‘Gnu Atheists’ as though they are some gnarly badge wearing, skateboard riding, baggy jeaned cool new kid. They probably have their own special handshake as well.

Accomodationist and Proud.

Yes I would be classed as an accomodationist. Yes I am proud of that. When I first saw the extremeophiles calling others accomodationists, it was as though they spat the word out, like it left a bad taste to even think the word, let along utter it. It was most definitely not meant as a compliment to the recipient.

The term ‘accomodationst’, seems to be drawn out and thrown at anyone who dares suggest anything other than utter contempt should be shown towards those who choose to believe in anything unscientific.

This is a sad thing to see and it seems that more effort is being channelled into creating a rift in the sceptical community than is being put into more productive use educating and evangelising the good news.

Ridicule never Changed Anyone’s Mind

Of course there are some people who will never abandon their belief. Even worse, there are some people who know they are wrong, but continue to promote it because it provides them with a considerable income. Of course I hope the latter are a minority.

With these people, reasoned debate will probably never be possible, but is publicly mocking really going to achieve anything other than self satisfied smugness?

But what about the casual observer?

I have seen it suggested on more than one occasion that the act of ridicule will help show a casual observer how much of a fool your target is.

This has to be the most pathetic cop out of an argument I have ever heard. Unless the casual observer is already of the same mind as you, the most likely reaction of the casual observer is to think that you are a dick and then respond accordingly.

If you want the world to share your conclusion that belief is silly and only science can lead someone to reason; then you had better prove it by acting like a reasonable person.

Be Passionate about Science

Instead of being a crabby insulting human, how about being a passionate scient advocate instead, enthuse people by being passionate about truth. Truth is tangible, truth can be handled and touched, truth is proven time and time again to be reliable. Truth is beautiful. When you talk about science speak with passion about how can you not be riveted and encouraged by the wonder of what is true and by knowing so utterly that it is true because it can be demonstrated to audiences.

This is what makes great ambassadors for scientific reasoning, don’t ruin it all by yelling at and insulting those who deny reality.

Look at how the Christians do it.

One final thought, Christians have known for many years that the most effective way of converting people to Christianity is to go to them and meet them on their terms. Find out what a person needs most and attend to that need. Christians convert other people by making the effort to get to know other people and letting them see that Christian are not some do-gooder perfect human, but they do care and they do want to try as hard as possible to make life better.

If sceptics really want to show that science leads to reason and truth and that truth has something genuine to offer, then they should show it by doing things other than ridiculing the ridiculous.

 


 

* My thoughts on this matter are still evolving, so its possible (probable even) that I will revisit this subject in the future. It will be interesting to see if my stance changes between now and then.

Witnessing Sinful Behaviour

The fall-out from my parent’s separation was staggeringly painful. I simply could not cope with the emotional impact that it had on me. The result was that I became very insular, easily prone to tears and enormously protective of my younger siblings.

I could not understand why my parents had separated, as far as I knew we had a happy family at home. I remember no arguments or fights. Though thinking back I can now see moments when the clues were there that all was not right. I think rather than fight my parents just didn’t talk, its also possible that my young mind simply shut out the bad memories.

My parents were now separated, but still married, and with no warning, my father was living with a new woman. Said new woman was fresh out of a marriage with two children older than me. I remember that we visited them as a family a few times. So dad definitely knew her while she was still married and vice versa, as to whether that knowing includes the biblical sense, one can only speculate, its been implied but I don’t know for certain.

Given that Christianity was a major part of the life I lived, the strange scenario that I now found myself in was extremely confusing. I didn’t understand why, I didn’t like this new woman who was to have a major involvement in my life. My mother, whom I loved dearly, seemed to be paying the highest price while also being the most mild mannered and humble of all the adults involved. Nothing made any sense at all.

Then there was the problem of sin.

It was utterly clear to me that what my father was doing was wrong from a Christian perspective. Other kids at school seemed to know things about my family situation that had not occurred to me, which could only mean their parents were talking about my parents. That hurt stacks. Why should they know these things when my parents would not tell me anything about what was happening?

One incident I remember was at end of term. My dad was in conversation with another father and they were discussing the possibility of my dad visiting and staying over. The other father mentioned he only had one spare bedroom with one bed in it. My father replied that that wasn’t a problem, he and new lady would share a bed. Other father promptly informed him that this was not acceptable and would not happen in his house.

Inside I cheered.

Seeing someone stand firm like that was what I needed. Until that point, all I had seen was my father behaving in a way that was contra to all that I had been taught about how to live. Here was someone saying it like it should be. It marked a point in which my respect for my father started to decline. His treatment of mum and bringing in this new woman and the sin that implied was enough for me to realise that not was he not perfect, but he didn’t care for me like he said he did.

It was around this time that I remember being on a car journey with mum and she was having a discussion with a friend about what was going on. Mum turned back to me and asked how I would describe this new woman, as she wasn’t a wife (yet) so what word did I use to describe her. Without so much as a second thought, my reply was “concubine”. Mum shrieked with embarrassment and immediately apologised to the friend, who remained silent on the subject. I think it very clearly shows my thinking on the matter.

Life at home with dad and new woman was stressful and horrid most of the time, with only small moments of happiness. New woman was a bossy and nagging. Nothing was ever easy for her and she was incapable of compliments. This reinforced to me that what dad had done was wrong and drove me to further withdraw emotionally.

The only place in my life that I could rely on for consistency was my education. Being at boarding school was probably a very good thing for me at this time as it gave me space to be away from the painful environment at home. One of the very few places that I found joy was in my growing Christian faith and the daily bible readings.