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Religious studies in school for atheists

(21 Posts)
ParanoidBeryl Mon 09-Oct-17 21:37:16

We are a non religious family, although happy for DC to make whatever choice they want in later life. They have been exposed to church going over the years, but no indication to suggest the slightest interest.

So DD was telling me today that in (compulsory) RS at school they had to discuss whether the 10 plagues that God sent were too harsh.

We chatted about it, and the fact that the question assumed that 1. There was such a thing as God, and 2. That (he?) was responsible for the environmental disasters that were reported, and 3. That the reports accurate.

It was a pretty interesting discussion, and we ended up discussing El Nino / global weather phenomena etc, but I thought it was a bit sad because DD said that none of that type of debate would be tolerated in school. There was an assumption that everyone was Christian and the discussion was a strict view on whether God's actions were harsh or not.

So, for the non-religious, what do you do? Is this something you encounter in your DC schools? Do you encourage wider critical thinking? Just suck it up and hope they aren't too brainwashed? Have you ever approached schools to ask that they include atheist or humanist views to their curriculum? It's not a church school BTW.

Tiggles Tue 10-Oct-17 13:04:39

Depending on the age of the children, I would think that your questions, further discussion are perfectly relevant in an RE lesson even in a church school. Certainly at secondary level.
As a Christian I certainly like to discuss topics like this with my children - were ancient people assuming things to be of God because that is what they wanted to see, was it general understanding at the time - most religions had gods who controlled the weather, the crops etc. If the same events happened now would they be put down to God? That brings in the discussion where recent hardline Christians have blamed earthquakes etc on a growing acceptance of gay marriage etc.

Stitchfusion Tue 10-Oct-17 13:11:07

I think RS at school is essential as it gives a different pov to whatever the chid is getting at home. The discussion you speak about is exactly the sort of thing that should be generated.

There is another thread on here right now speaking about the difference between shit parenting and abuse. I think what you speak about is really good parenting. smile

Fresh8008 Thu 12-Oct-17 14:18:50

First off have a look at breakdown of the years syllabus. If not on website then ask for it. There should be a balance teaching the beliefs of several of the large religions and discussion of many of the popular religious topics, voodoo, paganism, wicca, humanism, westboro baptist church, creationism, ISIS, face coverings, spirituality, anti-abortion, FGM etc etc

If you don't see this and they are just proselyting the one 'true' god then pull your child out of RS, you are allowed to, and they can do some productive reading in the library.

FYI they can't teach what atheist beliefs are as atheism does not have a system of beliefs. At best they can say an atheist does not accept their is any reason to believe in x religions god. That's about all.

ParanoidBeryl Thu 12-Oct-17 14:33:23

Fresh that's a good idea to ask for the curriculum. I'll do that.

thegreenheartofmanyroundabouts Thu 12-Oct-17 16:42:05

The local authority will have a syllabus. This is the one from Essex

There are resources for the teaching of humanism which looked really interesting.

newtlover Thu 12-Oct-17 20:59:16

OP, I think while you are expanding on the limited curriculum offered by the school, your kids will be fine, I have had 4 go through school (3 at a church school) and they emerged unscathed, I think it's quite useful actually to have a thorough grounding in christianity, it is very important in our history and informs a lot of our culture.

ParanoidBeryl Thu 12-Oct-17 21:08:47

I think DD’s concern (and mine) is that any critical thinking or questioning around the subject will be viewed negatively by the teacher. DD is 12 and wouldn’t have the confidence to challenge it, although does have views on the issue.

An example of this is the teacher was talking about some polytheistic religion (possible Hinduism) and she said along the lines of `they believe in lots of gods, where of course in our country we only believe in one’ hmm

KarmaNoMore Thu 12-Oct-17 21:08:56

My son attends a faith school, and has been an atheist since as long as I remember. He doesn't shy away of asking difficult questions in his compulsory RE classes and challenges every assumed belief.

I have been careful to explain that he needs to be tactful not to hurt other people sensitivities or offend their religious beliefs.I don't think he cares.

I think that with his antagonism he helps to keep the conversation going because he keeps getting positive points and I'm told by his year tutor that he is one of the top pupils in RE shock

vdbfamily Thu 12-Oct-17 22:18:26

I find this really bizarre unless it is a private religious school as I have 3 kids at secondary school and each of them seem to be the only kid in the class with any church background/Christian viewpoint on issues discussed, whatever lesson they are in.

ParanoidBeryl Thu 12-Oct-17 22:37:56

VB it’s a grammar in Northern Ireland if that makes a difference.

vdbfamily Fri 13-Oct-17 07:41:57

I am sure it makes a huge difference. Although people complain about schools being religious in the UK I do not think many are overtly so any more. The voluntary aided schools are, where the church part fund and can positively discriminate to employ teachers who are Christians. There are not many secondary schools like this in the UK. Even primary schools, when my youngest moved to a different primary for her last year(we moved house), the Head teacher was showing us round and said to us, 'don;t worry about it being a church school. I don'tknow any teachers or pupils who actually go to church so it is just in name really' , at which my daughter piped up 'well we go to church every week and are Christians' and the HT had the grace to look a little embarrassed!!!

ScruffbagsRUs Fri 13-Oct-17 08:29:41

I'm in Northern Ireland too OP (about 15 miles outside of Belfast), and lived here for the last 36 years. I'm also an atheist, so I understand the problem with questioning people's beliefs.

There's nothing wrong with asking questions, and more atheists shouldn't be afraid to ask questions about religious beliefs. More non-religious people need to stop treading on eggshells around the religious folk in this country, in fear of provoking their anger. If their faith is so strong, why would they need to get angry??? Unless they fundamentally know and understand that their beliefs are irrational, and make little or no sense.

Think of it this way, if a Christian/religious person is offended by their beliefs being questioned, then they need to ask themselves WHY that is? It can be done with asking:

* What is it about their God and religious text that non-religious people find questionable?
* Is the bible the literal word of God? If so, then it makes perfect sense to take it literally. Which means that Christians should take unruly/disobedient children, and homosexuals, and stone them to death.
* Why are they getting angry, rather than looking into what the non-religious people are asking about?

I think you'll find that many people subconsciously know that their holy book have contradictory passages and therefore isn't all it seems to be. But because they have been conditioned to believe what it says (the Bible, in our case), from a very young age, the mental gymnastics involved in trying to make sense of it. is interesting to watch. Some will even go as far as to use science to back up the religious text.

Many will become very uncomfortable with the idea that they may have to question something they have been brought up with. Not so much uncomfortable with questioning their own beliefs, but the possible fallout of that, with their family/relatives/friends etc.

The best thing your DC can do is ask for evidence to back up the claim that the 10 plagues were actually true, or that anything in the bible is true (apart from the fact it was written).

BTW, faith by it's own definition is the belief in something without evidence to back it up. If you want more advice, maybe email the Atheist Society of NI.


newtlover Fri 13-Oct-17 15:36:39

OP I think if your DD's questions are respectful they should be accepted with grace. Less so if she 'asks for evidence to back up the claim'- that's antagonistic and the teacher will focus in the attitude, not the question.

Fresh8008 Fri 13-Oct-17 16:39:58

they believe in lots of gods, where of course in our country we only believe in one - Having just read this I was going to say send in a complaint to the head as the teacher is obviously stepping over the line.

But then I read its N.Ireland, they will be teaching the one true god, and so I wouldn't rock the boat. Its to sensitive there and the religious identity of schools is tangled up in sectarianism and politics.

If you daughter doesn't want to be 'outed' they she has to keep her head down in RE, zone it all out and hopefully she will cope. Or if its important then just ask for her to be taken out of RE classes.

ParanoidBeryl Fri 13-Oct-17 17:06:29

I think I'll just keep discussing the interpretation of things with DD. We had another chat about the 10 plagues, and watched a Youtube video on scientific explanations for it - current thinking was that it was a breakdown in the eco system following the Santorini volcano. We discussed how lots of cultures blamed natural disasters on gods because they just didn't have the scientific understanding at the time to see it through any other lens - e.g. the Aztecs conducted human sacrifices to appease gods.

We also discussed how it seemed utterly bizarre in this day & age for the Bishop of York (or whoever) to have blamed floods on society's acceptance of gay marriage, but that how if he had been speaking 3000 years ago to his flock the idea would have taken hold.

I have assured her that I think it would be ok for her to suggest ideas like this in class provided it is done respectfully. I have to admit though, I hope that's the case but I'm not completely convinced.

AccrualIntentions Fri 13-Oct-17 17:08:46

There was an assumption that everyone was Christian and the discussion was a strict view on whether God's actions were harsh or not.

That seems odd. I went to a catholic school, and our lessons didn't assume everyone would be catholic or even Christian. (Which they weren't, at least 25% of the pupils were Muslim and a good chunk atheist or agnostic.)

ParanoidBeryl Fri 13-Oct-17 17:15:09

Accrual - I suspect DD has reported accurately. My friend is a teacher in the same school and the RS teacher is renowned as being pretty evangelical. Did a hell & brimstone school assembly one morning which didn't go down well with lots of the other staff. I think here in NI it is slightly different than the rest of the UK.

AccrualIntentions Fri 13-Oct-17 17:25:52

Ah I missed the bit about Northern Ireland! Yes that doesn't sound very progressive, it's the kind of topic which could be used for really educational debate if handled properly, as you did with your daughter at home. That teacher is doing them a real disservice educationally.

Fresh8008 Fri 13-Oct-17 18:43:51

That teacher is doing them a real disservice educationally.

I wouldn't blame the teacher to much, its pretty normal in NI to be like that. Because of the troubles each side clings to their identity all the harder. And those identities are either catholic or protestant, no matter what you actually believe.

pointythings Sat 14-Oct-17 19:12:39

It's interesting OP - the way your DD approached this would be encouraged in RE in the school my DDs attend. The Biblical/faith viewpoint would be only part of it, the ethical/historical part would also definitely be included. My DDs and I are all atheists though not militant about it - they both enjoy RE as a subject because of the way the school approaches it.

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