Friday, 25 October 2013

How My Children Lost Their Faith

Halloween iPhone-Desk Paper by arsgrafik on deviantArt

It's that time of year again. You know. The time that you can't mention. (Shhh! Hallowe'en.)

Yes, that time. As a Pagan – a very loose Pagan, but a Pagan nonetheless – Hallowe'en has a strong place in my feelings. It's a special time of year. I feel closer to the dead and the not-yet-living and to the threats and wonders of all of those things.

Temporary Altar by Bart Everson on Flickr
But I keep hearing reports that pupils aren't allowed to talk about this in my children's school. It sounds as if some teachers allow it, while others don't. As always with children, these things are unclear. To be honest, it doesn't bother mine much. To them Hallowe'en is about sweets – America's fault, I suppose – despite the fact that I don't get sweets out on Hallowe'en. But this discrimination does bother me.

The problem is that my children attend a faith school. I know the words 'faith school' conjure up images of extreme Muslim academies teaching small children to be terrorists. At least, the tabloid papers would have it that way. But probably most Muslim/Jewish/Church of England or other religious schools are pretty much like the Church in Wales one my children go to. A good, open, friendly school with good teaching and a great learning environment.

But there are issues. Despite some small evidence that they learn about other faiths, Christianity has a very large place in their schooling. It's the only faith that I hear my children talking about in relation to school. And recently George got into trouble during prayers. They accept him not putting his hands together and not saying the words, but he was turning his back on the teacher. I explained that I could tell him that it was rude to turn his back, and he shouldn't do it, but I couldn't force him to pray.

'But this is a Church in Wales school,' I was reminded.

Ibaraki Kasugaoka Church light cross by Bergmann
'Yes, but it's the only school in the area. We have no choice but to send our children here. And forcing someone to pray makes a complete mockery of prayer,' I reminded them.

My son's teacher, a lovely woman, thankfully acknowledged this. What would I have done if she didn't?

It seems that there's not much I could do. Religious schools appear to be pretty much exempt from discrimination laws. It's a confusing subject to research (especially with a mild migraine and a Lego-obsessed three year old in the room), and the Armchair Backseatologist has done it much better here. But the National Secular Society's page states, 'Many faith schools are granted exemptions from equality laws which are meant to ensure that schools cannot discriminate against pupils because of their religion or belief.'

There's something very wrong in this. Discrimination is discrimination. Yes, some discrimination can be positive – teaching children of different abilities differently, for example. But surely it's wrong to say to a child, 'You cannot express your faith in our school.' If their argument is that they're not celebrating Hallowe'en as a part of faith, then why is it a threat? If it is a part of faith, then surely it's wrong to suppress it? I'm sure that if that faith was Judaism or Islam they wouldn't be met with this response, but Hallowe'en straddles an odd border between Paganism and Christianity, and it apparently scares the Church in Wales. Discriminating against one particular form of faith is even worse than discriminating against them all.

There's Probably No God by Dan Etherington

The result of this attitude towards faith? Oscar, 8, not only believes there is no god, but also that Jesus never existed, no matter how much evidence there is that he was a historical figure. George's thoughts are going the same way. They have been so pushed into the Christian faith that they are revolted by it. Really, is this the way we want to introduce our children to faith? My family has a wide spectrum of views including Pagan, Baha'i, Judaism, and Christian (Church of England and Church in Wales). There's probably even some Catholic somewhere in the woodwork. I would like my sons to grow up able to choose what to believe, whether that be a religion or atheism, rather than either being indoctrinated into one faith, or so sickened by it that they cannot believe in anything.

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