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Posted by on Dec 20, 2008 in homosexuality | 22 comments

McKellen criticises faith schools for religious teaching

Actor Sir Ian McKellen has criticised faith schools, reports the Guardian here.

“It [religion] is the one area where people are not frightened to be openly homophobic,” he said.

He is quite right, and of course right that some faith schools are teaching that homosexuality is a sin. Some promote that view exclusively. Others will present it as one of a range of views.

In the print version of this article, it said

“The Church of England said its schools explored the issue of homosexuality, rather than promoted one view of it.”

Ibrahim Hewitt of the Association of Muslim Schools said “A faith school reflects its faith in what is taught, but I would expect other views to be discussed as well.”

Oh, that’s alright then – as long as other views are discussed.

Well no it’s not all right.

The truth is that homophobia (I’d prefer to call it “homosexism”, as it isn’t a phobia) like racism and sexism, involves demonstrably false beliefs, and foul and damaging ones at that. Around the world, homosexuals are still being victimized on religious grounds. In some places, they are executed.

This isn’t a dispute over some unresolvable moral conundrum. The homophobes lost the argument spectacularly a long time ago. It is no more acceptable that schools teach homophobic views even as possibilities pupils might like to “explore” than it is that they should present, say, racist views in that way.

Homophobia needs to be kicked out of every classroom. The fact that a school is a faith school is no excuse whatsoever.

This might be a key issue on which to lobby, in fact. If religions are forced to defend the teaching of homophobic views in their classrooms, they’ll lose an enormous amount of public support, and may prefer to back down.

Of course, some will say that religious beliefs are “special” and so deserve respect – respect that must be communicated in the classroom. But sexist and racist views don’t typically command respect just because they’re religiously motivated (and they have both been religiously motivated, of course). Neither should homophobic views.


  1. How are homophobic views based on “demonstrably false beliefs?”. I mean … don’t get me wrong … I agree with you that homophobia is terrible etc, but your claim’s pretty strong. Are ALL homophobic beliefs demonstrably false? That sounds like a tall order. Or just some?

  2. The false belief is that, because of their sexual desires and behaviour, homosexuals are inferior human beings to those who love or lust after the opposite sex. Maybe this isn’t demonstrably false – but it’s a prejudice, not an evidentially based opinion.I entirely agree with Stephen’s excellent post. The inculcation of prejudice should have no place in any school, whose job should be to get pupils to examine the ethical basis of their own beliefs and attitudes.We are currently experiencing a power bid by the religious to increase their dwindling influence upon public affairs. Homosexuality is a key weapon in this battle, because it is a topic around which ignorant prejudice and hatred can be most easily stirred up. [See my recent post “Religion gone rotten” in Anticant’s Arena.]Way back in the 1960s I was privileged to take the chair at the first Anglo-American Consultation on Religion and the Homosexual. I have never forgotten the closing remarks by one of the American sponsors of the conference, who said: “I happen to believe that the only thing Christian faith has to say that is significant and distinctive is an unqualified ‘yes’ to man. Forgiveness is continuous, and does not depend upon our state of righteousness at the moment.” Unfortunately, this generous spirit is now largely absent within the Christian churches, and has never existed within Islam.

  3. Hi Peter – I didn’t say all their views are demonstrably false, just that their view involves demonstrably false beliefs. In fact the key ones do.Are the core sexist and racist beliefs demonstrably false? Yes, in the sense that, from uncontroversial moral premises on which pretty much everyone agrees, even the homophobes (such as that e.g. it’s wrong to morally discriminate against a group unless we can show there is a morally relevant difference that justifies such discrimination), their falsity can be established. Exactly the same is true of core homophobic beliefs.

  4. Thank you, Stephen. Thank you. As a gay (and atheist)man living in the American South, I often hear and read religious anti-gay rhetoric. Im still trying to figure out how my long-term loving, communicative, and ultra-healthy relationship with my partner can be viewed as so wrong, especially by the deity that these people believe created us all. As confident and strong as I am, sometimes these views truly hurt me to the core, considering how much love I have in my heart, how much I do and have done to help others, and how my primary life goals are to grow and be the best person I can be. I am so fortunate to have a wonderful supportive family of gay friends around me, but its also nice to hear support from non-gay rational thinkers who arent necessarily a member of my ‘sinful and immoral lifestyle choice’ (ugh). Just helps to know there are those outside my sphere who support me and people like me. So thank you…just thank you.

  5. Well thank you Jay – and all best wishes to both you and your partner.

  6. I find it even more irksome that, in my country (Australia), these schools receive significant funding from our Federal government. They should either cease the discriminatory practices/teachings, or lose the government funding, as such teachings clearly go against the government’s position (especially now that Australia has signed the United Nations Gay Rights Declaration).

  7. The debate over the trajectory of the western sociopolitical system and its strained relations with Islam is the most pivotal of our time. Muslims are in one of the most difficult phases of their history when malicious attacks including allegation of terrorism are being made on Islam and Muslims all over the world. The malicious campaign against Muslims is politically motivated. The world is obsessed by Islam. Anti-terror measures are ruining lives of Muslim youths. If you go around arresting young Muslims, you are going to find that you are going to ostracise this community. Young Muslims don’t need to be ostracized, they need to be engaged. According to the Arch Bishop, Rowan Williams, acceptance of some facets of Sharia not only “seems unavoidable”, but could actually improve social cohesion. Muslims should be able to choose to have marital or financial matters dealt with in a Sharia Court. Such courts should therefore be incorporated into the British legal system as a constructive accommodation with Islam. Schools are being asked to help “win hearts and minds” in the battle against violent extremists on both sides. British born Imams should go into schools to supplement the teaching of RE, PSHE and Citizenship so that all pupils can learn about the Holy Quran and Islam in the context of a multicultural society. OFSTED must make sure that their services should be fully utilised by the schools, otherwise, it will be waste of public money. The British Establishment is wrong to assert that Imams and Masajid have been radicalising Muslim youths. The roots of extremism are in the British society and schools where institutional racism is at its peak. The racism within schools has got little media coverage. The school attended by 7/7 bombers in a part of Leeds known for its history of racial tension between British Asians and native Brits. Leeds council was so worried about the violence that it had to call in Foundation for Peace, a government funded peacekeepers who were used to keep Catholics and Protestants from killing one another in Northern Ireland. True message of Islam should be promoted because British media and society have always portrayed Islam in a negative way since Crusades and the siege of Vienna in 1683. School Curriculum should be used to convey a deeper understanding of Islamic faith, history and culture. Prison is not the answer of those who are vulnerable to, or are being drawn into violent extremism unless they have clearly committed an offence. The greatest challenge to humanity is learning to live in a crowded and interconnected world that is creating unprecedented pressures on human society. The rector of Oxford’s largest Anglican Churches has called a Muslim call to prayers from the main Masjid “un-English”. This is a clear case of intolerance. Gibraltar is a British colony. Five Pound currency note has a queen image on one side and on the other side there is an image of the Muslim Conqueror with a sword in his hand. There is more hatred of Muslims seduced by the Western media, education system and church leaders like Bishop Nazir Ali. Catholic nuns have worn veils for centuries, with no public controversies arising. There is no reason why any girl’s school uniform can not now be modified to include a veil. Wearing a veil to school or to work must be a matter of choice for all. Iftikhar Ahmad

  8. Thanks iftikarBut your post didn’t address the specific topic, did it?Also, it’s just a string of assertions, without any argument or evidence to back it up.It doesn’t give a good impression of Islam to just string assertions together like this. It makes you look dogmatic and hectoring. Indeed, you are playing right into the hands of those who think all Muslims are aggressive, fundamentalist zealots (which of course they’re not – though some are). I’d try a different tack if you actually want to convince anyone.

  9. IftikharA,This is copy-paste posting, which is off-topic. Now, seeing that you answer all questing with yet more copy-paste, I don’t expect much for an answer.But still, I have 3 questions about this:(1)The basis of the topic here is that there is too much tolerance for Islam, inclusing tolerance of homofobia among mysogyny, kufarofobia (a form of xenofobia) and antisemitism.(2)Why do you not whinge to the extremists in Mumbai who took the Muslims apart and murdered all non-Muslims. Moreover, they simply tortured jews. You cannot possibly attribute this to western society, especially since the basis for that can easily be found in your “holy” book.(3)In howfar must I tolerate a religion which tries to intimidate me with eternal and inhuman torture. Is it not easy to see that such is totally laughable to attribute to a possible creator?

  10. I should add that you also failed to address any of the specific points and argument raised. If we all debated as you do, our discussions would be reduced to nothing more than a shouting match.

  11. Firstly, although I agree that ‘homophobia’ is an unfortunate term, I think a case can be made that it is a phobia. Though I’d be happy to be persuaded otherwise.My more serious worry is about the correct strategy to use in order to oppose homophobia in society. In my view, saying that religiously inspired homophobia necessarily involves demonstrably false beliefs is fraught with difficulties. For example, is teaching that homosexual activity is sinful, enough to constitute homophobia? I would advocate the following strategy instead: we should make it clear that although a case can be made that some accommodations for deeply held religious views are desirable, these must be in the context of an over arching secular law which holds some things as non negotiable. So just as racial discrimination is unacceptable, no matter what religious justification is offered, the same is true for homophobia (or if you prefer, homosexism.)

  12. Yikes, I didn’t realise that IftikharA’s post was EXACTLY the same as his previous post on this blog. Word for word. Under a different topic.Oh, and his website ( is a real hoot. No address, no “events”, horrendous grammar, virtually no hits… Dare I ask, is the London School of Islamics but one man and a laptop?I must admit to giggling a little when reading some of what he’s written there. For instance, while outlining his plans for (surprise!) Muslim faith schools, Iftikhar writes, “The study of Comparative (sic) religions is not required because Islam teaches respect, tolerance and understanding of those who are different from them. (sic)”Do stop on by and cast your vote in his poll: “Should we have more Muslim Schools?”

  13. Slightly closer to the topic, may I recommend A.C. Grayling’s latest article entitled Secularists’ vital war on religion, which ends of thus:I wonder whether, in the dialogue of the deaf that this quarrel has become, a few reminders might be in order. Secularism is the view that religious outlooks, though perfectly entitled to exist and have their say, are not entitled to a bigger slice of the public pie than any other self-constituted, self-appointed, self-selected and self-serving civil society organisation. Yet the religious persistently ask for special treatment: public money for their “faith-based” schools, seats in the House of Lords, exemption from laws inconvenient to their prejudices, and so endlessly on. They even have the cheek to ask for “respect” for their silly and antiquated beliefs; and in Geneva at the Human Rights Council the Islamic countries are trying to subvert the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because it is inconvenient to their medieval, sexist, intolerant outlook.Secularists in the west say to the apologists of the religions: your beliefs are your choice, so take your place in the queue. They also say: you’ve had it your own way for a very long time – and committed a lot of crimes in the process – and you still fancy yourself entitled, but you aren’t. You don’t smell too good at times, so don’t try to tell me what I can read, see on TV, do in my private time, think or say. In fact, keep your sticky fingers off my life. Believe what you like but don’t expect me to admire or excuse you because of it: rather the contrary, given the fairy-stories in question. And when you are a danger to the lives and liberties of others, which alas is too frequently the wont of your ilk, we will speak out against you as loudly, persistently, and uncompromisingly as we can.

  14. Sorry:”ends off”, not “… of”I’ve been reading to much of Iftikhar’s stuff.

  15. “If we all debated as you do, our discussions would be reduced to nothing more than a shouting match.”Is there any other way besides endless assertion that Muslims debate?

  16. “Pope Benedict XVI has said that saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behaviour is just as important as saving the rainforest from destruction.”- BBC News, 23 December.So now we know!

  17. My wise old grandmother used to say “What do a bunch of celibate old men wearing skirts know about sex?”The answer, judging from the legions of child-abusing priests, would seem to be “Plenty”.

  18. I just wanted to say that many “christians” approach the subject of homosexuality wrong. First, to the christian homosexuality is wrong. If you are a christian, then you should abstain from homosexuality for God’s definition of marriage is between a man and woman. Secondly, this is the step most christians get wrong, if one is not a christian then their definition of “sin” is completely different. They might not view anything as sin. So for christians to say homosexuals that they are living in sin is useless because obviously they are living with a different worldview. The best way for christians to reach out to homosexuals is thru a loving approach with no judgment for how they live.This is easier said than done, but I believe if more christians lived this way there wouldn’t be as much anomosity towards christianity and they might earn a listen more often.

  19. This is becoming increasingly difficult in America, where I live, where being religious and Christian is now an unspoken requirement for public office and where religious teaching in schools is protected. It’s one thing to expect homophobic teaching in faith schools, but what do we do about public schools and public offices?

  20. While ‘phobia’ can confuse, I do actually think there is something very much like fear in what motivates a lot of homophobes.The revulsion, disgust, desire not to associate, as well as social fears, and fears that “promotion” of homosexuality or proximity to gay people will in some way “turn” them – it’s all a kind of phobic response. I’d say the same about racism even though we don’t tend to use ‘-phobia’ for that.I’m not saying homophobia and racism are exclusively motivated by these kinds of revulsion-phobias, but quite often they do underly prejudice.

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