Big Questions comment
I was on BBC1 Big Questions yesterday. Go here. The whole hour was devoted to religion and children. I argued early on that children should be encouraged to think and question and all schools should be forced to meet minimum standards on that. I got a big round of applause on that from pretty much everyone – religious and non-religious (about 15 mins).
Later in the programme, a young man to my right called Nick explained how, on the last day at his Catholic school (he was Head Boy), “came out” as an atheist in his speech. The Monsigneur patted him on the shoulder and said he was “brave”. Again, some approving applause and comment about this from the religious (at about 39.20 mins)
But hang on: why did this pupil have to wait until the last day of school before he could admit what he believed? Why, even at that point, was this acknowledged to be a pretty “brave” thing to do?
The answer is fairly obvious, isn’t? Because the school had managed to convey the message to pupils that while some thinking and questioning was fine up to a point, the fundamentals of the faith were not included. Atheist? Keep it to yourself.
So was this, I suspect probably pretty typical, Catholic school meeting the minimum standards I earlier recommended, and which almost everyone applauded? Was it encouraging pupils to think and question? Was it encouraging them to voice their questions, doubts, own points of view?
Clearly not. It was, in fact – if probably by largely tacit means – actually suppressing any such open, critical discussion. And doing so very effectively.
Is that acceptable? If so, how is acceptance of such schools to be squared with the opinion that thinking and questioning should be encouraged?
Had I been quicker on my feet I’d have pointed put this seemingly contradictory attitude among some religious people (not all obviously) – and certainly several in the audience.