Wednesday 2 December 2015

Comments from the 'Comments' thread, following 'Dear Ms Morgan' this week

On the thread following my 'Dear Nicky Morgan' article in Tuesday's Guardian

I wrote some replies to comments. they are four different 'replies' and are in different places on the thread but I've put them together here - numbered separately:

1. re atheism: the belief that both 'theoretical' and 'practical' atheists have is that they can live their lives without reference to the supernatural. They enact their lives in that way, every second of every day. Mostly this is unremarkable and looks like doing one's daily stuff. Even so, it does mean that such things as coincidences, accidents, lucky breaks, gifts etc are not connected in any way to thanking deities or hoping deities will help you. That requires 'belief' that the everyday is sufficient. Some people think a lot about this. Others just get on with it.

That said, the crunch point comes for many atheists when serious mishaps and tragedies occur or indeed when such people (me) think about our own birth and death and/or the universe. Again, many atheists just do it. On the other hand, many think about how these moments are in fact 'material' or 'just there' or 'part of the mystery of the universe' etc. So long as the supernatural is not involved in such people's conclusions, what we have is a set of beliefs about birth, death, the universe and some view on whether life has a 'meaning' or 'purpose' or not.

I'm not sure why many people above think that none of this involves a set of 'beliefs'. In my experience, many atheists (who may also call themselves humanists or vice versa - people really don't get too worried about names, you know), think long and hard about this stuff and in effect, carry around a portable, invisible 'book' that explains or justifies their actions across life, across the death of their loved ones, and towards their own death. How do you think we cope when, say, our parents die, or - as in my case - when my son died? We have to figure out how this fits in to daily existence. We don't write a sacred book about it, but we still have words and thoughts to help us put it into how we can go on and live the next day and the day after.

Again, I'm not sure why this seems to give some people above cause to imagine that an atheistical existence is merely a negative state of 'not religion'. Maybe that's what it looks like from the outside, observing atheists, but to live that way, is a different matter - even if some of us express it as 'no, I don't do religion' or some such.

2. Many people have pointed out that there is the word 'religion' in the title 'Religious Studies' and that 'explains' why humanism or atheism is not in that course of study. The online article provides a link to:

'The Religious Education Council of England and Wales document: 'Curriculum Framework'.

If people with the view that there is no place for humanism in RS, could take a few moments to read who recommended that there should be a place for it and why (see the section headed 'Purpose', perhaps they could or should argue with them about it, rather than me. After all, these were representatives of a wide range of religious organisations.

It's quite clear that RS at GCSE goes far beyond talking about specific religions. Its remit is to talk about values, and the purpose of life.

Why not have a look to see what it says?

3. Some people above appear to be saying that atheism and non-religious views have no history or belief system. In fact, there is a long history to this, some of it being a struggle with the ruling orders here such people found themselves. But then how, in the context of religious explanations for the cosmos, human destiny and human purpose, did people come to the conclusion that they didn't need any form of supernatural being to guide them or believe in?

That is a fascinating history involving individuals, groups, movements. A literature past and present supports it. There are many significant documents, court cases, examples of imprisonment - and worse - from all over the world. As I said in the article, some of this goes back to ancient and classical times. Rather than simply saying 'there is no history' or 'there is nothing to teach', why not google 'atheism' 'atheists', 'humanism' 'humanists' and see where it takes you. Even the history of Charles Bradlaugh - mentioned in the article is worth a read. If not, try Lucretius. Or Baron d'Holbach.

4. Just to clarify, Religious Studies is 'about' religion, not worship. I am in favour of it. The committee that advised the government recommended that 'non-religious worldviews' should be included. They glossed 'non-religions worldviews' in a footnote saying 'including humanism'. This parity of esteem was not carried through to the RS GCSE syllabus - which is NOT a compulsory subject. You choose it. There IS mention of humanism in the syllabus but no parity of esteem Because of that, the Sec of State's comments were challenged in court and the case won. However, so far the govt have not budged.