Thursday, November 19, 2009

New Atheist Campaign

In a move not entirely unrelated to my last post, a new poster campaign from the British Humanist Association has been unveiled.

The posters follow their previous 'bus' campaign which stated 'There's probably no god, now stop worrying and enjoy your life.' They seem to be part of a campaign to get rid of faith schools.

Richard Dawkins said on Radio 2 today that it was a consciousness raising exercise, to encourage the media and others not to label children as 'Christian', 'Muslim' etc. People should not assume that children automatically follow the faith of their parents. They should just say 'children of Christian parents', 'children of Muslim parents' and so on. Dawkins said he was not wanting to interfere with the way parents bring up their children, what values and beliefs they pass on etc, but this is a little hard to swallow.

Bishop Nick Baines and Kevin Brewster have already done a better job than I can at showing some of the flaws in the views of the poster campaign, of which there are many.

Children are not a blank slate religiously, until they grow up. To think this completely buys into the myth of religious neutrality. They are like sponges absorbing and learning all the time. They are bombarded from all sides with messages and images, ideas and worldviews, many of which are antithetical to the Christian faith. As Bishop Nick rightly says 'to not tell a child that there is a God is not to leave that child philosophically neutral, but to positively indoctrinate the child into the assumption that there is no God. Why is that more rational or less bad?'

It also strikes me as rampantly individualistic. It denies the reality of the Christian family, or the Muslim family. It is my Christian belief that William and Emily can be full members of the Christian family, the covenant community, the church. (This touches on debates about infant baptism, but I'm not going there now!). I'm sure Muslims and Jews feel the same way about their children in their respective faith communities. The idea that children are just autonomous, free-thinking, individuals whose minds we should 'leave alone' is naive beyond belief.

What is interesting is that there have been a variety of Christian responses. Jonathan Bartley at Ekklesia seems to firmly support the campaign, largely in connection with the faith schools issue. I'm not sure if Jonathan is completely against faith schools or just against the idea of them (or at least CofE ones) having selective admissions policies. (I would agree with this second complaint). In their article Ekklesia says that the Bible Society thinktank Theos gave money to the campaign. If this is true, then I think it can only be because they think it will start discussion. They completely disavow the ideas involved in their own article on the subject. Ekklesia also say that Bishop Nick Baines welcomed the campaign, which is true in so far as he thinks it will generate discussion, but is selective quoting considering he also slams the views involved.

The Evangelical Alliance also say they welcome the campaign, being glad that the humanists agree with evangelicals that children have to make their own decisions about faith. What, I wonder, do they consider children of Christian parents to be until they have made this decision. Neutral? Outside of the church? Pagans?

Finally, there is the response of Jan Ainsworth, who is the Church of England's Chief Education Officer, who obviously thinks the whole campaign is misguided, and I tend to agree with her.

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