Separation of church and school

There is a big debate driving everyone a little crazy in Iceland right now. The Reykjavik Human Rights Committee published a report where they stated that there is a need to draw a line between the work of religious institutions and the school system. They suggested for instance that representatives from the church should be banned from going to the schools and that confirmation classes should not be held during school hours. They also recommend that instead of the schools calling in priests to help children with emotional problems/trauma they should call in trained professionals such as psychiatrists.

I think most people in Iceland agree with this. Of course the church should not be allowed to send priests to the schools to preach to children against the parents’ wishes! This has been going on for a long time and a lot of people are not happy with it. I remember having to fight my teachers every year about sending me to church on Christmas (I am not religious). Children of parents who are not Christian often feel left out when all the others are sent to confirmation classes. Representatives of religions other than the National Church are also vastly underrepresented.

It’s obvious to me that this is a good thing.

Of course many argue against it. The leading arguments seem to be: “What’s the harm? It’s not like it’s hurting anyone!” And “it never caused me any harm!” And “next thing we know they’ll be banning Christmas decorations and Little Christmas*!” Also “what happened to teaching children good Christian values? We are a Christian nation!”

I am going to tackle these arguments one at a time.

1. What is the harm?

Most (if not all) of the people who use this argument are Christian Icelanders. Many of them mention that they are not very religious themselves and seem to think that this justifies their argument. Kids who are Christian or don’t care aren’t likely to even notice the Church being there at all, therefore they don’t feel that they’ve been harmed in any way. What about muslim children? Hindu? Buddhist? Jehova’s Witnesses? These children do notice, they feel ostracized. Their parents feel that their power over what their children are being told has been taken out of their hands.

Sure, they aren’t going to be physically harmed, but it can cause them emotional strain. Besides, it’s not about whether people are harmed. It’s about their right to choose. It’s about parents’ rights over their own children. Whether some Icelandic, white, Christian dude felt he’d been harmed by it or not has nothing to do with it.

Like someone on Facebook said: “My friend’s mom smoked and drank while she was pregnant with my friend. This friend of mine is now a well educated, healthy woman. Therefore smoking and drinking during pregnancy isn’t harmful.” It’s a shitty argument!

2. Banning Christmas! Oh nooooo!

It is clearly stated in the report that they have no intention of banning Little Christmas and forbidding children from expressing their own religious beliefs. Christmas isn’t about religion to most kids in Iceland. I don’t think so anyway. I’m not religious and I celebrate Christmas (or yule more like). It’s a fun family tradition where they get lots of presents. It’s completely different from priests coming into the schools trying to recruit kids against the will of their parents. Even if they did ban Christmas celebrations in the school out of respect for non-Christian children, would that be the end of the world? No.

3. Good Christian values

I’m so tired of Christian people claiming that the Bible/God is the only source of “good values” and morality. The schools are supposed to teach children to have compassion and respect for each other, and the difference between right and wrong. They don’t need the church to do so. All these “Christian values” are actually for the most part human values and many of them are universal. Removing the Church from the school isn’t going to turn all the children into amoral monsters. If the parents want to instill “Christian values” in their children they can do so at home.

4. We are a Christian nation

Yeah, about that. We may be culturally Christian…but I don’t think most Icelanders are particularly religious. Even if this statement were to stand, it still wouldn’t be a valid argument against this move. The opinion of the majority is not always right and should never be used as an argument against human rights. Even though non-Christians are the minority they still have a right to be able to send their children to school and trust that they won’t have to suffer attempts from the Christian church to convert them.

 

 

*Small Christmas celebrations in the schools shortly before Christmas vacations begin.

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A bit more on religion

It amuses me that one post about religion gave me more hits than ever before. Not a lot of hits, mind you, just more hits. I even got a comment! People are so adoringly predictable. :)

It surprised me, when I was writing that bit of text in my last entry, how angry I got. It really irritates me that I’m considered arrogant for daring to say that god doesn’t exist. I simply have never seen a reason to believe that he does. Everything I’ve read and all my thoughts on the matter have led me to the same conclusion: he doesn’t. It makes no sense that a god could possibly exist. And like my father has pointed out: what does “god” even mean? The concept makes no sense.

I think it’s arrogant of religious people to tell me that my atheism means I lack morals and that my life is pointless, meaningless. I have a strong sense of morals and I am happy. I find meaning in my family, my friends and my studies. There doesn’t need to be an ultimate purpose.

Religion and morality – no link!

I was supposed to write this thing for school the other day…about…something. So I chose to write about religion and morality. Basically, that I don’t think religion has anything to do with morality. I figured I might as well share it. It’s probably crap, but whatever. :P

Religion, Atheism and Morality
It is a common misunderstanding that religion and the existence of god are the basis for all human morality, and that without god life is meaningless, and all sense of what is right and what is wrong will be gone. For this reason, many religious people view atheists as amoral and untrustworthy. Religion is fast becoming less and less important in modern Western society, and many religious people worry that this will lead to moral decay and that society will fall apart. I disagree. I believe that morality is a natural human phenomenon, and based on very fluid social mores and expectations, rather than any particular religious texts.

Too many different religions and cultures exist for us to pick one as the ultimate right one. Humans have been roaming the Earth for a long time and we know very little of the social behaviour of early humans. We have developed many different religions and different sets of social rules, and gone through many stages of development technologically and socially. Despite this there are millions of people who believe their religion is the only true one and that the rules laid down in their religious texts should apply to all. There is no way to determine who is right and which moral code should be the one followed. There is clearly no proof that the way we behave in our daily lives and the laws and regulations we follow can be attributed to one religious or cultural source.

Human social rules and conventions for the most part probably have no particular source. They have developed and evolved as needed. Many of the rules we follow are never written down or discussed. I believe most have risen as a way to maintain peace and balance. We behave the way our environment dictates because it is the only way to function properly. Those who do not are social outcasts. These rules are not set in stone either. Things that once were considered bad are now normal, such as interracial marriage. Things that once were considered right are now wrong, such as slavery. Society will therefore not fall apart without religion. Some of the richest, happiest nations of the world are also the least religious, such as in Northern Europe. I believe that by putting less emphasis on religious attainment these nations have been able to move on from prejudice and old ideas that no longer apply, and put more focus on human rights, equality, and general wellbeing.

Rules do however not exist independently; they can be created and changed by powerful people and social groups as a way to control the masses and further their agenda. Religion has often been used in this way through the ages. Many of the rules listed in religious texts have likely been written for that purpose, but are today outdated. Much of what is written in the Bible for instance has been deemed wrong or inapplicable in today’s society. If it is no longer right to treat women as men’s property, why is it still considered right to discriminate against homosexual people? How can we look to the Bible for moral guidance when even Christians do not fully believe in it? I suspect that this same question applies to many other religious texts. If the word of god were absolute, then human behaviour would not be so varied. Religion is a human construct, used to control and lead the public.

This is changing today. We understand ourselves better and have come to see that there is for instance also a physical component to our sense of morality. We are not born with full knowledge of what is right and what is wrong. It is something we learn. And yet there are people who never learn. They were once thought evil, today however we know that they are sick in some way. Empathy is a strong part of why we do what we do. Most of us do not hurt other people, not because we would get in trouble or because the law says we are not allowed, but because our sense of empathy and our conscience stop us. Psychopaths lack empathy and a conscience. It is not because they do not believe in god but because they are sick. Even healthy people can lose their sense of right and wrong due to brain damage. In other words, morality is a social and physical phenomenon.

While religion and religious texts have no doubt had a great influence on society, they are not the basis for humans’ sense of morality. Social rules and mores have evolved with the human race, both socially and physically. They are not constant or based on any ultimate truth, rather simply a way for humans to live with each other peacefully.