Teenage atheists, and the girl who worried about me
RE teacher Mr Thingummybob got our mailing last September, suggesting that they might not have included humanism and secular world views in RE yet, as they’re supposed to – I helped to devise a new syllabus that was introduced in September 2007. As Year 10 don’t do any RE, though they’re supposed to, he has a cunning plan; ask me and a bunch religious speakers in for a morning for a RE “carousel”, where we each talk to four of six groups for 50 minutes at a time. Strictly speaking, that’s tick box RE. Anyhow, I said I would, and told him where to find some speakers from the minority faiths. We were asked to talk about rites of passage, which suited me fine, as a celebrant.
One teacher asked a group to put up their hands if they’d describe themselves as atheists. Almost all of them did. Didn’t surprise me, as various bits of research have shown that a majority of secondary school students and teachers are atheists or agnostics. Had the same sort of response when I asked members of a 6th form at another school the same question, a couple of years ago. If RE covers a variety of faiths, it has the effect of putting kids off religion – they can see the contradictions and inconsistencies. Whether it’s any different in faith schools, I’m not sure.
There was one girl who asked me what it would take to convince me there’s a god. “Evidence,” I said. She asked similar questions several times, with a slightly furrowed brow. “You’re worried about me, aren’t you?” I asked. “Yes,” she said. I’ve met kids like her before. She seemed to think that I might be in peril as a non-believer. “Don’t worry,” I said, “I’m fine as I am.” She seemed to be having difficulty coming to terms with the idea of a happy atheist.