Category: Newspapers

Newspaper reviews and recommendations.

Latest news on the proposed Steiner and Maharishi free schools in Suffolk

Plans to open a Steiner free school in Suffolk are still being made by the people behind the Fullfledge Ecology School. The East Anglian Daily Times reports:

The Fullfledge Ecology School curriculum would incorporate aspects of the Steiner approach, which is already practised at state-funded schools in other countries like America, Canada and Australia, but bidders say it would not be designated a “Steiner School”.

The same news story mentions that plans for another free school from the Maharishi Free School Trust are also being re-submitted to the DfE.

Last year, the BHA was a signatory to a letter in the Guardian on Steiner schools, Anthroposophy, and Maharishi schools. BHA Education campaigner Richy Thompson explained,

Anthroposophists believe that they have an objective, scientific way in to the so called “spiritual” world. Children with their innocent sense of wonder are particularly well connected to the “spiritual” world, and the motivation for Steiner schools is to nurture this connection. The reason that SWSF schools do not teach children to read and write before the age of 6/7, or use computers before 13, is because anthroposophists believe that to do so damages this connection by quashing this naivety and playfulness. In reality, all it does is damage children’s education.

For more information about Steiner schools, type “Steiner” in our search box.

BHA co-signs anti-Steiner letter to the Observer

The British Humanist Association‘s Head of Public Affairs, Pavan Dhaliwal, signed a letter to the Observer on behalf of the association opposing Maharishi and Steiner free schools. The letter was also signed by Melanie Byng, campaigner against Steiner free schools, who wrote a post about them on this website.

The letter begins:

Since the formation of the coalition, a lot of public concern has been expressed over the potential establishment of creationist Free Schools. This concern resulted in the Government changing the rules for Free Schools to prevent them from teaching pseudoscience (Richard Dawkins celebrates a victory over creationists, 15 January 2012).

However, not enough attention has been paid to what we believe to be two equally grave threats to science education, namely Maharishi and Steiner schools. Maharishi schools follow the educational methods of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, guru of the Transcendental Meditation movement, while Steiner education is based on an esoteric/occultist movement called Anthroposophy, founded by Austrian mystic Rudolf Steiner (Holistic unit will ‘tarnish’ Aberdeen University reputation, 29 April 2012).

Children of the Rainbow

The Guardian reports:

Up to 40,000 Norwegians have staged an emotionally charged singalong in Oslo near the court building where Anders Behring Breivik is on trial for the murder of 77 people in a protest organisers said showed he had not broken their tolerant society.

Julian Baggini’s Heathen’s Progress

Julian BagginiJulian Baggini is co-founder of The Philosophers’ Magazine and author of ‘Atheisn: A Very Short Introduction’ (OUP). His series ‘Heathen’s Progress‘ that began last year in The Guardian’s Comment is Free section is worth reading. The latest part, ‘Yes, life without God can be bleak. Atheism is about facing up to that‘ firmly removes any comfort blanket you might be clinging to, and is bracingly honest. It ends:

I think it’s time we atheists ‘fessed up and admitted that life without God can sometimes be pretty grim. Appropriating the label “heathen” is part of this. Heathens are unredeemed outcasts from heaven who roam the planet without hope of surviving the deaths of their bodies. They may have values but they are not secured by any divine source. Yet we embrace this because we think it represents the truth. And so we don’t just get on and enjoy life, we embark on our own intellectual pilgrimages, trying to make some progress in a universe on which no meaning has been writ. The journey can be wonderful but it can also be arduous and it may end horribly. But there is no other way, and anyone who urges you to follow a path that they promise leads to a bright future is either gravely mistaken or a charlatan.

The Telegraph really hates Richard Dawkins

From today’s Telegraph:

He has railed against the evils of religion, and lectured the world on the virtues of atheism.

Now Richard Dawkins, the secularist campaigner against “intolerance and suffering”, must face an awkward revelation: he is descended from slave owners and his family estate was bought with a fortune partly created by forced labour.

One of his direct ancestors, Henry Dawkins, amassed such wealth that his family owned 1,013 slaves in Jamaica by the time of his death in 1744.

Must be short of some real news. I’ve written to the Telegraph as follows:

If Richard Dawkins’ ancestors were slave owners, they were only following a biblical example.

Leviticus 25:44-46 – “However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land.  You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way.”

MN

NSS forces High Court ruling on council prayers

Following a Judicial Review initiated by the National Secular Society to challenge the practice of having prayers as part of the formal business of council meetings in Bideford Town Council (Devon), the High Court has ruled:

The saying of prayers as part of the formal meeting of a Council is not lawful under s111 of the Local Government Act 1972, and there is no statutory power permitting the practice to continue.

This began when Bideford Town Councillor Clive Bone, who’s an atheist, was elected in 2007; he found that he was expected to say prayers at the beginning of meetings. Councillors in other areas have had similar objections, saying that this practice puts off atheists or people of other faiths from standing for election. Click here to hear Mr Bone talking about it.

I have repeatedly tried to persuade Babergh District Council (my local council) to change its practice of beginning full council meetings with prayers, and been told that they see no reason to change. Maybe this will make them think again.

From 2002-2003 British Guyana-born Harold Mangar was chairman of Suffolk County Council. He decided that he wanted to do things differently. During his term of office, Suffolk Inter-Faith Resource provided speakers from various local faith groups, and a humanist (me), to address full council meetings ten minutes before their council business began. The day I did it, several councillors told me that they normally arrived late to avoid prayers, but had made a special effort to come and hear me.

Now that the High Court has ruled, we will be drawing Suffolk local authorities’ attention to the illegality of their practices.

Cameron fails Bible study

Deuteronomy 22:28-29Last week, during a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible in Oxford, David Cameron said “the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today,” and that a “return to Christian values” could counter the country’s “moral collapse”. Admitting that he’s a “committed but vaguely practising Church of England Christian” might explain Cameron’s ignorance of what the Bible actually says. For example:

When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou;

And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them:

Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.

For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly.

(Deuteronomy 7:1-4)

As for Christian values:

But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.

He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

(Matthew 10:33-37)

How does that relate to any “moral collapse”, unless it’s to illustrate one? The Bible’s full of stuff like that, in the old and new testaments. Most Christians ignore all the nasty bits, unless it’s to justify their prejudices, such as quoting Leviticus on homosexuality.

Americans (and Brits) and God

Interesting piece in the New York Times by Eric Weiner, on Americans and organised religion.

For a nation of talkers and self-confessors, we are terrible when it comes to talking about God. The discourse has been co-opted by the True Believers, on one hand, and Angry Atheists on the other. What about the rest of us?

The rest of us, it turns out, constitute the nation’s fastest-growing religious demographic. We are the Nones, the roughly 12 percent of people who say they have no religious affiliation at all. The percentage is even higher among young people; at least a quarter are Nones.

In my experience, even more British people are Nones too, and can you blame them? Angry atheism is as off-putting to many people as in your face religion. What’s wrong with keeping your beliefs private? It would make a change.

“Religion should be abolished”?

This week’s National Secular Society e-newsletter quotes Irish writer Jennifer Johnston saying, “Personally I think that religion should be abolished and I think when you look around we’re doing not too bad a job of it in this country at the moment. It’s all just moving and about time, too.” This was in an interview with the Irish Independent. Johnston’s attitude is understandable, when you read about her own and her family’s experience of Catholicism, but abolishing religion isn’t the answer. I remember being shocked when, some time ago, I heard one of the British Humanist Association‘s leading activists say more or less the same thing – and he was serious. It’s an attitude that persists in online atheist forums. Calling for the abolishment or banning of religion isn’t a rational response to the problems that it causes. It was tried by the Soviets and by the Chinese during the Cultural Revolution, but they only succeeded in driving it underground. There have always been extremists, religious and atheist, and they’ve always caused destruction.

The answer is secularism, or an end to religion in civil affairs and no religious instruction in schools. Children might learn about religion but not to be religious. Teach children to think, not to believe. Most organised monotheistic religion is about power. Remove that power, and you remove most of the damage it causes.

A good teacher makes you think, even when you don’t want to.” (Tom, aged 10)

Teach people to think, and maybe they won’t make foolish statements like, “Ban religion!”

Scouts and Guides’ promise to “love God” may be dropped

We’ve had emails from parents whose children want to join the Guides or Scouts, but have been shocked to find that they’re expected to make a promise to “love God”. Letters and emails to the association have failed, so far, to achieve any sort of compromise. Now, after persistent campaigning by the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Association, Girl Guides may no longer have to pledge to “love God” as part of their Guide promise. Presumably, this would apply to Scouts too. An increasing number of parents have complained that the current pledge discriminates against children who don’t have a religious faith. If they make the promise, they have to lie. Some have opted for the alternative organization, the Woodcraft Folk (which ignores religion) if there’s a branch in their area.

Today’s Telegraph reports,

… the association is considering reviewing the wording of its affirmation for new members, to remove religious references.

The move comes after parents complained it was unfair to exclude children who had not received a Christian upbringing.