Prof. Richard Dawkins, scourge of all known believers, was back on his hobbyhorse last night. He made a TV programme which argued for the end of the link between religion and education in many of the schools in the UK.
I have – simultaneously – a respect for some of his views, and a loathing for the style with which he presents them. This is the man who campaigned for the right of atheists to present a ‘Thought for the Day’ in ‘God Slot’ of the Radio 4 Today programme, and when he got it, delivered a ‘thought’ of such epic bad grace that I was tempted to join a Greek Orthodox monastery immediately. (A transcript is here: top quote: ’Humanity can leave the crybaby phase, and finally come of age.’)
But I digress.
The argument for and against faith schools is complex. I won’t try to deal with all of it. I won’t even make the argument that he underestimates children if he thinks they believe what their teachers tell them. I just wanted to add one small part of the argument that I think is often missed.
That is: that the Bible, as a piece of literature, is at the core of western culture. It is impossible to begin to understand renaissance art without having read the gospels. It is impossible to read Milton without having read the New Testament, at the very least. And what about Dante? J. S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion?
How many more footnotes would be required to understand James Joyce, without a grounding in Catholicism?
People are drawn to religion for many complex reasons. A big one is tradition and culture. I was drawn to read the Bible because I wanted to understand the world I was living in. That does not mean that I don’t want to understand science: I do, very much. But I don’t want my children to grow up thinking that Homer was a ‘crybaby’ because he attributes things to gods. In fact, I want them to grow up knowing that a belief in gods does not preclude an understanding of humanity: sometimes the opposite.