What about the right to scepticism?

5th March 2004 at 00:00
It will have come as no surprise to atheists reading Warwick Mansell's report on the proposed religious education national framework (TES, February 20) that the position in the curriculum of the subject, itself a study of the irrational, is as confused as ever.

On the one hand we have the Institute for Public Policy Research, a think-tank, arguing for the inclusion of atheism in the programmes of study, and on the other, a leaked draft framework from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority totally excluding it, though accepting the importance of Zoroastrianism, whose followers believe their dead should be consumed by vultures!

It is time we recognised the rights of the almost 60 per cent of students who are non-believers (and of their faithful counterparts) to have information about the proud tradition of scepticism and ethical thinking reaching back to the Greeks via the Enlightenment, and to learn that morality need not be referenced to any religion whatsoever.

To their credit, many religionists, like Canon John Hall, accept the importance of balance in any honest course of study and this is reflected in some existing local syllabuses, as Margaret Holness reminds us. There is now a danger that the new national guidelines will be more narrow and result in courses even less relevant to the lives of most students.

Few would argue that students do not need knowledge of religion. Believers have shaped our culture and informed our art, music and literature. But so have non-believers, and so let us also honour and respect them too.

Perhaps then the interest of disaffected adolescents could be engaged.

Could anyone think of a book more moral than Huckleberry Finn, whose author Mark Twain memorably said: "Religion is believing what you know just ain't so"?

Malcolm Trahearn

16 Grange Lane



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