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What an unholy load of twaddle

YOU never know when someone is going to trap a nerve but a Church of Scotland minister treading on the toes of religious and moral education teachers? That takes the biscuit, or should I say the pretzel - because, ... la Bush, I nearly choked when I read the inflammatory stuff peddled by the Rev Ewan Aitken (Platform, March 1).

OK. Gloves off. Time for a good drubbing. Mr Aitken walks into a Catholic primary school and is impressed by a highly creative frieze on the Easter theme. On the strength of this experience he rolls out the red carpet for which ministers of religion are famous - society is going down the tubes because we have no moral values. The TV programme Pop Idol gets a smacking and it seems that the world's ethical stances are at an all-time low. Civilisation, as we know it, is crumbling.

Rubbish. Sure, September 11 was tragic and what Slobodon Milosevic allegedly did was utterly dreadful but human nature in itself hasn't changed. Let's face it. All of our documented history is marked by the unlawful spilling of blood. So it's a cop-out for a church minister to start whining about some new lack of moral fibre. Ministers have a vested interest. After all, if the church claims that our moral framework has collapsed then excuses can be dreamt up about why young people today find organised religion deeply unpalatable.

The third annual Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, widely accepted as a key indicator of the nation's "moral" barometer, found a rapid decline of interest in the Christian church and an upsurge in atheism. In the 18 to 24 age group, 66 per cent rarely or never go to church with one in three young Scots having zero belief in God. With these statistics in mind, what is Mr Aitken actually venting his spleen on? He says it's not RME teachers, who apparently are already doing much of what he wants them to be doing. We know and have known for years that debates about belief are not just about religion. RME has to be taught from a completely level playing field and it should arouse no more frothing about the mouth than history, for example. Bible thumpers, keep out.

The problem is this. Mr Aitken is confusing RME with religious observance which should have no place in today's Scottish schools. Yet HMI insists on naming and shaming schools in reports for not having religious observance. Schools are given a few months to sort out their religious assemblies so that they can get a gold star from the HMI entourage. Great. Another rubber stamp worth absolutely nothing.

Young people will tell you that religious assemblies are nearly always crushingly boring. Many schools rely on deadly anthologies of assembly lessons usually about the starving in Africa. Yawn. Others import trendy ministers with egos the size of Scotland who might swing on the lights naked and the kids would still know it was a con - underneath the razzmatazz God will be lurking, a cunning wee plan to capture the hearts of the youthful pagans and lure them from their darkness into the so-called light of the Christian church.

So don't get rid of RME from schools. I resent the assertion that we are a peripheral subject as would the vast majority of my pupils. They have the chance to explore their beliefs and moral code but it's not for me to be ramming the creed of any religion down their throats. One final word to the minister - if you're so good at identifying what's wrong with the teaching of belief and morality, maybe you would be good enough to tell us how to put things right because that simply wasn't very clear from your article? Who did you have in mind for teaching your belief course? I think we should be told.

Marj Adams teaches religious education, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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