And on a more serious note, on the same David Aaronovitch column – he does make a number of important points.
His argument seems to be that it’s a human right to attend a denominational school and given these may be further away from home than the local school, parents should not be subject to the same penalties as those whose child’s journey results purely from choice. In other words, a religious choice in education is a matter of freedom of conscience, whereas any other kind of choice isn’t. Steam emerges from every orifice at this. Especially when the barrister adds: ‘When I got married we promised to bring up our children in the Catholic faith and so we put them through a Catholic school.’ This is the non sequitur upon which he bases his claim to be accorded superior treatment. Perhaps he would like a little sticker for his car that reads ‘Free parking for monotheist pupils only’.
Well, he probably would like exactly that. Religious believers often seem to take the idea of their ‘special’ status and special rights so for granted that they are unable to see how odd that idea is, no matter how carefully anyone tries to explain. But why? Why should people have special rights because they believe in a deity? It is a pervasive (increasingly so, I think) notion, but one that I have a hard time seeing the logic of. Is it kind of like endangered species legislation? That things that are vulnerable need special protection? And belief in a deity is vulnerable because it depends on ‘faith’ as opposed to evidence and logic? Is that it? That’s the only reason I can think of, really. But if so…surely the reductio is pretty obvious. Should we give special rights to astrologers and people who think there’s a Disneyland on Jupiter, and withold them from people who try not to believe six impossible things before breakfast? That could end up having some unfortunate results, one would think.
What is going on here, I think, is an attempt to protect the young from modernity…One proselytiser for Muslim education who sends out letters to the media captures this very well. When there was a conviction for an ‘honour killing’ in London last autumn, this campaigner argued that the victim, killed by her father, ‘was educated to be a Westernized woman, instead of a Muslim’…This is a social agenda, as much as a religious one. It was argued by a pro-faith school columnist that at least the two great faiths – Catholicism and Islam – permit equality to believers and co-religionists. But they don’t. If they did there would be women priests and women imams. My fear is that this emphasis on faith schooling is an attempt, albeit unconscious – to return us to the days before feminism, an attempt which affects all of us.
But it’s difficult to talk honestly about the subject, in part precisely because of the ‘special rights’ idea – because believers think their beliefs should be protected from discussion or question. And some believers, I have reason to know, seem to think that the very fact that they are believers means that nothing they do can be wrong – pretty much by definition. So they feel perfectly cheerful about launching torrents of sexist, obscene raving at wicked unbelievers like me. I should know, I have the spittle-flecked (virtually speaking) emails to prove it. (I have a feeling I get a double if not triple dose because of being a female. Uppity women just do piss some people off, you know…)