These old men dress up in frocks to go to work

Ian McKellen is pleasingly blunt.

The actor Sir Ian McKellen has said he fears that a growing number of faith schools are preaching religious doctrines — such as teaching that homosexuality is a sin — inside the classroom…”It worries me that there is an increasing number of faith schools in this country where it might be thought appropriate for religious views to invade the classroom. If that’s happening, those kids are getting a second-class education.”

Indeed they are, which is why ‘faith’ schools are a bad stupid idea. ‘Faith’ and ‘school’ don’t really belong together – they are in tension, at least if ‘school’ is understood (as it should be) in a modern secular sense. It is possible to have ‘schools’ that teach any old magic, but such ‘schools’ aren’t schools in the usual sense intended, just as madrassas are not real schools in that sense. ‘Faith school’ should be seen as a silly and harmful mixing of two projects that ought to be kept strictly separate because if they’re not the first will irreparably mess up the second. Children don’t (when things are arranged as they should be) go to school to learn how to believe things for no reason on the basis of no evidence; they go to school to learn how not to do that.

It is at least formally possible to have ‘faith’ schools that are such in a largely ceremonial sense – schools that sing a hymn in the morning and then act like secular schools for the rest of the day…but there’s no guarantee of that, so the mindless coupling of the two words is a bad idea.

When asked how religious studies teachers in all schools should explain the stance of Christianity, Judaism and Islam on homosexuality, McKellen said: “They should abandon the teaching of their church, because it is cruel and misplaced.”

Attaboy! No creeping around in a deferential manner, no simpering or ducking, no talk of spirituality or profound beliefs – just, they should ditch it, because it is cruel and wrong and stupid.

The actor said the gay rights lobby group Stonewall, which he helped to create 19 years ago, should visit mosques, synagogues and churches to spread a positive message about homosexuality. “It [religion] is the one area where people are not frightened to be openly homophobic,” he said…”I think it’s a sort of disorder that these old men dress up in frocks to go to work and call themselves celibate, then point the finger at other people…In 2006, McKellen angered the Catholic church when he said its leaders should be pleased that The Da Vinci Code, a best-selling novel and film in which he acted, confirmed that Jesus Christ was not gay, but married to Mary Magdalene.

Did he? Excellent. Any teaser of the Catholic church is a friend of mine.

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