Goodness for goodness' sake

I am an atheist. This is not a lack of belief. I am not wishy washying around, searching for something to believe in that’s better or more convincing. I actively believe that there is no God or gods. I believe that religions are coping mechanisms created by humanity to deal with the unknown and/or scary things in life, particularly death. Which makes total sense. Life can be scary and death is downright terrifying. I will stop existing one day. My thoughts, these thoughts, will just stop. Blink out. Be no more. This person, me, everything I am, will be gone. Of course that’s scary.

I’m not easily offended. Though I care deeply about a lot of things, most potential insults wash over me without great effect. I accept that other people think differently to me. But one of the things that I do struggle with is repeated nonchalant attacks on atheism that are apparently acceptable in a country where any attack on religion is not acceptable.

Godlessness does not equal immorality. I believe in being a good person and doing good things for all sorts of reasons, some selfish and some not. I particularly like this quote by Ivan Ratoyevsky: “If anything, an atheist has to be more morally responsible precisely because we don’t blame a god for our own actions.”

Of particular concern to me – why is it okay for state-funded schools to be affiliated to a particular religion? For that religion or local church to have a say in what is or isn’t taught, in who is or isn’t accepted to their local state-funded school. In many areas, especially rural ones, the only local school is a church school, usually Church of England. I went to a C of E primary school. It wasn’t a bad school overall. But we sang hymns and said prayers every morning. The only religious speaker we ever had was the local C of E vicar. RE was 90% or more Christianity. We did a passion play at Easter and a nativity play at Christmas. It was ingrained in us that these were not just stories.

I do not want my children to be taught that way. I strongly believe in secular state-funded schooling, with religion staying at home (or church, temple, mosque, whatever). It makes me angry that religious divisions in our society are aggravated by this continued policy. Of course it doesn’t help that it’s still frowned on to openly admit that you don’t believe in God, which makes it a difficult thing to do.

A big problem is that countries like the UK (and, I believe, Australia and much of western Europe) are considered to be predominantly Christian countries even though only a small percentage of the population actually practises any sort of Christian faith. This is for all sorts of historical reasons but it is not helped by the fact that the UK government relies on census data and the census question has been proven time and again to produce skewed figures, with a significant number of people ticking “Christian” when they are nothing of the sort.

So, I have decided to publicly out myself as an atheist and ask you all (UK peeps, that is), next March, to honestly answer what your current religion is, not how you were raised or what your parents are or whether you were christened decades ago. Do you right now (or rather next March) consider yourself to be practising a religion? If not, then for goodness’ sake tick “No religion” and let’s see some accurate numbers on this subject for a change.

4 thoughts on “Goodness for goodness' sake

  1. Leeswammes (Judith) November 2, 2010 at 7:04 am

    I totally agree that being an atheist doesn’t mean you’re immoral. My catholic friend and I are always joking how she can go and be absolved from any little crime/issue whenever she wants, while I have to justify my bad behaviour to myself. 🙂

    With UK schools, even at the non-religious school my boys went to there was an element of religion that we didn’t like: such as the vicar who came by at Christmas and some other occasions. It was just brought as part and parcel for being a pupil at the school.

    Here in the Netherlands, I have no problem saying I’m not religious, no one I know (that is important to me) cares one bit. With one exception: my mother. She doesn’t even believe that I don’t believe. Rather, I’m just not admitting it to myself and her, she thinks! Oh well.

  2. gusset November 8, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    With you 100% on this. When I wrote to him my previous MP, Doug Naysmith (Labour/Co-op) I found he backed the Say No To Faith Schools campaign, which made me glad to be living in such a secular society. Sadly Charlotte Leslie (Conservative) has now taken the seat, without my vote. I wrote to her to check her views but got a disappointing response about ‘the importance of freedom of worship and how parents beliefs should be reflected in schooling’. (I’m a parent; where are my views represented?) As well as the census I recommend writing to your MP and making sure they know and appreciate their constituents views.

  3. LizC November 9, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    On a slight tangent (especially as you’ve probably realised where I stand on religion) – there was a move from faith groups to change the religion question on the census. The problem is that a lot of people with Christian roots tick the ‘Christian’ box, even though they never set foot inside a church or really live by the beliefs.

    It would be great if people could actually be honest with themselves and be able to put themselves into an appropriate category.

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