Archive for April 2012

Half-hearted and meaningless- religion in schools   4 comments

At school Physical Education was compulsory.  I forged notes from my parents, feigned injury and forgot my games kit to avoid it.  As soon as there was a relaxation, as I reached sixth form (High School senior years) I opted for table-tennis which was unsupervised and so was actually cover for a card school.

Outside of the official games periods I played football (soccer) in the playgrounds and cricket and football away from school.  I still play league cricket as I reach my fiftieth year and social football games twice a week.  I am also a walk leader as part of a community project.

At school I tried to avoid sports because they were official, the PE teachers that led classes as a supplement to their other academic duties also did so without any conviction and so allowed a little latitude.

My view of religion at school was very similar to that of games; the statutory nature destroyed any merit for the subject.  In the main, I feel most schoolmasters felt a similar lack of enthusiasm.  The difference for me was that I didn’t run off and engage in religion away from school.

This is why I find the battles in the American education system and the extent of religious indoctrination so alien.  Religious tradition is so much a part of the English education system but has a marginal effect; over the pond it seems that the malignancy is very deep.

Unlike the US, the church in the United Kingdom is not separated from the state but integral to it.  Our Head of State is the Head of the Church of England.  Our second legislative chamber has protestant church leaders in it as of right.  Our state (public) schools have daily collective worship that “shall be wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character”.  For all this religion is weak in our collective society.

Like in my day I get the impression that religion is essentially ignored in the state school system.  Even some voluntary aided faith schools insist on as few as ten per cent of admissions being regular participants in the established faith.  My local Roman Catholic secondary (High) school gives preference to Catholics who attend church, then any Catholics, then active Christians, then any active participants in any World Faith.  There is a move away from parents pretending to go to church just to guarantee a better school place for their heathen children.

I clearly remember at primary school that the school dinners were preceded by a Christian grace.  All my assemblies included prayer and most were akin to a church service.  For all that there was a feeling that this religious input just diluted the faith message.  All of the religion seemed closer to tradition than any real theism.

There was Religious Education at school but I have no real recollection of the subject I always got the impression that any masters or mistresses involved were a figure of fun.  I don’t remember any other faiths other than the very basic biblical Christianity.  The official government line on the school subject  now is “Religious education provokes challenging questions about the ultimate meaning and purpose of life, beliefs about God, the self and the nature of reality, issues of right and wrong and what it means to be human. It develops pupils’ knowledge and understanding of Christianity, other principal religions, other religious traditions, and other world views that offer answers to these challenging questions”  What I found odd over my kids’ school life was that every exploration of “alternative” religions involved Diwali; it was an easy call to go for a festival with lots of lights before Christmas.

As an atheist for my last five years at school I never had an issue with any religious elements.  My later secondary school had been founded in 1594 so had traditions linked to religion going back centuries.  I never remember anyone asking my religion.  Perhaps it was that as multi-culturalism had not really reached middle England then and so we were all “Christians”   However I do not remember any Catholic teachings.  This was in a town where there were a significant number of Roman Catholics although that town claimed a place in Protestant history.  I did note that the “visiting” priest at my daughters’ school was Catholic.

A generation on and at that establishment, another 400 year-old school, my children found their religious studies to be very similar.  Lay teachers going through the motions and specialists who were figures of fun.  Because I took more of an interest I knew who the religious teachers were.  One of the most devout was also one the best teachers I have come across.

The early secondary stages were all about comparative religions with a drift thereafter into general morality.  I got the impression that those who kept the study up into external exam levels were either the properly religious or those looking for easy grades.  My youngest daughter sought exemption from the collective worship as soon as she was of an age to decide and no one made an issue.

I have to say that for me and my children a lack of faith was no issue whatsoever even from those teachers who were devout.  It certainly didn’t stop my eldest representing her school and many events and winning a whole host of prizes.

For as much as religion is enshrined in the compulsory curriculum and levered into daily assemblies by law it seemed meaningless in reality and regarded with the same apathy as compulsory sports.  Like with those sports if you were really interested you got on with it outside of the education system.

Ched Evans- blame the rapist not the victim   3 comments

I was waiting outside of a court for a sentencing on one of my cases.  There were the families of three young people awaiting a separate sentencing near me.  One of the accused got 13 years.  As a reaction one of the weeping matriarchs blamed the police, the co-accused, the barrister and eventually the victim family for “over-reacting”.  I checked the case and saw that the victims held culpable were an elderly couple whose home had been invaded.  They had been assaulted, tied up and threatened with firearms as part of the robbery.

Perhaps this is an understandable reaction from family shocked by the sentence?  In terms of the Ched Evans trial you might argue that Sheffield United players and the fans are a sort of “family”.  The initial reaction is part of the shock from the result.  However, unless you regard young men (and some women) as some tight-knit community, the reaction to the conviction on social networking sites has been inexplicable.  Like the couple violently assaulted the young lady sexually assaulted has no culpability.

You have to realise that footballers are not role models.  In the main they are young men who just have a lot more money and attention than their peers.  They are also from a population where education has not been a priority; their every aim has been football rather than effective schooling for life.  A three-year pro contract for a 21-year old is like a lottery win.  Whether it is six balls or five and a bonus depends on whether it is from a Premiership club!

Like young lottery winners crimes by footballers tend to receive greater media attention than other offenders.  With about one in seven young men having a criminal record you might expect, even excluding offences prompted by poverty, that a fair few footballers will be in trouble with the law.  There are myriad reported cases involving drink, public order, violence and sexual assault.  Like the rest of the population there are caring, compassionate and intelligent footballers at clubs but there are always idiots.

Some of the questionable comments on twitter and Facebook did come from footballers but of course the vast majority were not from the ranks of the soccer professionals.  I do not even think that the majority of those supporting Evans are Sheffield United fans.  Among Blades are many who have condemned their player and accepted the verdict.  What is disturbing is a widespread assumption that the victim, the young lady who was raped, deserves no sympathy and is somehow responsible for the incident.  Some have gone as far as to suggest that by some means this is an attempt to derive personal benefit from having been the victim of the assault.

Those going off on twitter rants or instigating infantile on-line campaigns just show how little they know the legal process and the law concerning rape.  In terms of the sexual offence the British Crime Survey suggests that only one in a hundred of women raped will see their attacker convicted.  This is a figure skewed by the number who having been assaulted, do not report the matter.  That reluctance to report is why work has been done and must continue to be done to support the victims of rape.  The fact that only about 7% of those who do report rape see a conviction is still a self-defeating statistic.  The difficulty getting a conviction is one of the reasons why there has to be anonymity in these cases.

It is entirely proper that the police arrest those who named the victim in this case as a deterrent for the future so as to reassure those coming forward to report rapes are not dissuaded by the thought of becoming a trend on twitter.  Some might make a case for all justice being open in terms of victims or for equal anonymity for alleged perpetrators until convicted but I agree with the law as it is at present.  It does look like that law has been broken by those naming the victim and possibly those abusing her.

There are cases where false reports of rape are filed but these are insignificant numbers at the side of the unreported assaults.  Such false claims are always wrong and they too cause victims and of course undermine the legal process and cast doubt on the prosecution of cases.  Those who choose to equate this case to those where a false claim has been made do the CPS a disservice.  The nature of intimate human relations is such that one often doesn’t know what goes on in the bedroom, or anywhere else an act of intercourse goes on.  Where rape is alleged and it is simply a matter of consent with the two parties disputing whether it was given then there will usually be too much doubt to bring a prosecution.

Here there seems to be a more complex case and one where the jury, having heard the evidence rather than reading tweets or newspapers, determined that there was no doubt that the victim did not consent to sex with Evans.  That penetration without consent is rape.  Whether it occurs by taking advantage of someone incapable through drink or by pointing a knife at someone’s throat it is still rape.  The difference in the circumstances should be reflected in sentencing not by persecuting the victim because the attack was by a celebrity in a hotel room rather than a masked stranger on a canal towpath.  The five year sentence in this case is exactly appropriate based on the sentencing guidelines.

The only question is whether the victim consented to Evans having sex with her.  That victim’s sexual history, possible promiscuity or subsequent motivations are immaterial.  The fact that her attacker is a highly paid footballer and “could have had any girl in that nightclub” is also irrelevant if he had sex with a drunken girl without her approval.  After a two-week trial twelve people decided unanimously that this was the case.

The fact that Evans, co-accused was found not guilty does not reflect any better on Evans.  The circumstances of McDonald coming to be in the room with the woman were not analogous to Evan’s arrival there and let the jury to see a reasonable doubt in the Crown’s case.  That of course doesn’t mean that the victim is lying just that the jury could not be sure beyond doubt.  If an acquittal proved prosecution witnesses were liars than I would have been in trouble a couple of times!

Some will point out that Evans has said that he will appeal and so wonder if the case will take another turn.  That appeal cannot be based simply on the argument that the jury got it wrong.  There has either to be a mistake by the Judge or new evidence that the defence was not aware of at the time of the conviction.  Less than a third of appeals ever get to a hearing.

To defend the vilification of the victim in this case by suggesting that she is not only promiscuous but also seeking financial reward is both cruel and ironic.  (I am not sure her attackers put it quite that way using terms like slag, tramp and money-grabber.)  The irony comes from accounts the male footballers boasting that they could have any woman based on their wealth and tweeters identifying the victim whose anonymity usually prevents the attack being a means of making money!

I actually know nothing about the victim’s personality other than her gender and her age; I expect that most attacking her know little more.  What is sure following the verdict is that she is a victim of a serious sexual assault.  To blame that victim instead of the man who raped her is ridiculous!

My religion is football…   Leave a comment

Being British I am always stunned by the extent of religious influence among our immature cousins over the pond.  (I am also stunned when soccer is used to describe football but needs must.)

I am particularly shocked by the image given of the reach of the church in communities and of the fact that non-believers hide their atheism and have to encouraged to come out of the vestry.  Even in provincial England the churches have only a marginal influence on communities and certainly don’t have a monopoly over charity or community groups.

When it comes to religion in four facets of my life I still don’t see it being significant.  These areas are family, work, leisure and community involvement.

Yes my family is religious, with my mother holding a significant position in the Methodist Church.  Some of my brothers and their families are regulars in church but my wife and children only go, under protest, to weddings, funerals and special events.

Away from my family religion is hardly a topic, except when I am criticising it!  I know the beliefs of none of the dozen people on my team at work only that several have anti-religious views.  I am not sure any attend church  Within my cricket club I know there are some who are religious with one actually running another team in a league for churches.  The ironic thing about this is that he supplements his squad by drawing on the Pakistani strength in the game with a link up with a local mosque!

My community work primarily revolves around the charitable trust linked to my local football club.  There funding for any projects usually demands inclusion and so means any overt religious influence is prohibited.  That doesn’t stop work with churches and other projects with a religious background but faith has never been a factor, except to rule out a leaning to any specific religion.

Rather than me existing in a faithless world it is more probable that it is more a question of religion not being a significant factor in my dealings with people.  However this is a bit of an assumption so I am turning to somewhere that my friends and contacts have stated their religious beliefs- Facebook.

The social media site gives me a sample of 178 friends.  It is worth stating how these were selected.  Unlike twitter where I select the influential for their quality of opinion, I know all of those on Facebook.  I do not request friendship, or respond positively to requests unless I know the person.  I do however usually accept requests from supporters of my football club because I have a public role there and have met them even if I wouldn’t call them personal friends.  That said there is no bias among the selection based on my beliefs or because I have any direct friends based on my beliefs.

This means that about 70% of my Facebook friends live in or around my town with the rest in the UK with the exception of a couple in the States and a handful in continental Europe.  There is a range of ages but the skew towards the young due to the demographics of Facebook and the inclusion of football friends and those linked to my daughters.  There is a large majority of male friends due to a bias among football fans and the fact that most of my cricket friends are fellow players.

Facebook offers the opportunity in your profile to offer information about your personal philosophy- this includes religion.  Only 41% of my friends included such information.  I don’t know whether this percentage is unusual but note that some I consider the most religious to have not expressed a preference.  I know there is an established trend to complete a box and express a positive that usually skews UK census information so I did think almost 60% not completing this a little odd.

This leaves 68 entries for religion that I can consider:

20 non-religious of which 9 named my football team as their “religion”

19 Atheist

8 Christian (excluding Catholics)

8 anti-religious

5 Catholic

3 Jedi

2 Agnostic

2 Humanist

1 spiritualist

For me this gives three-quarters that specify a religion offer a joke or no deity as that religion.  This rises to almost 80% if you also include the Jedis despite this being as equally valid a religion as Christianity.  The Pope will probably be content that those pesky Jedis still rank just below his lot.

I would be interested to know whether this lack of region (only 7% admitted they followed an established religion) is a factor on Facebook.  For my, mostly British selection, it is at odds with responses in the Census.  Particularly I would be interested to know whether there is a UK/USA difference.

Bottom line: in a sample of 178 Facebook users more see their religion to be Chesterfield Football Club than profess to be Christian!