Friday, 1 October 2010

Faking your religion

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Yesterday's Independent had an interesting piece by Andrew Penman, author of a new book School Daze: Searching for Decent State Education, in which he explains how, despite being an atheist, he pretended that he was a Christian in order to get his children into a Church of England primary school.
"My mitigation is this: whose fault was it that we had to go to church to get our son into the local primary school? I didn't choose the selection criteria that meant that half the places were reserved for churchgoers, thus discriminating against local families who did not follow this particular brand of religion. This was not a situation of my choosing. I went to church under duress, because that was the only way to be sure of a place, even though that school was literally the other side of the road from our house. I didn't pretend to be a Christian for several years because I wanted to offend anyone, or because I thought it was fun – I promise you it wasn't. I did it because I wanted my son to attend the local state primary school. Is that too much to ask?"
Nevertheless, Penman's confession appears to have offended many Christians, with "odious, despicable, hypocrite" being some of the names he says he has been called since his book came out. Extraordinary really, given that thousands of parents every year must be doing the same thing. Of course it's hypocritical for an atheist to go to church for such functional reasons, but it's a hypocrisy forced on parents by the faith schools system. That anyone would be surprised by Penman's book or article shows that we're not being open and honest about the effect this system has. I know people who have done the same as Penman – my parents did more or less the same thing, give or take my mum's vague attachment to Christianity, to get me into a church school. My dad, who is very much an atheist, certainly told the local vicar some metaphysical white lies, as did, I imagine, many of my friends' parents. Whenever I complained about having to go to church on Sunday morning, I was always told it was so I would be able to go to a good secondary school (which in the end I didn't go to, so my parents owe me a few Sunday mornings, I'd say).

Imagine if someone unfamiliar with our system asked you to explain it:
"How did you get your child into their school?"

"Well, all I had to do was get up early every Sunday for seven years and pretend to believe that a man was born of a virgin before later going on to rise from the dead, and the place was theirs".
Leaving aside all the other arguments about faith schools, when you have a situation that absurd, surely it's time for a rethink?
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