Friday, December 07, 2007

More God stuff

Something in Polly Toynbee's article this week could have been better phrased:
"A full-time nurse in every school should be part of the Children's Plan, to provide good sex and relationship education."
One imagines teenage boys saying "Good sex? Yes please, nurse, but I'll pass on the relationship education."
That aside, it's a good article (you can find your own way to it. I really don't have time to spoon-feed you people with links) that describes the shameful state of sex education in our schools. That the situation is getting worse is not unrelated to the proliferation of faith schools. Schools must have a policy on this by law but - wait for it - the policy can be not to have any sex education at all. And if they do have sex education, any parent can withdraw their child from it. The most damning evidence comes from the children themselves in a large survey carried out by the Youth Parliament.

There's a reply to Polly's article today from the Family Education Trust (funny how these religious people hide behind neutral names - see below). Everthing this man says should be put in the context of his organisation's belief that nobody should have sex before marriage. As lost causes go, that one must be up there with stopping bears shitting in the woods.
He also resorts to the desperate tactic of misrepresenting your opponent's views. He implies that those who want sex education in schools wish to force children to have sex as early and as often as possible. Or, as he puts it, promoting "the right of children to engage in unlawful sexual intercourse". Most of us want no such thing. If someone wants to postpone sexual experience until they are married or in a Civil Partnership (ooh, he won't like that!) I respect that choice completely. For it is a matter of personal choice.
It wouldn't be my choice. Personally, I think people should enjoy as much sex while they're young as they can, but with due regard for the health risks and other consequences, just as I would say that if you like football, play plenty of football while you can because in later life you might be crippled with arthritis. Indeed, you might be dead.
But then, I don't ring-fence sexual pleasure as the 'special gift of God', to which He's attached numerous restrictions. As Alan Bennett memorably said, calling it a special gift makes it sound like some of the items in the Houses of Parliament: 'The Woolsack in the House of Lords was a special gift from the people of New Zealand'.

"Sex education doesn't work" is the heading on this reply piece. But he carefully avoids the evidence from Holland which has some of the earliest and most explicit sex education in Europe yet also has one of the latest ages for first sex.


Buried in the the Guardian's Society section this week was an alarming piece about the use of religious organisations to provide statutory public services. It's based on a report by the British Humanist Association. Obviously, they're not neutral on this subject but the facts cannot be contested.
Religious organisations have some exemptions from equality laws, particularly in the employment of staff. (This goes back to Blair and his own religious views. By the time the issue of religious adoption agencies came up, Blair was in his final days and in a weakened position so the Cabinet stood up to him and he was unable to give the Catholic church an exemption.)
An outfit called Pecan, which has done work for Jobcentre Plus, states in its employment policies that it will only employ staff who sign up to the Evangelical Alliance 'Basis of Faith'.
Both the Government and the Conservatives want to use these kind of faith organisations more and more in the provision of state public services.

Although not covered in the Guardian article, I feel there's also an issue of transparency here in relation to the users of public services. Let's say you're an unemployed person and the Jobcentre puts you in touch with an organisation called Stepping Stones, or some equally silly name, to help you find training or work. If you knew that this was run by the Evangelical Alliance or the Salvation Army, you might well choose to find your own stepping stones back into work. For let's suppose you unwittingly invite one of these Bible-bashers into your home and introduce them to your Civil Partner or mention that you've done some voluntary work for your local Gay Switchboard. I have a feeling the atmosphere might turn a little frosty.

On Question Time (BBC1) last night, the audience applauded most loudly when members of the panel referred to miconceived and disgraceful attempts to abolish Christmas. Christ, I wish.....
This myth, peddled by the newspapers, is now as deeply entrenched as the story about schools banning Hot Cross Buns, which I wrote about long ago.
Serious journalists who have investigated these reports have found that hardly any of them were true. The best known one is Birmingham's alleged attempt to replace Christmas with 'Winterval'. But it never happened. 'Winterval' was an attempt to attract people to the shopping centre between November and February. In December, all the usual Christmas stuff happened - Carol services, lights, Father Christmas, etc.
On any false pretext the tabloids will run the story 'Now They Want To Ban Christmas!' At the heart of these stories is the line that it's all the fault of immigrants and their different faiths that we musn't offend. And of course, it's (fill in the dots) p........ c.......... gone m..
Last year there was a hoo-ha about how few religious Christmas cards were in the shops. Have they not noticed what the church attendance is these days? Presumably, the card business is market-driven like any other. If they could sell the bloody things, they'd be streaming off the production line.

Then there was the brouhaha about the Post Office issuing non-religious stamps, ignoring the fact that they have a policy of alternating religious (or rather Christian) stamps and secular ones. Personally, I don't see why they should ever put any kind of religious iconography on a universal product that we have no choice about buying. Ah, but it's a Christian festival, people say. No, the Christians took it over. Now, the wheel has turned again and it has become largely secularised and commercialised.
But not quite secularised enough where I live. Early on Christmas morning, a brass band plays religious music outside my window. This year I have the hardback copy of Dawkins' God Delusion ready to drop on their heads.


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