I've written before about the difficulties posed for the committed atheist by the myriad ways in which society, even in the 21st century, for fuck's sake, unthinkingly privileges the religious viewpoint as the default setting, be it swearing on the Bible in court to the reflexive parrotting of meaningless stock phrases in the event of some natural disaster.
My antennae are especially sensitive to this sort of thing at the moment, though, because with Nia starting school next autumn (and already attending pre-school classes) I'm constantly vigilant for ways in which she'll be exposed to religious nonsense. Just to be clear, I don't expect her to be able to go to school without coming into contact with that stuff, I'd just like as much prior warning as possible as to when and what and how it's being presented.
We did a bit of fairly cursory due diligence when selecting a school for Nia to go to, since we were in the catchment area for a couple. Just as an aside, the school we did eventually choose, Ysgol Gymraeg Casnewydd, is, as the name (which translates, rather prosaically, as "Newport Welsh School") suggests, a Welsh-medium school, which means that the primary language spoken there is Welsh. While this sounds challenging, since neither Hazel nor I have more than a few words of Welsh, mostly gleaned from road signs (so I know how to say "slow down" and "no parking", but not "bread" or "man"), we were assured that the kids generally take to it without batting an eyelid. And so it's proved, as Nia seems to be soaking it up at frightening speed, although, to be fair, she is a frickin' genius.
legal requirement, believe it or not, for a daily act of primarily Christian collective worship in schools, although a lot of schools, to their credit, just quietly ignore it.
The additional screaming nightmare scenario, of course, is that some otherwise excellent schools have religious affiliations which would, for instance, require prospective parents to have their children baptised in order to be considered for a place. Thankfully, since I would have been implacably opposed to such a course of action, that scenario didn't arise for us, but I do know people of no particular religious affiliation who have had their kids baptised for precisely that reason, which seems tragic.
There is, as it happens, some encouraging news on this front, in Wales anyway, as the Welsh Education Minister, Huw Lewis, proposes changing the name of these lessons to "Religion, Philosophy and Ethics", which sounds a lot more sensible, though you can bet your ass there'll be howls of protest from the religious faction at the loss of their unearned privilege.
Religious education lessons have been in the news this week, as it happens, as there's been a bit of news interest in the legal challenge being mounted by various concerned parents to get humanism included in the religious education syllabus. While I completely understand the motivation, and I salute anyone poking the cosy status quo in this area, I have to say I'm not sure, strategically, that this is the best approach. Getting humanism (which, just to pre-empt any criticism, I'm aware is different from atheism) classified as a religion, whether implicitly or explicitly, seems to be stretching the definition of "religion" beyond the elastic limits of reasonableness or usefulness, and quite apart from anything else invites people like Andrew Brown to write this sort of article in the Guardian. You might define religion as "a set of opinions about stuff that sort of combine into a semi-coherent worldview" or "a thing that causes people to gather together in rooms and talk about stuff", but my personal view is that unless it includes some sort of assertion of supernatural stuff going on, then what you've got there is, at best, a philosophy.
A better approach, I think, is to support the switch to a more general study of philosophy and ethics, which by all means would include some stuff about religion, since it's indisputably true that lots of people throughout history have believed that sort of stuff and based their actions on it, utter nonsense though it undoubtedly is, but would also make it clear that not believing any of the myriad conflicting claims about magic men in the sky is also an option, and possibly even float the idea that there might be ways of weighing the relative value of these (often conflicting) claims by checking them against reality.