Never underestimate British people’s ability to get things so completely wrong

I have just read an article by Ruth Gledhill, a religion correspondent for The Times (London), regarding the new advertising campaign which has been launched by the British Humanist Association (BHA). The full article is available here. I was incensed. And so were the BHA, who quickly issued a statement following its publication.

The basic premise of the article is that the BHA have used images of two “evangelical” children. The father of the children is quoted as saying:

“It is quite funny, because obviously they were searching for images of children that looked happy and free. They happened to choose children who are Christian. It is ironic. The humanists obviously did not know the background of these children.”

How idiotic. Have they actually taken the time to look at the message which the adverts are trying to spread? Those children are not Christian. They’re only 7 and 8 years old for heaven’s sake. The whole point of the campaign is that children of this age are too young to have made a faith commitment, or to fully comprehend that there is more to the world than what their parents tell them. The article attempts to draw attention to the intent behind the campaign by quoting Andrew Copson, the education director for the BHA:

“The message is that the labelling of children by their parents’ religion fails to respect the rights of the child and their autonomy. We are saying that religions and philosophies — and ‘humanist’ is one of the labels we use on our poster — should not be foisted on or assumed of young children.”

However, it does this immediately following the statement:

“The British Humanist Association said that it did not matter whether the children were Christians.”

This is NOT what the BHA said. Why would they say that when the whole point of their campaign is that the children are NOT Christians? What the BHA actually said was:

“It doesn’t matter whether the children are the children of Christians, Hindus or humanists – that’s precisely one of the points of our campaign”

By misquoting the BHA, Ruth Gledhill provides just the fodder needed to stir up misunderstanding (as evinced by the comments made by readers of her article), and she finishes off by citing Derren Brown and Philip Pullman as supporters of the campaign – precisely the sort of people who “religious” parents are going to be wary of.

If creating misunderstanding was Gledhill’s intention it seems to have worked… let’s take a look at some of the comments left on the article:

Henry Smith writes:

If I let my kids choose what to do on Sunday morning they will watch cartoons and play video games […] Come on there needs to be a time set aside to step back and think about life, what we are , what is the meaning of it all. Having a religious disipline can be a way to get the habit in life of thinking about big questions and values.

This is a classic example of someone missing the entire point of the campaign. The BHA is not telling parents to leave their kids to their own devices – we all know where that would lead! It is also not suggesting that people should keep their religion away from their children. The point is that when a child goes to church with their parents they should realise that their parents have chosen this belief system (although this is highly debatable), and that they, too, have a choice. When a child asks the question: “why do we go to church instead of to the mosque?”, they should not be told “Because you’re a Christian” or “Because we know the truth”. They should simply be told “Because Mum and Dad are Christians and this is what Christians do.”

Marcin Polkowski comments:

Judging by the looks on their faces, I don’t think anyone is ‘foisting’ anything on them – except care and happiness which belong to a healthy relationship which is truly Christian in spirit – and they are quite happy to have it foisted upon them!

Whilst I certainly do not agree with the reasons behind this comment, it encapsulates the BHA’s argument perfectly. If religious parents want to bring their children up to have the same faith (which presumably most of them do) they should do this by example. If a child sees that their parent is living by a particular belief system that works for them, but isn’t trying to indoctrinate their child, is that child not more likely to make a decision to follow in their parents footsteps themselves?

Jennie Karremans almost got the idea when she wrote+:

How shortsighted, you don’t label children, you educate them! If parents find the Christian way of living the best way, then what’s wrong with giving their(!) children the same values? If atheists like Dawkins and Pullman want to live a life without God, that’s their choice, but please could they mind their own business? Thank you. By the way, isn’t “atheist” a label? Just wondering.

Values should be imparted, children should be educated, and parents should lead by example. “Atheist” is a label, just as “Humanist”, “Agnostic”, “Liberal”, “Conservative”, “Catholic” or “Buddhist”. These are labels which people should choose for themselves. Parents can bring up their children in whatever way they want, but no amount of “Christian” upbringing is going to turn a child into a “Christian child”. This is a child who has been brought up in a Christian manner, and who may well choose to self-identify as a Christian by the time they truly appreciate what it means, but to foist labels on children does nothing but ingrain divisions into society, and suppress freedom of thought and choice.

Obsessional people who tell me how to raise my kids should be locked up. That includes Dawkins and most of the Government.

This comment clearly demonstrates how personally people take this issue, but it is my position, and the position of the BHA, that if children are brought up in an atmosphere where their parents would rather “lock people up” than listen to advice on parenting (and it is only advice…), they could end up like G Lorriman, who writes:

Atheists should be denied the vote: they are less rational than chickens. Cluck, cluck!!

What a great example to set for your child…

Thank you, Ruth Gledhill, for demonstrating that we should never underestimate British people’s ability to get things so completely wrong.



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About Chris

Scholar of religion/nonreligion... PhD Student (Lancaster University), blogger, singer, actor, thinker... Northern Irish living in Scotland. Co-founder of The Religious Studies Project. Director at the NSRN. Baritone masquerading as a tenor. Vegetarian for no particular reason.

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