Richard Ingrams: Studying humanism in religious studies is like studying astrology in science class

20 04 2008

For the first time, humanism will be added to the UK GCSE religious studies syllabus:

The subject has been added to reflect the rising number of people sharing humanist beliefs in the UK, the Oxford & Cambridge and Royal Society of Art exam board (OCR) said.

The move is part of a reform of religious studies as a result of which pupils can study six major religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism) as well as humanism.

Independent columnist Richard Ingrams doesn’t like it, even though he admits he doesn’t have the faintest clue what humanism is or what humanists believe:

No one can be quite sure what humanism means, but if it means anything at all it means some kind of system of thought which rejects a belief in God and substitutes a belief in humans.

In other words, including it under religious studies is rather like saying that those studying poetry will also be able to study prose or that the science course will include astrology.

Um, no it isn’t. Anyone with a modicum of knowledge about English Literature will tell you that the line between prose and poetry is not as clear-cut as you might expect, which is why you encounter such phenomena as prose poetry. And science cannot encompass the study of astrology (i.e. as science, rather than as a case study of what is not science) without altering radically what the term “science” is understood to mean.

Ingrams appears to be claiming, then, that only those belief systems which encompass belief in a god should count when deciding the syllabus content of a religious studies course which aims to improve students’ “understanding of people and the religious influences on their lives.” I wonder what he thinks of the course in its current form, given that it includes the study of Buddhism? In any case, it is probably not unsurprising that he blames the moves by UK educational authorities to design a religious studies course that more accurately reflects the beliefs of the British public in 2008 on TEH GRAND ATHEIST ANTI-GOD CONSPIRACY:

The move can be seen as a small triumph for the anti-God faction, which has made giant steps in recent years. One result has been to elevate atheism to the status of a belief system on a par with religion, with atheists demanding equal rights to propagate their non-belief and appear on the BBC’s Thought for the Day.

Ingrams is a “church-going” Anglican, but he is also well-known as a humorist who in the 1960s co-founded the satirical magazine Private Eye, so maybe his column is taking the piss. If so, it is difficult to discern who his target is.

According to a 2006 report, 15.5% of Britons profess no religious affiliation; and a more recent study found that 23% are confirmed atheists, with a further 25% doubting the existence of God. If such is the case, a government-sponsored religious studies course that purports to canvass “how religion affects family and community life,” but excludes from the syllabus the beliefs of half of the British population, would be doing a grave disservice to students, let alone humanists, atheists and agnostics. It would simply perpetuate the ignorance and bigotry towards nontheists that is manifested in the Ingrams column.

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5 responses

20 04 2008
PeterEvolves

Can we point out to this buffoon that humanism is an ethical system whose contents bare directly on or contrast with the claims of religions? Perhaps he’d do well to read the original Humanist Manifesto or its sequel to see why it might be appropriate and to see that people do know what it is and have clearly defined it.
Atheism, though, isn’t a religious or ethical system. It supplies no set of beliefs about how or why to act. That depends on ethics.
Ugh.

20 04 2008
AV

Atheism, though, isn’t a religious or ethical system. It supplies no set of beliefs about how or why to act.

I agree. But I don’t think that ought to disqualify atheism as a topic of study in a comparative religion course.

21 04 2008
Sammy Jankis

But remember: It’s dangerous for children to even know these philosophies exist!

22 04 2008
Barliman Butterbur

Good lord, I see a post from Sammy Jankis! I remember Sammy Jankis! Anyway, Richard Ingrams unfortunately represents a pitiable (and unfortunately huge) subclass of people: those who don’t like something they know nothing about. It’s people like that who become dangerous once they acquire power…

Humanism very much belongs in a class on comparative religion, since it is a system of morals and ethics, albeit devoid of all the complicated doctrinal claptrap that accompanies God-belief. I call humanism a kind of high-octane religion because of it. 🙂

Barley

24 04 2008
AV

Richard Ingrams unfortunately represents a pitiable (and unfortunately huge) subclass of people: those who don’t like something they know nothing about. It’s people like that who become dangerous once they acquire power…

In his current form it’s safe to laugh at him. 🙂

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