The New Fundamentalists

It’s heartening to see the amount of negative coverage that religion is getting on TV recently. It’s clear that there are a number of people (or, at least, a number of people in TV production) who are worried about the increasing influence that religion is having on our society. Last night Channel Four’s Dispatches entered the fray with a programme entitled “The New Fundamentalists” which was about the rise of evangelical christianity in the UK.

It was a good programme, but it really covered two topics, each of which could have made its own hour long documentary. The first half was a general “aren’t evangelicals nutters” section. It covered a wide range of evangelical beliefs. This included a interview with the obnoxious Stephen Green (leader of Christian Voice) about his campaign against Jerry Springer – The Opera and a look at the UK branch of Silver Ring Thing (I thought that SRT had given up on the UK – it seems I was wrong).

This was all depressing enough, but the second half was worse. It was all about the Emmanuel Schools Foundation. This is an organisation which runs three schools in the North East of England under the government’s City Academies Initiative. These schools are state-owned schools, so any child living in the catchment area is expected to attend, but they are controlled by the Emmanuel Schools Foundation which is an evangelical christian organisation. This means that a lot of the lessons are given with a christian slant.

The programme interviewed two teenage boys who had been taught evolution by a teacher who told them that they should write about evolution in their exam but that he believed that Genesis gave the true story of what happened. There was also an interview with the headmaster of one of the schools who said that he believed that the bible was literally true and that the world was created in six days about six thousand year ago. People with these beliefs should not be running schools. It’s bad enough if children are being told this in private religious schools, but these views have no place in state-run schools. Of course, the Prime Minister doesn’t agree with this point of view.

I firmly believe that children should not be exposed to religious dogma until they are old enough to consider its claims critically and therefore that there should be no faith-based schools at all. If, however, we must have faith-based schools (and unfortunately I can’t see them going away any time soon) then they should exist completely outside of the state sector. And if we have to keep the current circumstances where we do have state-owned faith based schools then there must be close controls over what is taught so that children don’t come out believing that creationism is a theory on the same level as evolution.


  1. I am glad that you think that Christianity is having more of an effect on society, because really unfortunately I think that is having less of an effect on society at the moment than it did 50-60 years ago. That is the very reason that this country or this world is getting worse. All the moral values of this country were once based on the Bible and 70% of the country went to church not all that long ago. In last nights dispatches, you were unfortunately given a very one sided negative view on Christians and it did seem like a bunch of arrogant weirdos at lot of the time, but I can assure that that is not the whole truth and that most Christians are very normal people. It is very sad that the media just couldn’t make anything out of it if it wasn’t edited together to make it look weird and far fetched. Oh well I am sorry that you can’t see all the positive things that are happen in the Christian church and that thousands of people are being helped all around the country through some great church and of course God is helping them. Maybe you should take a deeper look.

  2. Tracy,I think you must have watched a different programme to me :) A couple of points about what you wrote.1/ It was made very clear that the programme was talking about a very particular kind of christian – the fundamentalist evangelicals. This is a very small proportion of christians, but their numbers seem to be growing. I’d be very happy if “normal” christians (which is what I assume you are) would take issue with the evangelicals more often. If more christians denounced their terrible views on homosexuality, sex before marriage and evolution (to take three examples) then perhaps the evangelical church wouldn’t be as successful as it is.2/ The programme also made it clear that some of these christian programmes are doing some good. The presenter even had a lot of good things to say about the Emmanuel schools. He was far more positive about them than I would have been.Also you seem to be making a common christian mistake of assuming that people only have morals because they follow a religion. Most (though not all) of the moral code of the bible is common sense. I follow that code because I can see that it’s a good idea, not because I’m scared of imaginary hellfire. I think it’s very worrying to think that humans are only moral when they are bullied into it.

  3. People with these beliefs should not be running schools.I really take issue with that statement.There is a not-very-subtle-difference between someone believing something and teaching mythology in place of “science”.I have no problem whatsoever with a teacher prepending or appending a “I don’t really believe this” around any lessons. It would be dishonest of them not to.Pretty much any theory should be taught as “This is our current scientific belief”. After all, we were all taught Newtons laws as fact one year or that electricity flows from positive to negative only to find out a few years later that both were blatently false.A theory is a model based on observable facts. It is only valid as long as we don’t find contradicting evidence or a theory that better fits.Where is our “Grand Unified Theory”? I would postulate that it is hidden behind and fundimentally contradicts our current understandings.Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that creationism or intelegent design are viable theories either (unless we somehow get empirical evidence for the existance of God and a signed confession thereof).All I am saying is that without dissent we as a society or species will not evolve.

  4. Red,I was almost with you at the start there. I can see how someone who believes that nonsense could be allowed to run a school or teach children, but only if they agree to make no reference at all to their beliefs in front of children.Children are predisposed to believe what their teachers tell them. Therefore teachers should never say “I don’t really believe this” about anything they are teaching a class. If they feel that it would be dishonest to teach the theory of evolution without mentioning creationism at the same time then they shouldn’t be a teacher. Or, at least, they shouldn’t be a biology teacher.

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