Archive for March 25th, 2012

March 25, 2012

Militant Secularism?

Reblogged from Spectator

The spectre of militant secularism

Monday, 19th March 2012


At the weekend, I was honoured to award the Secularist of the Year prize to Peter Tatchell on behalf of the National Secular Society. From the stage, I looked across the restaurant where the celebratory lunch was held and saw only intelligent, polite people (if by that stage of the proceedings, intelligent, polite and slightly tipsy people). I had to break the news to them that according to respectable society they were fanatics; the moral equivalents of religious bigots. On the one hand, conventional commentators held, there were Islamist militants who slaughtered without compunction, Jewish Orthodox militants who persecuted freethinking women, Hindu nationalist militants who drove artists out of India, African Christians who murdered homosexuals, Protestant militants who attacked Catholic homes in Belfast, and Catholic militants who responded in kind.

On the other hand, there were ‘militant secularists’, who… well, what? No one can say.

Militant secularist’ has become the ‘neo-con’ of the 2010s: a know-nothing label that signifies extremism, without explaining where the extremism lies. Radio 4 broadcasters prove that their bias is not always squishy liberal by allowing the religious to denounce the supposed militancy of their critics, without allowing the critics to reply. Like the small-c conservative columnists in the broadsheets, they forget to tell you what is ‘militant’ about ‘militant secularism’ because if they did, they would expose their own fatuity.

Militant secularism or atheism has a specific meaning. From the Jacobins through to the communists, militants murdered priests or sent them to camps, and destroyed churches, synagogues, mosques and temples. Militant secularism still exists in communist China and North Korea. I and every other British secularist I know oppose it because we believe in freedom of religion and freedom from religion.

A reasonable principle to hold? Not according to polite society. The request for ‘freedom from religion’ causes it to forget what few manners it possesses.

In this morning’s Telegraph the Bishop of Oxford says the Church of England wants the taxpayer to pay for at least 200 new primary and secondary schools to combat the influence of secularism. Notice that the bishop does not say that he wants to combat secularism by proselytising his religion, winning converts and engaging in the free arguments of a democratic society. He must know that that game is up. The Economist reports that the number of regular worshippers in the Church of England will have fallen to 680,000 by 2020, down from about 800,000 now and just under 1 million a decade ago. This is a pathetic position to be in for a church which wants to maintain unelected bishops in the House of Lords and keep Elizabeth II as a queen/priest — head of state and head of the state church. Knowing it is losing the battle of ideas among adults, the church wants to indoctrinate children.

If it were the moderate Anglican church of my youth, I would object less. But, the Economist continues, as mainstream Anglicanism withers, the evangelicals are taking over. Its new generation of clerics ‘make it clear they wish to work in large evangelical churches, ripe for American-style mission, rather than in slums or charming villages where social views are relaxed and doctrinal purity is not prized’.

Secularists want to separate church and state, as the not noticeably militant French and Americans do. We oppose the division of children on sectarian lines, which often mean racial lines as well. We despair of a supposedly PC liberal establishment that will ignore the subjugation of women, when subjugation is conducted in the name of a god or gods. Anne-Marie Waters, one of the leaders of the campaign against Sharia law, put it well last week when she mocked middle-class women, who said in effect:

‘“We are feminists. We are incredibly right-on. We read the Guardian. We disapprove of women’s breasts getting a public airing and we strongly object to the fact that boards of directors are not 50% female. We will go absolutely ballistic if anyone dare understate how vile domestic violence is, or attempt in any way to justify it. We are feminists you see. Oh, but only when it comes to white women — did we mention that?’”

Does that mean that a spectre is haunting Britain — the spectre of militant secularism?

If you still believe it does, I can attempt to persuade you to change your mind with one prediction. If you turn on the news tonight and hear of a bomber slaughtering civilians anywhere from Nigeria to the London Underground, I can reassure you of one point: the bombers will not be readers of Richard Dawkins.

March 25, 2012

March 25, 2012


Something has bugged me for 60 years.

When I was fifteen, I shed tears when I saw my cat catch a bird or mouse and play with it until it died. I was not always successful in rescuing them. My lovable kitty was so well fed that he did not eat his prey so when it stopped flopping he lost interest. Recently, I’ve witnessed my two semi-feral cats do the same thing with mice, birds, shrews, and chipmunks. They weren’t hungry either. Sometimes they chew on the warm meat but seldom eat it.

I majored in zoology in college and have been a nature lover all my life so I think I understand something about the instinctive nature of animals, especially cats. But, it still is upsetting to me when I witness my cat’s play with a helpless little mouse or bird until it dies. Sometimes, I manage to rescue…

View original post 1,436 more words

March 25, 2012

Dropping all Pretense

  What would happen to the U.S. if we gave equal time to Creationism with Evolution?   For the sake of argument, confining ourselves to these conflicting world-views, what’s the worst that could happen?   We might actually be on our way to finding this out.   There seems to have been building over the decades, a robust distrust and even hostility toward Science.   From Bill Nye being boo’ed in Texas for saying that the Moon actually reflects the Sun’s light, to Creationists and I.D.’ers wanting to teach the ‘alternative’ to Evolution; as if, the alternative to solid, peer-reviewed and testable science is in any way valid.

I don’t think it an exaggeration to suggest that we would enter a kind of Dark Age.

Katherine Stewart writes an article, “The new anti-science assault on US schools”, in which she summarizes that if Science cannot be targeted, then education…

View original post 872 more words

March 25, 2012

A Test You Need To Fail

on Friday, March 23, 2012 by Rethinking Schools

‘A Test You Need to Fail’: A Teacher’s Open Letter to Her 8th Grade Students

Dear 8th Graders,

I’m sorry.(llustration: David McLiman)

I didn’t know.

I spent last night perusing the 150-plus pages of grading materials provided by the state in anticipation of reading and evaluating your English Language Arts Exams this morning. I knew the test was pointless—that it has never fulfilled its stated purpose as a predictor of who would succeed and who would fail the English Regents in 11th grade. Any thinking person would’ve ditched it years ago. Instead, rather than simply give a test in 8th grade that doesn’t get kids ready for the test in 11th grade, the state opted to also give a test in 7th grade to get you ready for your 8th-grade test.

But we already knew all of that.

What I learned is that the test is also criminal.

Because what I hadn’t known—this is my first time grading this exam—was that it doesn’t matter how well you write, or what you think. Here we spent the year reading books and emulating great writers, constructing leads that would make everyone want to read our work, developing a voice that would engage our readers, using our imaginations to make our work unique and important, and, most of all, being honest. And none of that matters. All that matters, it turns out, is that you cite two facts from the reading material in every answer. That gives you full credit. You can compose a “Gettysburg Address” for the 21st century on the apportioned lines in your test booklet, but if you’ve provided only one fact from the text you read in preparation, then you will earn only half credit. In your constructed response—no matter how well written, correct, intelligent, noble, beautiful, and meaningful it is—if you’ve not collected any specific facts from the provided readings (even if you happen to know more information about the chosen topic than the readings provide), then you will get a zero.

And here’s the really scary part, kids: The questions you were asked were written to elicit a personal response, which, if provided, earn you no credit. You were tricked; we were tricked. I wish I could believe that this paradox (you know what that literary term means because we have spent the year noting these kinds of tightropings of language) was simply the stupidity of the test-makers, that it was not some more insidious and deliberate machination. I wish I could believe that. But I don’t.

I told you, didn’t I, about hearing Noam Chomsky speak recently? When the great man was asked about the chaos in public education, he responded quickly, decisively, and to the point: “Public education in this country is under attack.” The words, though chilling, comforted me in a weird way. I’d been feeling, the past few years of my 30-plus-year tenure in public education, that there was something or somebody out there, a power of a sort, that doesn’t really want you kids to be educated. I felt a force that wants you ignorant and pliable, and that needs you able to fill in the boxes and follow instructions. Now I’m sure.

It’s not that I oppose rigorous testing. I don’t. I understand the purpose of evaluation. A good test can measure achievement and even inspire. But this English Language Arts Exam I so unknowingly inflicted on you does neither. It represents exactly what I am opposed to, the perpetual and petty testing that has become a fungus on the foot of public education. You understand that metaphor, I know, because we have spent the year learning to appreciate the differences between figurative and literal language. The test-makers have not.

So what should you do, my beautiful, my bright, my intelligent, my talented? Continue. Continue to question. I applaud you, sample writer: When asked the either/or question, you began your response, “Honestly, I think it is both.” You were right, and you were brave, and the test you were taking was neither. And I applaud you, wildest 8th grader of my own, who—when asked how a quote applied to the two characters from the two passages provided—wrote, “I don’t think it applies to either one of them.” Wear your zeroes proudly, kids. This is a test you need to fail.

I wondered whether giving more than 10 minutes of every class period to reading books of our own choosing was a good idea or not. But you loved it so. You asked for more time. Ask again; I will give you whatever you need. I will also give you the best advice I can, advice from the Nobel Prize-winning writer, Juan Ramón Jiménez. Ray Bradbury thought this was so important, he used it as the epigraph at the beginning of Fahrenheit 451: “When they give you lined paper, write the other way.”

It is the best I have to offer, beyond my apologies for having taken part in an exercise that hurt you, and of which I am mightily ashamed.

© 2012 Rethink Schools
Ruth Ann Dandrea

Ruth Ann Dandrea ( has taught secondary English in upstate New York for 29 years. A freelance writer, she is co-author of Women on Water, about women’s kayaking, which will be available from North Country Press this spring.


March 25, 2012

Atheist Hymnal, Vol. IV

For new Atheists


Shelley Segal


The Greatest Atheist Song ever?


An original song based on the concept that religious indoctrination of children is child abuse.


Gogol Bordello– Great stuff!


You don’t really need to know too much to understand creationism. In fact, the less you know, the better