Jonathan Bartley

Why Humanists aren’t asking the right question

By Jonathan Bartley
November 20, 2009

Some religious, and specifically Christian, commentators are indignant that the money from the Atheist bus campaign has been rolled over to support another poster drive which raises questions about the religious identity of children in the context of faith schools.

Why should they care how Humanists spend their money? Usually it’s the other way around. Humanists are deeply unhappy that Christians get their proselytism funded through tax relief on charitable donations.

The reason is that when the original poster campaign was launched, some Christians thought it would be a clever move to make a very public donation to the campaign. Reminiscent of the story Jesus told (the 'widow's mite') about the arrogant religious leaders who made gifts for all to see, they then tipped off the media about what they had done.

Let no one be under any illusions about what was behind the move. The main aim was to take the wind out of Humanist sails. The donations were made in order to try and score a goal in the Match of the Day between religion and atheism.

But questions about the existence of God are not particularly challenging when you can mould God’s image to fit your particular view about what the implications of God’s existence might be. Ask a question about Jesus Christ (God incarnate) on the other hand, and things get interesting.

And this is why the Humanists have been asking the wrong questions in their advertising campaigns – particularly their latest one about faith schools. What the Humanists should have put on their posters was the simple question: “How would Jesus run a school?”

Of course, it's not going to happen. But go with the proposition for a moment. Such a question might be uncomfortable for many Humanists. But it would be doubly uncomfortable for many Christians. For such a question goes to the heart of the issue that the British Humanist Association (BHA) is trying to raise about faith schools.

While some Christians are getting defensive, fearful and angry about the latest posters, few have tried to engage with the substantive point that the Humanists are making.

The BHA is pointing to the blatant injustice of one third of primary schools (the overwhelming majority church schools) almost entirely funded by the taxpayer, who routinely give priority to a specific set of children in a community, based entirely on their parent’s faith.

Whether Humanists are right to use money, given by Christians for point-scoring reasons, for a poster campaign that highlights such injustice is certainly debatable. But it seems relatively insignificant when compared to the way that Christians take Humanist money every day of the week and use it to discriminate against them.

How would Jesus run a school? You can be pretty sure it wouldn’t be with the admissions policies that many church schools currently follow. And it is a shame that Humanists are not going to ask the question in a poster campaign. It would be fascinating to see how many Christians were prepared to contribute money towards it.

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