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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 February, 2004, 11:49 GMT
Should atheism be taught at school?
The government is being urged to include atheism in a national framework being drawn up for the teaching of religious education in schools.

The call's come from the Institute for Public Policy Research - a think-tank with close ties to Labour.

It also suggested "religious education" should be re-named "religious, philosophical and moral education".

Currently, RE lessons vary across the country - but morals, ethics and non-religious beliefs are taught in many schools, alongside the major religious faiths.

Should atheism be taught at school?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

The following comments reflect the balance of views we have received:

Well, one of the points of RE in a multicultural society is to help children understand the beliefs held by other people in society. As a Christian I don't feel threatened by Hinduism or Islam being taught - why not humanism as well?
Graham, England

Leave the indoctrination to the churches and temples
Richard Carter, Hebden Bridge

There should be no such thing as Religious Education in schools. By all means teach morals and cultural studies, but leave the indoctrination to the churches and temples.
Richard Carter (atheist), Hebden Bridge, UK

I am in my last year of high school at the moment and in our RE classes we discuss atheism and ethical issues and I think it's much more interesting and informative than standard religious education. It gives us a chance to argue our own views on the subjects raised; which is much more helpful than just being told about religion.
William Taitt, Norwich, UK

How do you 'teach' atheism? It is a negative. We come into this world without an idea of God or religion, and surely no further 'teaching' is necessary to back up this view. Strange indeed.
Andrew Howlett, Manchester, England

It surely would not take up much space on a syllabus
Matt, Oxford

How can Atheism be taught? As it is simply a rejection of a belief in a God or gods - it surely would not take up much space on a syllabus. Let us then, instead of taking up any time on an RE syllabus, teach about something positive. It is more likely that atheists would rather us scrap RE lessons altogether.
Matt, Oxford, UK

Of course it should. However, it must be portrayed accurately, not as an easy option out of religion. Declaring that there is no god at all is as much a faith judgement as declaring that there is one.
Matt, Bristol

Of course. I was taught by an atheist religious education teacher, which gave her the ability to teach objectively about all religions. She wasn't allowed to teach atheism though (her beliefs) but it would have been nice to know about her decision to reject all religions. Our children need to be given stimulus to help them make the same decision.
Chris Williams, Solihull, UK

Children should be taught to understand the principles of all of the major religions in this country, and that includes atheism, agnostics and druids. One should make sure that such teaching however does not get put in the "here's this quickly because we have to cover it" bin.
Brian Blackmore, Coventry, UK

Religion should not be taught as a separate subject but as part of the history module. This would save time on the curriculum and if pupils were shown how and why religions were formed, most would quite readily keep religions as history.
Richard Davie, Scotland

Aren't we missing the point a little? It is more important the children are taught the core values shared by all religions and that we're all part of the same human race regardless of beliefs or non-beliefs.
Raj, Warwick University, Coventry

Since much of the violence and hatred in history and nowadays is related to one form of religion or another, I would think the study of atheism may bring some much needed tolerance into this world.
Tim, Birmingham, UK

Praise the Lord I'm emigrating later this year from the UK! I'm heading to the US away from this politically correct nonsense of a country the UK has become. I thought our history dictated that we are a Christian country? Teaching atheism in schools is just a minority taking a dig at the majority of us.
Ed, Cheshire, UK

How do you teach atheism?
Richard, UK
As a Christian I don't particularly have a problem with atheism being taught in schools - as long as it means that mainstream faiths get their fair share of non-core curriculum time. By the way - how do you teach atheism? It doesn't have the same sort of defined boundaries that mainstream faiths have.
Richard, UK

Definitely yes. In the name of religion we have had countless wars, terrorism, persecution, murders, repressions, censorship. Last I checked, none of the above ever took place in the name of atheism... I think children should be given a chance to know all aspects of religion (and the absence of it!), then make up their own mind.
Ermanno, London, UK

When I was at school I was taught RE by a system wanting to condition disinterested pupils without impartiality. The vast majority of pupils felt RE was a complete waste of time and, as the father of three children currently in state education, I feel the same today. Whilst I now realise the (minor) importance of discussing a range of faiths, schools should be educating the nations youth by declaring that many individuals are committed 'non-believers' and that, instead of blind faith, the real importance is to be a good citizen.
David Bryer-Ash, Bournemouth, UK

I got to choose to do either normal RE or "Moral Studies", a non-examination class where we discussed topical issues and general morality. I'm very glad I got the choice to stop RE.
Ciaran, N Ireland

Christianity is the basis of British civilisation. Let us be bold to be true to our heritage. Morality without the underpinning of religion is like a ship without a compass, or a tailor without a yardstick. Once everything becomes equal, nothing really matters and therefore anything goes. Christian morality is subject to very human failings, but at least we know what we aim for. This plan to teach young children atheism will only deepen our national moral confusion and make a bad case even worse.
Rev. Doye Agama, Wigan, UK

Let them be taught RE the way it is now. Once the children are older and rational, they can make their own judgement on their religion. It is good to know the basics of religious literature whether the person is an atheist or not. This means, children should not be forced to believe things but be indulged into discussions so that they can make their own unbiased opinions.
Santa, Bradford, UK

We live in an increasingly secular society
Natasha, England
I see no reason why atheism should not be taught in RE lessons. After all, it is as valid a set of beliefs as those which are based in religion. Religious education lessons are just that - lessons to educate children about different sets of beliefs. Besides, we live in an increasingly secular society.
Natasha, England

As an atheist myself, I am deeply uncomfortable with teaching that atheism to my children. Atheism has nothing to offer them except stark realism, stripped of all wonder, comfort, hope, and community. A religious upbringing grounds our children in a set of shared moral values and a world view which offers forgiveness and eternal life. I want them to believe that when their favourite grandparent dies they will be in heaven, not merely decaying in the ground. Let them know that God doesn't exist when they are old enough to learn the biochemistry of DNA molecules.
Marc Brett, Richmond, UK

Some of the respondents have described atheism as another "belief system" or "religious view." This is untrue as most atheists reject religion or belief in supernatural beings. I agree that atheism should be part of the RE curriculum, but taught as an alternative to religion and superstition not part of it.
Dave Weaver, San Jose, USA

There are more people without a religion in Britain than there are people who actively practise a faith, yet our views and needs are often ignored because we are less visible than other groups. All methods including education should be used to remove this discrimination.
Mark Mills, Reading, Berkshire

It is a good idea, but I would suggest to scrap off all religious teachings from schools. Moral and ethical lessons are fine, but either all religions should be taught in these classes or nothing should be taught at all. Young people are growing up biased toward religion. These classes rip youngster the freedom to personal faith.
Basak, Boston, USA

No - atheism should not be taught in school. If atheists believe they 'did it all on their own' then they should be left to their own devices.
Suzanne O'Rourke, New Zealand

Atheism is a religious view? Erm, no, it's a non religious view actually. For it to be religious view, there would have to be some kind of "god" at the centre of it, but atheism rejects both God and any other kind of gods. I can only assume that this is another part of the worldwide denial of God which is going on across the globe. Perhaps I'm being a conspiracy theorist, but it seems par for the course for these times. I'm a Christian and hugely in the minority, but that's okay, because I'm happy to believe in God.
Jane Wilson, San Antonio, Texas

The main purpose of religious education should be to equip children to make up their own minds
GP, London

The main purpose of religious education should be to equip children to make up their own minds. As such, it would be absurd for kids not to be educated about atheism alongside the major faiths. Anyone who objects to this is clearly frightened of young people using their own minds.
GP, London

Absolutely. RE should represent the religious cross section of the population, and now more people are atheist than probably ever before. There is a philosophy behind atheism, and this should be represented.
Andy, Croydon, UK

This think tank is not thinking - you can't teach atheism: there is nothing to teach! The idea of putting religion on the same basis as humanist philosophy and ethics, however, is sound.
Peter McGuinness, San Diego CA

I think this is a great idea. When I was at school, I used to find RE lessons boring
Andy, UK

I think this is a great idea. When I was at school, I used to find RE lessons boring, and a waste of time because nothing of what we were learning had any direct relevance or impact on me. I just saw RE lessons as a bit of time off on a Monday morning.
Andy, UK

We have had too many "flat earth" religions being force fed to our children. Its time to rationalise what we teach whilst following a modern moral tone.
Jim, UK

Yes, this is probably the only good idea to come out of anything to do with Labour. It would be simply wonderful if moral and philosophical education were encouraged, it would be the first step to stop the rapidly ignorant and unaware younger generation that is now leaving school.
Patricia, London, UK

A relationship with Jesus Christ will give them a purpose in this life, they will know that they are loved and valued by Him, they will have a moral framework to live by and the wonderful fellowship of other Christian believers wherever they go to live or travel in the world. They will also know the assurance of life with Christ in heaven when they die the world.
Mrs Carole Bernard, Witney, Oxon

In our country it is right that Christianity should be taught
Peter Hallett, Henstridge, UK

In our country it is right that Christianity should be taught. It is the main religious and cultural element that formed our society. But other religious views, including atheism, should be taught. None should be promoted in school. School is to educate to enable understanding and choice - not to persuade to a particular religious view or commitment.
Peter Hallett, Henstridge, UK

Atheism absolutely should be taught in schools. It is a valid belief system that places emphasis on individual rights and individual responsibilities. Non-religious parents have a right to have their children receive teaching and validation of their beliefs.
Mat, London

It will be a very short lesson. "There are no gods." One of the great things about being an atheist is that you don't have to study it, can opt out of the RE nonsense at school and have guilt free sleep-in on Sunday mornings. On a more serious note, as an atheist I find the constant pairing of moral and religious education alarming. In an increasingly secular society it is vital to teach that morality and ethics have a separate existence from religion.
Frank, Bristol, UK

Religion has been largely forgotten
James Rogers, Aberystwyth, UK

Of course it should. Religion has been largely forgotten. It has been disprove by the unrivalled supremacy of science. Why should children still be taught about something which is little more than a fairy tale. The nation has moved on - we are all scientists now!
James Rogers, Aberystwyth, UK

Of course atheism needs to be debated. It's just as valid as a religious faith and atheists have their own rich canon of science and philosophy. The major problem with RE in this country, from my own experience, is that any non-Christian belief is not taught well. All I have learned in my life about the various faiths has been from speaking to and learning from Jewish/Muslim/Sikh/Hindu/etc friends, not from RE in school.
Mark Kobayashi-Hillary, London, UK

If children are to study major religions critically, then they ought to study atheism in the same way
Peter Howard, Cambridge, UK

If children are to study major religions critically, then they ought to study atheism in the same way. Not least because, if they don't, they may assume there's nothing in atheism to be critical of.
Peter Howard, Cambridge, UK

Teaching young people the art of critical thinking, the ability to form their own rational conclusions on the evidence before them, and to take personal responsibility for their actions can only be a good thing.
Nik, London

Atheism is also a religion that has its texts, prophets, priests and extremists. It's about time that children were made aware of this dangerous ideology, which has done so much damage to the moral foundations of modern British society.
Isa, UK

Being an atheist is a belief... a belief by choice.... to be a disbeliever. So why can't kids be allowed to have an opportunity, to help them make such decisions which shapes their thinking and belief system for years to come?
Tamanna, UK

A lesson in atheism alone would be very, very short!
Ray G, London, England

A step on the right direction - but lessons in logic and rational argument are also needed to complete a balanced education. A lesson in atheism alone would be very, very short!
Ray G, London, England

Of course schools should include atheism in their religious education. It's all part of the whole picture. Imparting knowledge selectively is not what education is all about. Isn't that what they do in dictatorships?!
Karon Long, Alabama, USA

Since religion is a minority pastime, I would phrase the question differently. That is, "Should religious belief be taught as part of a curriculum in moral and philosophical education?".
Francis, London, England

Atheism is a belief, upon which many people ground their moral system
Robert Sharp, Edinburgh, UK

Atheism is a belief, upon which many people ground their moral system. Just like religions, it is therefore an appropriate thing to teach and discuss in our schools. Unlike religions however, no myths or traditions need be learnt, explained, or justified: discussions can proceed unencumbered onto the central moral questions.
Robert Sharp, Edinburgh, UK

Atheism is not a mere abstention of faith and moral values - it incorporates a clear belief and conviction in the existence of ethics alongside the absence of God. It therefore represents an important and crucial diversity of options for the informed choice of our children.
Dave Watkins, Cambridge

If there has to be RE in schools and I for one have never agreed with this, then it seems only fair to have some balance. This means that an alternative to the teachings of the Bible must be put forward. I recall from my own school days being taught about Noah's Ark and the Flood as if it were unarguable fact when it is of course one of the most implausible pieces of nonsense ever concocted.
Tim Stokes, Sittingbourne, Kent

Teaching atheism would be the death of human diversity
Sam, London

To promote atheism in school, would be to make the statement that God does not exist. Can anyone really say that with absolute confidence? What we do not know is the one certainty and history has continuously proved that over and over again. Teaching atheism would be the death of human diversity, since a particular view would be taught to children when they are most impressionable. Did I hear the word brain-washing?
Sam, London

Teaching a belief in inexplicable, random movements of atoms is somewhat of a contradiction.
Robin Davies, Carmarthen Wales

Religious Education is about providing the fundamentals of our societal existence and why we have the some of the basic laws which respect other people's rights. Atheism, Agnosticism etc are not based on any recognition of the basic laws that govern us and how they came into being.
Donald, Chippenham, UK

Education should always be relevant & atheism is certainly part of modern society. Students today need to be taught about the world in which they live and understand it. There is currently not enough awareness of philosophy and morality in today's youth.
Will Howard, Exeter, England

How do you teach the non-existence of something and why bother?
Phil, UK

How do you teach the non-existence of something and why bother? Atheism pervades all that is taught in schools anyway, from the non-existence of absolute morality through the impossibility of knowing any kind of god (should there be one) to the evolutionist theory of how we all got here.
Phil, UK

Oh no. I was force-fed religion when I was little, as we all were, and it made me an atheist. To include atheism on the curriculum might just turn children into Christians!
Steve Lord, London

So - the subject of disbelief is to be taught in schools. I would have thought that the process of getting pupils to believe in disbelief would necessarily be self-defeating. Only a Lefty think-tank could dream up such rubbish. And for "think-tank", please read "thick-tank".
Chris Hunter, Bedford, UK

I think it is correct to include atheism and other non religious beliefs in school as religions certainly do not have a monopoly on moral behaviour and school lessons should reflect that. At the moment school RE lessons seem to teach that the only option is to have some form of religious faith which leaves those who do not believe in god, no position from which to discuss the issues which are raised in the lessons.
Gareth Lowe, UK

Definitely! Otherwise, kids are just taught that it is "normal" to have a religion
Victoria, Burton upon Trent, England

Definitely! Otherwise, kids are just taught that it is "normal" to have a religion. I am certainly an atheist in terms of religion, because I believe that religion was created by leaders of groups and countries to control the people easily. Plus, I don't see the point in devoting time, effort and sometimes money in worshipping something that cannot be proven!
Victoria, Burton upon Trent, England

The aim of Religious Studies is to teach students about all religious beliefs, including their own. Its only fair to include atheism in this category so that today's young people can see the whole picture about the reasons why people choose to belong to certain religions (or non-religious societies).
Paddy Kent, Leeds

Of course atheism should be taught in schools. Most of us are atheists. I find it offensive that it is assumed my children subscribe to superstitious beliefs. Children should be taught morals - and religions are any thing but.
Colin, London England

Yes! I'm an atheist and wanted to learn about and morality, philosophy during RE lessons, which invariably were all about Christianity. I was told that if I wasn't going to join in the Christian lessons, I should sit at the back. I consequently spent 2 years of RE lessons sitting at the back of class, reading my own books. Any time there was an interesting discussion, my teacher refused to let me join in. At the end of term, when everyone brought in games to play, he wouldn't even let me join in that either and I had to sit alone and watch. Punished for being an atheist! Hard to think this was just 1984.
Josephine, Sonning, UK

If the purpose of the lessons is education and not indoctrination then all beliefs should be included. And that includes atheism.
Matthew White, Rio Brazil

Atheism as valid a belief system as any other. At least it doesn't consider itself threatened by French legislation which seems to be about to destroy all known forms of organised religion by preventing children from wearing the right kind of hat at school.
Andrew Thomas, Moreton-in-Marsh

Of course the concept of atheism should be taught at school. It is, after all, just another form of religious view. If children are taught about Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism, why should another alternative set of beliefs be excluded? There is no valid reason for anyone to be prejudiced against atheists or atheism.
Michael Franks, London, UK

RE studies 'should cover atheism'
15 Feb 04  |  Education


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