The British Humanist Association has launched a billboard campaign with the slogan “Please don't label me. Let me grow up and choose for myself”. It's a clever piece of spin, managing to disguise its bigotry as an apparently reasonable request. What lies behind this campaign is an attack on Faith schools, which in turn amounts to advocating the violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s driven by rhetoric from Richard Dawkins (who part funded the billboard campaign), who believes that parents passing their religious traditions onto their children is tantamount to child abuse.
If what were really being attacked were labels, this would be a grammatical attack on adjectives and would be recognisably insane. Instead, the rhetoric of inclusionism is used to make religion seem expressly and entirely negative: “religious parents force their beliefs onto their children, and this is bad,” claims the underlying logic – it’s something that many non-religious people find easy to believe. You only have to scratch the surface slightly to see the intolerance beneath, as in this blog post which brazenly states:
I firmly believe that the majority of religious people only have those beliefs because they were indoctrinated as children.
There’s little hope of religious tolerance from someone who cannot even imagine a child benefiting from a religious upbringing, nor how one’s life might be enriched by following a faith tradition.
Parents pass their beliefs onto their children as a natural part of the experience of parenthood, be it nationality, religion, political partisanship or sporting allegiance. It was part of the joy of my childhood that I got to share in my parent’s religious journey, and even though what I now believe is very different to what they believed I cannot begin to estimate how much I have gained from the experiences they shared with me. The idea that someone would advocate excluding a child from sharing in their parent’s spirituality or religion horrifies me, and such a proposal is an express violation of our human rights treaties.
No-one is denying that there are problems in the domain of religion, as there is in every sphere of human experience. Humanity is far from a perfect species. But to single out religion in the domain of cultural inheritance constitutes a prejudice, and to advocate the exclusion of children from religion is an assault on our most fundamental freedoms. Besides, if one soberly considers the whole of human history can anyone honestly say that religious identities are definitively more problematic than national identities?