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David Robertson

Set education free

We have moved to a situation where education is seen as a means to get rid of religion, and where state education systems are increasingly being used to indoctrinate children into a liberal secular humanism. 

SOLAS MAGAZINE AUTHOR David Robertson 29 FEBRUARY 2016 18:07 h GMT+1
classroom, education, atheism, christianity Classroom. / Miki Yoshihito (Flickr, CC)

The former British prime minister, Tony Blair, once issued the mantra “education, education, education”. At least he recognised how important the subject is. In this he was echoing the priorities of John Knox who declared that where there was a church, there should be a school, thereby laying the foundation for an education system that was the envy of the world.

As a result, Scotland became known as the land of the people of the book, and exported engineers, military leaders, politicians, doctors, teachers and missionaries all over the world. And it was not just Scotland – everywhere Christianity spread in Europe, it brought education. The Reformation resulted in the establishment of universities and schools wherever it was successful. But how things have changed.  

The current narrative is that it is now religion that is holding back education and that the more educated you are, the less likely you are to be religious. We have moved to a situation where education is seen as a means to get rid of religion, and where state education systems are increasingly being used to indoctrinate children into a liberal secular humanism and to socially engineer children for their future roles in society. Education is now seen as the primary means to advance an atheistic secularist agenda.    

In Birmingham, England, concern was rightly expressed at how some Islamic groups were using the state education system as a “Trojan Horse” to inculcate Islamist ideology within society. But we are missing the bigger picture. A relatively small group of elitist secularists are also using the education system as a Trojan Horse to inculcate their ideology upon an unsuspecting populace. The results are catastrophic, at least in my country, Scotland.  

All is not well in Scotland’s education system. There is a real and well-founded concern about declining standards, lack of aspiration and above all, a kind of educational apartheid which means that if you are rich enough you can either send your child to a private school (as do one-third of parents in Edinburgh) or buy a house in the catchment area of a “good” school. The lack of parental involvement, the remodelling of schools into centres for social engineering rather than education, the low morale amongst many teachers, and the obsession of politicians with figures and targets, are all indications of a struggling system.

What has gone wrong?  AA Hodge, the former principal of Princeton Seminary, gave a fascinating lecture to women’s groups in the 1880s that helps us understand. “The tendency [of those who promote public education] is to hold that this system must be altogether secular,” said Hodge. “The atheistic doctrine is gaining currency, even among professed Christians and even among some bewildered Christian ministers, that an education provided by the common government should be entirely emptied of all religious character … it is capable of exact demonstration that if every party in the State has the right of excluding from the public schools whatever he does not believe to be true, then he that believes most must give way to him that believes least, and then he that believes least must give way to him that believes absolutely nothing, no matter in how small a minority the atheists or the agnostics may be. It is self-evident that on this scheme, if it is consistently and persistently carried out in all parts of the country, the United States system of national popular education will be the most efficient and widespread instrument for the propagation of Atheism [naturalism, humanism, etc.] which the world has ever seen.”

Hodge’s warning was true for the United States of the 19th century. It has come true in the Europe of the 21st. Under the guise of secularism and “equality” the education system is being used to indoctrinate children into an atheistic worldview.  

Recently, I visited fourth-year students at a local high school, in order to speak about science and Christianity. The pupils were openly aggressive (apart from a couple of Muslims and one Christian) suggesting that only ignorant people believed in God, and that was just because of their culture and family. When I asked how many of them had parents who believed - or friends, or teachers - they all responded that there was virtually no one. They did not see the irony of their claiming that belief only came from culture, family, education, when it was clear that their unbelief came from just precisely that. It was not a product of reasoned thought, evaluating evidence or reflecting on different worldviews. They had been indoctrinated in such an effective way that they did not see that they had been indoctrinated!

And make no mistake. This is what the fundamentalist atheist secularists such as Richard Dawkins are doing. This is a battle. It used to be thought that children were born with a “tabula rasa”, a blank slate. Whilst the notion that people are born atheist is still an argument you will hear in more ignorant circles online, most psychologists accept this is not the case. Indeed, Dawkins cites Dorothy Kelman who argues that children are born creationists and need to be educated out of it. He also argues that bringing up children in a particular faith can be worse than child sexual abuse. “Horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing up the child Catholic in the first place” - a claim he made in front of an audience of Dublin intellectuals that was greeted with loud applause.

Dawkins then goes on to cite with approval, the psychologist Nicholas Humphreys: “Children, I’ll argue, have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people’s bad ideas – no matter who those other people are … So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible or that the planets rule their lives, than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out or to lock them in a dungeon.” 

The notion that keeping children away from religion will somehow save the world is a fanciful one which ignores logic, common sense and human history. As regards the latter, I am reminded of an asylum seeker in the Netherlands whom I met a few years ago. She was an educated doctor from Azerbaijan who had experienced the horrors of religious ethnic cleansing, having been forced from her country by Muslim fundamentalists. You would expect that having experienced the evil effects of some religion she would have been supportive of Dawkins’ point of view. But when I discussed it with her she completely disagreed. 

“We spent 70 years,” she told me, “70 years when we were not allowed to be taught about God. We lived in an atheist state where only atheism was taught.  They even tried to ban God from our homes.” The results were all too clearly seen in the atheist Soviet Union. The philosophy, presuppositions and ideas of fundamentalist atheistic secularism have been tried and found wanting.



There is no reason why we just have to accept the atheistic secularist agenda as the default one. Perhaps we need to go the human rights route? The United Nations Charter on Human Rights declares, in Article 26, that “everyone has the right to education” and that “education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages”. It also states, as an absolute principle, that “parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children”.

The European Convention on Human Rights Protocol 1 Article 2, states “in the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and teaching, the state shall respect the rights of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions”.

Christians need to stand for this human right. Not just for our children and ourselves, but for all the people of Europe. In some areas, of course, this is already happening. In the Netherlands, for example, there are three main education sectors: state, religious and non-denominational independent. More than two-thirds of government-funded schools are independent, most of them Catholic or Protestant. In order to receive such funding these schools must have more than 260 pupils, have licensed teachers, and cover an agreed curriculum and standards. Why could such a system not exist in other countries? In this respect the Dutch churches have remained far truer to their heritage than many other European churches.

It is important to note that Christians are not just concerned with protecting our own children. We want to serve the poor. If churches were allowed to return to the vision of John Knox (where there is a church, there should be a school), then a huge army of volunteers and resources would be unleashed for the good of all, not just the privileged few. Christians build and support schools. Atheistic secularists take them over, cuckoo like.   

One example of faith-based schools helping rather than hindering the poor is seen in the Catholic system in Scotland. Anthony Finn, professor in education at the University of Glasgow, examined 99 school inspection reports between 2012 and 2014. He found that 51 per cent of inspection outcomes in Catholic schools were rated “excellent” or “very good”. This compared with 30 per cent in non-denominational schools. While 36 per cent of inspections in non-denominational schools were graded “weak” or “unsatisfactory”, in Catholic schools the figure was 13 per cent. Many of these schools were in socially deprived areas.

But is this not a recipe for division? No – it is an argument for diversity. Those who argue for a state-imposed uniformity really want a one-size-fits-all education, just as long as it is their size. They want to exclude Christianity from the classroom and thus use the education system to impose their own particular doctrines. The results are proving devastating.  

“Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education” (Bertrand Russell). A limited education which is more about preparing people for jobs and social engineering, is leading to an increasingly dumbed-down society. Instead of tolerance, diversity of views, and people being allowed to question, our Western educational establishments are being taken over by an authoritarian, feelings-based irrationality that seeks to squash any dissent from the doctrines of its faith (the first of which is that it is not a faith and does not have any doctrines!). It is as though some mixture of Brave New World and 1984 is being used to create a workforce that dare not question the new all-powerful Liberal establishment. The Australian comedian Neel Kolhatkar sums it up brilliantly in his Youtube clip entitled “Modern Educayshun”

I do not want a Stalinist system which bans Christianity from school and home.  Nor do I want an American secularist model that leaves the wealthy and middle class to send their children to private schools (often based on Christian principles) whilst often allowing the poor to rot in an under-funded state system based on a poor philosophy of education. Teaching children on the basis of Christian principles of love, mutual respect, inquiry, truth and justice is not abuse. Denying children the opportunity to a decent education because of the bias of your philosophy – that is abuse.

An open education system, where Christianity has its full rights in the post-modern marketplace, would be of great benefit to the whole of Europe. But will the fundamentalist ideology of the secular humanists even contemplate allowing it?

We call upon the governments of Europe to recognise the value of Christian education, to establish a voucher system or equivalent, and to come out of the corporatism of the mid-20th century, into the progressive enlightenment of the 21st. Set education free and give parents real choice.

We also call upon the churches to start taking education seriously again. To pray, think, act, invest resources and look for the highest quality education for all. It’s time for Christians in Europe to regain the Christian vision for education in Europe, as explained by Vishnal Mangelwadi in The Book That Made Your World: “In the absence of a coherent worldview, secular education is fragmenting knowledge. Unrelated bits of information give no basis to grasp a vision like Comenius’s to change the world through education. The secular university knows no Messiah that promises a kingdom to the poor, the weak, the sick and the sorrowing destitute.”


David Robertson is director of Solas: Centre for Public Christianity.

This article was first published in Solas magazineSolas is published quarterly in the U.K. Click here to learn more or subscribe.




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Opinions expressed are those of their respective contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of Evangelical Focus.