Do Faith Schools Fuel Sectarianism?

I got up early this morning intending to go for my usual longish Sunday dander and on looking out of the window it was in mid deluge, so I got back into bed and caught some extra ZZZZZZzzzz’s to be woken 2 hours later by one of our cats, Kizz sitting on the pillow and shouting in my ear “FEED ME YOU LAZY BIG LUMP!” Since there was a heavy threat implied in the timbre of the feline entreaties I struggled from the embrace of the quilt and wandered down to the kitchen.

Sipping the first coffee of the day I turned on the TV and on the BBC was a programme I sometimes watch called “The Big Question” on which the presenter Nicky Campbell hosts a series of moral, ethical and religious debates on “Big Questions”. The last 15 minutes of this programme posed the question “Do Faith Schools Fuel Sectarianism?”I would imagine that since the show was filmed in Edinburgh, this question was prompted by the recent trouble at a Glasgow Rangers vs Glasgow Celtic “old firm football match last weekend.

Since the programme allocated only 15 minutes for this subject they didn’t really get into the complexities of the issue so while not heated it was certainly warming-up. Now coming as I do from the spiritual home of Christian Sectarianism this topic made me sit up and take notice. The same debate has been on-going in Northern Ireland for the last 50 years and more.

It occurs to me that there is a need to try and find someone or something to blame for this deeply ugly hatred that bubbles and steams under the surface of life in Northern Ireland and in the some of the cities of Scotland. Education here was and to an extent is still divided into Protestant and Catholic Schools, even the newer Integrated Schools can suffer from the “if you are not for us you are against us” stigma from the more fundamentalist mindsets. This is the same mindset that has lead to me being asked “Are you a Protestant or Catholic Atheist?” with no hint of irony.

The problem I have with this Post’s title is that I cannot remember a time during my education, or that of my son or my friends where the type of naked hatred of  “the other side” that I saw on the streets of Northern Ireland was taught. There was one RE teacher who did say that “Catholics were not real Christians and as such would go to hell if not saved” in class in front of some Roman Catholic students. He was reported and censured for this, but that was the only occasion I actually heard a teacher be sectarian in class. I have many friends on both sides of the divide and apart from the odd time when an RE teacher or a History teacher would spin a topic to one side or the other, education was and is fair, even-handed and 99% secular in all schools.

I also know a lot of teachers both in Catholic and Protestant schools and to attack the job they do in this way is disengenuous. As an atheist I do question the need for there to be a school defined by a particular interpretation of a God that may or may not exist, but I do not think that the teachers in those schools carry the lion’s share of the blame for the inculcation of sectarian hatred. I believe there is no grand conspiracy of bigotry being actively taught now in any of our schools. At worst the existence of the division that requires separation in education is a symptom of a bigotry that already exists.

So where does it come from this bright hot hatred of the other side? Where are we taught that to sing songs like “We are We are The Billy Boys! We are up to our necks in Fenian Blood! Surrender or you die” at a football match is acceptable in modern society?

Sectarnism comes from a belief that certain differences are dangerous. If we allow our children to believe this then we should not be surprised when they grow up to be bigots.

Childern are a blank canvas on which parents, families, friends and religious congregations paint. Sadly we don’t just paint the good stuff, we add in all the predjudices, hatred and spite that were painted on us by our parents and that we have acquired over time. So when we are looking for someone or something to actually blame we really need look no further than the bathroom mirror every morning.

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