Feb 062015

I happened to discover today that there is a chaplain within the House of Commons in the UK; fair enough. I don't really have a problem with someone being there to offer some sort of support to the HoC staff. Not even letting them incant some mumbo-jumbo at the start of the day.

But who pays his or her salary? Is it the Church of Englang? Or is it the government … and indirectly, the taxpayer? Which includes me.

I also don't have a problem with a single salary for a member of the clergy – one salary doesn't add up to much compared with the entirity of the public sector. But how many others are employed by the taxpayer?

  • The NHS employs chaplains.
  • The prison service employs chaplains.
  • Universities employ chaplains.
  • The military employ chaplains.

And probably other murkier corners of the public sector. Now when I say "employs", there are some areas of doubt – some are volunteers, and some may be paid for by the Church of England. But there are obviously many who are paid by the taxpayer.

Now I don't want hospital patients, prisoners, University students and staff, nor anyone in the military being derived of chaplains. If some people think they provide a useful service, then I have no objections to them using such services.

But why is my money being used to pay for their services? I would much rather my money was used to pay for properly trained counsellors which would provide appropriate services to all members of the public without being ever so slightly creepy (by talking about the mythical sky-daddy … or indeed the "wrong" mythical sky-daddy). If someone wants to speak to a religious consultant, then a counsellor can find a volunteer to meet that request.

Sep 302008

The phrase “Religious Freedom” or ‘Freedom of Religion” often comes up, but I would like to see the phrase “Freedom From Religion” used a little more. This is going to sound a bit like an attack on religion itself, but it is not intended as such. Everyone is free to practice the religion of their choice … or none at all.

The key is the end of that last sentence – no religion at all. We’re all too often besieged with symbols of religion and people assume we want to hear about their favourite fictitious god. Certainly the UK is nowhere as bad as the USA where atheists can be subject to treatment that amounts to persecution even including physical and verbal abuse merely for voicing their lack of belief.

But that does not mean the UK is properly secular in public life. Schools can be a little too religious; I do not mind my taxes being used to pay for the education of children, but I do mind that it is used to pay for the religious indoctrination of children. Too many schools are “faith schools” and are at least partially funded by the taxpayer.

In many cases … particularly for primary schools where the most impressionable children are taught, there is little choice other to send children to such schools. The Church of England still “owns” (we won’t worry too much about the fine details of this ownership) 25% of all primary schools. Rather creepily similar to the Jesuit saying “Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man”.

Of course there is nothing deliberately sinister about the CoE schools these days. Long gone are the times when one could be beaten for expressing views even slightly atheistic, but there is still a distinct odour of the Christian religion about such places. One school even boasts of providing a “christian education”.

Moving onto Universities, and you will find the education considerably less influenced by religion as these places are supposed to be serious institutes of learning. But if you have a close look at who is employed at these places you will often find a chaplain or six. Now these chaplains probably are not going to ram their religion down your throat, and are to a certain extent simply a counselling service with a religious twist. The funny thing is that both of the Universities I checked also have independent counselling services.

So what we have here is a special religious counselling service that only certain people are qualified for employment with … just christians (or perhaps people who believe in other gods). Now religious students (and staff) could probably do with a little support from a University, but what is wrong with ordinary counsellors just pointing them at local churches, mosques and the like ? Again I’m not entirely sure why my taxes should go towards paying the salaries of people whose principal talent is talking to imaginary beings.

But far worse are the more in your face examples of religion. The church sign that says “The Wages of Sin is Death”, the kerbside evangelist who harranges you about being saved, the smug Christian who insists that all unbelievers will go straight to hell and suffer eternal damnation. At best this is merely irritating; at worst it consitutes a kind of verbal abuse.

Yet religion seems to have a privileged position in our society … it is considered wrong to criticise the beliefs of others. But why is not also considered wrong to criticise the unbelief of others ? I do not believe, do not want to be preached at, and certainly do not want to see my tax money spent on supporting religious belief in any way whatsoever.

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