Religious education is an oxymoron

Good quality’ ‘Religious Education’ (RE) in schools is seen as important and valued by the public, research commissioned by the Religious Education Council (REC) has indicated. According to the research, 53% of adults in England and Wales think that RE should remain a compulsory subject in state funded schools. A greater number (58%) think it is beneficial for pupils to study RE.

REC of England and Wales brings together fifty professional organisations and religion and belief groups with an interest in promoting good quality RE.

Err, good quality religious education? I think that’s what’s called an oxymoron.

Religion and education are at two opposite ends of the spectrum. One is dogmatic, prescriptive and punishes free thinking and reason. Education is *meant* to be the opposite.

I’m really not sure why anyone who is not part of a religious group would be glad that adults recognise the importance of religious education.

And if it’s so important for children to be force-fed their parents’ religion – which is what this is all really about – why not have political education classes too? It is also very helpful in raising obedient robots.

I know, I know, it’s all about exploring the ‘many varied ethical and religious perspectives to promote understanding and to assist in the personal development of each student’, blah, blah, blah.

But religion is the last thing that can help in anything to do with promoting understanding and children’s personal development.

Maybe it would be best if the ‘professionals’ started looking at it from a children’s rights perspective rather than from the perspective of religion.


I’m blogging every half an hour from 9am to 3pm GMT in support of the Secular Student Alliance blogothon. The SSA is trying to raise £100,000 by 16 June.

Try to support the SSA if you can. If we’re going to beat the religion industry, we need to support organisations promoting secularism and reason.

Here’s a link to the official SSA Week page, which has lots of information about the SSA as well as an easy-to find donation widget.

Here’s a list of quotations collected by Greta on why the SSA is worth supporting.



  1. Gavin Deichen says

    I think that RE is important; at its most extreme, because there are people who will kill you for saying something that they feel offends their particular prophet or god. Children need to know that religion exists, that different people have different religions and that it’s an important part of many people’s lives – because it’s dangerous not to know.

    It’s also a major part of the history of the world and a huge part of the fabric of most countries.

    Admittedly, I would divide RE into something along the lines of “religious history” and “philosophy” or at the very least try to make the lessons more relevant and useful, but even what we have is better than nothing.

    For me, kids need to know about religion for similar reasons that they need to know about railway tracks and lions.

    • says

      Of course they need to know about religion but it can be in history as you say. That way it can go beyond the indoctrination of it all – religion is love and peace – to the bleak realities of what it means for people. But let’s be frank, the role of religious education is like teaching about lions and railway tracks – it’s to make children respect religion and to accept its authority. And that it makes it very dangerous and antithetical to education and reason.

      • Dunc says

        History isn’t a compulsory subject, and it’s already not covering nearly enough ground without expecting it to also cover the major religions of the world.

        I don’t agree that RE, as taught in the UK, seeks “to make children respect religion and to accept its authority” – that was not my experience of it 20-odd years ago, and, as far as I know, it’s only become less so since. I don’t recall anything that could even be vaguely described as “indoctrination” – it was purely descriptive (“This is what [x] believes, this is what [y] believes…”). In short, I don’t think your description here matches the reality of RE in the UK at all. (At least, outwith explicitly religious schools, which should obviously been done away with – or at least, lose all state support.)

        Eliminating RE could allow children to group up without ever realising that other people have different religious beliefs, which could be very dangerous indeed.

        • says

          My son is 6 years old. He has no science lessons or history yet but he has RE. And he has come home with let’s pray for our food, and about how god created the world and on and on. You can’t have this discussion without looking at the context in which this RE takes place – one is which religion is in power or vying for it and where education is one of the mainstays with which it manages to continue to have a foothold in society. Children should be protected from physical abuse; why not also the emotional abuse of religion?

          • Dunc says

            Really? Wow, that is remarkably different to my experience. Maybe it’s an England / Scotland thing…

            Or maybe it’s an established Church thing… There is a requirement for state schools to have “colletive worship” – which absolutely should be done away with – but that is an entirely different matter from proper RE, which as far as I know only starts in secondary school, and is (or should be) purely descriptive. We certainly didn’t get any form of actual RE in when I was in primary school. Yes, there was “collective worship” and various other forms of indoctrination, but that is very definitely not RE.

          • says

            You know what amazes me? The amount of time, atheists and humanists spend defending religion and religious education. There’s a lot more to worry about. Why not leave religion to the religious – who are better at it than you and I anyway.

  2. Pen says

    Do we know what is taught in RE in schools? I think it is important to learn the basics of the world religions for an understanding of history and current affairs – and that’s what I expect to be taught.

    I remember growing up in super-secular France. Religion was a taboo subject in schools. We studied the wars of religion in history with no explanation of the difference between the two religions and how it arose. We learned about Cardinal Richelieu, but were not told what a cardinal was, nor why he mattered. We don’t want religious indoctrination, but ignorance isn’t ideal either.

  3. says

    On the other hand, I think that teaching kids about religion as a social phenomenon, in a descriptive way, is absolutely essential. Not because it would benefit the children’s “moral development” or such nonsense, but because kids need to learn about how the world works, and like it or not, religion is still a major force in the world today.

    Besides, I haven’t found much that is more effective at eroding belief than the realization that there are widely differing religions, that all take their teachings very seriously, but have nothing more going for them than your own religion.

    The only problem, of course, is how to make sure that you can trust the various educators to (1) not promote their own religious views over others and (2) present religion in general in an objective way, warts and all.

  4. Euan says

    Comparitive religion classes are a good way of guiding people to atheism I think. Thinking critically about other people’s religions leads to you working out that maybe yours is bullshit too.
    That said maybe I was just lucky growing up in a liberal area where many of my teachers were openly atheists. We even watched Life of Brian in RE. I’d imagine the critical aspect of it would be watered down in areas with lots of religious people for fear of causing offence.

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