Discrimination against atheists in schools – my debate with Irish Catholic editor Michael Kelly

I debated State-funded schools in Ireland demanding baptism certs of children trying to access the school, with Michael Kelly, editor of the Irish catholic newspaper, on Newstalk Radio with David Harvey yesterday.

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  1. When I was a kid I went to Catholic school. This is in England, not Ireland, near Liverpool in fact, so Catholics make up a large part of my community.

    My parents weren’t religious. My mother was nominally Catholic, my father nominally Protestant, but the school was the closest to home and back then travelling further than walking distance to school was something only posh kids did.

    Anyway, I was a smart kid but constantly in trouble because of a fundamental clash between my lack of belief and what I regarded as nonsensical practices and traditions within the school. Being an undiagnosed Aspie (the condition wasn’t recognised at the time) I didn’t have the ‘sense’ to fake belief just to get along.

    I suppose we could describe this conflict as religion vs secularism but at the time school was really my only experience of ‘authority’ and I tended to think of my rebellion as anti-authoritarianism rather than secularism.

    The upshot is that when I became part of the secular ‘community’, such that it is, my secularism was informed by anti-authoritarianism and I found the authoritarianism of some sectors of the secular community as abhorrent as religious bigotry.

    I don’t recommend sending your kids to a Catholic school in the hope their rebellion leads them to liberal secularism but that’s the way it worked out for me.

    School is difficult when you don’t fit in but at least you are aware of the damage it is causing; the damage caused to those who do fit in – the internalisation of prejudices and irrationality – is less visible but sociologically more harmful.

    Keep up the good work.

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