The “Privilege” of Atheists

(Previously published in the McTavish Opera blog 11 November 2013)
Which does not actually exist.

This article is largely in reply to an statement put forward by a Christian on a Facebook discussion recently. The said cove said this;

“one of these privileges that atheists have underpins all their privileges – that is the right to teach an atheistic world view which filters through every aspect of life”

I shall be kind and suggest that the person who stated this is simply incorrect, as do to do otherwise would be to accuse him of deliberately telling falsehoods. I shall however demonstrate just how much this statement is wrong, and if anything the opposite applies, with theists being privileges, some of which all society pays for.

Let us go through the life of the average person in my native Scotland (although this could apply to many of the western democracies).

When a child is born, their name has to be registered. It is only in recent years that the term “Christian name” has been replaced with “Forename”. This however was not in any means done to placate atheists but rather as a recognition that modern Scotland is a multicultural and multi-faith society. In other words the change was made to accommodate parents of other faiths to Christianity, but certainly not atheists.

While baptism has fallen in recent years, it is still not uncommon among Scotland’s Protestant faiths, and the Church of Scotland is pressing for . Roman Catholic children by comparison are much more likely to be Christened. Jewish baby boys of course are routinely circumcised, whilst depending on the particular faith and culture, Muslim boys may be circumcised at any time from seven days to seven years old.

Most children to this day will be brought up in the faith of their parents, being told stories from whichever Holy book the family follow. In the vast majority of cases this will be Christianity. One of the most popular toys for young children remains to be a wooden Noah’s Ark with toy animals.

Once children enter school, they will be given Religious Observance (RO), if the parents so deem. One of the problems with this currently is that there is an opt out system, where parents have to make it clear to the school that they do not wish their children to receive RO. Many parents are actually ignorant of this right, as there are schools which do not make them aware of it. And even where the parents do opt their children out, schools have been guilty of not providing adequate alternatives for opted out children. To counter this the Scottish Secular Society has presented a petition to the Scottish Parliament, asking for the system to be changed to opt in, so that schools have to ask parents by letter for permission to let their children receive RO. The Scottish Secular Society have made it perfectly clear that they respect the rights of freedom of religion and that this is not attempt to remove religion from schools altogether, yet there are some in Christian churches in Scotland opposing this move and even falsely claiming that the removing religion is the objective of the secularists.

Both the central (Westminster) government and the devolved Scottish government have stated that they consider RO to be important to children’s education and development, yet do not supply a further explanation as to why religion is scholastically or developmentally advantageous to children.

RO takes place in Scotland’s non-denominational schools. This can include prayers, “time for reflection”, visits from local ministers, being taken to church. This of course makes the claim of being non-denominational a complete falsehood, and these measures are carried out at the expense of every taxpayer, whether they are Christian or not. There are also after-school clubs ran by Christian volunteer workers, some of whom have been found guilty of handing out creationist literature to children.

Every December a great many schools continue to put on their nativity plays, with children acting out the Biblical scene of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Parents can of course choose to send their children to a faith school, be it private, or one of Scotland’s state Roman Catholic schools. These establishments put faith at the centre of tuition.

Around the age of seven years old Roman Catholic children undergo First Communion, confirming them into the church. And the Roman Catholic Church is discussing lowering this age. At 12 years old Jewish girls undergo the Bat Mitzvah, marking coming of age, while Jewish boys undergo their Bar Mitzvah at age 13. In their teens most Sikh children will undergo the ritual of Amrit, in which they are confirmed in their faith by baptism.

Should children join a youth organisation such as the Scouts, Girl’s Guides or Boy’s Brigade, they will have the option of swearing an oath to the Judeo/Christian God. This has only recently been made optional.

Upon leaving school and going into employment, any employer who operates on a Sunday must by law ask the employee if they have any objections to working on a Sunday, the accepted day of rest. Notice that despite Scotland’s multi-faith society, no such dispensation is made for other faiths.

The working calendar recognises two large holidays, Christmas and Easter; both Christian-based festivals. Again, no such dispensation is made for the festivals of other faiths.

Anyone who is called before a court, is expected to swear an oath to God on the Bible or some other Holy book. There is of course to option to affirm to tell the truth, without a religious oath, but I have personally seen jurors being sworn in without them being informed of that option. It is merely taken for granted that they will swear to the Judeo/Christian God on the Bible. Every September “Kirking” of the courts occurs around Scotland in which judges are sworn in – in church – for the coming legal year. This includes a colourful procession of judges from the courts to St Giles Kirk in Edinburgh for the swearing in.

Despite how far they have come, it is still true that many girls dream of the fairytale white wedding, in a church, and making their vows on a solemn oath to the Christian God.

Throughout life most people will encounter faith, mostly Christianity, wheresoever they turn. They will be surrounded by churches, they will see Christian messages outside churches, on buses, and elsewhere. They will frequently hear street preachers and even have people coming to their door in an effort to convert them to their faith.

And all the time the major faiths will continue to open their doors to welcome the faithful seven days a week. No problem with that. If people wish to do that, that is their choice. Consider however that recognised faiths have tax-exempt status.

If anyone joins the armed forces, they must swear an oath to God, Queen and country. People entering politics can choose to swear to God, or affirm. However, central Westminster government still has the Lords Spiritual; 26 unelected Church of England bishops, who are able to vote upon and influence legislation.

In the Scottish Parliament, business begins each week with Time for Reflection, which consists of someone giving a spiritual or philosophical message. Whilst this is supposedly open to all faiths and none, it is more often than not given by a member of the Christian faith. Humanists and atheists have only very rarely given the message at Time for Reflection.

Many politicians meanwhile declare themselves to be devout believers, and notoriously allow their faith to cloud their judgement in matters of government. Even the Scottish National Party, by cosying up to religious homophobes, is guilty of this. Let us not forget either that the former Tony Blair famously prayed to God before taking the UK into a war in Iraq.

Generally in Scotland most people are still theists in one form or the other, and the general consensus is with the believer and against the atheist. Far from their claims, Christians are rarely vilified but I have actually been threatened a few times and one occasion even physically assaulted for being an atheist.

If someone enters hospital, they will have the option of a visit from the hospital chaplain. This is a recognised post, held by a person of faith (usually Christian), which carries a healthy salary (£25,783 – £34,530 per annum at time of writing); the cost of which is picked up by the taxpayer. Some local authorities also employ chaplains for their employees. Now you know where your Council Tax is going.

And at the end of that life, it is expected, unless they had previously stated otherwise, that most people shall have a funeral presided over by a person of faith, usually from the Church of Scotland, and usually someone who never once met the deceased.

These are just but a few examples of how faith is all around us all the time, from the cradle to the grave. And I for one therefore would like to see just where is this “privileges that atheists have underpins all their privileges – that is the right to teach an atheistic world view which filters through every aspect of life”? Because as far as I can see, not only does it not exist, but it is very much the opposite which is the reality.

And the best part? Myself and many other atheists do not and never would attempt to deny people’s right to their faith. If anything, most of us strongly defend the right of everyone to follow whichever faith they choose, and even to bring their children up according to that faith.

Theists who think that atheists are in any way privileged and that our views affect every aspect of life therefore need to take a good long look at themselves – particularly as atheists are among those paying the tab for RO and chaplains, and they are enjoying a tax-exempt status. To use a Biblical analogy, they need to remove the beam from their own eye before attempting to remove the mote from a brothers.


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