Monday, 4 November 2013

“I had only a little time left and I didn't want to waste it on God.”

As the carved pumpkin lantern gently sags and goes smelly, and thoughts turn to budgeting for Christmas gifts, I’m reminded of how non-religious an upbringing our Bairn is getting.

This will surely be tested next year when she goes into Primary One. I’ve yet to check what the school’s policy is on religious observance and it’s disappointingto see teachers’ representatives describing any move to a more secular systemas presenting “administrative burden”.

I appreciate that back in the day the church basically set up educationin Scotland, and for that I thank them. But we’re not living in the past so let’s see education tailored to meet modern needs.

On the issue of “religious observance” I really don’t understand why prayers have any role in the school day. Faith is a private matter. It shouldn’t be part of the normal running of a school but instead left to parents’ discretion. You hear of children whose parents have opted them out of observance being left to do utterly boring things rather than playing or being taught.

And being taught about faiths and the role religion plays in our society is very important. I don’t want to dwell too much on my experience (my primary school years were three decades ago) but I don’t remember getting any RE at all. What I do remember is a weekly assembly hosted by the local Kirk minister at which we bowed our heads and said the Lord’s Prayer. I hadn’t a clue what all the daily bread stuff was about and was probably busy thinking about playtime and whether I’d be able to swap one of my Discos for one of my pal’s Monster Munch.
Give us this day our daily corn-based snack
In short, a good chunk of my childhood was wasted on this stuff but I guess it did me no harm.

There was a tiny wee bit of religion at home. As a kid I would regularly stay with my gran (dad’s mum) on Friday and Saturday nights. At bedtime we’d say the Lay Me Down To Sleep prayer. “If I should die before I wake…” Again, no harm done. It was a cosy routine and a neat way of expressing love for those around me.

I think it was probably my gran’s death that nailed shut any prospect of me taking religion remotely seriously. After decades of teaching and generally being a lovely, clever, confident person (including raising my dad on her own following the death of her husband when my dad was only about ten) she retired with plans to go places and do things. Within a couple of years she was gone. Cancer. It was very sudden and impossible for me to comprehend. How could anyone have faith when faced with such random cruelty?

The Bairn recently asked if she’ll get a new grandpa. (My father-in-law died earlier this year. We avoided any talk of heaven or going to sleep, simply explaining we all get old and eventually die.) I said I didn’t think so and quickly changed the subject.

This week one of my favourite writers, the philosophic goalkeeper AlbertCamus, would have turned 100. He once wrote: “I had only a little time left and I didn't want to waste it on God.” Sound advice, if you ask me.

So, as I gear up for the Bairn’s fifth Christmas – a Christmas full of Santa and presents but hopefully not too much Baby Jesus – I’ll also be gearing up for questions about religion with the move up to Big School.

What would be wrong with keeping the Lord’s Prayer out of the Assembly Hall and Lay Me Down To Sleep in the bedroom? 

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