Religious Observance in Scottish School

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Scotland is a beautiful country, rich in heritage and culture. They have contributed everything from medical advancements to technological invention to the rest of the world. There is not a day goes by that most people worldwide do not make use of at least one Scottish innovation. The people are friendly and welcoming and let’s be honest, they speak with one of the warmest accents in the whole world.
However, there is part of their tradition that is holding them back in the way of societal advancement and includes something that here in the United States we don’t have to worry about. It’s called Religious Observance (R.O.) and it’s not just limited to private or denominational schools either. What this means is that every week of every school term children can be pulled from academic instruction to receive what amounts to religious indoctrination. Children generally attend holiday observances about six times a year, but it can vary by school. Now this is not a mandatory attendance, by any means. However generally speaking only about half of all parents are informed that their children don’t have to attend. The way it’s set up is what is referred to as “Opt-out” which means that as default every child attends unless otherwise specified.

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To find out more about this I spoke to Mark Gordon, father and author of a petition that seeks to make a very simple but important change to how things work. Currently, in order to keep your child from attending religious service parents are required to make contact with the school and notify them that they wish for their child to be withheld from attending.

In the larger areas, like Glasgow or Edinburgh parents pulling their children from service isn’t as much of an issue due to the population of the schools. There is more of a variety of students including a large number of Muslim children. If a parent wishes to pull their child from the services s/he will not be the only one. However in the smaller, more outlying areas often there are but only one or two which leaves some parents not really wanting to rock the boat or single their child out of the entire student population. There is also the problem of parents being unaware of their option to have their child not attend. It seems that not all parents are being notified of their right to “Opt-out” either. Scouring through the many different school handbooks shows a very small percent that actually mention the option.

This is where Mr. Gordon’s petition comes in to play. What it would do is change the default from “Opt-out” to an “Opt-in” making it left to the parents to decide whether they wish to have their child participate in R.O., which is where it should be. This seems like a no-brainer to an American citizen. We have laws specifically set to prevent anything of this sort from happening. However Scotland didn’t evolve the same way the U.S. did despite the fact that our “Declaration of Independence” was somewhat based on their own “Declaration of Arbroath” (that’s right, just one more thing we can thank the Scots for).

Scotland has a great many of their schools established and funded by the Church. Historically speaking the church has maintained power over how schools are run and how often R.O. is instituted. To make any change to this would limit the control that the Church has over the education of Scottish children. However it’s a change that parents like Mark and the members of Secular Scotland (the organisation supporting the petition) are ready for.

Secular Scotland in no way wishes to remove R.O. from the schools. This may sound incredible to an American parent as we fight every day to uphold the separation of church and state that our Constitution grants us (based incidentally on the Scottish National Covenant of 1638). However for a country like Scotland making a small change like what this petition requests is a major step for the country, and one that the majority of her citizens can live with.

For my full interview, follow this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ObJefHp_ljU

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To sign the petition, you can follow either scan the image to the left or follow this link: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/gettinginvolved/petitions/religiousobservance

For the full PDF petition, you can follow this link: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/gettinginvolved/petitions/petitionPDF/PE01487.pdf

For the Press Release issued by Secular Scotland:http://secularscotland.org/ro-opt-in/

For more information about Secular Scotland visit their website here: http://secularscotland.org/  or you can join them in conversation on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/secularscotland/

Local Article on Mark Gordon: http://www.inverclydenow.com/today/9598-local-dad-campaigns-for-change-in-school-religious-observance

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Helen Denerley: Sculptor

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For anyone who knows me, the subject for this review will come as no surprise as I am a huge fan of metal art. Scottish sculptor, born in Midlothian, Helen Denerley has made a name for herself by turning discarded pieces of metal from old motorbikes and automobiles into magnificent pieces of art. Her work can be seen all over Scotland and she even has a piece in Japan. Most of her work includes animals and she brings a special quality to each piece, making for very unique art. Here is a piece she was commissioned to create that sits outside the Omni, in Edinburgh.

Around the base of the “Dreaming Spires” sculpture is the following poetic phrase from a poem by Roy Campbell:

‘Giraffes! People who live between earth and skies. Each in his own religious steeple, keeping a lighthouse with his eyes.’

Her work has also inspired a bit of poetry from a poet of Northern Ireland, Michael Longley (speaking about a particular monkey sculpture that caught his eye) which follows:

It sat on the windowsill

Through a long evolutionary autumn

Until you came across the unimaginable –

The frame of a motorbike (and a side-car’s)

Hidden by snow and heather up a hill near Ullapool.

For more information about Ms. Denerley’s work including more photos of commissioned and public work, visit her website. For the article written by the Scotsman regarding the giraffes follow this link.

The Bonobo and the Atheist ~ by Frans de Waal

Bonobo and the AtheistIn Search of Humanism Among the Primates

       Having spent several years studying primates, Nederland-born  biologist Frans de Waal hopes to shed some light on humanism and whether religion really does play a part in altruistic behaviour. By studying apes (specifically chimpanzees and bonobos, who are our closest living relatives on the genetic family tree) he was able to see first hand the similarities between humans and our distant cousins.
When it comes to the chimpanzees, they tend to be male dominated and somewhat aggressive. They follow an alpha male and being mostly omnivorous will hunt in addition to foraging. Adult males are known to kill lesser males and even babies to protect their place.
Bonobos are a female dominated species and rarely ever show aggression (they can, it’s usually with a purpose like hunting). They have a matriarch that leads the group and disputes are generally settled with sex, are not restricted to heterosexual partnering. Young apes are protected by everyone in the group, their well-being being placed over everyone else. Bonobos also tend to be more egalitarian than their chimpanzee counterparts.
This information was all fairly well-known already. However, what hasn’t really been discussed much is altruism, and just how much empathy a simian without any knowledge of a deity could possess. Does one need to believe in a god and understand the concept of an afterlife to behave altruistically.
This is the topic of Frans de Waal’s latest book, and he does it without attacking religion or even scorning it. He approaches humanism in a way that both followers of faith and nonbelievers alike can (if they were able to do so) agree on. The video clip shown here is from one of de Waal’s talks and shows a few examples of the early work with altruism in tests with various apes and monkeys. The book somewhat starts from there and builds from that point.

[Video Link: Frans de Waal ~ Moral Behaviour in Animals]

“Atheism will need to be combined with something else, something more constructive than its opposition to religion, to be relevant to our lives. The only possibility is to embrace morality as natural to our species.”