I watched The Wicker Man recently; the 1973 release, not the Nicholas Cage remake that’s only good to watch for a laugh. Mind you, as an atheist I found humour in the original where I’m sure none was intended at the time it was made. I caught myself sniggering as the righteous Christian Sergeant Howie (played by Edward Woodward) gets more and more distressed at the education, habits and traditions of the people living on Summerisle. A very young Christopher Lee plays Lord Summerisle who explains to him how the paganist roots of the community got started. His grandfather had to engineer and modify the crops he brought to the island because they wouldn’t grow well in the soil otherwise. In order to make sure the locals had faith in his new apple trees etc., he had them pray to the Goddess of the Harvest and follow other ancient rites (a lot of which required naked women and outdoor orgies) and when they were rewarded with an excellent harvest, they were led to believe their new religion was the reason, thus encouraging them to keep it up year after year. But now it looks like the crops are starting to fail and Howie is easily led to believe that a young girl is going to be sacrificed on May Day to ensure a good crop next year. He realizes, a bit belatedly, that he’s a bit wrong about that…
But anyway, a friend of mine added a link to her Facebook page that I simply had to click on. It’s from the Daily Mail’s coverage of the news that Cornwall schools must add paganism into their religion courses, even down to the early childhood levels. Cornwall Council is clearly catering to a fringe movement in the area (the upper estimate puts 750 pagans in a population of 537,400 so .001 percent) but its inclusion gives it the practice a legitimacy that was otherwise lacking. This alarms the Christian campaigners who are against the move, of course. They’re claiming it’s a time issue, that the course can’t devote enough time to the majors let alone a fringe religion, thus it’s a waste of time including it.
‘Introducing paganism is just faddish and has more to do with the political correctness of teachers than the educational needs of children.’
Is it a fad to include Buddhism, Judaism and Islam, as well? Did anyone ever try to claim that those are only included because of political correctness instead of educational value? It’s too much of a straw man argument to extend this toward them wanting all Christianity all the time in that class and nothing else, but deep down it wouldn’t surprise me if that was the way a few of them think. It tops the list of commandments, doesn’t it? No other gods but me? (Commandments aimed very specifically at the Israelites and their YHWH, but neveryoumind…)
This, too, is something of a stretch, but I wonder if their attitude might have a bit to do with concerns over what might get taught in terms of how early Christians behaved toward pagans. They moved into the area and usurped a belief system that had flourished for hundreds of years and what beliefs they didn’t ban they stole and repurposed toward their own ends. Glory glory hallelujah.
Paganism is historically relevant in Cornwall so the fact that a minority of people have chosen to retain the traditions is a fact kids should be allowed to learn in school.
Neil Burden, the council’s cabinet member for children’s services, said that the move would give children ‘access to the broad spectrum of religious beliefs’.
The council said the teaching of Christianity still accounted for nearly two-thirds of religious education in its schools.
Clearly they don’t like things to be fair, with equal time devoted to all the religions included in the syllabus but maybe they’d make the argument that .001 percent worth of pagans suggests a mere .001 percent of class time should be given over to them. And I don’t think I’d disagree with using a rationing approach of some kind. If the intent is to expose students to all available religious lifestyles in their geographical area then it’s probably logical to spend more time on the ones they’re most likely to run into in their day to day lives and just touch on the others out there that aren’t so in-the-face all the time.
I wonder what their approach is in terms of validity of religions overall; if the teachers promote Christianity above all other faiths as if it’s the right and only one worth having, or if they teach this so kids will come away from the course understanding that every religion is essentially the same in terms of purpose; they all exist to impose some kind of order on an otherwise chaotic world.
Bottom line, I don’t see the harm in including paganism in this course. I don’t remember much about my school days but I know I learned nothing about whatever beliefs would have been held by the aboriginal population of my province before the Christians ran ripshod over their culture and decimated it. It would have been interesting but my religion class was aimed only at getting the kids ready to be proper Catholics, whatever the hell that might mean. I never had a religion class like this Cornwall one until I hit university and it was quite the eye opener, to say the least. It’s good that these kids don’t have to wait until university to get the same experience.