Last Night's TV: Faith Schools Menace?/More 4

Religious prejudice may be the only form of discrimination now funded by government. We spend money – and quite a lot of it – on discouraging racial bigotry and age intolerance. We also pay to ensure that gender bias and homophobia keep their ugly heads down. But, through the agency of faith schools, the belief that one form of religious conviction is superior to others (and that pretty much any form of religion is superior to atheism) is actively encouraged by the state. That's a partisan way of putting it, of course. The proponents of faith schools don't like to think of themselves as intolerant, even as they discriminate against those who don't share their beliefs. They prefer to talk of cultural continuity and moral instruction and strong communities. Above all, they prefer to talk of parental choice.

Richard Dawkins, as you may not be hugely surprised to learn, does not buy any of that. His role as presenter and the title Faith Schools Menace? meant that More 4's film about the rise of religious education wasn't one of those programmes you really had to watch to the end in order to discover its conclusions. Indeed, the question mark was positively comical, tagged on at the end of the title as if it hoped to leave the issue teetering. It was like a seesaw with a hippo on one end and a budgerigar on the other. But the fact that the film wasn't exactly a cliffhanger didn't mean it wasn't worth watching – or that it didn't contain the odd surprise.

The most obvious of these was that Dawkins came out in favour of religious literacy. He admires the poetry of the King James Bible and he understands that its cadences are inextricably woven into English literature as a whole. If you don't have some knowledge of Christian faith and language, then you're going to be in poor shape when it comes to understanding the history or the culture of Britain. So he wasn't arguing here for a curriculum dogmatically purged of all religious content. His real anxiety was the possibility that the dogmas of religion might spill over into other areas of learning, a danger that he was only able to demonstrate in relation to an Islamic faith school, because the Catholic and Jewish ones he approached weren't prepared to let him through the door. "My reputation goes before me," he pointed out.

The headmaster of Madani High School was more confident: "If you come to our school and you look at our lessons they are very much open minds," he said, "thinking critically, understanding the world in a very critical fashion." Unfortunately, the evidence of the sequence that followed suggested that critical thinking travelled in one direction only, and never towards the doctrines of the faith. Questioning a group of Muslim girls on their understanding of evolution, Dawkins discovered that not one of them believed it. They had effectively been taught it as something contradicted by the Koran, their confusions about the science compounded by the fact that the school's science teacher didn't grasp the weakness of one of the crudest challenges thrown up against the theory. Another girl confidently cited the "fact" that sea water and salt water don't mix as confirmation of the Koran's scientific wisdom. Dawkins blinked but let the moment pass, at pains here (as elsewhere in the programme) to be as tolerant with folly as was consistent with intellectual honesty.

He didn't need to say anything at all to spike the other claim made for faith schools, which is that they contribute to "community cohesion". All he had to do was to visit that extended experiment in unbridled faith education – Northern Ireland – where communities have cohered so successfully that they're prepared to stone and kill each other for belonging to the wrong one. We got pious humbug from both sides, with the Grand Chaplain of the Orange Order blandly denying that the segregation of the province's children had been "divisive" in any way and a Catholic representative challenging Dawkins to deny that parents had the human right to educate their children as they wish. He sensibly declined to put his foot in that trap, but you couldn't help but wish that he'd kicked out hard enough to break the mechanism. Does this principle extend to Ku Klux Klan members for example? Would we support their parental rights to bring a child up as a seething bigot? And even if we did – reluctantly bowing to a greater principle – might we reasonably object to funding that private choice out of the public purse?

Darwinism itself didn't get much of a look in here, apart from an intriguing sequence that revealed that young children are innately drawn to purpose-driven explanations of natural phenomena. Present them with a neutral explanation and one that seems to contain a narrative of overarching intention and they almost invariably choose the latter. This makes them fertile ground for fairytales of creation and a divine plan. They are, as Dawkins put it, "natural creationists". What he tactfully didn't point out was the implicit counterpoint to that finding, which is that religious creation myths – at least when taken as literal truth – are inherently childish. He ended in the classroom himself, inviting a group of primary school children to question what they're given as gospel truth by adults and opening himself up to questions, too. At one end of the seesaw – a child's curiosity and appetite for knowledge. At the other – the dutiful repetition of received dogmas. Hippo and budgerigar all over again to my mind.

Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower