Richard Ingrams' Week: God forbid that religion is part of religious studies

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The Independent Online

Further confirmation that we live in a mad world came this week with the announcement that in future, the GCSE syllabus for religious studies will include the study of humanism.

No one can be quite sure what humanism means, but if it means anything at all it means some kind of system of thought which rejects a belief in God and substitutes a belief in humans.

In other words, including it under religious studies is rather like saying that those studyingpoetry will also be able to study prose or that the science course will include astrology.

The move can be seen as a small triumph for the anti-God faction, which has made giant steps in recent years. One result has been to elevate atheism to the status of a belief system on a par with religion, with atheists demanding equal rights to propagate their non-belief and appear on the BBC's Thought for the Day.

And if humanism is to be included under religious studies, why not atheism, which goes the whole hog? The process will be watched with interest by, among others, the Scientologists. Callingthemselves a church and even including a cross in their logo, they have always insisted thatthey are a bona fide religion and therefore entitled to charity status for tax purposes.

Would they not now also be entitled to inclusion in the GCSE religious studies syllabus when they at least claim to be a religion while the humanists have no time for such nonsense?

The good old days of human contact

An expert on the City to whom I was talking this week blamed the crisis in the banking world partly on the lack of human contact. His point was that in days gone by, bankers tended to make decisions about whom they made loans to on the basis of face-to-face meetings with their clients. But today contacts are made impersonally more and more via the internet or by email. The chances of disaster are that much greater.

This lack of personal communication is not confined to the banking community. To anyone like me "of a certain age", with memories of past times, it is very noticeable how things have changed. An office which once would have resounded to the clatter of typewriters and the yak-yak of telephone conversations is today strangely silent. Contact is being made with people in the outside world all right, but silently and by strange electronic means. People are even sending emails to one another from adjacent offices. This is not good for my own so-called profession of journalism, when so much useful information can be gleaned from meetings and even telephone conversations. And it follows that the same must be true in other lines of business, but particularly banking where large sums of money may be at stake.

Luckily there are now signs of a change. Offices are finding themselves swamped by incoming emails with staff unable to cope. The bulk of the messages may be spam – unsolicited adverts – but mixed up with them there may be important messages demanding attention. So somebody has to monitor them all and it can take hours – possibly all day.

The effect could well be to discourage people from using this novel form of communication and go back to old-fashioned ways of getting in touch with one another. And it might even benefit the economy.

* The Daily Telegraph has been conducting a month-long celebration commemorating the achievements of Margaret Thatcher. There have been lengthy encomia from the likes of historian Andrew Roberts and even free DVDs with films of the Falklands War and other highlights from the career of the Iron Lady.

This week there was a photograph which I had not seen before of a youthful Margaret Thatcher seated at the piano in a pub in Dartford some time in the 1950s. Captioned "Margaret Thatcher leads a sing-song in the Bull Inn, Dartford", the picture (above) also featured four old boys trying, not very hard, to look as if they were singing. We have heard much in praise of Margaret Thatcher over the years, but this is the first time I have seen it suggested that she could play the piano.

I'm suspicious of the claim. If it were true, then surely those Tory PR men like Tim Bell and Maurice Saatchi would have made more of it. Particularly as it would have been proof that anything Edward Heath could do Margaret Thatcher could do, if not better, then at least as well.

The same sort of claims of musical ability have frequently been made in the past about members of the Royal Family. There were similar pictures of the late Queen Mother seated at the piano. Prince Charles has often been described as an outstanding cellist. When Princess Margaret died, many obituaries referred to the fact that she was a very talented pianist. The distinguished historian Mr Paul Johnson even went so far as to claim that she could have pursued a career as a concert pianist.

Until recordings can be produced to back up these claims I shall remain sceptical – in the case of Thatcher, exceptionally so.

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