Atheist handbook sent to secondary schools across England and Wales


A free copy of 'The Young Atheist's Handbook' has been sent to every secondary school in England and Wales by the British Humanist Association (BHA).

Subtitled 'Lessons for living a good life without God', the guidebook tells the true-life story of Bangladesh-born Alom Shaha, a science teacher who was brought up as a Muslim in south-east London.

He rejected Islam in favour of atheism following the early death of his mother, and wrote a book detailing his journey to encourage others who are searching to find meaning apart from religion.

The Young Atheist Handbook for Schools campaign was launched by science teacher and blogger Ian Horsewell, who wanted to offer every UK student the opportunity to consider and explore their own belief system in more detail.

"[The Handbook] made me realise how fortunate many of us are to be able to take for granted our own freedom to believe, or not, in the faith of our parents," he says.

"It seemed to me that the very students who needed to read Alom's book would find it hard to buy for themselves, so instead I wondered if we could place a copy in every secondary school library."

The YAH for schools website insists that the campaign is designed to open up free thinking and encourage pupils to search out different world views, rather than specifically promote atheism.

"Many young people are brought up in the faith of their family, without ever really having the chance to choose for themselves. It's too often assumed that people have to 'opt-out' of a religion, rather than making a positive choice for themselves," it reads.

"School is where we go to learn how to ask questions. It seemed to us that making the book available through school libraries is a good first step in educating young people so that they can choose to exercise their freedom of choice."

The BHA has praised the initiative.

"We couldn't be happier that young people everywhere will now have access to this wonderful book," Chief Executive Andrew Copson said in a statement.

"Alom's message will no doubt inspire young people who are looking to find fulfilment and meaning in their lives, whatever their family background.

"In a large number of schools, pupils will have access to a number of religious perspectives on life's bigger questions, but not to what most non-religious people believe and how they find happiness and satisfaction in their daily lives. We believe schools should be places where pupils are free to encounter the full rangeof philosophies and worldviews available to them in modern Britain."

However, unsurprisingly the campaign has not been as well-received across the board. A professor of Christian education at Canterbury Christ Church University has criticised the initiative, telling a reporter from online community TES that sending the handbook to schools is "an overreaction" by humanists.

"The evidence suggests that most children's understanding of science is already largely atheistic. The BHA itself says that most children have non-religious beliefs, so why do they feel it is so important to send out this book?" Trevor Cooling asked.

"The status of a handbook written by a science teacher from London cannot be compared with that of a sacred Christian text and it cannot in any way be said to be offering balance."

This latest campaign from the BHA comes almost two years after Education Secretary Michael Gove sent a copy of the King James Bible to every school in England, labelling it "the most important book in the English language".