I’m slightly annoyed because my 6 year old’s school has just refused us leave to take him on the Centre for Inquiry’s riverboat cruise that I am speaking on this upcoming week with Richard Dawkins and Ronald A Lindsay. I have explained how I must go to such events for my work (the only way I can raise support for what I do is via such speaking engagements) and since it is 9 days long, I can’t possibly leave my son behind and must take him with me. The school has refused leave though it often approves things of a ‘religious and cultural’ nature.

Basically if I was taking my son off to self-flagellate somewhere during the school term, they would most likely be more than happy to approve leave but take him along to something that is actually educational – well no can do.

I could most probably also argue that a stint amongst atheists and freethinkers might be quite useful since they are so busy filling his head up with religious nonesense (he goes to a state school not a faith one in case you’re wondering). He came home the other day and said god created us all, whereby I had to explain how he came about because mum and dad mated. A few weeks before that he had come home and asked to pray at dinner thanking god for our food, whereby I had to explain that if anyone was to be thanked it would have to be the farmers who grew the food and I for cooking it.

Anyway, I know you’re all saying what a tough life I have – having to go on a luxury cruise to speak about Sharia law, apostasy and what not. But I have been doing this for 25 years now and none of it has ever been on a cruise so I think it’s well-deserved – leave or no leave.



  1. Air Guns should not be legally available for any reason. No gun should be available outside the military or a gun club.

  2. Yes he was clearly being too bolshie with that sort of talk. Atheists, as well as believers, can be prone to using offensive language & it doesn’t serve their own cause. Speaking as an atheist, I would only go so far as to say that any belief should be held up to the scrutiny of science, & rational investigation in general, as this, to my mind, is our best means of discerning facts. Some people such as yourself, will always feel that there is, or might be, ‘something’ beyond the ken of science & that is their choice & there is no need to castigate people for this. We simply agree to disagree. Equally, we should always safeguard the legality of freedom of speech – including the right to offend a person’s deeply-held beliefs, whether by logically based rejection of them, or by ridicule. My own humanist group meets at a Quaker Meeting House & I was impressed with a poster they had on the wall: First things first, live & let live.

  3. as for the self-flagellation …..
    don’t knock it !
    It is supposed to be very good for the circulation
    I say ‘supposed’ because I have no personal experience you will understand
    (ouch ! ooch ! ouch ! ooch ! ..)

    1. I understand Maryam, maybe the problem is in ‘going to extremes’ ?
      As in quoting ‘the word’ as though it really was written by someone called God
      I was being just a little bit mischievous I have to say, in my earlier comment however, I do think one can easily ‘go too far’ on such issues (reverse sides of the same coin ?)
      I was brought up as a Catholic and, as a child I was enormously impressed with the stories of brave stoic individuals giving their life for their faith rather than giving in to ‘the baddies’ who were persecuting them (and everyone else) but then when I began to ask the wrong questions, however innocently, and was cast as ‘the baddie’ myself (however insignificant) I felt slightly cheated and became unconvinced.
      I came to realise how hidebound the church was with what can only be described as ‘dogma’, and that all too often the real essence of what started the whole thing had somehow become lost replaced by rules, regulations, and rigid thinking.
      But I still remember the stories of people ‘standing up for what they knew was right’ at whatever personal cost – so perhaps it wasn’t all bad ?
      I regard myself as somewhat ‘spiritual’ nowadays rather than religious, but I am somewhat unimpressed with the ‘absolute certainty’ of someone like Richard Dawkins – he reminds me of some of the more zealous Fathers from my early life !
      He also presents something of a paradox in that he is ‘absolutely certain about what he doesn’t know’ !!?
      Again, I do have enormous respect for groups like ‘The Salvation Army’ for the work they do with the poor and dispossessed, though I don’t necessarily share their religious values.
      I also value sides of religion that encourage ‘respect for others’ and ‘treating others as you would like to be treated yourself’ – but you don’t have to be religious to do that.
      So not everything associated with religion is bad.
      But dogma is bad. It is a sort of substitute for real life, real thinking.
      And it often is a mask for enormous repression, and it neatly shifts the blame for that repression (i.e. “I’m not repressing you, I am simply enforcing God’s will !” yeah right !!)
      Is there a God ?
      Define for me what you mean by ‘God’ and perhaps I can attempt an answer.
      I think there is more to people than skin and bone, and I think there is a sort of ‘life-force’ (like warmth, like sunshine ?)
      Is there a higher purpose to life ?
      I don’t know – I certainly wouldn’t say there isn’t (just because I don’t know)

      1. I’m not setting myself up as Dawkins’ bulldog, but, to be fair to him, he doesn’t speak of ‘absolute certainty’ with regards to the non-existence of God – as the religious do, apropos the existence of God. He argues his case, but, knowing that he cannot disprove God’s existence, he reasons, “God almost certainly does not exist” – The God Delusion p189. He may come across as a zealot in some people’s eyes, but he would never affirm certainty in something which he didn’t know was an absolute fact.

        1. I’m afraid I disagree Alan Flynn.
          I have heard Richard Dawkins talk and he was adamant that God does not exist, and further that anyone who in any way suggests that such a thing ‘may’ exist has to be retarded (I don’t remember the exact expression he used)
          As I have already explained, I think that religion can be very excessive and used as a tool for repression and all too frequently is used as such, however
          at it’s base is a belief that there is some sort of higher power, some sort of meaning to life (other than that defined by the parameters of the physical world in which we find ourselves)
          and my mind is open to the possibilities
          I simply don’t know.
          I think that life is a bit of a mystery.
          Of course those who cling too tightly to religious dogma can cause enormous harm and it is good that this is challenged, but Richard Dawkins seemed too be saying that unless something can be proven scientifically, it cannot exist.
          I find that every bit as silly as the religious dogma.
          The truth is that science is continually evolving, science doesn’t know the answers to infinitely more than it does know the answers to, and crucially …..
          Science, like religion, is man made.
          So if something cannot be evaluated by science, perhaps the reason is because science hasn’t yet developed the language or unit by which to quantify and define it (perhaps)
          As I have said, I think there is a spiritual dimension to people (indeed life) if Richard Dawkins disagrees, fine
          but he should allow me to wander wrapped in my self-delusion,
          why does he need to ‘burst my bubble’ and harangue me with his (very limited) scientific arguments ?
          I am not trying to hurt anyone after all.

  4. I think you ought to watch the film ‘Blame it on Fidel’ (or La faute a Fidel !)
    your son sounds like an attentive student to me and very sweet (bless him !!)
    I hope you allow him some ‘self-expression’ ?
    (otherwise he might turn out to be a priest or something hee hee !)

    1. Exactly my worries. My dad’s a shah supporter and I turned out to be a communist… I do try not to tell him anything but have been forced to counter some of the rubbish he’s been learning.

    2. Yes!!! I’m sure Maryam will take note of the experience of the US atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair & her born-again Christian son, William J. Murray, who is busy undoing all of her good work! Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, George Santayana.

        1. I’m mainly being jocular (or trying to be), but I’m also underlining Colin Bell’s observation that seeking to raise a child to adhere to ones own beliefs can be counterproductive, in that the child may rebel & embrace a conflicting belief system. An overly zealous atheist parent, for example, may inadvertently raise a Christian fundamentalist. Other than instilling the key value of respect for others, the important thing is to teach a child to think (i.e. to question, to apply reason) & not what to think (“There’s no such thing as ‘God’, don’t let me hear you say such rubbish ever again”.) I’m not casting aspersions at Maryam, who’s written, “I do try not to tell him anything”.

          1. I think it’s most important to encourage kids to think for themselves and to look at the evidence. They are then less likely to be fooled. It’s mostly the religious that indoctrinate and expect children to adhere to their beliefs. I mean even in the example I give of my father being a monarchist and me a communist, it’s not because he forced me to ever be a monarchist; he did let me decide for myself, which is why I have such different views. In fact, I’ve never told my son anything until he started coming home with things like ‘let’s pray’ and ‘god created everything’. I mean imagine in Year 1 the religious education class focuses on creation when they’re not even learning science yet. In that situation I felt I should explain some things to him but not tell him what to think so I did say that not everyone believes in god and also that he needs to think and not believe everything he is told. So when he said let’s thank god for the food, I asked him where food came from and who cooked it or how he came about to be born and so on. I have the utmost respect for him and children in general. I don’t see why they should be treated with less respect because they are smaller and have less power than us. And I think the same goes with their right to eat when they’re hungry, stop eating when they’re full (not for example to be forced to finish their plate), be cuddled not ignored when they’re crying, not left to cry in the same way we wouldn’t leave an adult to cry and sob endlessly, not to be smacked and hurt, and also to think for themselves.

  5. Many years ago we had a total eclipse near here. The school announced plans to keep all children inside with blinds drawn so no one would look at it. No opportunity to learn the correct way to view an eclipse was offered, only refusal to see it.

    I built a couple different kinds of eclipse viewers – the correct welding lens in a frame, and a portable solar observatory – and just took my kids out of the school. We drove 45 miles to the center of the eclipse and had an amazing time. How strange it was!

    Laws are very different here (Illinois) though. Very lax. School districts have little power over parents here.

  6. Sheesh, and they preach about god and stuff? I might remove your son from that school next year, Maryam. Although it would probably be hard on him…

    If my parents needed to go away and take me with then they’d bloody well take me. The principle/school board are not his parents.

    And it’s totally deserved, enjoy the cruise!

  7. I’m pretty sure you’ll be preaching to the converted … that is unless some of the self-flagellators fancy some alternative mortification ;)… but give them hell anyway. Bon voyage!

  8. It is a legal requirement that children attend school, and parents can be prosecuted if they don’t attend, but that is I think a last resort after months or years of poor attendance. In this case, there isn’t really much they can do.
    To be honest, there is so much repetition at 6, that they will still be covering anything new when she gets back.

  9. The parents of my students take out out class for a week long holiday to Mexico. And expect me to get the kids caught up upon their return.

    No on asks me for permission.

    1. Remember that Maryam is in the UK where the laws around school absences are different and often more strictly enforced than they are in the US. I grew up in England and my father almost had to sign in blood to take me out of school for a week at the end of the year when I was thirteen. A week that we never did any real work in anyway.

      Living in the US now, and parents think nothing of yanking their kids out of school for a weeks trip to Florida.

    2. My sister’s a teacher of younger kids so I can sort of relate to how annoying that would be. You don’t want the kid to be screwed for missing lessons.

      At least Maryam has the courtesy to ask first.

  10. it’s bad enough when a minor child has to request permission of petty authorities for palpably necessary activities; requiring adults to do the same is just insulting. i too agree with Derek and unbound; inform them of what necessities apply to your life and your child’s activities, then expect them as fellow adults to help accommodate you — or else to sod off and not be impediments, at very least.

  11. “Basically if I was taking my son off to self-flagellate somewhere during the school term, they would most likely be more than happy to approve leave but take him along to something that is actually educational – well no can do.”

    Wow. Sure they would. Climb down off the cross you exaggerating martyr.

    1. Err, it’s a joke, but basically it refers to a truth. Lots of parents get permission because of religious/cultural purposes but those of us that are anti-cultural relativism can’t really use the same excuses. And why does that make me a martyr!? Wow yourself.

      1. Maryam is correct. “Exaggerating martyr”? Ridiculous. Public schools are indeed often very sensitive to religious activities and/or requirements. More so than to secular ones. Good for you, Maryam, for saying it like it is. You go, sister!

    2. It’s not an exaggeration. Ashura is considered part of the Persian culture, and extremely devout people do self-flagellate in the memory of Imam Hussain’s sacrifice.

    3. That’s a whole lot of nasty towards someone who’s just attempting to take her son on a trip. Wow indeed!

  12. Oh sheesh!

    Could you not phone the headmaster/mistress – or what ever they are called these days – and try to explain the situation to him/her directly?

    Anyway, whatever you do, just make sure you get on that cruise!

  13. I’m with Derek. The reason for your trip is irrelevant in this case. You have to be on an extended trip for your job, and you do not have acceptable choices for your child’s care during that time. The school has to provide support, and, if not, you can definitely escalate to superintendent and/or school board.

    And definitely enjoy the cruise.

    1. Good idea. If they don’t approve when I write back asking for a reconsideration I might see where else to go but I also don’t want to get them too upset with us as my son has to go there everyday and it is a good school.

  14. I’m not sure why you’re asking the school. Tell them that you’re taking him as it will be an educational experience, and ask for any course material they want him to cover while he’s gone.
    And enjoy your well-deserved cruise!

    1. I guess we had to tell the school and to do that you need to fill a form to request leave. Since they have denied leave, they also won’t give the work he will miss since we’re not supposed to be going. Well I am writing to ask them to reconsider only so that my son can get his course-work. But yes thanks I will enjoy it and so will he. He’s the only one of us anyway that already has ‘smart casual clothes’. He only wears shirts and even refuses to wear jeans because they are scruffy. And since I’m in jeans every day, maybe he’s telling me something.

      1. Seems to me that YOU are the parent and make the decisions about your child’s education. If they refuse to give your son his assignments during that time, then they can explain to a lawyer and possibly a judge why they denied your son his right to an education simply because they did not agree with your educational decisions. Which are yours to make, as the parent.

        1. Brea, The law doesn’t work like that in the UK. The parent has a statutory duty to ensure their children are educated. If, having enrolled a child in a school, a parent does not send the child there, this can be interpreted as a breach of this duty. The reality is however that it is incredibly unlikely that any action will be taken if Maryam takes her child on the trip.

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