So Carrington Public School isn’t having hymns and prayers at its Remembrance Day service. Out come the militant atheist celebrations, the harrumphing of religious traditionalists, the bemusement of the political-correctness-skeptics, and, well, me.
It’s one of those circumstances where pretty much everyone has a reasonable argument. Yep, non-Christians shouldn’t feel excluded at national commemorations. Yep, a traditional connection to the behaviours and beliefs of the people who went to war brings their reality closer. Yep, for all the possible beneficial changes a school leader could make, this ranks about at the bottom. Except in the unicorn world of the PC crowd and the perpetually offended.
But there is one thing that does seem to be glossed over. One of the objectives of Remembrance Day must surely be genuine empathy, and some limited understanding of what our soldiers went through.
Lip service to anything during a Remembrance Service undermines that. If you are an atheist, agnostic, non-Christian believer, an apathetic not-give-a-damner, or even a loosely-identifying Christian, mouthing the words of prayers and hymns is utterly phoney. You don’t believe what you’re saying. You’re going through the motions for the sake of conformity.
That is the last thing that Remembrance Day should be. It should, above all, involve a real connection with those of our predecessors who carried a remarkable burden.
I’ve always been an atheist, and I’ve always found forced, scripted expressions of religious belief at commemorative events immediately disengaging. The same must go for those other groups listed above. What it actually does is drag people away from a moment of true feeling and separate them from the group around them, and from the national tradition in which they participate.
Surely when there are so many ways of approaching God, and of approaching the sacrifices of our ancestors, we can at least make the celebrations of our national traditions neutral enough to let everyone feel part of them? In a genuine way?