Last week, the final phase of the 'Atheist Bus Campaign' was launched, this time not on buses or Tube trains, but on billboards..
The goal of this final phase, as the founder of the campaign, Ariane Sherine, said in her Guardian Comment Is Free piece, is "to try and change the current public perception that it is acceptable to label children with a religion. As Richard Dawkins states, 'Nobody would seriously describe a tiny child as a 'Marxist child' or an 'Anarchist child' or a 'Post-modernist child'. Yet children are routinely labelled with the religion of their parents. We need to encourage people to think carefully before labelling any child too young to know their own opinions, and our adverts will help to do that.'"
I was raised without any religious education. Even though both my parents had been brought up Catholic, they told my sister and me that we could choose to believe whatever we wanted when we were older. Neither of us are religious. I suspect that because we hadn't been indoctrinated when we were little we found it all just a bit, well, silly by the time we looked into it when we were older.
A few years ago, I realised I was guilty of forcing my own beliefs on my child.When I had my first son I had been a vegetarian for over 10 years. Yes, I'll admit it, I was one of those fans of the Smiths who, as a teenager, liked their album Meat Is Murder just a bit too much.
For the first few years of his life, my son was a vegetarian, because I was. I fed him a healthy and varied diet with plenty of complete protein, so I knew he wasn't coming to any harm. He was (and still is) a very adventurous eater. A 'foodie' in as much as a small child could be. Before the age of 5 he was eating Japanese, Indian, Mexican, even Eritean food. All vegetarian, of course.
When he was 5 years old he started to ask if we could go to McDonald's. I kept saying, "No, they don't have any food we can eat." 'Why can't we eat it?" "Well..." I couldn't really think of an appropriate answer. "Because on a whim when Mummy was 16 she decided to change her diet - not for any idealistic reasons, you understand. And now over 10 years later, I'm forcing that change on you." See? Inappropriate.
I thought it over for a bit and decided that me forcing my son to live by my teenage decisions was ridiculous. I decided that not only would I start serving him meat, but I would also take him out to McDonald's for dinner that very night.
After school, on our way home, I told him of my plans. His face lit up. He was incredibly excited.
We got up to the counter and I asked him what he wanted to eat. He said, "Hamburger and fries." I agreed as long as he had a milk to drink. He said he would.
I ordered his food and as we waited for it I asked him where he wanted to sit. "Over there, by the window." All I could think was, "I hope no one I know sees us", but said, "Great!" Our food came and we sat down.
He unwrapped his hamburger like it was a delicate, precious package and he started to eat. We talked about this and that while he ate and soon he was finished. We sat there for a little while longer, then got up to walk home.
On the way back I asked, "Well, did you like your dinner?" "It was OK." "Just OK?" "Yea." "Do you want to go back again next week?" "No."
And that was that.
He's now almost 13 and though we started to eat meat several years ago, he's never once asked to go to McDonald's again.
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