Religion at WHS - Chris Snuggs

The subject of R.E. at WHS is very interesting. I clearly remember that one of my first questions even before starting in 1958 was "What does 'Nisi Dominus Vanum,' mean?" When I found out, it was clear that WHS was "a Christian school" - and so of course we had Christian assemblies - though not tub-thumping evangelical ones. Fair enough; that was the mores at the time. I had for some reason long since even at the age of 11 satisfied myself that "God" did not exist, but no matter - the message was moral, the hymns were quite nice and there was never any question of asking to be excused from assemblies because I didn't believe in the supernatural.

Which reminds me that SOME boys did not attend assemblies on the basis that they were not Christians and their parents had requested they not attend. There were few in this category - and once again I really don't remember how many - and did they enter the hall once the prayers and hymns were over so as to get the messages? If not, it was rather unfair as they were thereby excluded from the school community to some extent - and of course reinforces the point that religion should have nothing to do with formal education except as a subject to be studied in itself with no particular religious bias.

In R.E. there was as far as I recall never any question of doubting the message; it was I think almost all about Christianity. We learned nothing about the Gods of Antiquity, the Ancient Egyptian Gods, the Mayan beliefs, the Aztecs and so on. We learned nothing about WHY humans need to believe in Gods or a God. Perhaps we were too young to go into this. It wasn't till I was at uni and one day we had a lecture which totally and absolutely demolished any possible reason for believing in "God" - and thus confirmed what I had always felt.

The French separated Church and school in 1905, but that didn't happen in England. I think the French got it right, because if you teach that a certain "God" is "the" God it can only be classed as indoctrination.

The strong Christian ethos of WHS and its consequences further came home to me one day on Church Field when I was watching a game; no idea why I wasn't playing. Anyway, Jim Hyde happened to be there. He had been my geography teacher for a couple of years but I wasn't in Johnstons. I was on friendly terms with him generally, but I was taken aback when having got into a conversation - and I have no recollection of how the subject came up ( I might even have asked him if he had any ambitions to be aHeadmaster) - he said that he could never be a Head because as an atheist he would not have been able to conduct morning assemblies. That struck me quite forcefully - and as unfair, since I am sure he would have made a good Head.

Well, R.E. was (through no real fault of the masters who took it) a failed opportunity to really get into what "religion" was, the psychology of faith, its history and why it existed (which to be fair is an incredibly big topic to deal with in just one hour a week); it was really education about Christianity - but it is a long time ago and to be honest I kind of switched off during those lessons, so others may have better recall than I do.

I am an atheist, but recognize Jesus and his message as the most perfect morality by which Humans should live.