Several religious wars are going on at the moment. There is the big one between the predominantly Christian West and sectors of Islam. There is the continuing undeclared war between India's Hindus and Pakistan's Muslims, and then there's the one going on in our primary schools.

The education system allows teaching religion in schools, under the label of values education. It doesn't specify that the teachers who come in to do this must be Christian, but somehow the Christians have ended up dominant. A group called the Secular Education Network is working hard to end this, using modern weapons such as a Facebook page. Their opponents are relying on more traditional strategies such as prayer vigils.

As with most secular versus spiritual conflicts, the non-believers are as rabid in their fanaticism as the most diehard of the faithful.

You don't need religion to teach values to children as young as 5. For instance, most youngsters know that being hurt isn't nice and that it follows from this that it's not nice to hurt other people.


So we don't need religion in schools to teach kids to be good.

But religions - as opposed to religion - should be taught in schools from as early an age as possible in order to give children the best possible chance of understanding how the world works.

To teach the beliefs of only one religion is to shut down access to all sorts of information.

You can't begin to understand, for instance, what is happening in the United States without understanding Christianity and the power of its fundamentalist sects.

Embedded in Maori religious belief is a wealth of information about the natural world unique to these islands.

Only if you understand the Hindu belief in reincarnation can you understand what allows the Indian population to be kept in grinding poverty.

What does the belief that you are God's chosen people have to do with the actions of Israel?

Much of literature, art and music cannot be understood without a working knowledge of the religious stories they depict. Without religion and its influence - believe it or not - we would not be who we are. Education should be about opening children's minds, not shutting them off to ideas we may not agree with.

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They're called memes now, those glib, pithy pieces of wryness or invective that are sent around the internet and are designed to make you nod in sage agreement and mutter: "Hmmm - good point."

Instead of thinking about something, you can just install a meme. And on close examination, most of them are as deep as cling film.

There's one at the moment that shows a group of starving African children and carries the caption: "F*** Mars".

How naive.

Anyone who seriously thinks that abandoning the Nasa explorations of Mars would have resulted in an end to world hunger probably has trouble remembering the lyrics to Happy Birthday.

The even sadder reality is that there is no need for anyone in the world to be hungry. The globe produces sufficient food to feed its people and has cheap simple technology to prevent those numbers growing any further out of control.

The reasons for world hunger are Western greed and the inability of the rich countries to work together to aid the poor countries. It's politics that causes poverty.

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A survey of British place names has concluded that although Brokenwind and Scratchy Bottom have their charms, the worst place name in the country is Shitterton in Dorset, so named since the 11th century. Paul Henry has been alerted.

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