Will this spread? 349 students at Scottish High School challenge Christianity’s monopoly

Promising signs that there may yet be a reformation in Scotland.

Primate's Progress

North Berwick High SchoolMore than a third of the students at North Berwick High have signed a petition challenging Christianity’s monopoly in Religious Observance and School Assemblies. In order to express their views more freely, they have set up their own newspaper, The Contender, of which the first two numbers are available on line here and here, and obtained a grant to pay for a print edition. These actions have attracted well-deserved media attention both locally and UK-wide, and are likely to be discussed by the Scottish Youth Parliament.

Here is what they’ve signed:

 Petition for the Secularisation or Religious Diversity of School Assemblies and/or Functions

By signing this petition you, as a North Berwick student, are agreeing that there should either be no religious influence (in assemblies, other events) in school or that all religious denominations should be represented, and that it is inappropriate for only one religion…

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On the narrative of dying

There are two terms I hate with a passion in relation to death.

Abel dying. Marble, reception piece for the French Royal Academy, 1785. Jean-Baptiste Stouf (1742–1826). © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

The first is “passing”. This has become a trendy euphemism that seems to have seeped into the popular discourse from the sewer of spiritualism. The transitive sense of the verb to pass is movement of something from one place to another. Even arguing that it’s passing out of life won’t wash, because the implication is that it’s out of life into something else. I’ve even heard atheists and humanists use the term, as if it’s somehow become more socially acceptable and compassionate than dying. Death is our ultimate finality; there is nothing beyond it for us as individuals. Euphemisms that detract from that finality remove the acute sense of ending that comes with death. Perhaps that’s why we shy from the term, it’s easier to suggest some sort of ethereal hope of reconnection when we speak to the bereft and grieving, rather than acknowledge the finality and completeness of their loss.

The second object of my bile this morning is “battling with cancer”. There is a scientific and societal battle with cancer, but there’s bugger all an individual can do who’s got cancer than seek out the best medicine available in terms of cure. In terms of mental wellbeing, then there is much a patient can do to live with the reality of the disease and the possible outcomes. There is always an implied criticism in the use of the verb battle for those who die from cancer; obviously they didn’t try hard enough. I consider this to be offensive and objectifying of cancer patients as either winners or losers when no-one would dream of using the same language for, say, pneumonia. But, again, I can understand that when someone is very sick, it’s comforting to say to one another “she’s a fighter” as if it somehow casts a spell of recovery over the patient. And perhaps that’s why we do it; to persuade ourselves that this dreadful thing isn’t going to take the ones we love and place the onus of their own fate on the person least able to change it.

And in the last, here’s a warning to my family. I’ve got as good a chance as anyone else of dying of cancer. And if any one of them refers to me battling bravely or passing or other similar bollocks, I’ll break all the rules of the universe and come back to haunt them.

A vision for environmental health

I attended the CIEH Assembly of Representatives today, and it was good to see the work that the professional body is putting into identifying and meeting the challenges of the future. The profession can be proud of the people who work for the CIEH and their commitment to keeping environmental health relevant in the face of stringent and biting cuts in local government finances in UK. One of the tasks we were given was to describe a vision for environmental health in ten years’ time. This is what our table came up with:

Honest: speak truth to all without fear or favour

Holistic: engage with all the determinants of health


Beneficial: to society, our communities, the environment and those in government

Engaged: ever-broadening the scope of the profession to include all those whose work affects the public health

Active: to do things that make a difference and are visible to people

Global leader: to learn from the world and provide leadership in environmental health science and practice

Expert: building the professional knowledge base and sharing the learning

Influential: being visible and unavoidable in the public discourse

Responsive: identifying emerging issues and providing a prompt and effective response

There were many other contributions to the same task and this is only the subset of our own small table.