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I commend the letters’ pages in The Scotsman for giving space to the important debate between secularists and those of faith communities over education and religious practice.

When discussing how to educate our young people in how they might form opinions and come to decisions about their life, it is important to point out that our choices are in large measure determined by background, available options and the way in which we receive information.

We do not have limitless freedom of choice and it is wrong to suggest that we do. What we do have is the capacity, little by little, to move beyond the immediate limits we experience and taste possibility.

We best realise this from within a system of thought and belief passed on to us by our community, whatever the 
system. We cannot learn in a vacuum or pretend to have at our disposal a blank canvas.

Even the vision of a world, suggested by secularism, in which any and all ideas are “thrown” at people, in the hope that they will be able to pick for themselves which are best, free from the constraints of ideology, implies an understanding of the good, which must come from somewhere and requires nurturing.

In pointing out that we are becoming less “religious” in Britain, secularists may be ignoring the interest expressed by many in spiritual matters.

They may also be oblivious to the simple fact that religious events appear less and less in our British media and when they do they are generally reported with reference to crisis and abuse. This is bound to have an effect. We may find that, if the media agenda changes, the professed atheism of an admittedly significant proportion of the British people turns out to be as shallow as their previous religious confession.

(Rev Dr) Thomas J Shields