Religion and education

The new world of the open mind

Sir, – I appreciated Rob Sadlier’s fine letter on the place of religious teaching in most Irish schools (November 15th). In it he writes that there is no such thing as Catholic or Islamic maths.

Too true today but it was not always thus.

Until Fibonacci (1170-1250) and others brought Indo-Arabian numerals, zero and negative numbers from the east, and others brought Euclidean geometry (lost by the Romans but curated in the Islamic world) and algebra (developed by al-Khwarizmi in the ninth century), pre-Reformation Europe had made do with Roman numerals and baby arithmetic for more than a thousand years. Maths in that Catholic world was very different from maths in the Islamic.

Europe lagged behind the Islamic world and indeed other parts of the orient in other branches of knowledge – medicine and astronomy, for example.


After the brilliance of the Renaissance, Catholic Europe ceded its leadership of the intellectual world to the Enlightenment.

Ireland will not fully embrace the new world of the open mind until preparation for religious life is removed from the school-day curriculum, and until teachers in thousands of State-funded schools can be appointed without a religious test. There is no chance that parish schools will cease to exist, but the curriculum and conditions of employment can be changed.

While we are thinking of reforms we should consider removing religious tests from appointments as president, as judge, or to the Council of State.

The Preamble to the Constitution has little practical importance but at some stage we might decide to amend it as not reflecting the beliefs of a large and increasing number of our citizens, including many drawn from all over the world who may be religious but are not Christian. – Yours, etc,


Honorary President,

Humanist Association of Ireland,


Co Wicklow.