Religious education – or running scared?

When I was at Grammar School in the 1960’s the demolition of Christianity had already started. Assemblies were perfunctory – a hymn, a Bible reading, and a couple of prayers. There was one period of Religious Education for every class, often ‘single-sex’ while the other half of the class was doing P.E. For text books we had a set of dog-eared Authorised Version Bibles – and that was it. The Head of Sixth Form regularly ran down Christianity, telling anti-religious jokes, mocking the RE teacher and predicting the demise of the Faith within fifty years.

In the 1960’s the new liberal establishment, especially the media and celebrities,  decided that it had had enough of the Christian religion, and subjected it to mockery, stereotyping, and endless criticism. The multi-faith agenda was promoted in schools and local councils, not because the establishment was in the least interested in other religions as an alternative to Christianity, but because it was a way of bashing the Church. So the pathetic teaching of the Christian Faith was replaced in schools by the ignorant and uninformed teaching of ‘other faiths’.  As a youngster I knew that the school brand of Christianity had little in common with the faith and life of the Church which I was coming to know and love. And my guess is that young Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Jews feel much the same about the way their faith is approached in school.

Charles Clarke, former Education Secretary, was interviewed on the Today programme this morning (15 June 2015). He made a number of fascinating statements, asserting that religion is very important for many people in our country today; that the quality of Religious Education in schools is not good, and teachers are not properly informed; that RE is helpful in encouraging people to respect and honour religious belief. But all of these things were have been true for the last fifty years. So why the sudden interest in RE now?

There were two remarks that were especially significant, I thought. The first was that, among the people he had been talking to, Mr Clarke had found several ‘Church of England bishops’ who were keen on an ‘inclusive’ approach including in worship and prayer. Is this really so, or is it an example of  the good old C of E being cajoled into adopting the ‘British values’ which politicians are always now talking about, but have so far failed to identify. His second significant point, was that it was important to have RE teachers who could teach what religion is, and what it is not. I think he means that teachers would assert that, for example,  Islam does not condone violence against other people, and that therefore ISIL is not true to Islam. But can someone who is not a believer really talk, as it were, from within, about the reality of religious belief? And if a class of year 9, say, have a discussion about ‘gay marriage’ will the Jewish or Catholic or Muslim position be described as homophobic by other students, or by the teacher, and how will parents react when their children go home and repeat what was said?

Just how far will this new RE go? When the C of E General Synod turned down proposals to allow women to be bishops, Members of Parliament expressed their outrage at such ‘inequality’. Will there now be pressure on the Muslim Council to introduce women imams? And most Catholic adoption agencies were closed when they indicated that they could not, in conscience, place children with same-sex couples. Are orthodox Jews going to have to face the same choice? The secular establishment has got used to bullying the Church into conformity, but is it now willing to use the same techniques with other faiths? All the signs are that it is not, and that it is desperately looking for other ways.

In fact it has been largely indifferent to ‘immigrant’ religions while such groups have been small and insignificant, while using them to remove the perceived ‘privileges’ of Christianity. Like my Head of Sixth Form, they  swallowed the lie that the Christian Faith was rapidly dying out, and assumed that all other religions would quickly follow them, as people realised just how much happier and fulfilled they were with  secularism. The experiment has been a dismal failure. A new generation is looking for something better to live by.  It  amazes me that  the secular establishment, having worked for fifty years  to destroy our Christian culture and  belief,  is  surprised at the weird and dangerous philosophies which are attracting the naïve and inexperienced.



About Scott Anderson

Formerly an Anglican priest (ordained 1975) received into the Catholic Church in February 2012, and ordained to the Diaconate on 27th July 2013. I took early retirement, and divide my time between London and northern France. I am deeply committed to the Ordinariate as a gift of the Holy Spirit in the search for unity. Like many Ordinariate members I feel a personal gratitude to Pope Emeritus Benedict, together with loyalty to our Holy Father, Pope Francis. My blog tries to make a small contribution to the growth of the Ordinariate by asking questions (and proposing some answers) about the 'Anglican Patrimony'. I have always been fascinated by the whole issue of growth and decline, and therefore concerned for appropriate means of evangelisation in western Europe. I believe that the Holy Spirit is constantly renewing the People of God and that we must be open to him. My love of music and motorcycles will occasionally surface in my posts. On Saturday 19th October 2013, I was ordained to the Priesthood at Most Precious Blood, Borough, by the Most Revd Peter Smith, Archbishop of Southwark, for the service of the Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham. I continued to serve the Ordinariate group and Parish at Most Precious Blood until the end of 2014. Subsequently, I helped in the care of the Ordinariate Groups at Hemel Hempstead and Croydon, and in the Archdiocese of Southwark, until the beginning of September 2015. With the agreement of my Ordinary, Mgr Keith Newton, the Bishop of Amiens appointed me Administrator of the Parish of Notre Dame des Etangs (Pont Remy) in Picardie, France. This appointment is to last for a year, to give the Bishop the opportunity to assess the future of the parish.
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2 Responses to Religious education – or running scared?

  1. As someone who taught RE for nearly 40 years, I’d like to point out that
    1) the multi-faith agenda came into leglslation because of a House of Lords amendment by the then Bishop of london, Graham Leonard – so it wasn’t to bash the church.

    2) The reason why RE has been so badly taught is because there are not enough specialists – nobody would dream of Science being taught by someone without a relevant degree yet schools regularly deploy people to teach RE who dopn’t have a theology degree.

  2. David Murphy says:

    Hello, Father Scott and hello “licensedlayminister”,

    Is it really true that you can teach Religious Education in Britain without training?

    I teach “Catholic Religious Education” at a state school in Germany and need a commission from the local Bishop. Similarly my colleagues who teach “Evangelical (Protestant) Religious Education”. As for the teachers of “Muslim Religious Education”, I am assuming that they too will need some kind of certification from the Muslim Council.

    Because religion is taught in denominational groups in the primary school, and most secondary classes, it can more or less be taught as Catechesis, although you have to be sensitive, because many students view this as “religion being forced down our throats”. However, whole year groups go to First Communion or Confirmation. Our school books are written by special institutes in the theological faculties of universities like Tübingen.

    My own situation, however, is somewhat different. I am teaching at a Vocational College with a myriad of different courses, so it has proven impractical to divide the courses on denominational lines. So each of us RE teachers is teaching a mixed faith group. In most of my classes I have three or four Muslims, two or three committed Catholics, a similar number of committed Protestants, one or two Hindus, the occasional Orthodox or Anglican. (and I also succeeded in convincing a Jehovah’s Witness to take part in our class this year for the first time ever – normally they are excused). The vast majority of my students has no religious background or affiliation or belief whatsoever.

    So, you may ask, how do In teach Catholic Religion in this context? What I most certainly do not teach is relativism or secularism! I find that the most effective method is to ask the students what they believe in a particular situation (you will perhaps be surprised how well the Muslims know their religion) and I bear witness to what I believe. I pull no punches but I show complete respect to every student whatever he or she believes.

    Today I asked one class how they had found our lessons this year. Basically they had noticed that everybody’s faith was respected, but that I left no doubt about what I believed. They said that when I showed a film, I would stop it to explain the consequences of what we had seen for our faith – apparently other teachers had just shown the film. They had learned the value that I placed on love, life, justice, human rights. And they had learned a lot about various faiths and their practices. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they had recognised in me a person who is not stupid and yet believes. What more can I ask? In fact I feel quite proud of what they told me.

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