Give me Jesus rather than this

spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London), on proposals to include atheism in school religious education classes.

Mick Hume

Mick Hume
Columnist

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I am an atheist of the fundamentalist, evangelical school. But teaching our children about atheism in religious education classes? To hell with that.

The Government’s Qualifications and Curriculum Authority wants schools to teach less about Christianity and more about other religious and non-religious beliefs, from Islam to atheism. ‘There are many children in England who have no religious affiliation,’ says a spokesman, ‘and their beliefs and ideas, whatever they are, should be taken very seriously.’

A report due to be issued today by the Institute for Public Policy Research, an influential centre-left think-tank, calls for RE to be renamed ‘religious, philosophical and moral education’. The IPPR wants to see paganism and environmentalism taught alongside the major religions. ‘The whole thing is terribly biased in favour of religion right now’ is the author’s insightful view of, er, religious education.

Of course, the reformers do not really mean that people’s beliefs should be taken seriously ‘whatever they are’. We seem unlikely, for example, to see a Christian fundamentalist invited to talk to children about his belief that Islam threatens our civilisation, or a Muslim from a radical mosque asked to share with the class his concerns about an international Jewish conspiracy. Rather, the IPPR wants children to debate ‘such ethical issues as whether it is permissible to express racist views’. The clue to the answer is in the question.

This post-religious RE is about preaching the new State religion of multi-culturalism, or intolerant tolerance. All beliefs are to be treated as equally valid, and nobody is to be allowed a claim on the truth, or the right to offend anybody else’s faith. That dogmatic worship of relativism can only undermine the principle of any belief worth having, whether religious or secular.

Why should it suddenly be the business of the State to make such a fuss about religious education? Traditionally, religious families and communities in Britain, especially those of minority faiths, took responsibility for the religious education of their own children. As for the rest of us, growing up in a fairly typical Church of England family (attended church religiously whenever a close relative was getting married, baptised or buried), my only memories of religious education at grammar school involve a red-faced vicar mumbling about the perils of self-abuse to even more embarrassed boys. What our school did give us, however, was a properly rounded liberal education. It was that which equipped me to put aside childish things and decide what I did and did not believe in.

By contrast, the education system now seems preoccupied with drilling children in today’s ethically correct values. Society has lost its moral compass and sense of certainty about right and wrong. It is not really atheist, but rather agnostic – unknowing -about everything.

This creeping relativism has infected the Churches. Compare the IPPR’s banal proposal to redefine God as ‘a divine being whose moral judgments are considerably more reliable than ours’, with the Church of England’s redefinition of hell as an insipid ‘state of non-being’. It seems that the authorities increasingly expect the schools to make up for society’s moral shortcomings. If young people are not being properly socialised in their homes and communities, runs the argument, then it will have to be done in the classroom. Thus schools are weighed down with obligations to teach the ethically correct line on everything from citizenship to personal relationships, from religion to racism.

The laying down of codes in the classroom cannot compensate for the loss of moral consensus outside the school gates. But it can succeed in messing up education, whether that means science classes getting bogged down in the ethics of experiments, or the study of history turning into another recital of the multicultural catechism. I would prefer no religious education at all in a truly secular school system.

But if there are to be faith schools, they should be extended to all faiths. And if there is to be RE in state schools, I would prefer my children to be taught full-on Christianity than offered a vapid pick-and-mix of multicultural spirituality. At least that would have the virtue of teaching them that there are such things as truth and commitment, and that some beliefs are worth fighting for. It would also give them certainties to react against.

As our daughters, now aged five and six, grow up, I hope to teach them about the freedom to worship as they see fit -and the freedom to rubbish all religions without constraint. In the meantime, let them come home from school saying that they believe in Jesus. And let them read the beautiful King James Bible, rather than the gospel according to government quango and committee.

This article is republished from The Times (London)

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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