LAST week the House of Lords debated the content of religious education. Whatever else the debate was about, it was not about the Christian content of religious education.
Perhaps this is not surprising. Few of the noble Lords who spoke had direct experience in Local Authority schools, fewer still had taught in them, and fewer had been educated in them, but this did not stop their Lordships pontificating about the quality of the education in the local education authority schools.
They concluded that the Christian content of religious education was something they nearly all desired, but no one was prepared to state specifically what they meant. It was like the non-definition of an elephant, everybody knows. what an elephant is but nobody knows how to describe it.
It may he that I am being a trifle unfair. Nevertheless I was left with the impression that religious education in State schools was to their Lordships' House the same as apple pie and ice cream: something to be desired, to he eaten and to be appreciated, but who was going to mix the pastry, choose the apples, or select the ice cream was never mentioned.
Although not staling it specifically, I felt that the majority of' the speakers in that debate echoed the opinion of Lord Clifford of Chudleigh
who, with approval, quoted the 1898 writings of a namesake: "The British Empire will last only as long as the British people have faith in themselves," He went on: "Bringing that statement up to date, I would say that the British will completely disintegrate, politically, administratively and any way you care to mention, when they lose the last of the Faith of Christianity on which their civilisation was built."
This was an attitude towards Christianity which I cannot accept. If we look to the Christian religion merely to support present society, its institutions and mores, without defining — which their Lordships failed to do in any way — what we mean by Christian, Christianity or education, then our whole purpose is lost.
The Christian religion is not meant in any way to support any particular system of Government. It may be that a particular State at a particular moment in time will support what are particular and specific characteristics of Christianity, such as the dignity of the individual, his right — and indeed his duty to worship God. I do not think that it is right for Christianity to support unquestioningly a particular system of government, no matter how much that government may appear or try to appear or claim to be the embodiment of Christian principles.
The Christian must be forever challenging the role of the institutions of the society in which he lives. What is their purpose and are they achieving their purpose?
I read their Lordships' debate with care. I repeat no attempt was made to define what should be the content of Christian religious education in local authority schools. No one defined what Christians should or should not believe, no one defined what the children should be taught.
There was little comment upon the content of the Christian religion as taught in county schools, Again I was not surprised.
To suggest that in the county schools children should be taught the Unity and Trinity of God who shall render to every man according to his works, the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of our Saviour (which as I understand is what we have to believe in order to hope to be saved), then I am sure that that brief summary of Christian belief would be subject to an enormous number of caveats, if not denials, by some who are charged with the task of teaching religion.
The falsity a the debate was revealed when it was said: "It
should be left to the Churches to evangelise and for the schools to teach." Christianity was to bolster the establishment not to check it.
I am probably, in this matter, an unreconstructed deviationist Catholic. I believe that if the schools, Catholic or county or Church of England, are to fulfil the role for which they were established, then they should be positive„ they should evangelise, they should preach the basic truths of Christianity, not as a historical force, not as an effect which they have had upon our particular culture or tradition but because of people who teach them believe these positive elements. Otherwise why have religious education in schools?
I want from the schools a positive back-up for that which I and my wife try to teach at
m that right et home, olt merely that there m that right et home, olt merely that there is not heottreis a merely "Thou shalt not be found out", but that Christ died for us, Christ saved us, Christ established the Church and its
teaching is positive, recognisable and understandable, that there is a right and a wrong, a person may choose between the good and the' less than good, that the individual will have to answer for his own free choices.
This is part of the Christian content of religious education. It wa.s scarcely mentioned in their Lordships' House. A pity! It could have been an interesting debate.