PUBLIC CONCERN about the teaching of morality and religion in our schools continues, and this week the third of the series of Conservative education lectures on values at the House of Commons was devoted to this vital topic.
The purposes of education are varied: to impart knowledge, to inculcate skills, to fit for work in adult life, but perhaps the most important of all educational aims is to help young people to develop as fully human beings, inclined and equipped to lead the good life rather than the bad.
Once that is accepted, religious and moral values are inevitably involved.
But what moral values are State schools to teach? I believe that there can only be one answer to that the values of the society by which they are supported and those of the parents from whom the schools derive their mandate. These • values can certainly be ascertained.
Every society holds certain ideas in common concerning the individual, the State, religion and morality: indeed one can describe the essence of civilisation as the agreement to live together in peace and amity respecting certain moral values.
This common possession, as Cardinal Newman pointed out, constitutes the life of a society, just as its loss amounts to its dissolution and death. The right to life; equal treatment before the law; personal freedom; care, concern, and compassion for others are all part of this common heritage.
Parents and the family play an important part in transmitting this inheritance from one generation to another, but the role of the schools is equally vital.
The educational system remains the foundation of the civilisation of the dialogue which differentiates free and responsible men from animals on
on tt nh o ee other: awnodl vaensdd ocriminal n odi s cuss the merits of hunting in packs, and guns don't argue.
Suchis the case for giving a high priority to the teaching of moral values in schools. One
cannot stop there, but is driven on to the next question: where do the values come from, on what ultimately do they rest? The answer is religion.
To say that is not to deny the contribution of secularism and rationalism to morality, much less does it reject the proposition (supported by the facts) that morality can exist without religion: but it is to assert that within the British tradition, morality has drawn its inspiration, its strength and its sanctions much more from Christianity than from the Enlightenment.
Christianity is the soil in which the roots of our morality have been planted; cut them off from this and the morality is likely to die.
Freedom, democracy and morality in Britain are all three heavily indebted to Christian insights. Of course good theology is no guarantee of good government otherwise Catholics would be placed in a nice dilemma by the history of the Papal States!
Yet Christianity has provided the individual with a profound sense of his own unique worth. At the same time, by recognising the reality of man's sinfulness as well as his dynamic towards virtue, it has contributed to the creation of those institutional and constitutional checks which protect him from the abuse of naked power.
On this view the British office
of the Leader of the Opposition, which takes into the Constitution itself the principle of resistance to government , is a very Christian institution. (No longer the Blessed Margaret
but Saint Margaret!).
The case, then, for teaching religion in our State schools is not primarily a theological one although theology and its adherents may provide some useful ancillary troops but cultural, historical and social. Christianity has got into the foundations on which our house has been built, and it cannot be taken out without a grave risk of the house falling down.
This was the primary consideration that influenced Lord Butler and Archbishop Temple, the joint architects of the religious education clauses of
the Education Act of 1944.
Not only were Church
schools given a partnership in the new national system of education but religion was given an honoured and honourable place in the county schools through guarantees that non-denominational religious instruction was to be provided and time set aside within the school 'curriculum for religious worship.
It is often maintained that conditions have so radically changed since 1944 that the religious clauses should be repealed. But have things changed so much?
We are sometimes called a multi-faith society, but the truth is that we have always had adherents of other faiths in Britain. We are a secular society in the sense that the civil order has come of age and emancipated itself from ecclesiastical and theological tutelage, but we are certainly not a secular society in the sense that we have made a choice for a rationalist, agnostic way of public life from which all associations with Christianity should be excluded.
We are a Christian society in that we are benevolently inclined to the Christian religion and wish it well and at moments of importance and crisis seek its help. And that, in a nutshell, is the case for continuing to teach the Christian religion in our schools.