Schools are places of education. That is what we expect when we send our children there. They will be taught all sorts of useful things, pass exams, and generally be prepared with skills and knowledge to make their way in the modern world. Religion has no place in schools. Children should be left to make up their own minds when they are old enough. Right?
Religion in our world
Like it or not, religion is alive and well in the modern world. Some might like to think that religion has had its day, Christianity is going out of fashion, and the Church is within a few short years of extinction. But that is just what we think in the U.S. or the U.K. Lift your head a little and look a little further – to South America, to Africa, to Asia.
You will observe that Christianity is the fastest growing religion in the world with over 2 billion adherents. It shows no signs of slowing. In China for example, it is reckoned conservatively that there are more Christians than members of the communist party. Even in the U.K., there are pockets of growth. These are often (though not exclusively) in ethnic churches whose ranks are being swelled by immigration and by the commitment of their members to share their faith. Our world is a global village. If we are to equip our children to thrive in it then they have to have an appreciation of the place of religion in general, and Christianity in particular.
What has Christianity ever done for us?
Consider this quote that has been doing the rounds on Facebook recently:
“Apart from being involved at the beginning of science, systems of government, philosophy, art, schools, hospitals, the emancipation of women, the abolition of slavery, social welfare, helping form the basis of the moral code most people live by, and introducing popular notions of justice, mercy, decency and compassion what has Christianity ever really done for the world?”
To ignore or to diminish the contributions of the Christian faith to the foundations of our society is to be in serious denial. Foundations are important. Neglect your foundations and the building is apt to fall down. Take a moment to reflect on the direction of our society. Is it a bastion of justice, mercy, decency and compassion? Are we happy with the direction of science? Social welfare? How is your local hospital doing? You can draw your own conclusions about whether as a society we are making the right choices, drawn from the right priorities.
Church historian Rodney Stark coins the phrase ‘religious capital’ in referring to the commonality of religious language, symbolism and the stories and narratives that help us make sense of our world.(1) For innumerable generations the religious capital of our nation has been Christian. It has shaped who and what we are. But now we are in times when we are forgetting this religious capital.
I have been on camps with young teenagers who have never even heard of the Lord’s Prayer, still less ever prayed it. I met a Year 9 girl who thought that the red letters in the Bible she had been given were the bits she was not allowed to read. We are losing our religious capital, but we don’t really know what to replace it with.
The Government recognises the problem and is trying, but their notions of ‘British values’ are so ill defined as to be seriously problematic. We are losing touch with our foundations, we are losing our identity, and we struggle to make sense of our world.
Should children be taught about religion?
And finally, what about that argument, much loved by secular humanists, that children should be shielded from religion until they are old enough to make up their own minds? That is another way of saying, keep them in ignorance until it’s too late. That is taking away their freedom of choice. Much better to include religion in their education so that they are then able to make informed decisions.
Educationalists know this. R.E. is recognised as a valuable part of the curriculum and OFSTED encourages schools to invite members of faith communities to visit, to help children understand their religion. Children need a basis for understanding and relating to Christians, and to appreciate the Christian roots of our society. A child might want to embrace the Christian faith for themselves. it is vital that they have accurate information. Who better to provide them with this, than the people who have the best understanding of the Christian faith, i.e. Christians.
That is why the Statement of Purpose of NISCU begins like this:
“To provide children and young people in education with knowledge and understanding of the Christian Faith as presented in the Bible, and to support children and young people who choose to express their Christian faith in their community.”
We think it is vital, for every individual, for our communities and for our nation.
And that is why we work in schools.
(1) Stark, Rodney 1997 The Rise of Christianity Harper Collins