I get to read some very perverted literature these days. For example, I’ve been looking at the purpose and content of RE teaching in state schools as outlined by the Department of Education. As you would expect of all such documents devised by a bureaucracy, it is voluminous, so here’s an extract to give you the flavour:
Aims of GCSE Religious Studies Specifications
This unit will provide students with the opportunity to:
- develop their knowledge, skills and understanding of religion by exploring the significance and impact of beliefs, teachings, sources, practices, ways of life and forms of expressing meaning;
- express their personal responses and informed insights on fundamental questions and issues about identity, belonging, meaning, purpose, truth, values and commitments.
Questions will be focussed on concepts and framed in an open-ended way that will allow candidates to answer with reference to the religion(s) they have studied. The Specification allows for the study solely of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism or Sikhism, or for a combination of any of these specified religions. This unit may be studied as a Short Course GCSE or may form part of a Full Course GCSE in Religious Studies when taken with another unit from this Specification.
Pic ‘n’ mix, in other words.
The guidelines for the teaching of RE, and indeed the whole syllabus, make it clear that the perspective entirely ignores the question of truth. So, for instance, to take one of the options generously allowed by the prescribing bureaucracy, the pupils are not taught how to be a Christian – or how to be a Buddhist if that’s your consumer-led choice in the supermarket of “faiths,” so admired by Prince Charles that he wants to defend them all. There is to be no attempt at inculcation or, to use that formerly benign word which is now only ever used pejoratively, indoctrination. Inevitably, this descriptive perspective must be secular. Pupils are not taught religion, but they are taught about religion. This approach is, of course, inimical to the character of religion itself.
As if we should teach maths without believing in numbers.
It was always bound to be like this since our lapse into relativism. Everybody has a right to their (sic) own opinion, however uninformed or plain stupid. And everybody’s opinion is declared to be as valid as everybody else’s. I repeat, this can only be done from the secular perspective which sets itself above all the various religions and presumes to evaluate them objectively.
So we see what follows from this: the contradictory ideology which declares that everything is relative, except the secular perspective which is held absolutely. If I may put this epigrammatically as a slogan: ABSOLUTE RELATIVISM RULES OK.
Thus there is dogma and there is indoctrination after all. The dogma is secularism and this dogma, by implication and method, is indoctrinated into the pupils. The secularists who devised this programme are convinced that only their perspective – the secular perspective – possesses objectivity.
But why believe that? I should like to see the same astringent scepticism directed towards the secular perspective as that which the secularists direct towards the claims of faith.
Only of course in a state where secularism is the religion, such scepticism is not permitted. The word for this is totalitarianism.
The proponents of this secular fundamentalism are not convincing. J.H. Newman in his The Idea of a University explains why this supposed objectivity is a sham. And what Newman says of the university applies to the school curriculum as well:
“A university is a place of teaching universal knowledge. It cannot fulfil its object duly without the church’s assistance; or, to use the theological term, the church is necessary for its integrity. A university by its name professes to teach universal knowledge: theology is surely a branch of knowledge: how then is it possible to profess all branches of knowledge, and yet to exclude not the meanest or the narrowest of the number?”
Of course, some argued in Newman’s time, as many more argue today, that theology is not a form of knowledge but only a matter of opinion. As we learnt from Newman, it is liberalism itself which has created this view. But Newman stoutly defends university theology:
“Are we to limit our idea of university knowledge by the evidence of our senses? Then we exclude history. By testimony? Then we exclude metaphysics. By abstract reasoning? Then we exclude physics. Is not the being of a God reported to us by testimony, handed down by history, inferred by an inductive process, brought home to us by metaphysical necessity, urged on us by the suggestions of our conscience?”
“In a state of society such as ours in which authority, prescription, tradition, habit, moral instinct and the divine influence go for nothing, in which patience of thought and depth and consistency of view are scorned as subtle and scholastic, in which free discussion and fallible judgement are prized as the birthright of each individual…all this I own it gentlemen frightens me.”
He was right to be frightened – as we are who inhabit the age in which this nightmare vision has come to be our daily reality.
But it is sometimes argued that pluralism and diversity of views are signs of a society’s health. This point was asked of Newman himself:
“A question was put to me by a philosopher of the day: Why cannot you go your way and let us go ours? I answer in the name of theology, When Newton can dispense with the metaphysician, then you may dispense with us.”