I personally believe that an understanding of the dynamics of religion and faith in global society is not only a legitimate and important tool of foreign policy practice, but an increasingly essential one for our diplomats and foreign policy advisers in a modern world in which religion is ever more important as a driver of political, social, cultural and even economic motivation. In the same way that we expect diplomats to develop a keen knowledge of international economic issues, or the intricacies of multilateral negotiating techniques in areas from disarmament to climate change, we cannot ignore religion. Unlike in much of the world, most British school children or students do not regularly attend a place of worship, even if a large majority of British people still express a religious affiliation. So our new recruits, and more experienced diplomats, need training to engage a world where faith and religiosity is more common and evident than at home. Whether a diplomat agreed or disagrees with the values expressed by faiths, not understanding them puts him or her at a great disadvantage across the globe, from Khartoum to Karachi, Rio to Riyadh.
And of course, it’s not just diplomats that need this knowledge and understanding in our increasingly interconnected world.
And note this is not an back-door argument for Christian evangelism in our schools, as this should be handled by the Church and family, and not an arm of government. This is an argument for religious literacy in order to more fully understand and appreciate the cultures we work with economically, politically, and in all ways.
I couldn’t watch the news yesterday or go online, as I simply couldn’t cope with the gut crunching imagery conjured up in my mind as a result of the US school massacre.
I braved it today and found myself shaking with rage.
First up, an article arguing not for the banning of guns, nor arguing the case for keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill; nope, arguing instead for the banning of psychiatric medication. Yep, you heard me right.
There’s talk online that the gunman was potentially suffering from a personality disorder; as far as I can make out, that’s all we know. We don’t know which particular disorder, or what medication he may, or may not, have been receiving, but that does not prevent this sort spurious bullshit:
No gun can, by itself, shoot anyone. It must be triggered by a person who makes a decision to use it. And while people like NY Mayor Bloomberg are predictably trying to exploit the deaths of these children to call for guns to be stripped from all law abiding citizens who have done nothing wrong whatsoever, nobody calls for medication control.
Why is that? After all, medication alters the mind that controls the finger that pulls the trigger. The saying that “guns kill people” is physically impossible. People kill other people, and as we all learned from watching the O.J. Simpson trial, you don’t need a gun to commit murder.
We should be outlawing psychiatric medications, not an inanimate piece of metal
Putting my cards on the table; mentally ill folk should not be allowed to own guns. I’m mentally ill, and am no danger to anybody, with or without a gun, but I still should not be legally allowed to own one, for the simple fact that I am mentally ill.
Does that mean I believe that all mentally ill folk are potentially mass killers, no it doesn’t. My main concern with the mentally unstable having easy access to guns, is to do with the ease of dispatching oneself into eternity.
That’s my opinion.
But what if this tragedy has nothing to do with guns, mental illness, evil, or what have you, but is instead a by-product of godlessness?
That’s the other angle being pumped out at the moment; this time, of course, by Christians.
I really can’t articulate a response to this any better that Prof McGrath
I am glad that fundamentalists are finally being a bit more honest about what they mean by “God.”
They clearly do not mean an omnipresent being who cannot be excluded from any place. It’s quite a different notion from that encountered on more than one occasion in the Psalms, for instance. The ancient Israelite author never said “Where shall I go to flee from your presence? I know – a public school!” And in the Book of Jonah, the main character’s attempt to flee from the one who he himself says “made the sea and the dry land” on a boat is depicted as a fool’s errand. And could you imagine any ancient Israelite or Christian author taking seriously the notion that God could be kept out of somewhere?
But even though creating laws that exclude a real and omnipresent God from public school would be utterly futile, there are in fact no such laws in the United States.
What is excluded is the use of state power and influence to promote religion in general or some sectarian religious dogma in particular.
And so I think that, when fundamentalists say that their God is excluded from public schools, they are speaking the truth. The God they worship is not the true God, the one that is omnipresent and ultimate, but political power and coercive imposition of their views on others.
That is what fundamentalists worship and serve. That is what they lament seeing expelled from public schools. And that is what they opportunistically use tragedies like the recent one to promote.
Those who know or seek the true God will not bow before such idols, and will call those who do so out, and seek to expose them for what they are, namely worshippers of false gods.
A YouGov poll commissioned by Oxford University’s Department of Education has found widespread support in England for the teaching of Christianity as part of Religious Education. The survey was undertaken as the initial part of a national intervention project by Oxford researchers to support teachers tackling the subject of Christianity in schools.
In the poll of a random sample of 1,832 adults in England, 64 per cent agreed that children need to learn about Christianity in order to understand English history; 57 per cent agreed it was needed to understand the English culture and way of life; and 44 per cent said they thought that more attention should be given to such teaching. Areas of Christianity that people regarded as particularly important for children to learn about in RE were the history of Christianity (58 per cent), major Christian events and festivals (56 per cent), and how Christianity distinguishes right from wrong (51 per cent).
The project is being launched by a research team of educationalists and practitioners at Oxford University, as part of their wider work on religion in education. The project follows concerns raised by Ofsted inspectors and others about how Christianity is taught. One problem identified in research literature is that teachers are sometimes nervous about tackling issues related to Christianity because they are worried that it could be considered as evangelizing.
The Oxford team is producing a web-based introductory package aimed at trainee primary teachers, which will be free and is expected to be available by September 2013. The project will explore ways of helping all classroom teachers in primary schools, as well as non-specialists teaching RE in secondary schools. The online materials provide a basic background on RE generally, but focus on the teaching of Christianity. They also touch on issues of personal faith and how this sits with teaching about Christianity, as well as other world faiths. Further online materials for teachers exploring other faiths are anticipated in the longer term.
The online materials for trainee primary teachers are being produced with £100,000 funding from the Jerusalem and Culham St Gabriel’s Trusts, charitable trusts that support school-based RE. A further donation of £48,500 from the Jerusalem Trust will enable first stage work on a package for all primary teachers already in schools.Lead researcher Dr Nigel Fancourt, a lecturer on the RE programme based at the University’s Department of Education, within one of the UK’s leading PGCE courses, said: ‘Christianity statutorily receives more attention than other religions or worldviews, so it will probably be the only religion that pupils study throughout their schooling.
‘It is treated in the same way as other religions, but studied more frequently. While this is challenging and vibrant in some schools, the fact that the basics are often already vaguely familiar to some teachers and pupils means it can present problems. For instance, the presentation of Christianity can be incoherent, lacking in intellectual development, or too stereotypical.
Also involved in the project is Dr Liam Gearon, who has authored a forthcoming book entitled MasterClass in Religious Education. He holds the University Lectureship in Religious Education at the Oxford University Department of Education in association with a Senior Research Fellowship at Harris Manchester College.
Commenting on the aims of the project, he said: ‘The teaching of Christianity in English schools is part of Christianity’s decisive shaping of English history. It has been a philosophically rich and politically contested history. The academic study of Christianity, including the challenges it continues to face, is a source of often unrealised intellectual engagement. But, for all its institutional faults, past and present, Christian tradition also opens for young people a source of lifelong spiritual enrichment, and a reminder that Christianity has a place in history while looking beyond it.’
Dr Fancourt added: ‘The subject is often conceived as “faith development”‘, particularly in some church schools, or “moral development”. This is not to ignore these elements, but to argue that all types of schools need to refocus on understanding whatever else is considered important too. Teaching about Christianity should therefore engage pupils with the depth and breadth of the Christian tradition, present the subtlety of diversity, and provide an academic challenge.’
But a closer look at the sponsors of this research shows it has received £48,500 funding from a strongly evangelical organisation, the Jerusalem Trust which is underpinned by money from the Sainsbury family.
Among the Jerusalem Trust’s stated aims are: “to advance the Christian religion” and “Evangelism and Christian mission in the UK: Trustees are particularly interested in Christian projects that develop new ways of working with children and young people.”
The University received a further £100,000 from Culham and St Gabriel’s Trust, a Christian organisation with links to the Church of England, which runs an organisation called RE Today whose sole purpose is to advance the strength and prominence of religious education in schools.
The Oxford Study also produced an opinion poll that showed two thirds of the population in favour of religious education and the importance of Christianity, although the poll has not been published, so it is difficult to know what questions were asked and how they were framed in order to get these results.
The NSS is indeed right to note the difficulty in assessing the methodology without the poll being published.
BRIN were among those contacting Oxford University’s Department of Education to see whether they can make this available.
BRIN also linked to a related recent publication from the Oxford Department:
Nigel Fancourt, TEACHING ABOUT CHRISTIANITY IN RELIGIOUS EDUCATION: A REVIEW OF RESEARCH (2012)
It’s wonderful to hear that the 14-year-old Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai, shot in the head by the Taliban for campaigning for education rights for girls, has arrived in the UK for specialised medical treatment.
The best coverage of this can be found over on the Freethinker (Sorry about that).
I don’t believe the following reported on the highly respected legal blog UKHumanRights is real; I think it’s a parody:
The Anti-Youth Subversion Act has been passed both houses of the legislature by an overwhelming margin, and signed into law by Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who said that he hoped that it would serve as an example for other states to emulate:
Today we struck a blow for religious freedom in the great state of Mississippi. For too long our children have been unprotected against the nefarious teachings of Richard Dawkins. I have personally talked to many concerned parents who said that they were horrified when their children told them that God was a delusion or that human beings are simply carbon-based robots who took orders from the D-N-A. This law puts the end of that nonsense now. Let’s pray that Mississippi will be a beacon of hope for the rest of our Christian nation.