Rowan Williams warns of downgrading of religious education


Rowan Williams: "It is about the worst possible moment to downgrade the status and professional excellence of religious education"

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Rowan Williams has warned against "downgrading" religious education in secondary schools in his last Easter sermon as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Younger people take religion seriously "when they have the chance to learn about it," he said.

And Cardinal Keith O'Brien, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, urged Christians to wear a cross to symbolise their beliefs.

It comes amid a growing debate about secularisation in British society.

Meanwhile, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh have attended traditional Easter Sunday service at Windsor Castle.

During the service at Canterbury Cathedral, Dr Williams said it was the wrong time to "downgrade the status and professional excellence" of religious education in schools.

'Something here'

RE is not one of the subjects counting towards the English Baccalaureate, the standard for ranking schools brought in by the coalition government.

The English Baccalaureate ranks secondary schools in England according to the number of pupils who get good GCSEs in English, maths, science, another language and a humanities subject - either geography or history.

Supporters of religious education want to see it included in the humanities category.


During his decade as leader of the Church of England, Dr Williams has repeatedly complained that Christianity is being marginalised in British public life.

Today he welcomed what he said was a reduction in active hostility towards religion, but issued a new warning.

It was that "serious and liberal-minded commentators" were embracing religion as a socially useful tool - for example for rethinking our "destructive economic habits" - but wanted to "pick out the best bits of religion without all the embarrassing beliefs that go with it".

The archbishop insisted that it was precisely those awkward beliefs - such as the actual resurrection of Jesus - that mattered in Christianity, and that without them it would cease to make sense.

His fear is that Christianity might survive the active hostility of atheists, only to succumb to a kind of asset stripping which reduced it to a set of well-meaning principles without really saying anything about God.

But the government says it is already a compulsory National Curriculum subject and the English Baccalaureate is to encourage more students to take up geography and history in addition to RE - not instead of it.

In his sermon, Dr Williams said: "There is plenty to suggest that younger people, while still statistically deeply unlikely to be churchgoers, don't have the hostility to faith that one might expect, but at least share some... sense that there is something here to take seriously - when they have a chance to learn about it.

"It is about the worst possible moment to downgrade the status and professional excellence of religious education in secondary schools."

Dr Williams said a hostility towards faith and religion in public life may have been tempered by a recent appreciation of the social value of religion.

But he said the ultimate test of Christianity was not whether it was beneficial to the human race, but whether the resurrection of Jesus Christ actually happened.

He said that for Christians a vision of reconciled love between people "is there only because God raised Jesus" and that the answer was not in scientific proof, but by the way believers lived with and in their faith.

'Militant secularisation'

The latest debate on faith in Britain was ignited after Conservative co-chairwoman Baroness Warsi warned that the nation was under threat from a rising tide of "militant secularisation".

The Muslim peer said in February that Europe needed to become "more confident and more comfortable in its Christianity".

Research carried out in the same month by a secularist foundation suggested three-quarters of people who describe themselves as Christian in Britain displayed only a low level of belief and practice of the religion.

The Ipsos Mori poll, for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, was rubbished by the Church, with Reverend Giles Fraser, former Canon Chancellor of St Paul's, saying it was not fair to trump people's "self-identification" as Christians.

In his Easter Sunday sermon, Cardinal O'Brien told worshippers to "wear proudly a symbol of the cross of Christ" each day of their lives.

He also voiced concern at the growing "marginalisation" of religion.

'Prod and nag'

Dr Williams also issued a call for peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East.

He said: "A visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, will convince you why the state of Israel exists and must go on existing.

"A visit to any border checkpoint will convince you that the daily harassment and humiliation of Palestinians of all ages and backgrounds cannot be a justifiable or even sustainable price to pay for security."

He said: "We have to prod and nag and encourage the religious leadership in the Holy Land on all sides to speak as if they believed in a God who acts, not only a God who endorses their version of reality.

"We have to pray, to pray for wisdom and strength and endurance for all who are hungry for peace and justice, pray that people will go on looking for a truly shared future."

In March, Dr Williams announced he would step down as Archbishop of Canterbury - the head of the Church of England - in December, after 10 years in the role.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 368.

    We could do a lot worse than reading the book of Luke or John today and being open to some of the teaching / words within it.

    Thanks for the lecture Gazza. Being talked to from a great height really encourages me to jump on board - NOT!

  • rate this

    Comment number 367.

    Dr Williams has been a failure.
    He is blinded by vain ego and has been more like a Labour politician than a man of God.
    He has done very little to pass on the message of the Revelation of Jesus, probably because he has NOT seen the Revelation and therefore he is only groping in the darkness and is devoid of Light.
    The militant atheists have gained an upper hand on his watch. Sad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 366.

    Today is easter Sunday. Children will celebrate by eating chocolate eggs but have no idea why they're doing it....... I think I'd rather it stayed that way

  • rate this

    Comment number 365.

    The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us. ~Black Elk, Oglala Sioux

  • rate this

    Comment number 364.

    Those who are scared of their kids being brainwashed by learning about religions at school ... it didn't work on you, why do you think your kids will be so what-you-would-see-as "weak minded"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 363.

    religion in my opinion was first dreamed up to control the masses.
    then we got laws when religion no longer cast fear into the hearts,
    teach my kids something usefull, disipline, respect, but not an unfounded story, might as well teach them about noddy n big ears if tou are going to lie to them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 362.

    RE is an amazing subject with lots of knowledge & information therein contained. However, the RE model taught in schools is weak by comparison.

    Church = Kirk = Circe (Circus!) = Daughter of Sol and Perseis who charmed and enticed the brave into her home where she poisoned their minds into that of primative animals which she then devoured.
    We've forgotten the message and worship the priest...

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    There should be NO religious education in schools. We need our children to be educated for the world of work and there is no place for religious mumbo jumbo from any faith to take time up in the curriculum. If faiths want to pass on their superstitions then it can be done by them in the evenings/weekends , but not in school time. School time is too important.

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    I totally disagree with the Archbishop. Religious worship should have no place in state schools. Comparative R.E. should be offered as an ordinary curriculum subject, e.g. like history, OPTIONAL post year 9.

    I really object to my kids having to do R.E, but what choice do I have? Atheist schools are currently not allowed to exist.

    UK should follow the lead of France, USA, Germany, etc...

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    Prioritise these four
    In school we should teach our children:
    1) How to become a good citizens and an inspiration to others
    2) How to develop a passion for learning and success
    3) How to find job that they can do well and be proud of
    4) Learn all about popular global myths

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    Not sure how I feel about the existence of God, but I do know I'm not prepared to follow a religion that dictates how I live, what I eat, what I wear etc. My son took RE in school through to A level, he had, as a consequence, a T-Shirt printed that said 'Religion is stupid'. God cant be proved or disproved but with so many religions claiming to be right I prefer not to follow any.

  • rate this

    Comment number 357.

    RE should be like "Horrible Histories" - as religion has done NOTHING but hold us back & indoctrinate the masses.

    You can contend that opinion all you like with your fanciful thoughts.

    The fact remains that religion is a violent, bigoted anachronism that serves no function but to stupefy & divide.

    Don't even bother to respond to this comment. My opinion will remain unchanged.

    Happy Easter!

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    God protect me from Religion,
    Keep it far away from me.
    Silence the "experts" and the zealots,
    Let's keep it just 'twixt thee and me.

    As you watch the self-righteous antics
    In the human philosophical zoo,
    How come you never become disheartened
    and end up an agnostic, too?

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    Knowledge of Christianity and other religions helps set our moral compass whilst offering a sense of bad thing. If religion does not offer these elements, so important to our lives ...what or who does...our politicians?...parents???...nobody. Mmmm....
    Whilst not a regular churchgoer I do recognise the immense part that Christian values play in my and my families lives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    "Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines."
    Bertrand Russell

    So let it fade, if that is its fate. By opposing it, you create resistance. While it still has value and significance for some people, then that should be respected, tolerated and accepted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    The science of salvation is the most important of all sciences, and the Holy Bible is the most important of all books because it contains the science of salvation. Schoolchildren should be taught from its sacred pages from an early age.

  • rate this

    Comment number 352.

    "Dr Williams says that the ultimate test of Christianity is whether the resurrection of Jesus Christ happened."

    He might want to go onto YouTube, watch the BBC4 Documentary "Did Jesus Die on the Cross?" and see what researchers have come up with.

  • rate this

    Comment number 351.

    Unfortunately you do not understand the scientific meaning of 'theory' : says

    It [a theory] refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence. For example, no new evidence will demonstrate that the Earth does not orbit around the sun (heliocentric theory)...

  • rate this

    Comment number 350.

    Most older people who went to morning assembly at school where there was a religeous element sometimes found it a bore but they now look back with great fondness and remember with affection the hymns and companionship that it engendered schools today are mostly run by people who are secular in their outlook and miss the benefits that with experience we gained

  • rate this

    Comment number 349.

    "Look at what we have at present - Wars - Deaths - Racialism - Murders - Theft - Violence - etc. etc. etc."

    All these things are found in abundance in your precious bible plus incest, slavery and lots more.
    Just the sort of thing you want to place in front of formative minds.
    No, school is not the place for religion, church is.


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