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 568.

    Teach ABOUT religion but no more brainwashing young minds. The time spent every week would be much better used ensuring that kids can talk,read and write correctly. Some of these basics are lacking in this country, yet every child seems to be armed to the teeth with knowledge of rights,multi-culturalism and varous PC beliefs which are dangerous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 567.

    I went to a Catholic school in Scotland. In 6th year we were asked what we wanted to study in religion. I asked if we could compare the catholic faith against other religions. After quite a bit of shouting by the teacher including there are no other faiths I was chucked out of the class for being insubordinate. Closed minded as all religions are.

    Separate religion from schools and the state.

  • rate this

    Comment number 566.

    It is more important that a child learns how to change the plug on an appliance - a simple act that can lead to an academic or practical path in life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 565.

    Predictably, a topic about religion seems to engender the most passionate responses from those who do not believe in God at all

    I too find the passion of the non-believers fascinating to observe

    They truly want people to believe what they believe, preaching their particular message, it's a form of protestantism for the new millenium

    Atheist Protestantism

    Welcome to the club guys !

  • rate this

    Comment number 564.

    488. krokodil
    Atheist's should encourage religious education. If it were not for others faith beliefs, you would be pointless.


    That makes no sense at all. Atheists are simply people who don't believe in your fairy tales. That is all.

    Would Christianity become meaningless if all other belief systems disappeared?

  • rate this

    Comment number 563.

    don't stop at attacking the Christians guys lets put islam into the mix
    in Nigeria this Easter Sunday
    people killed outside a church by cowardly bombers

    "radical Islamist group Boko Haram recently said it would carry out attacks in the area over the Easter holiday. "
    and it looks like they are true to their word

  • rate this

    Comment number 562.

    I'm all for kids being taught *about* religion because it's an inextricable part of our past. I too have memories of happily singing hymns and saying prayers at morning assembly but as an adult the thought that this should be encouraged and take seriously in schools makes me shudder.Religion played a big part in peoples lives in past but will be irrelevant in this country by the end of the century

  • rate this

    Comment number 561.

    I was baptized CofE by parents who never went to church again afterwards but I questioned. I went to prayer meetings and Bible study, youth retreats. I even did O Level Christian Responsibility! I explored Roman Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy (my favourite) but now aged 53 I still see nothing which distinguishes Christian morality from Godless morality. Good is good, whatever its impulse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 560.

    The social values for which those of faith attribute exclusively to religion really exist in despite of religion. Scientific proof is important, it provides for a better educated, morally mature society and as such requires religion to evolve as a consequence rather than remain entrenched in ignorance induced dogma. The only truly tolerant and morally just society is a secular one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 559.

    where 'militant secularization' is concerned,Prince Charles was absolutely right when he said he would like to be Defender of Faith rather than Defender of The Faith.I think he was referring not to the primacy of Christianity,but to the furtherance of a society in which faith and religious practice is vouchsafed and not ridiculed and threatened.

  • rate this

    Comment number 558.

    If the British public is forced to accept multiculturalism then they will reject all forms of religion (even their Christian traditions) in order to avoid special rights for Islam or other religions, which the majority consider to have no place in a modern Britain
    Secularisation is a result of enforced multiculturalism.

    Add to that cultural relativism [US=Iran, etc.]

  • rate this

    Comment number 557.

    520 coram (etc)

    We have increasingly secular western society, but I don't see humans behaving any better individually or collectively. Do you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 556.

    488. krokodil
    "Atheist's should encourage religious education. If it were not for others faith beliefs, you would be pointless."
    What tosh. If religion didn't exist I'd be a very happy bunny, and so would everyone else, we would be far more scientifically advanced if people hadn't been so in fear of religion decapitating them because they contradict some ridiculous holy book, through FACT.

  • rate this

    Comment number 555.

    Scientific education gives us facts based on induction and theories but does not give us truths.
    Religious education gives us truths but fails to give us facts.
    Both disciplines have faults.

  • rate this

    Comment number 554.

    491. Graham Brand

    Most atheists should be comfortable with Buddhism, which requires no belief in a God.
    Actually, most of us atheists are perfectly comfortable with just being atheists ;-)

    .... oh and HYSers ... as an atheist, if I want to eat a chocolate egg and say *Happy Holidays*, I will! It is no concern of yours

  • rate this

    Comment number 553.

    I'm not particularly religious but I do find Christians seem to be more contented and happy with life than most of us.
    Sunday school back in the 50's did teach right from wrong and values which is no bad thing. . When you grow up you can make your own mind up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 552.

    Provide some proof Archbishop and we'll give you a higher status.
    @339 - well said

  • rate this

    Comment number 551.

    I dont see why RE should be taught in our schools at all unless they use facts and facts alone......they should state what others beleive but re-enforce that none of it is based on any scientific fact. We live in a highly intelligent culture and shouldnt be lying to the youth of today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 550.

    I'm a Sixth Former studying Religious Studies at A-level and, while I am not even vaguely religious, I enjoy the subject greatly and it is a subject that stretches me just as much as History (which I also study). Both subjects encourage thinking, require good English and essay writing.
    I strongly believe any reluctance to accept RS as equal to History and Georgarphy comes from academic snobbery.

  • rate this

    Comment number 549.

    I sincerely hope these pronouncements are just the final spasms of a dying monster.
    Didn't the Romans say something like that a couple of thousand years ago?


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