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 668.

    If there are ( n ) mutually incompatible religions then logic demands that at least ( n-1 ) of them must be wrong. Consequently, anyone who "respects" multiple religious faiths is knowingly promoting falsehoods. That should not happen in our schools. We must learn to respect people but we must not respect false beliefs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 667.

    Really Dr. Williams? I found that when I went to school I had little choice but to listen to asemblies which were christian in nature and had little interest in religion despite being taught about bible stories. I was able to grow up and make my own opinions before settling on atheism. Its because I AM educated that I have learnt religion is the cause of the worlds problems, not the answer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 666.

    I think there is absolutely no place for RE in any educational environment for young people. If we want them to understand the actions and effects of various faiths, then I'd suggest that should be covered under History (both old and modern). Maybe we should seriously consider reintroducing Philosophy, i.e. logic vs irrationality: a less divisive way of getting people to understand each other.

  • rate this

    Comment number 665.

    Agree with ABC that the test of christianity lies in the resurection not in it's supposed value as an ethical system.
    FACT: the resurrection did not happed. Are we to really take seriously any one who actually believes this fairy tale?
    FACT: all morals come from our humanity, people are moral without the bible as a guide
    FACT: It is NT Christ who introduces the notion of Hell (nice morals baby)

  • rate this

    Comment number 664.


    "Since they don't have a shred of real evidence that he even existed..."

    Jesus & his death is mentioned in Josephus 'Antiquities', his brother James gets a chapter. There are extant letters from Roman authorities enquiring about Xtianity shortly after JCs death, they take his existence for granted. Atheist historians would agree the guy *existed* & the basic, bare facts are sound.

  • rate this

    Comment number 663.

    The best teacher I had at school was my RE teacher; it's rather sad that his skill was essentially wasted on a subject that hardly anyone enjoyed. Most of the course was spread too thin to gain any meaningful insight into a religion and as such we hardly ever discussed the negative points of a religion.
    Looking back, we'd have been better off learning about a more relevant subject like politics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 662.

    Of course the church is scared of losing influence over children, it's many orders of magnitude harder to convince a fairy tail is true than a child.

  • rate this

    Comment number 661.

    For the believers in (not very) Intelligent Design - if the universe is so irreduciably complex that it requires a designer then said designer must also be irreduciably complex to have designed it.

    So the designer must therefore have had a designer, who in turn is so irreduciably complex that they too must have had a designer - it's not a deity, it is evolution over billions of years.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 660.

    619. - Nobody seriously believes that humans evolved from monkey-men. Schoolchildren need to here the truth of how we all got here, and that is found in the Holy Bible.

    I feel it necessary to repost this comment and ask:

    Is this the kind of ideology, logic and common sense you want your children to leave school with? This is what they want, this is education by the churches standard.

  • rate this

    Comment number 659.

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

    I think tolerance of others in sections of western society has increased quicker in recent years than at any other time in history....could this be linked to the rise of secularism/agnosticism/atheism or the demise of organised religion ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 658.

    Its the least of his worries! 55 years on this planet and C of E hasn't contacted me once, what kind of club is that? If Branson was in charge we'd all be members now! The guy who stopped the race complaining of elitism, C of E is the biggest elitist club going! How many hoodies in need of a bit of guidance would join the Nissan Primera brigade on a Sunday? C of E is irrelevant to most folk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 657.

    The state should be secular but for me that can be compatible with the teaching of RE! I had RE lessons until I was 14 and at no point did the teacher say "this is true" or "worship god". We were simply told "this is what some people have chosen to believe, and heres why" As well as being interesting I now have better appreciation for faiths/cultures other than the one I grew up in. Happy Easter

  • rate this

    Comment number 656.

    620. CornishPhysicist

    582: paulmerhaba.

    Of course you can prove the existence of time.

    Verifiable scientific observations of the space-time effects on particles are easily describable when time is included as an observable fourth dimension, an explanation using only 3 spacial dimensions does not provide the same (observable) outcome.
    Doesn't mean that time is a given, prove time exists?

  • rate this

    Comment number 655.

    I rejected religion - I was baptised CofE - at the age of 8 during an RE class being taught by the local village vicar - it caused quite a stir.

    Since then I have dedicated my life to Truth and wrote a book 520 in 2005 - Our Ultimate Reality, Life, The Universe and Destiny of Mankind - to put everything in to a format that encourages readers to research and think, instead of accepting the dogma.

  • rate this

    Comment number 654.

    A new wave of preachers for a new millenium

    Atheist Protestantism

    Christianity has seen it all before

    This new religion of atheists will have it's vociferous fundamentalists, no new religion can get going without them

    The Communists crashed and burned when they tried it

    Intruiging to observe though

  • rate this

    Comment number 653.

    He's quite wrong again! Young people I talk to - 10+ - 20 ish can't believe that a religion treats women - still - as second class citizens. They also baulk at attitudes to sexuality where they - intelligently I think - see the quality of the love that exists between people as overwhelmingly more important than their sex. As to priestly sexual misdemeanours - that is where the conversation ends.

  • rate this

    Comment number 652.

    Have you ever noticed how in Star Trek there isn't a Chaplain on the Enterprise.
    Is that because we stop State funding Religious education?

  • rate this

    Comment number 651.

    "Even Atheists are believers"

    So your saying they believe something dosn't exsit that they don't beleive in! a double negative.

  • rate this

    Comment number 650.

    588 The vast majority of the world has a religious faith - and it is growing.

    Hardly surprising when the choice is believe or die. Has it escaped your attention that Christianity has reformed and is no longer threatening people with death and is only issuing verbal threats about the afterlife and is in decline? People are heading for the exits saying "Yeah right".

  • rate this

    Comment number 649.

    Powermeerkat: a secular British society has nothing to do with Islam. Other European countries divorced Church and State centuries ago, before Muslims came to their shores. Many Muslims are also uninterested in the rantings of certain Mullahs and Imams. They just happen to have been "nominated" as Muslim, just as many Christians were baptized without their consent or understanding.


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