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 688.

    You teach a child a religion so they can recognize an enemy. Now you can read that both ways but remember that every pound spend on religion is wasted in vestments whilst every pound spend on science is an investment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 687.

    Maria 636: Cultures evolve, adapt, decline. Goodness is not relative to the stage at which a culture finds itself. It is patently ridiculous to claim that there were no good people in the world until Christianity came along, just as it is ridiculous to suppose that goodness with cease if Christianity disappears.
    I would give my life to protect my child - but not BECAUSE of God.

  • rate this

    Comment number 686.

    As I continue to read all the comments I am struck by the intolerance so many have shown for religion and it's place in society.My kids are all taught about religions at school so that their minds are open. I would hope that whatever they choose they will be to more tolerant of others whatever their view. Bigotry whether it's from the religious zealotry or atheist self-righteousness is wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 685.

    i suppose if i earnt £67790 a year and was given a riverside palace to live in with a chauffer to drive me around and saw that people were being less convinced by what i had to say i too would want to save my job, well at least till i got to my generous pension.

  • rate this

    Comment number 684.

    So yet another BBC HYS opportunity for nasty, mean spirited attacks on people of faith. Seems to be the weekend for it. Personally, I try to be charitable and "live and let live". I may not be a person of faith, but I try to caring enough for feelings of others not to pour bile and vitriol on their beliefs. I am happy for my children to be taught RE and then decide from knowledge not ignorance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 683.


    "Religion tells schoolchildren who they are, where they came from, why they are here, and where they are going to. Science fails to do that."

    No, Religion tells children what to believe, science gives them the facts and teaches them to make their own minds up based on observation.

    Religion doesn't teach, it tells. It is a dictatorship of faith, nothing more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 682.

    When will we all learn a bit of humility and accept that we don't know all the answers and that we only have one lifetime to do our best to make the world a better place by doing some kindness to others? Humanitarian motivation may be enough for some but there is a far higher calling to do what is pleasing to The Creator God.

  • rate this

    Comment number 681.

    There should be no place in education for religious superstitions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 680.

    Why don't other animals exhibit forms of religious behaviour? If we are to accept that we evolved from other aniimals, then religion must, by definition, be a part of our evolutionary process. If we were to construct sentient androids, would they too exhibit religious behaviour like we do at some point in their evolution?
    Human rights, morality, religion: fictions. We're just animals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 679.

    619. Luther_Wesley-Baxter stated:

    "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."

    Genesis is a creative re-write and abbreviation of a much older and complete text of several thousands years before, from Sumer - "The Epic of Gilgamesh" - which is actual history, not dogma.

  • rate this

    Comment number 678.

    RE in NOT a National Curriculum subject. It is part of the basic curriculum but the syllabus is set locally not nationally.
    I would argue (as an RE teacher) that it is a very important subject where young people study many faiths and teachings and are invited to explore their own views. Not including it in the EBacc will make parents see it as less important even if students are still interested.

  • rate this

    Comment number 677.

    "he will insist that the ultimate test of Christianity is not whether it is beneficial to the human race but whether the resurrection of Jesus Christ actually happened.

    "Dr Williams will give powerful backing to the actual historical resurrection of Jesus from the dead, insisting that no other understanding of Easter makes sense."

    Actual resurrection? I can't wait for his historical facts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 676.

    As a RE teacher for 30 years my goal has been to explore religious ideas (including secularism) and to develop respect for those with all beliefs and none. The failure to put RE in Eng Bac is having a significantly negative impact upon the numbers studying RE- and the DfE Know that. To increase the numbers studying Geog and Hist, RE necessarily has to decrease. This represents Gove's bias.

  • rate this

    Comment number 675.

    Religion should be taught as part of history, anything else is propaganda. In the historical perspective persecution by religion in society should be included and not airbrushed out. The Salvation Army and the RC vatican via Cardinal Dolan in NY have made it clear that they wish to continue with this persecution using LGBTs taxes. This should not be allowed.

  • Comment number 674.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 673.

    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 you don't believe in it, why would you be happy for religion not to exist? To improve us benighted believers? Anyway men and women in religious institutions made huge contributions to science when few other places to study it existed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 672.

    There should be no place for religion in schools in any form.

    The rise of Academies in this country, often a smokescreen for religious schools, has already started to cause great rifts of segregation for our children and society in general.

    A future horror for this country in the making.

  • rate this

    Comment number 671.

    Williams seems to want a subordinate state as the RC church does, by banning LGBT homeless. Surely then the state should step in to overcome such hate?"

    Why does the state not step in to provide homes for ALL homeless not just LGBTs (I find these various labels of simple human beings quite divisive) then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 670.

    A Realist 621
    I can understand and commiserate with your experience in that RE lesson and the teacher was totally out of order. It taught you a lesson about religious intolerance and blinded you to any future experience of what God's love for YOU is all about. YOU are very special in God's eyes and I hope that you come to realise that He has a plan for YOU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 669.

    "sweetAnybody" (second comment)

    "Atheists" are simply folk who do not believe in a real world.
    So sad that they live within the world of their OWN creation. Paul


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