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 988.

    775.Luther_Wesley-Baxter - "Bible chronology clearly reveals that God created this Earth 6,000 years ago."

    Yeah: but who's years: dog years?

    Actually I was just thinking that about half of the chemistry I learned at school is now untrue or obsolete, but the most of what I learned in R.E. about bigotry, intolerance and our insatiable appetite for good and evil remains true!

  • rate this

    Comment number 987.

    Dear John - I learnt to fly a long time ago.
    You shouldn't theorise ahead of your data - its not my book. My god - yes - but not my book.

  • rate this

    Comment number 986.

    Beb @ 956 It was the Victorian's that would hammer the pulpits preaching to the working class, they would get their just rewards in heaven, whilst working them to death in the mines and factories. There was nothing neanced about that!

  • rate this

    Comment number 985.

    I have realised that I was in error by challenging Christianity itself - that is inot the issue - people are free to believe in any belief system they choose as a fundamental right.

    I would like to ask the following question however.

    Of those here professing a religion, how many of you:

    1. Chose that religion from the menu of all those available?

    2. Have simply followed a family tradition?

  • rate this

    Comment number 984.


    I'm not parodying anything. The main thrust of my post was that belief/faith in the non-existent is not necessary for a person to live an ethical, values based and moral life. So - I'm all for kids being taught a sense of ethics together with values and morality. But in state funded schools the process needs to be secularist. You want religion - send your kids to church.

  • rate this

    Comment number 983.

    I'm getting rather bored with the way the atheists swamp every board that has a hint of religious thought. You are embarrassing yourselves with your sad, God-starved, ideas & anti-religious ramblings. Maybe you should all wake up, look outside at the beautiful world and thank somebody for the gift of life. You don't have to thank my God but just be grateful for the miracle of being.....and smile.

  • rate this

    Comment number 982.

    970 Try checking things out for yourself instead of repeating the bigot's mantra

    My cynicism wasn’t based on a ‘bigoted mantra’ as you put it but rather on a personal experience as I have detailed in an earlier post.

  • rate this

    Comment number 981.

    #968 - no, that's not evidence for evolution. that's evidence that the creatures reproduced after their own kind, as Genesis says they will. The fact that they've got different characteristics merely means they've lost some elements of DNA. This is DEvolution, not evolution.

    #958 God did not create a world "like this one". He created a perfect world. WE screwed it up, not God.

  • rate this

    Comment number 980.

    midnight mass will be earlier in the evening because the pope is weak. Funny that they can't change the rules so easily for anybody else though! All kind of suffering and harm to people is allowed to go on by the religious, as long as it isn't them and theirs. This kind of obvious FACT is always airbrushed out of RE classes though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 979.

    I was furious in secondary school to discover that we were forced to take an RE class (had just been added to the national curriculum) but we wouldn't be able to take it as a GCSE. I was interested in the subject, having attended a Methodist church all my life, but felt like my time was being wasted when I could have been working towards another GCSE subject.

  • rate this

    Comment number 978.


    You also say evolution is a myth yet the church once said that the sun went around earth and before that it said the world was flat and it also said the earth is 600? Years old inspite proof it is 45M years old

    A quote from you: exeption the farce of evolution

    Religion always ignores proof even when it is given it see my previos comments for details.

  • rate this

    Comment number 977.

    Thankfully science has developed to the degree that religion can now only be called hocus pocus. The new religion now is to align the human race with limitations of of Earths nature.

  • rate this

    Comment number 976.

    How anyone can take religion seriously in a post-Darwin world is laughable. I recently listened to a group of religious 'scholars' discussing 'hell' on R4 and I've never heard so much claptrap. It was clear they were constructing a version as they went along - a man-made fairytale. If they can't even define the thing we're supposed to SO afraid of, how can they define anything at all?

  • rate this

    Comment number 975.

    Quartus. Your version of events still remains historically unprovable, improbable and inexplicable.
    There is more tangible evidence which could indicate that the theory of evolution is correct than there is tangible evidence to support your conclusions.
    I have no problem with the idea that I evolved from an earlier form, but then I don't consider myself to be the pinnacle of God's Creation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 974.

    I became a Christian when I was 13 years old and one of the first things I was taught at Bible group was to ignore everything we were taught about Christianity in RE at school.

    My RE teacher told us that in Christian families women don't vote. What a load of nonsense.

    People who don't practice Christianity shouldn't try and teach others about something they know little about themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 973.

    People invented intolerance not religion. Evidence? - Well there's no need to go far, just scroll back through this HYS and see the venom, intolerance, bitterness, contempt and blind hostility shown by those who claim to have no God towards anyone who differs from them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 972.

    Teach kids about the mutually exclusive claims of the major religions and they will for sure grow up atheists. Jesus was either the son of God or not. Mohammed was either God's prophet or not. If any one of these religions is right the others must be wrong. And if Hinduism is right all monotheistic religions are wrong. Either the world is flat or it is not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 971.

    A few commentators aren't clear about the meaning of secularist or secularism.
    Some seem to be using the term as if a secularist is somebody who advocates preferential treatment for one particular faith, whereas the absolute opposite is true.

  • rate this

    Comment number 970.

    #951 and 952 - No, it's as I said. Try checking things out for yourself instead of repeating the bigot's mantra. You might learn something
    #930 - didn't say that, as you well know. But then, as you don't want to listen to reason....
    #921 the gospels were written by people who were there at the time.
    #917 "most Christians are such by accident of birth" WRONG.

  • rate this

    Comment number 969.

    For me, religion shouldn't be taught before GCSE level where the individual can select it as an option if they wish as opposed to being mandatory.

    If they are religious people, they should already know about their religion, in which case they don't believe others.

    Learning about others religions is NOT high on the agenda above skills that will help them in the proven, real world


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