This encounter followed our discovery that our grandson not only didn’t know the Lord’s Prayer but hadn’t even heard of it. We’re a bunch of devout atheists, so it was unlikely he’d get any prayer stuff at home, but we did expect that school would provide him with – well, education on the matter. Especially since they still teach RE in British schools. How naive of us.
We weren’t prepared to be told that getting children to read the Bible would be classed as indoctrination. Now, the teacher may have been exaggerating a little, but there’s no doubt that the de-Christianisation of Britain (and, indeed, of Europe) is well under way. It is just another manifestation of the long march of social democracy through the cultural institutions of the nation. It’s one of their easier tasks, since so many people are less inclined to take part in organised religion these days. Atheism is a good socialist practice. Not only does it clear the mind of superstitions but it also removes any third party obstacles to total devotion to the state, the sine qua non of all progressive orthodoxy.
Turning off the tap of knowledge in the education system is simple and is proving remarkably effective. Ratcheting up the anti-Christian agenda in the public and political spheres is then remarkably easy. We now have the despicable situation where the British government is going to fight in a European court against a person’s right to wear a crucifix at work. Wearing a crucifix has now become one more act of offensiveness.
That same government is pushing ahead with a gay marriage agenda that eighteen months ago no one was even talking about and which is now providing the heterophobes and progressive bigots a chance to attack religious groups – which, despite various nods of an equality-and-diversity kind to synagogues and mosques(!), clearly means Christianity. Cameron’s suddenly found “massive” support of gay marriage is all to do with coping with a possible bad result in a current ECHR case (courtesy of Peter Tatchell) and recent EU rumblings about establishing equality of same-sex couples as part of its free movement of people policy. Cameron’s massiveness, in other words, is purely political with not an ounce of principle in it.
IT’S NO CONCIDENCE that the EU keeps cropping up: at the beginning of 2011 they dished out thousands of free diaries to school pupils. Nice gesture, you might think (especially as it’s all European tax-payers’ money), except that the diaries made no mention of traditional Christian holidays. There were Hindu holidays, Jewish holidays, Chinese holidays, Muslim holidays (too frightened not to include those), but no Christian ones. When this omission was pointed out to them their reaction was, “Whoops, silly us; it just slipped our mind!” – as it would in a continent predominantly Christian for the last seventeen hundred years. I may not be born again but I certainly wasn’t born yesterday.
You wonder, though, if some of the Anglican church’s establishment really understand what’s going on, and whether they realise the consequences of following the progressive agenda. A couple of years ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, caused a controversy by telling the BBC that he thought acceptance of some aspects of sharia law in Britain was “unavoidable”. In his view “one law for everybody” was “a bit of a danger”. In the space of a few sentences he thus plunged a dagger into the heart of his own religion and also denied a fundamental principle of British justice – that the only guarantee of justice is to have one law for all. With spiritual leaders like this, who needs devils?
So does it really matter, if, as we acknowledge, Britain is becoming more secular by the decade? The answer is yes, it does, but not primarily for religious reasons. My concern is cultural. Christianity – and the larger Judaeo-Christian tradition – is fundamental to nearly all aspects of our history, literature, politics and morality. It’s not necessarily to do with belief. If you live in Britain, even if you’re an atheist, your principal values regarding individuals and society, about morality, crime, punishment, liberty, are as much based on the Christian tradition as upon classical Greek thought. You may think you’re free of it, but you aren’t.
You certainly can’t escape if you are studying English literature. Just try teaching it to students who have no grasp of basic Christian concepts and stories. It’s what I have to do and I often feel like a Sunday School teacher, taking them through material they should have learned years ago.
Within a short time, unless you do something about it, your children will not have enjoyed the superb language of the King James Bible, will know nothing about Job, will not have heard the parables of the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, Lazarus and the rich man, the Faithful Servant, etc. They won’t even know what a parable is; they won’t have read the Psalms, or know many of the hymns and carols that form part of the Christian tradition; they won’t know about the Garden of Eden, the Fall of Man and the Flood – let alone the Passion – and thus the meaning of great classics of literature, art and music will remain obscured for them.
They won’t really understand the importance of religion in the struggles of the past, of Protestantism against Roman Catholicism and its profound consequences, of the ramifications of those differences in the English Civil War and in modern-day Ireland. These and other uncountable details form part of the fabric of our culture. Unlike the loudly protested enrichment of “diversity” these things do enrich our lives and have done for many generations. They form a bridge, a connection with our ancestors.
In a fine article in The Independent recently Susan Elkin makes the case. “Every child in this country should learn about Christianity, its history, its tenets and its traditions,” she writes, “The need and right of every British child – regardless of colour and creed – to have this understanding is far more important than any individual’s doctrinal squeamishness.”
Elkin is correct – this is a right, but misses the larger point that the deliberate failure to teach Christianity is the fault is not of individual teachers but of the whole system. Bit by bit across the country the knowledge of Christianity is being removed. Depriving children of this knowledge is not just wrong, I’d say it’s positively wicked. That’s pretty strong coming from an atheist.