Teaching from within religion is an influential force for good
Mr Quinn seems to share that view, saying recently that ERB was vital given the history of our island and that of the Middle East. He then quoted Hans Küng. “No peace among the nations without peace among the religions. No peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions. No dialogue between the religions without investigation of the foundation of the religions.”
The irony is that Küng sees the world religions, particularly Christianity, Islam and Judaism as having a unique contribution to make to world peace, simply because they are such positive forces. In Küng’s search for a global ethic he finds both science and philosophy lacking.
Küng would never be so crass as to suggest that a non-believer could not be moral, but he says religion has a binding, communitarian force that is hard to replicate. Religion provides meaning, can guarantee “supreme values and unconditional norms”, creates a sense of community and encourages “protest and resistance against injustice”.
Robert Putnam, best known for Bowling Alone, makes a similar point in a more recent book, American Grace. Religious people are three to four times more likely to be active in their community. Being part of a religious community, and not just practising private devotion, is an important factor in this civic participation. Failing to appreciate this aspect of faith communities and schools is shortsighted indeed.
The Minister has announced a consultation process on the Report of Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, leading to a White Paper. Faith communities need to make their voices heard.
Primary schools have a raft of problems, from cuts in special needs provision to decaying school buildings. Examining the consequences of changes in approach to denominational education could seem very abstract in comparison.
But the proposed changes, if implemented clumsily, could reduce Irish education to a one-size-fits-all, secular model.
Perhaps the least controversial proposals stemming from the forum concern the “divesting” or transfer of patronage in areas of stable demographic growth.
It is unfortunate that the Minister has decided consultation on this issue must all happen online, and has ruled out “town hall” meetings.
The most democratic option would have been large-scale meetings where the different patron bodies of schools could set out what they do and clarify any misunderstanding. Education and educational change require more democracy, not less. The internet-savvy can’t have a monopoly on democracy.
The forum report is a wake-up call. If handled well, divesting will bring new vigour to the primary sector, and that includes denominational education – but only if the powers that be see that religion as a lived reality is an influential force for good and should not be undermined.