Preparing for a future with a mixed-faith education
What is ‘secular’ of the age should not be a matter of fear or loathing for the Christian
The purpose of Christian education is to give to the children of parents who so wish it and understanding of what belonging to a Christian community means.
The purpose of Christian denominational education today is surely to give - to the children of parents who so wish - an understanding from a young age of what being part of a Christian community truly means, in the way that one lives life.
Irenaeus of Lyons once said that the glory of God is a human being fully alive.
From my standpoint, the purpose of denominational education for my tradition is that, through a particular experience of the Christian faith within their schooling, those who choose our schools may be better enabled to live lives that are indeed fully alive.
When looking into the future, two important realities should be borne in mind. The first is that no country of 4.5 million people, with an unemployment level at close on 15%, an annual budget deficit still well over €15 billion, and a public debt/GDP ratio of close on 100%, can throw money at any area of public services.
Secondly, although there is no reason to feel defensive about the current realities of denominational education, it would be foolhardy not to suppose that this type of education may in future years not suit as large a proportion of the population as at present, with societal changes. This is not pessimism or faithlessness.
That which is ‘secular’ - of the age - should not be a matter of fear or loathing for the Christian, but rather a place for engagement.
Nor am I suggesting that people of religious faith should huddle together simply for survival. I do, however, believe that those of religious faith should engage constructively with a future that will inevitably be a ‘mixed economy’ for the school education system.
For this, we need to draw very clear distinctions between what we mean by ‘multi-denominational, ‘inter-denominational’ and ‘non-denominational’, and I refer to the ethos of a school rather than enrolment policy.
The Christian multi-denominational school would be marked by an overarching faith-culture of Christianity, although individual traditions might have some aspects of an RE curriculum taught in separate groups. Clearly, the primary ethos of a school would be determined by the majority enrolment.
There is no reason why this should prove of difficulty for minority Christian traditions, for those of other faiths or of no religious affiliation, provided that the specifically confessional elements were handled with sensitivity and nuance.
A truly inter-denominational school would be somewhat similar, with the exception that children would not be separated into different groups for religious education, although some parents might choose to withdraw their children from RE entirely.
This would be achievable only if it were agreed that the specifically confessional elements of a particular tradition were handled by the parish community rather than the school. The provision of a common curriculum, mutually agreed, for different Christian traditions need not be a matter of immense difficulty, nor need such a curriculum be vacuous or concerned only with lowest common denominators of the faith.