Attack on religious instruction in schools is wrong


‘THE DYING Christ has not lost his faith. The God he cries out to is no abstract, philosophical concept, but remains a personal God who hears the cry of the poor, ‘My God, my God’. And the Resurrection faith of Easter offers hope to those who fear their cries are never heard.”

These were the closing lines of the main Irish Times editorial on Good Friday, a week ago. Five days later, in the same space, the following sentence appeared to many: “The advisory group rightly suggests that religious instruction should no longer be regarded as the most important subject on the curriculum.”

Three words jump out from this sentence – “rightly” and “no longer” – seeming to imply that, in the previous five days, something happened to change everything. On Friday, God was, as Christians believe, the centre of history and reality; by Wednesday, he had become, at best, “an abstract, philosophical concept”.

Either words mean something or they don’t. Either God made the world, or He/he did not. There are no other options, and deciding between these two presents a stark choice concerning the meaning of everything. Similarly, either Christ came to save man, died on the cross and rose on the third day, or he was a crazed, before-his-time hippy with a crucifixion complex, who succeeded in duping 20 billion people over 2,000 years.

But somehow, today, many of us seem to feel this choice can be evaded by maintaining dual access-rights to the Christian story as, simultaneously, both factual history and cultural confabulation designed to support some arcane system of ethical mnemonics. The two editorials cited above illustrate something of this dualism, which runs deep in Irish culture: an unstudied doublethink, a lazy, unthinking flip-flopping between two diametrically incompatible positions.

To be a Christian is not merely to believe the coming of Christ is the most important event in history, but to have changed one’s sense of history as a linear unfolding to an understanding of a process in which time and space converge on the single moment of the Resurrection.

This is not a fable intended to adorn moralistic homilies about negative equity and ghost estates. It is the most true thing that ever was or will be. Christianity is the working hypothesis which the Christian applies, moment-to-moment, to reality, verifying all the while. If, at any instant, it fails to cohere with reality, there is a problem which must be addressed and resolved before proceeding.

Christian belief, then, is not something that can be confined to certain buildings or times of the week or day. If it could be so restricted, it follows that it might be less than true, which is to say untrue.

This is the meaning of the notorious Rule 68 of the Rules for National Schools, which the report of the Advisory Group to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector recommends be abolished, to the approval of last Wednesday’s Irish Times editorial, as cited above. By placing religion at the heart of the curriculum, Rule 68 permits Christian schools to teach children what Christians hold true – no more and no less.

Dressed up in the pious language of the “pluralism” forum’s report is a less pious ingredient: a determination to supplant the core beliefs that have sustained Irish people for more than 1,000 years with interpretations of reality making a bogus claim on reason.

The thrust of the forum’s proposal – notably those elements relating to the display of religious symbols in schools, “non-denominational prayers” (whatever they might be), and the marginalisation of sacramental preparation – will be such as forcibly to imply that the Christian proposal is no longer a tenable understanding of reality.

Implementation of its recommendations will serve not to valorise within our education system all manner of beliefs about reality, but instead force teachers to limit their instruction to things commonly agreed in language and thought processes reduced for this purpose. In our much-vaunted “increasingly diverse world” this will move inexorably towards nihilism, so that by no means the most terrible of these reductions will be the reinvention of religious instruction as, in effect, a history of superstition.

A “secular” education sets out to produce citizens, consumers and functionaries rather than mature beings animated with affection and curiosity. No longer will our children be told they are Christ’s chosen ones, but instead the accidental offspring of the pointless oozing of primordial slime, units of meat and bone, existing for random junctures by bread and rules in an originless, meaningless and indifferent universe. This is what Ruairí Quinn proposes to teach our children going, as it were, forward.

At the back of this is the agenda of a dense ideological cadre whose thinking extends to the circumference of positivist apprehension and no further, and who extrapolate from this limited assessment of reality the most pessimistic interpretation of what is possible.

They call this “rationalism”, but have no idea where it will lead. Like chimpanzees with hammers poised over the engine of a Ferrari F12 Berlinetta, they gibber their stunted nonsense and set enthusiastically to work.