One reflection on the fuss over the showing of the advertisement for the Lord’s Prayer in cinemas, would be that it shows up the ambivalence our society has with Christianity and, probably with the idea of religious faith of any variety; I think it does not know what to make of it. My comments apply to the UK, and I’d be interested in what our American readers and commentators have to say about their own situation, but here the only exposure most children get to religion is via school, where, even in Church of England or Catholic schools, teachers bend over backward to be inclusive – which is a euphemism for not teaching much about Christianity. They will get lots of comparative religion, but how much use this is to children who don’t understand what religion is might be a good question to ask. When I was teaching, it was always difficult for Heads to find trained RE teachers and we usually made do with teachers whose expertise was elsewhere; as someone with a doctorate in a religious topic who was also an elder in his local church, I ended up as our ‘lead’ in this area; not ideal, but better than the alternative – which was the PE teacher (who happened to have some spare space in his timetable!). If that was the case in a public school (for our US readers, that means ‘private’ – yes, I know, but the English are odd like that!), then it is even worse in many State schools.
In one sense one might say this has not changed much – there was always a problem filling RE, but back when I started it was easier to do because there were always a number of teachers who, like men played a role in their local churches and could be plugged in to cover the subject when needed. Now that is rarely the case. That reflects the wider aspect of the problem – the gap between wider educated society and religion. So, if our children are not getting much by way of religious education at school, and if the wider society of which they are part is religiously illiterate, it can be said with some confidence that they will not get that sort of education anywhere else.
At my own chapel, we put on a weekly Bible study class, but that is mainly taken by those already members of the fellowship. We started a weekly introductory class back in September, and that has a small membership, but they are all adults, and all came via our street preaching; none of them know much about religion, and we had to start from the most basic of basics. All those in the class had education up to the age of 18, and two of them have degrees, but not one of the eight knew anything much about Christianity except what they’d picked up from the media – and most of that was negative.
After 12 weeks we have made some progress, but when we decided to set up the course, we asked around other churches to see what they did, and found the answer was very little. I’d hoped the C of E, who do something which looks useful, might prove a little more ecumenical than they have, but you can’t always have what you want – or what would make economic sense (they have seven in their class!). But at least we are doing something. Very few others are.
So, I can see where the C of E was coming from with its advertisement – the state of play is dire, and I am not sure how well-equipped we are to deal with a favourable response – but it would be a nice problem to have.