It is some time since I published here, but seeing that the site is well used by others, I have kept it up and kept an eye on it. I’d like to thank Nicholas in particular for his interesting contributions.
I have had three main reasons for not writing: the first is that any controversy would be unhelpful to the greater cause I serve; the second is time; and the third is that there are enough people offering views on what is happening in the Roman Catholic Church without my adding my mite.
Though I blog pseudonymously, my identity is easily guessed. Indeed, the very week I arrived where I now work, the subject of an unflattering blog piece from me wrote to me here to protest. As I am not in the business of giving egotists attention, I filed the letter in the cylindrical receptacle in my office and decided then and there to avoid any chance of a repeat. In the interim I have been able to help my current University to improve its position in the academic world, which is a much better use of my energies and time. But the question which accompanied me here is now, perhaps because of that, more clamant. What is the place of the Church in education?
In England the Church has been involved in education for far longer than the state. About a third of the schools are Faith Schools, and whether secularists like it or not, the Churches have been, remain, and will continue to be, involved in education. Most Church schools have long waiting lists, and parents will go to great lengths to get their children into one. They must be doing something right.
At tertiary level it is a different matter. It was the need for a Faith-based University to begin to rival the performance at secondary level, which took me to where I am now. But why is the thing worth doing at all? Isn’t Faith a private matter which should be left at the door of any educational institution?
No. The idea that it should be so it, itself, a partisan position. The Churches have huge assets invested in education, and the idea that they should simply be put at the service of those who would like to use them to drive their own agenda has about it a sense of chutzpah which is almost endearing in its bare-faced cheek.
We have passed through an era when education and vocational training became synonymous; it is now widely recognised that what makes people employable are so-called soft skills – the ability to think critically, to solve complex problems, to be creative and to be able to manage people. Lest it be thought that this is special pleading on my part, this list comes from the World Trade Organization, not me. A faith-based education offers a holistic, values-based experience to its students. Anyone who wonders why that might matter to, say, a Banker, might care to ponder the root causes of the crash of 2008. The word “Credit” is from the Latin “Credo,” meaning “I believe.” But if there are no agreed and shared values, if all is relative, how can anyone’s word be their bond? It is every person for themself and the devil take the hindmost. No system of finance or, for that matter, governance, can work on that basis. The best place to lay the right foundations is in schools.
I do not say only Faith-based institutions can offer this, but I do want to suggest that they offer an explicit rationale for the values they espouse, values which still, just, lie at the heart of our civilisation
Of course, any fool can point out that religion has been a divisive force, which is why so many do, but that ignores Original Sin. There is nothing good which fallen mankind cannot put to a bad use; that does not make it bad.
Viewed aright, the Christian ethic is one of love, and anyone who thinks that is a soft and soppy idea needs to re-read what St Paul says about love. Anyone who has seriously tried to practice that sort of love knows how very hard it is for us. But it is good for us. we are not called simply to tolerate others (a hard enough task for many nowadays) we are called to exercise self-restrain and to love them. A Society as riven and divided as the one in which we live has need of that quality. If it is not inculcated via a Faith-based route, it is unclear who else will provide it.
Our society pays a good deal of attention to physical well-being, and also increasingly to mental well-being. But if we are not careful – and we have not been as a society – these lead down a material route: if I have a healthy body and lots of “stuff” then I am fine. Yet the evidence suggests that our young people are suffering from a crisis of mental health.
Humankind has always needed more than the material if it is to be healthy; but our impoverished materialism is what is offered, and so when our young want bread, we offer them stones. Again, those educated in a Faith-based system have other indicators of what is an is not the “good life.” Man does not live by bread alone.
The Churches in this country are sitting on a great asset, if one wants to put it bluntly, and if one does, one might add the question of what they are doing to ensure it is well-used? If the Churches do not use that asset properly, then they are poor stewards of a precious inheritance. One of the privileges of my current position is to see the ways in which the Churches are using those assets to make a difference. One might want more, one always will, but the part played by the Churches in the world of education is, on the whole, a noble one.
If Christ will not help us heal, then who else can?
We might reflect on why we have so often given the secularists so much ammunition to show that religion is a divisive affair? It is sin which divides us. If we can follow Him in questioning the lazy assumptions of the comfortable, and in helping those who most need it, then we do His work.
Across the UK the Churches can work together more closely to ensure that there is real diversity in our society – a diversity which includes respect for the part the Churches play in that society. We are not rooted in the shallow soil of Enlightenment assumptions about the perfectibility of humankind, but rather in the insight St Paul offers in Romans 7, which tells us that each of us is the problem. However hard we will the good, we do the bad. Our Faith grounds us in the humility that comes from that, and the fact that the only answer to our fallen nature is Christ.
In a world where “leaders” are expected to be those who always succeed, our Faith reminds us that failure is inevitable, and that what matters is how we use that experience and to whom we dedicate it. The divide in our society, and within us, is to be bridged only by that insight.
This is truly an excellent post, C. It is so good to see you blogging, and thank you for your kind comment. I felt this post also connected to broader trends we are seeing at the moment, such as the Extremism Commission that Cranmer has written about at his own blog. If our society is to be reformed and brought back to its Christian heritage, then it seems to me it must be reformed “root and branch”. We must change our constitution, our laws, our culture, our education, and our external alliances, policies, and works.
I believe that Catholicism does offer and can offer the modern world a great deal of service educationally in many respects.
A) Financial philosophy tending towards the position of the Austrian School, by drawing upon the thoughts of Iberian Catholic thinkers in the medieval and early modern periods.
B) Presenting a sound Catholic refutation of socialism by drawing on traditional Catholic teaching.
C) Showing the ability of Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants to collaborate by operating institutions staffed by all of the above and showing students academic work where Christians across the divide agree with and make use of each other’s research. (E.g. Catholics who like the work of Alfred Edersheim.)
D) Presenting Catholic teachings on philosophy across the ages in order to show the Catholic acceptance and use of critical thinking: e.g. Catholics who make good use of Kantian philosophy or pointing out that Descartes was Catholic.
E) Emphasising modern Catholic devotion to the Crown despite the Monarch being Supreme Governor of the Church of England – e.g. showing Jacob Rees Mogg’s patriotism and ability to work with Christians from other denominations.
All these are positive assets that Catholicism brings and can continue to bring to the table – but we must all work together for that end. I’m so pleased your work is going well.
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All of these are good points Nicholas. My one caveat would be around over-claiming from the Catholic side, and indeed the Christian side. After all what we have now is in some sense a recession from a situation in which, in the West, we did occupy the public square. Unless we learn from why we no longer do so, we shall be likely to go wrong.
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Laurence B. said:
May I put in a word for Eastern Orthodoxy. That is a church which has many disciples in the Middle East.
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You may indeed, and I would echo it. We have to cooperate with each other if we are to avoid going wrong again.
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Along with Nicholas, I too welcome you back, and with what you say about Nicholas, I heartily concur. He more than any of us (or likely, all of us) has kept the blog alive.
I too find this a thought-provoking article and think the Catholic Church, in particular, brings much to the table, as do parts of the CoE, and the Evangelicals, along with the much smaller representation of the Orthodox. But it can easily be oversold, it is also necessary to investigate why the influence of our churches has waned so severely. Here I am speaking of Britain primarily, although in America we have the same problem, although perhaps not quite so chronically.
I suspect we would find that we have not fought our corner well, giving way to others, who do not share our regard for God’s ways, perhaps any god’s ways. And perhaps we will find that we need to first fix that, and then we can resume our leadership in other areas. Or perhaps I have it backward, and we must educate better and the rest will follow.
Either strikes me as better than where we are now, stuck sideways on the centerline liable to being run into by traffic in both directions.
And again, nice to see your return, you’ve been missed, by the blog and by me personally. I haven’t got that many good friends, that I can afford to lose any.
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Thanks Neo. I intend to contribute regularly as circumstances are allowing in a way the last two and a half years have not.
We have to acknowledge that in many senses we have failed to live the Gospel and therefore lost ground. There is no easy way to regain that ground, but our schools provide a bridgehead.
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I agree completely, although I hope you (and we) can gain support at an earlier age than when the get exposed to your good sense.