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.