The controversial issue of religious education in schools has again reared its less-than-pretty head, like a pimple that could either burst or go underground again for an indefinite period of time (as a mild acne sufferer, I know how these things work).
Apparently the Education Department forces primary schools to have religious education whether they like it or not, and the only provider to conduct such education is explicitly and motivationally Christian. As such, 96 percent of religious education in schools is taught by Christians.
It's not meant to be biased, but of course it is. It's taught by church goers who are passionate about their faith, and passionate about sharing it with the up-and-coming generations. They're going to want to talk about the joy they find in their own faith.
I'll be blunt: I think that it is absurd in this day and age, in this multi-cultural, multi-religious society, in this diverse and complex world of many diverse and complex religions, that the religious education taught in schools is almost entirely Christian.
The Christian story and faith is an important one, and children need to know about it because it undergirds much of the culture and customs in this Anglo-Saxon dominated society. From a personal perspective it is also a worldview that I am passionate about, and believe that it has the potential to seriously enrich and change people's lives.
But it's not the only religion! Religious education is important because whether we like it or not - whether we are religious or not - religion is one of the things that makes the world go round. It shapes events, it determines the way people interact, it determines the way people don't interact. To be schooled only in the Christian religion is to miss a crucial lens for viewing our society and the world. It is to miss out on the opportunity to understand where other people are coming from. And it is to miss out on the chance to be seriously enriched and changed by these different ways of doing, being and believing.
I think it would be amazing if the funding allocated to religious education in schools was used to promote understanding between different religious groups. There is an experimental program called 'Building Bridges' that aims to facilitate discussions between high school students of different faith backgrounds. I think that's a brilliant idea, and the kind of thing that true 'religious education' should be aiming towards.
This conversation is also somewhat personal for me, as I have been thinking about chaplaincy as something to do in the future. I believe that there is an important role for people of faith in secular institutions - to provide support in a holistic way. But I'm uncomfortable that again it's mainly Christians that get the funding to do this stuff.