Bath Literature Festival: Believers lose
faith in the role of religion in the classroom
Thursday 07 March 2013
Heard the one about the rabbi, the Muslim, the Christian and
the sociologist who all agreed with each other? It’s sound unlikely enough to
be a joke but it happened at the Bath Literature Festival when the subject
turned to the vexed question of faith schools.
Chaired by The Independent's Paul Vallely, a panel on What Happens When Good Religion Turns Bad? largely shared the view that what sours the relationship for many of us with the spiritual is certainty, pride and power. To varying degrees, they were all also worried about the influence of faith schools.
“I don’t want children to live in a world where they don’t encounter difference,” said Francis Spufford – author of Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense. He linked this with the need for faith to allow doubt.
“If you aspire to certitude,” he said, “that belongs only to God, not to you. The voice of God is the one that says to you – perhaps when you’re wearing a suicide belt – ‘Are you sure about this?’”
Despite being a faith-school governor herself, rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner agreed. “We need to lock faith and doubt together,” she said. “Faith schools do a fantastic job in skilling up our kids. But it’s scary that they might go to university never having met non-Jews.”
Rashad Ali, a former member of fundamentalist group Hizb ut-Tahrir who now works on initiatives aimed at de-radicalisation, was also “very, very sceptical” about faith schools. “From a Muslim perspective, religion is a journey," he said.
"People will have their own sets of truth. If we know that God hears the cry of the oppressed, dogma is irrelevant.” Like all belief systems, Ali added, religion turns bad “when it tries to dehumanise points of view it doesn’t agree with”.
In amongst this, arch-atheist Richard Dawkins also came in for something of a hammering. “He needs to go and study philosophy,” said Ali, while Janner-Krausner confessed: “He drives me insane.” She added: “He’s so aggressive and non-doubtful.”
Spufford felt that Dawkins "can only see religion as a kind of early, defective science. That's an illusion.
"Where does meaning come from? Words like natural, as used by scientists, need to be approached with just as much scepticism as words like good and moral."
“Dawkins’s is a post-Christian view”, said Linda Woodhead, professor of the sociology of religion at Lancaster University, “He believes that the universe is meaningless and it is only man who imposes order on it.”
I asked panel members afterwards whether the central issue on which they agree is need for humility and doubt in dealing with matters spiritual. "And love," insisted Janner-Klausner, a leading figure in the Movement for Reform Judaism.
As a rabbi, she said in her talk, "I – like all clergy – have too much power. Religion can be a force for fantastic, life-affirming, enabling, empowering change. It can also be a super-duper gift for power abuse. It must use it very carefully."
tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods
tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas
comedy Erm...he seems to be back
tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa
tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The Boy in the Dress, TV review: David Walliams' Boxing Day treat is a celebration of being different
- 2 Exclusive: Abusers using spyware apps to monitor partners reaches 'epidemic proportions'
- 3 Andy Murray takes to Twitter to show off his Christmas jumper
- 4 Katie Hopkins speaks out on childhood obesity: 'Parents of fat children should be prosecuted for child cruelty'
- 5 Top 10 travel destinations for 2015: From Haiti and Alaska to Namibia and Iceland
Downton Abbey Christmas special 2014, review: Love is everywhere, actually
The Boy in the Dress, TV review: David Walliams' Boxing Day treat is a celebration of being different
The Interview finally gets US release after Sony hack and terror threats – but reviews of North Korea satire are mixed
Madonna Rebel Heart: Pharrell Williams collaboration and 13 more songs leaked
Vagina canoe artist defends herself over ‘obscenity’ charges
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever
Katie Hopkins speaks out on childhood obesity: 'Parents of fat children should be prosecuted for child cruelty'