E Jane Dickinson: The funfair is no place to teach religion

I can't think of any individual who's ever claimed to be a 'very spiritual person' whom I didn't want to slap

Share
Related Topics

I've never felt closer to God in a theme park. Unless you count the please-let-this-be-over imprecations muttered through clenched teeth when 90 minutes' queueing is rewarded by 90 seconds' acute misery on your torture engine of choice. So maybe a biblical theme park, like the new creationist funland proposed for the outskirts of Heidelberg, is not such a bad idea.

The £20m enterprise envisaged by the Swiss development company Genesis Land may have had a lukewarm reception from Heidelbergers concerned that it will detract from the area's intellectual heritage, but the theme park, modelled on successful American resorts such as Florida's Holy Land Experience, has the brutal logic of supply and demand.

Where else are you going to catch young souls in a state of mortal terror? And how hard can it be to mock up the riders of the apocalypse with state-of-the-art animatronics? We have the technology. But we have lost the point. Matters of taste aside, "recreational religion" is an ideological own goal, as offensive to believers as it is ridiculous to non-believers. The ineffable cannot easily be packaged into a pay-as-you-go experience.

Heidelberg's "Holy Disneyland" (which, its promoters insist, would not be run for profit) is hardly the first attempt to "make religion fun". God-fearing kids in the US Bible Belt can snack on candy crucifixes or aid digestion with sugar free "testamints". (Each sweetie comes wrapped in a religious text.) Here in Britain we reject such blandishments – mainly as a matter of taste – but are no less concerned to introduce our children to morality in controlled , age-appropriate doses.

In schools where multiculturalism is, rightly, respected, we tend increasingly to bypass religion per se, wary of its yawning doctrinal heffalump traps. Except in church schools, where the affiliation is clearly marked on the gate, religious education has either been replaced in the curriculum or heavily supplemented by a programme of PHSCE (personal health, social and citizen education), under which unwieldy umbrella children are required to learn respect for themselves and others.

It's harder work than the old-style RE mainly because there is no unified, child-friendly narrative to fall back on, though many feel the extra thought involved is its own reward. When moral absolutism is knocked away, teaching right from wrong requires considerable reserves of patience and communication skills

We have all suffered, either as parents or observers, from the jaw-grinding process of explaining to a child, in carefully considered detail, exactly why they should not smack their brother/ skip chores/eat their own weight in refined sugar, when a crisp "Because I say so" would do nicely; multiply that to a class of 30 children, all with their own socio-cultural norm, and you have some idea of what teachers are up against. Perhaps for this reason, many schools, including those which pride themselves on secularism, are now seeking to reintroduce the notion of "spirituality" to the curriculum.

Various programmes, some sponsored by quasi- religious groups such as the Hollywood-based Kabbalah sect, are now seeking to address the spiritual and moral welfare of children in British schools. There is emphasis on old-fashioned Dualism and a lot of business with candles. For me, this where things start to get murky.

We all have our bugbears. I like to think of myself as a tolerant person (nothing unusual there; few, I imagine, like to think of themselves as a raging bigot), but the word "spirituality" brings me out in hives. I have tried my hardest to think of an individual who has ever claimed to be a "very spiritual person" whom I didn't want to slap and I simply can't come up with the goods. So I understand, I really do, when parents with a personal aversion to religion want to keep religion out of education. And, happily, there is no compunction in this country to send your child to any kind of faith school. It's a matter of choice.

My own son and daughter attend state church schools because I'm pleased for them to grow up with a set of stories I personally find congenial, but I wouldn't and couldn't stop them if they struck out on a different path. The schools they attend accept pupils of any faith or none and the religion taught in school hours is both questioning and inclusive. Crucially, I knew what to expect from the religious curriculum when I signed up. Had I chosen a school specifically for its lack of religion and later learned that my children had been instructed to beat down their inner bad guy and "step into the light", I would be deeply disturbed.

This kind of religion-lite is as satisfying as a low-calorie doughnut and about as nourishing for children. At a time when headlines are full of children murdered by children, panic about a generation in moral crisis is understandable. You can, if you wish, take instruction in religion, but it's only half the story. Spirituality or rather conscience (a word I much prefer) cannot be taught in the classroom. It's a constant process of questioning. Knitting your own dogma is not the answer.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary teaching jobs in the Swaffham area

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Are you a fully quali...

Year 1 Teachers needed for day to day roles

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

Primary General Cover Teachers needed

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

Year 2 Teachers needed for day to day roles

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Ye...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: Gordon Brown’s finest hour, a letter from Quebec and the problem of anti-politics

John Rentoul
 

i Editor's Letter: The campaigning is over. So now we wait...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week