I hope everyone is suitably shocked at the dreadful goings on in five of Birmingham's schools as revealed in the Ofsted report. "Equality of opportunity is not promoted well". "Students are not taught citizenship well enough or prepared properly for life in a diverse and multi-cultural society." "Too little is done to keep students safe from the risks associated with extremist views." "The equalities policy is not fit for purpose." "Governors do not meet their statutory responsibilities to safeguard pupils because they have not taken steps to protect them from the risks of radicalisation and extremism." "Pupils have limited knowledge of religious beliefs other than Islam". You get the picture. This is about a Muslim takeover through a 'Trojan horse' (you know the story of the wooden horse that was left outside Troy by a 'defeated' enemy, which was then taken inside the city, only to discover that the Hellenic SAS were hidden inside). What can be done about it?
The government is clear. We must ensure that all pupils are taught 'British values'? What an interesting phrase! What does it mean? Respect, tolerance, British laws etc. But where do these come from? As I have pointed out in previous articles on Christian Today, Britain is a nation founded largely on Christian principles.
Our values are Christian values. Is the government now advocating that all schools must teach Christian values? Or are they suggesting that these values are somehow inherently British and can be taught without Christianity? It is a real dilemma for our government. How do you promote British values when you reject the source of those values? Can we have the fruits without the roots?
But there is another problem. I do not want to minimise the problem that may exist in some schools where Islam is the predominant influence. The trouble is that Islam does not make the distinction between politics and religion that Christianity in general does (there is no doctrine of the two kingdoms in Islam). However I don't want to maximise it either. I would suggest that the Islamic problem is more like a Trojan mouse. There is a real Trojan horse threatening the whole of British society, and those responsible for it, can hardly contain their excitement at the opportunity the Birmingham Ofsted report gives them.
I am talking of course about the more fundamentalist atheists and secularists who are desperate to ensure that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is removed from education. Hardly was the ink dry on the Ofsted report before the cries went up throughout the liberal intelligentsia, "See we told you, the problem is religion". "Ban state funded religious schools". Hugh Reilly writing in The Scotsman pontificated, "Instead of venting hot air about a Trojan Horse, perhaps Westminster should be discussing the elephant in the room, that is, the teaching of religion in schools. If education in publicly funded education establishments were to be devoid of all superstitious input, the problem would disappear overnight". In other words, it's a simple problem, religion in schools, and there is a simple solution, get religion out of the education system. In an increasingly secular society that simplistic view will resonate with many. But, like most simplistic views, it is dangerous.
One third of the 20,000 state schools in England and Wales are either Church of England or Catholic. In Scotland there are 370 state funded state schools out of 2,659 – 266 Catholic, one Jewish and three Episcopalian. The remaining schools are meant to be non-denominational, not non-Christian. Scotland's state education system is still, at least in name, a Christian education system. Secular humanists would love to remove all faith schools from the State system but they know that politically it would be impossible because the faith schools are very popular with parents. So what is needed is a Trojan horse. Something that gets into the education system and from within undermines the Christian ethos. And they have found it. Using the guise of 'secular' values of 'equality, diversity and tolerance' (although these in fact stem from the root of Christianity) they are seeking to exclude all except their 'neutral' secularism. I wrote about the ideology behind this in an earlier Christian Today article.
The problem is that once secularists get control of all the state schools they will ensure that nothing that does not fit in with their philosophy and doctrines will be allowed. This is done through two insidious methods. Firstly there is the myth of the obvious. It is obvious that only science can give facts and that science and religion are opposites. It is obvious what equality and diversity mean. It is obvious that all religions are the same and must all be treated the same. Christianity, Islam, the Westboro Cult – what's the difference? That's why the secularists can hardly contain their joy at the Birmingham situation. 'Look at the harm some forms of Islam do', quickly morphes into 'in the interests of fairness and to avoid Islamaphobia let's just blame all religions'. It is obvious that secularism is neutral and that secular values are the best ones. It is obvious that wise humans outgrow 'primitive' religion.
Secondly there is the all-knowing mockery. The aforesaid Mr Reilly again: "Choosing to believe in chatterbox serpents and resurrectionism should be a private matter, not something force fed to youngsters". I find it astonishing that in our 'neutral' education system children are more likely to know about the slaughter of the Amalekites than they are to know about the Good Samaritan! My daughter was asked by her biology teacher about the 'genocide' in the Old Testament. I still haven't worked out what that had to do with biology! Thankfully she has parents who are able to set things in the context of the whole Bible. But what chance do most children have when they are faced with that kind of accusation (because let's not pretend it was a question)? Any attempt to answer that question within school will immediately bring down cries of 'evangelism, proselytism, religious bigotry'. Its not that we can't answer such questions. It's more that we are not allowed to answer.
In general atheists don't build schools. Churches and Christians do. All Britain's ancient universities were started by churches. John Knox stated that where there was a church there should be a school and out of that principle one of the greatest education systems in the world was established. Atheists, cuckoo like, want to take over schools which were founded on Christian principles. We need, for the sake of our children, to preserve what remains of Britain's Christian education system. And the Church needs to step up to the mark very quickly and provide suitable material and teaching to counter the simplistic but emotionally effective propaganda of the atheists. And we need to be able to answer the questions/accusations put to us. Next week in part two we will look at one of the key ones on this subject – "Are children born atheists? "
David Robertson is the director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity. You can follow him on Twitter @theweeflea