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Politics in the Context of Religious Education by David G. Kibble

July 18, 2015

PITCOREThis book was written in 1982 and the author admits: by the time this booklet is published, some if it may well be out of date. Well, his examples are but the issues are still relevant today; in fact even more so.

The author taught RE at a school I knew well and worships in a church that I know well from my Leeds days.

As an evangelical working in a state school, he received a lot of flak from Christians asking how he could teach ‘other’ religions and not stick up for Christianity: that the R.E. teacher must avoid the charge of indoctrination.1 I said that in so doing he would not state, as bald facts to be accepted, such statements as ‘Jesus is the Son of God’, °God exists’, ‘Jesus Christ is alive today’. etc., for these are facts that are not ultimately testable by public criteria. In a subsequent edition, I was bombarded with criticism claiming that I had ‘sold out’ to humanism and that I could not really call myself a Christian if this was what I was doing in the classroom.

His response: Schools are secular institutions run by the state; they are bound to avoid any form of indoctrination, whether in religion, history, or social science. They must ensure that whatever they pass on as knowledge has a basis in objective public testing. It would be wrong, for example, to pass on a Marxist view of history in the classroom as knowledge: it is a particular interpretation of history which may be disputed. Similarly, it would be wrong to foist statements of faith (Muhammad is a prophet of God; Jesus died for the sins of the world; everything is part of God) upon our pupils as if they were knowledge in a public objective sense. Such statements are statements of beliefs or faith.

He devotes the first part of this book in defending modern RE. He dismisses the idea that humanists can’t be moral: A second reason given for teaching Religious Education is that any moral education must be based upon it. This reason is also inadequate. It assumes that any moral education must necessarily be based on a traditional or specific religious platform.

Instead, his aims are: Our first aim will be to encourage pupils to understand a religion (which ever one we might be studying) ‘from the inside’, that is to say from the point of view of an adherent of the religion in question…. Secondly, we must encourage our pupils to make some sort of assessment of religion: they must be encouraged to search for truth and falsity….. Our third aim, which is really linked to the second, is that our pupils should be able to enter and go along a path that is a search for meaning.

Responding in more detail to his critics: ‘How can a Christian, who believes the Christian faith to be the true one, teach other faiths which he believes to be false?….. it will be noted that other school subjects teach what some teachers regard as being false as part of the syllabus. For example, in the history of science we will teach about the theories of Galen, Harvey and Priestley: no one believes their theories to be true. in like manner we can teach about Muslim worship and Sikh beliefs even though we may not believe them to be true. In 0 level physics, students are taught that light always travels in straight lines when in fact we know that this is not exactly true. Perhaps a nearer analogy comes in the teaching of history. A Marxist historian may teach a non-Marxist view of history as one particular view, even though he may not agree with it. Thirdly, of course, nowhere is the Christian teacher called upon to deny his own Christian beliefs.….’ Any Christian teacher who believes that he should be able to teach his own religious beliefs as true would also have to allow the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Unitarian, the Moonie, the atheist and the Communist to do the same, for each holds a particular view of life to be true.

We then get to the political issues upon which religion has a considerable bearing: The most volatile area in the world, from a political point of view, is probably the Middle East. Leaving aside the Arab-Israeli problem, the politics of the Middle East have recently been dominated by its oil and by its Islamic heritage.

Well, it was oil back then but this example is even more crucial today with ISIS.

He shows how, unlike Christianity which went through The Enlightenment, Islam still clings to its medieval roots except for some modernisers: This modernist approach would horrify the orthodox Muslim. And here lies another factor in the Middle East: the internal division within the Islamic world between the staunchly orthodox position and the more modernist approach. Such a division not only accentuates the divisions between certain Muslim states (e.g. orthodox Saudi Arabia and modernist Egypt) but also within them (e.g. the moderates in Iran). The orthodox Muslims retain a strictly fundamentalist approach to the Qur’an. Godfrey Jansen begins his book Militant Islam by saying, ‘Islam is not a religion:’ It is not a religion because it is not merely a religion. Islam embraces both the religious and the secular; it is a set of beliefs and a way of worship; it is a system of law; it is a civilization; it is an economic system; it is a method of government. Islam embraces not only what we would call the religious domain (ethics, worship beliefs, etc.) for the religious believer, but also the secular domain for believer and non-believer alike. Islam not only lays down how the religious believer is to act, but also how society shall be run. It is thus a way of life embracing what we would call religion, law, and politics: Islam demands an Islamic state. In the Christian West, we have distinguished between the religious and the secular: the Muslim makes no such distinction….. Islam is currently going through a time of revival as part of its throwing off the shackles of Western domination. But it is going forward into the twenty-first century with an attitude that many would consider is more appropriate to the Middle Ages. And in a sense that is how it logically must be for orthodox Islam because it is based upon the Qur’an as God’s final revelation to man and upon a legal system built up during the Middle Ages. If one accepts the Qur’an as the Word of God, then one has to reject democracy. Society must be a Muslim theocracy: what anyone actually wants is irrelevant. Islam has nothing that resembles the current kingdom theology of Christian ethics: it has instead a legal system that embraces not just the Muslim community but also the whole of society.

Modernist Muslims have realized, of course, that the orthodox implementation of Shari’a law means that the concept of modern democracy has to be abandoned. They are therefore pushing for a reinterpretation of Shari’a law which allows for more modern, humane, democratic ideas. Hence, again, there is tension within Islam itself. With the progress of time this conflict cannot but develop and fester until it is ultimately resolved. And I believe that the final resolution must eventually embrace democracy. The orthodox fundamentalist interpretation of the Qur’an will not stand up to the pressures of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

He chronicles the Western-led modernisation of Iran under the Shah and the reaction against it. Just as there was controversy in ancient Israel over the notion of a king, so: ‘The history of Islam is a history of struggle against the imonarchy.’ In the eyes of the Ayatollah, Islam’s theory of the state did not permit a monarchy since Islam demanded the equality of all men before Allahan equality symbolized by men at prayer in the mosque. For Khomeini, the true Muslim state was necessarily one that was not a monarchy. There could be no theocratic monarchy, only Allah could be king. … We may rightly talk of the growing power of a militant Islam. In reaction to foreign domination many Muslim countries are exhibiting a desire to assert their own independence. Part of this assertion has taken the form of a return to a traditional Muslim culture and with it the Muslim religion. Like all reactions, it has often embraced a somewhat extreme stance, as seen in the adoption of an orthodox, fundamentalist Islam. Fundamental to militant Islam is the Qur’an and the sayings and traditions of the prophet Muhammad. There can be no understanding of what is going on in the Middle East without an understanding of these and of their interpretation…..

But he got this wrong: I believe that the prevailing fundamentalist stance cannot last into the twenty-first century. A more modernist interpretation will be forced upon Islam by the pressures of modern society and modern science.

As we debate the renewal of Trident: Pakistan is thought to be well on the way to possessing a nuclear capability and might easily be tempted to use it against Israel or Russia. And if Pakistan has been aided in its nuclear programme by Saudi Arabia and Libya, then they may expect eventually to receive nuclear weapons as repayment. The thought of nuclear weapons in the hands of Libyan Colonel Gadaffi is a daunting prospect. He might have no scruples in giving his nuclear weapons to a terrorist group such as the P.L.O. Once nuclear weapons are used, the superpowers are explicitly committed to becoming involved.

He then turns to the UK: Because it exists on our own doorstep we often forget that we have our own problem area concerning religon and politics in Northern Ireland. Some might object, of course, that it is not really a religious problem at all, and we will have to investigate that claim; the point is, however, that for many people in Britain, and that includes many of the pupils I teach, it is seen as a religious problem. Most see it as a war between Protestants and Catholics with little idea of any more than that. Large numbers of my own pupils tell me that it’s Catholics against Christians as if Catholicism is a religion in its own right, apart from Christianity. A lot of groundwork has to be done…… For the people of Northern Ireland religion and politics have a much closer connection than they do for people in the rest of the U.K.—for most of the latter it has no connection at all. It is this difference of tradition that often makes it difficult for us in Britain to ‘get the feel’ of Northern Ireland.

There can be little doubt that the Irish have been badly treated by the English for much of their history.

He then outlines this history and it helps to explain why they speak of the Battle of the Boyne as if it happened yesterday.

And what of establishment?: Patriotism in Britain often has a reference to God; the Englishman likes to feel that what takes place in his country is invested with the Christian connotation of providence. State occasions thus become religious festivals: monarchs are crowned by Archbishops, ships are blessed by naval padres, we commemorate the lost of two world wars in a service at the cenotaph, and royal occasions are marked by religious services. Perhaps the most interesting theology is that of the annual Maundy service….. The Queen’s Regulations for the Royal Navy seem to assume that a ship’s Captain and officers at least are: ‘While the responsibility for encouraging religious observance … rests primarily with the Captain, the example given by officers is of paramount importance in leading others to a Christian way of life.’

And finally, a subject about which he has since written another book: What is urgently needed is a study which takes into account (i) a Christian theology of the Jews and of the Jewish nation and (ii) a Christian ethical evaluation of the claims of both the Jews and Palestinians to the land of Palestine.

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