So Why Have God Lessons Suddenly Hit a Higher Level? in Fashion: The Numbers of Pupils Studying Religious Education Have Soared

Daily Mail (London), August 15, 2007 | Go to article overview

So Why Have God Lessons Suddenly Hit a Higher Level? in Fashion: The Numbers of Pupils Studying Religious Education Have Soared


Byline: ANDREW COLLIER

IN the dim and distant days when I was at school, God wasn't someone whoengaged me very much. I can remember virtually nothing of my five years ofreligious education classes, save that I once got into trouble for chalkingrude words on the teacher's door.

My mates and I saw religion as being the preserve of either the odd, brainy,wimpish kids in sandals who didn't want to be sullied by our heathen company,or the few Roman Catholics who managed to get a much-envied opt-out from thenumbing dreariness of RE. In short, we didn't do God.

Today's youngsters, though, are much more likely to be interested in what Hehas to offer. New figures released this week show that religious education inScottish schools is now decidedly in fashion, with the number of pupils takingthe subject at Higher Grade having increased by a third since last year.

On the face of it, this seems bizarre.

After all, attendance at Scottish churches remains in steady decline, withyoungsters particularly absent from the pews. The answer to this conundrum isprobably that today's pupils have yet to be convinced of the merits ofattending mainstream worship, but they see religion as a subject fascinating initself and worthy of serious study.

Of course, they are right about it being a gripping classroom subject. Religionis arguably the most intellectually challenging and interesting of academicdisciplines.

It is a fascinating and complex amalgam of other elements - philosophy,history, geography, theology, science and art.

Religion can mean studying the origins of the universe, the beauty and wisdomof the Psalms, the arguments of the Buddha or Plato, the politics of theVictorian era or the paintings of Michelangelo or Giotto - and that's just forstarters. An easy option? Come off it. A single term's study of this stuff hasmore meat in it than an entire degree course in soft lifestyle subjects such asmedia studies.

In Scotland, religion simply cannot be separated from our history as a nation.

That's one of the reasons it's so fascinating and appealing to school pupils.The country's fundamental character has been shaped by Celtic Christianity, theReformation, the Kirk and the 19th century rebirth of Roman Catholicism.

Western standards of morality are still based on the Ten Commandments and theSermon on the Mount. Even today, whether it's the Church of Scotland soundingoff against Trident or Cardinal Keith O'Brien campaigning against abortion,Christianity touches our lives on an almost daily basis.

But religion is about far more than Christianity, and the Higher course - itsfull title is Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies - recognises this.

Modern Scotland is an inclusive, multicultural society with modern faithcommunities living in relative harmony: how we maintain and strengthen thatinclusivity against a background of global jihad and growing Christianfundamentalism is arguably the greatest challenge facing us today.

The recent bombing of Glasgow Airport and the death of Scottish soldiers inIraq and Afghanistan provide powerful evidence of the fact that religion is notconfined to dusty textbooks or scrolls in Dead Sea caves. It is of centralimportance to us all, here and now.

As well as its relevance, there's another good reason why religious educationin schools is so popular.

At present, religion in general and Christianity in particular is under attackas never before.

Secularists dismiss it as superstitious mumbo-jumbo.

Leftwing politicians try to marginalise it in favour of their trendy, morallybankrupt causes. Extreme American evangelists such as Pat Robertson and FredPhelps reduce it to ridicule.

Yet history has shown that religion performs at its best when it is underpressure. …

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