The Rector said that he did not believe in aliens, that we were alone in the universe. This was a disappointment in a generation when the travels of Captain James Kirk on the Starship Enterprise were opening up all sorts of ideas of aliens very different from those encountered by Doctor Who.
Of course, we would not have questioned the Rector, even if we disagreed, which at least one person did.
When not rubbishing aliens, what did he teach us?
He would read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe if we were well behaved; and we always were, it was not worth the punishment to mess around.
He would also take us through the prayer book catechism. This seemed an odd exercise, for hardly any of us went to church, much less attempted to understand the sixteenth century language of the Book of Common Prayer.
Had we understood the catechism, there were probably bits of it with which we would have agreed, even if we didn’t believe the religious stuff. When it asked us about our duty towards our neighbour, we would not have quarrelled with much of the answer.
My duty towards my Neighbour, is to love him as myself, and to do to all men, as I would they should do unto me: To love, honour, and succour my father and mother: To honour and obey the Queen, and all that are put in authority under her: To submit myself to all my governors, teachers, spiritual pastors and masters: To order myself lowly and reverently to all my betters: To hurt no body by word nor deed: To be true and just in all my dealing: To bear no malice nor hatred in my heart: To keep my hands from picking and stealing, and my tongue from evilspeaking, lying, and slandering: To keep my body in temperance, soberness, and chastity: Not to covet nor desire other men’s goods; but to learn and labour truly to get mine own living, and to do my duty in that state of life, unto which it shall please God to call me.
“To learn and labour truly to get mine own living”, the Anglican expression of the Protestant work ethic that, in two centuries, brought Britain from being a backwater on the edge of Europe to being, by 1900, the greatest power in the world. Education and work were part of the divine scheme of things; they were part of doing one’s duty in the state of life to which one was called.
It was a move away from the attitude, reflecting Genesis, that work was a curse that came with the Fall. Work was something good. Work provided independence; it provided choice; it allowed the emergence of the individual in a society. “My own living” would allow for the development of many virtues (as well as many vices!).
Had that primary school class been told that there was not enough money in the country and what did we think should be done, we would have been unequivocal, “we should work”.
As governments on both sides of the Irish Sea contemplate responses to the recession, it’s worthwhile to remember that what generated the wealth from which the countries have receded was work. Answers to the economic problems come not in increasing taxation and making employment less and less attractive, but in allowing people to “labour truly” to get their own living; allowing them independence and choice.
The old Rector would probably have agreed. He would have had a go at anything, (including playing rounders with the jacket of his black clerical suit removed, revealing his white shirt under his black vest stock; he could never catch a ball!).