“I hate all this religious education stuff – hate it.” He tossed aside the handout from which we had been working.
”Do you know?” he continued, “When we were at primary school, we had to have all of these stupid songs and prayers. Every day, we had to have them. I hated it.”
“Were you at a Church of England school?”
”Why did you go there?”
”Because it was the one nearby. It was the only school I could go to. I hate all of this stuff.”
Attending a church school, having had five years of secondary education where religious education has been compulsory, he will leave school in a few weeks’ time with a deep resentment towards religion – and towards those who subjected him to daily doses of it.
Why do the churches persist in their control of schools? It is not as though it is doing them any favours, in England, the Church of England continues its long-term steep decline; in Ireland, the fall of the Roman Catholic church has been even more precipitous. School patronage has not stemmed the loss of membership; if anything, it has probably drained the church of personnel and resources that might better have been spent elsewhere.
In the Nineteenth Century, evangelical Christians actually opposed Parliamentary provision for Church of England schools. The legislation was seen by non-conformists as the subsidising of the Church of England by ratepayers. If Christianity was to be taught, they believed the lessons should be non-denominational and limited in their scope.
A hundred and fifty years after that 1870 Education Act, the strongest churches are those which control no schools, those which rely upon nothing other than their own pulling power. If the furthering of the Gospel depended upon the control of schools, then such churches would not exist.
If Christianity does not depend upon subjecting primary school pupils to such musical items as The Butterfly Song and banal prayers, then why do churches persist with their control, in some cases, using it as a lever for baptism and church attendance? If there are no theological grounds for ecclesiastical involvement in education, the reasons must be much more human ones.
The resentment felt by the sixteen year old at the years of compulsory religious education to which he has been subjected arises from a church which has sought to maintain its influence, a church that is loath to relinquish its power. There is nothing in the teaching of Jesus to justify the church’s approach; had there been more of Jesus and less of the church, perhaps the resentment might not have been so great.