I reckon 20+ years of doing schools and community work in just about every sort of school environment possible gives me a little bit of insight into the story behind this news headline from the other day:
Generally, fundamental atheists are quite happy (and “happy” is being extremely charitable!) for the local vicar to come in and contribute to the life of a school – you know, to demonstrate their tolerance, and maybe even share some “cultural Christianity” – but (and its a Kim Kardashian sized but) only if they’re completely ineffectual. A boring, irrelevant, forgettable talk about some ancient “fable” in foreign lands might even prove an effective inoculation against the disease of real faith.
But, Darwin forbid, don’t invite people into the school who are going make the children think about their personal spiritual life, or give them understanding, insight or broaden their horizons. Don’t make the children laugh, or stir their emotions. Don’t make Christianity seem relevant or contemporary or life-transforming. Above all, don’t make your message so interesting & memorable that the children go home and talk to their parents about it. These are unforgivable sins and will not be tolerated. These are the real sins I suspect CrossTeach are guilty of, not “hatred”, “extremism” or “fear-mongering”.
Of course, in most homes, parents are delighted if their children tell them anything about their day at school. And the re-counting of an engaging talk by the visitor in assembly might prove to be a catalyst for some meaningful conversation about life, faith & values – the sort of thing many parents love to discuss with their children but don’t quite know how. But in the home of the atheist parent, the funny illustration involving a splatted pumpkin – which was actually an illustration of the destructive power of lies – has become an illustration of how God will smash the heads of children against the rocks if they don’t believe; the magical piece of flash paper which wowed the children – an illustration of how Christ’s love can make our fear & guilt vanish without trace – has become an illustration of how God delights in seeing atheists burn in hell. Their offspring, who can normally dissect the complex allegories of the latest Phillip Pullman novel, or who aren’t scared in the least by the graphic ogres of the Harry Potter novels, are suddenly traumatised by the mere mention of the word “sin” or “guilt”.
Armed with their pitchforks of Facebook campaigns, equality & diversity legislation and “Fundamental British Values” they’ll wear the school down with incessant
whinging concerns until the beleaguered head throws in the towel of surrender. And the rest of the school community – who are ambivalent at worst and very appreciative at best – are deprived of something that their children all loved & valued. The atheist tale wagging the entire dog – both its ambivalent body and its positively nodding head!
Of course, the atheist parent has the perfect legal entitlement to withdraw their child from the influence of these meddlesome priests. It is the perfect opportunity for them to teach their children to have the courage of their convictions. But much better to inflict a collective punishment and withdraw ALL the children. (Of course, doing the same for SRE is unthinkable – then it is the obligation for “religious” parents to withdraw their children from the imposition of the secularist’s values).
The head teacher in this story has ultimately proved spineless. My prediction is that he’ll probably soon learn that his craven capitulation on this issue won’t satiate their demands but increase them (as already appears to be the case). However it’s easy to point the finger. Those of us who happen to have head teachers in our circle of friends know the wearying effect these fun denying mentalists have – like incessant mosquitoes of the soul.
As the old adage says, when you point the finger there’s 3 more pointing back at you. My bet is that the “ambivalent body and positively nodding head” have remained silent – not only during the controversy, but throughout the rest of the school year(s). If only every time CrossTeach had done an assembly, a collection of parents had thanked the head teacher / governors for the positive impact it had on their child, at least providing a counterbalance to the 2 or 3
whinging concerned atheists; if only they took an active interest in how the school was fulfilling it’s duty towards the spiritual development of their children; or were as pro-active as the fun-denying-mentalists in advocating their children’s spiritual well-being.
Of course, ultimately these people are accountable to God. And Jesus – meek & mild – had these words to say to those who would deny children their spiritual entitlement: “If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.” That really should give them nightmares!
[Archbishop Cranmer gives this whole debacle his usual erudite & discerning analysis here. The comments are always worth a read too]