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Skirting in RE round religion’s ‘nasty bits’

03 October 2014


From Mr Don Manley

Sir, - As a former textbook-editor who had to deal with issues in religious education for many years, I read Andrew Brown (Press, 26 September) with particular interest.

It was the Revd Professor John Bowker who highlighted the importance of religious education in one of my authors' books when he wrote in 1983: "Religions are extremely dangerous. . . If we want to live in a more peaceful world, it is important that we understand what there is about religion which makes believers so passionate in their beliefs and in their divisions from each other."

Thirty years on, though, we find that it is mildly surprising when a bishop points out the dangers of religion, and it appears controversial to one government minister that pupils should learn about more than one religion.

Yes, indeed, religions (or what is done in the name of them) can certainly be dangerous; but my experience with the local RE committee (SACRE) suggested that the "nasty bits" of religion were to be skirted around, largely because our membership consisted of people of different faiths who all (quite reasonably) wanted to be nice to each other.

Since I left the Oxfordshire SACRE a year or so ago, the situation has dramatically changed. RE is under continuing threat, and schools (many no longer controlled by education authorities) now go their own separate ways.

My view is that it is time to replace RE with a new subject, "Beliefs and Values". This new subject would require the study of humanistic beliefs as well as the great world religions and go much deeper into exploring what makes people tick.

Education changes, and our five-year-olds are to be taught basic computer coding. The next generation also needs a better understanding of the variety of visions by which people live, and a means for the young to find their own visions in a spirit of goodwill. This would be to the benefit of us all. We've a long way to go.

26 Hayward Road
Oxford OX2 8LW

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