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Lost causes?

11 December 2015

WHEN problems present themselves, the temptation is always to tackle the effects, not the causes. Causes are often complex, and can demand changes in practice and habit. We see this in two particular areas this week.

The first is a practical matter, relating to the flooding in northern England and Scotland. It is, of course, impossible to predict chaotic events by their very nature. Climatologists have, however, been warning for a long time about the likelihood that chaotic weather will increase as the planet warms, and there is now ample evidence to support their prediction. Even in the UK, a relatively stable, temperate country, it is a rare year that does not contain some new record-breaking weather. Those living in regions where the climate has always been more severe are now facing an unsustainable future, as delegates at the climate-change summit in Paris have been hearing. When the causes of drought and flooding, melting ice-caps, and coastal erosion are so obviously global, and the effects so glaringly immediate, it is no wonder that political leaders shy away from an approach that will be expensive, long-term, and with a questionable chance of success. But the result of not attempting to arrest the warming of the planet is painful to contemplate. The first signs that the climate is breaking down must be heeded.


THE second issue where effect is being favoured over cause concerns religion in public life. The report of the commission chaired by Lady Butler-Sloss, Living with Difference, returns repeatedly to the topic of religious literacy. Ignorance and lack of discernment sit at the start of the path to radicalisation. They are also at the root of many of the sillier decisions and pronouncements, from Donald Trump’s proposal that all Muslims be refused entry to the United States, which is both risible and dangerous, to the less serious matter of the refusal to show the C of E’s Lord’s Prayer advertisement in cinemas. Writing about this latter case in the Evening Standard on Monday, Lord Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, stated: “If we can’t tell the difference between sane and mad religion, we have lost a significant skill.”

This does seem to be the case when a Times leader-writer can sum up religion as “what [people] believe about the origins and ends of the universe”. Religious illiteracy, then, is the cause of both bad religion and fear of religion, and it makes no sense to argue, as some have, that faith schools have no place in the education of the nation’s children. The Butler-Sloss commission advises against selection on religious grounds, but emphasises the need to restore religious education to the core of the curriculum. The Government’s refusal to fix this is increasingly puzzling. Again, it is a long-term solution, but the result of not attempting to do so is painful to contemplate.

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