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Press: Unforeseen results of box-ticking exercises  

28 July 2023

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SOMEONE should tell the diocese of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich that the silly season does not officially start till 1 August. You could suppose, from the news online, that the silly season is a meaningless 20th-century concept, and that all news is ridiculous now. But there remains a special place for bishops, or diocesan bureaucracies, doing half-witted things, and the right-wing press fell on them gratefully last week.

Take Catherine Pepinster’s piece in the Daily Mail about the “anti-racist” material found in Suffolk church primary schools: “To inflict this ‘pyramid of white supremacy’ on them is an abuse of the trust they and their parents have placed in the schools. . . Based on the ‘critical race theory’ fashionable in American universities, the pyramid claims that casual racism leads directly to genocide.

“When white people deny that their skin colour gives them ‘privileges’ that other races don’t have, or when they claim that ‘not all white people’ are racist, they are somehow on a path to ‘mass murder’, ‘lynching’, ‘hate crimes’ and ‘police brutality,’ according to the graphic.

“One of the other strange things about this graphic is how disconnected it is from British culture. One ‘step’ of the pyramid, headed ‘Calls for violence’, condemns the Ku Klux Klan and the burning of crosses: both vile, and both unknown in Britain.”

I don’t suppose that the Bishop actually believes a word of this pamphlet, or even knew very much about it. But someone let it through, presumably as the result of a box-ticking exercise, and failed to think about both the predictable consequences when a parent objected, and about the pernicious silliness of this particular material.

Nor did Canon Nigel Genders, the C of E’s Chief Education Officer, help matters by saying to The Daily Telegraph: “We really are keen that this whole question doesn’t get kind of obfuscated by getting into a technical discussion about which resources and which is the source of different theories.” I’ll bet he is. But does he really think that the Church will get Brownie points for being against racism? Or that no parent will object to the condescending tone of these materials?

 

THERE is also a deeper objection to using this sort of material in Christian schools: it is framed entirely in utilitarian terms. Things are bad, it assumes, only if they lead to identifiable bad consequences in the physical world. It is therefore necessary to assert that all bad speech leads to bad consequences, however strained the reasoning becomes. I don’t think this is the way that Christian morality works. I don’t think it’s the way that speech acts work, either: whether something is, in fact, an incitement to hatred depends almost entirely on context.

The whole thing seems to be yet another unhappy consequence of management by box-ticking. Obviously, a bishop in Suffolk has problems far more urgent than the presumed racist tendencies of seven-year-olds. So this sort of thing does not get very much thought: Everyone knows we’re against sin and in favour of virtue — let’s just get some materials to show this.

But it is also an example of how the national Church gets blamed for things over which it has no real control; and that, in turn, is a consequence of pretending that the Church of England is an organisation, an entity with anyone in charge. Rather than pester Canon Genders, I did try to get a comment from the diocese; but it had outsourced its press relations, and the woman I spoke to there, though agreeable and friendly, couldn’t actually talk about this, and promised an email statement, which has not yet come through as I write.


AT LEAST no one could accuse the diocese of effective altruism. The Guardian reports that the disgraced crypto-currency mogul Sam Bankman-Fried (18 November, 2022) had plans to buy the sovereign state of Nauru as a bolt-hole and bunker to maximise the number of “effective altruists” among the survivors of any catastrophe that would wipe out the rest of the human race. How could anyone mistake this for ineffective selfishness?


CHARLES MOORE, in The Spectator, retold the story of how he had established that Justin Welby’s father was not the man he had supposed (News, 15 April 2016). Moore had worried, he said, about the distress that the story would cause the Archbishop’s mother, but, when he met her afterwards and apologised, she responded that he had nothing to regret, and the story had only strengthened her family. To this Moore added a reflection which captures the essence of upper-class Englishness: “Since she had perfect manners, I shall never know whether she was telling me the truth.”

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