I will be honest: I do not agree with a lot of what the following article contains, but there is enough evidence and truth to suggest that the worries expressed are not totally divorced from reality (this makes the article good enough to share with others, although I am sure that many people have read it elsewhere). However, something with which I totally agree is the idea that “We need more religion in schools, not less, and clearly taught, (and) made relevant to 2015”. We need religion in schools, but only in so far as religion can be subjected to critical analysis and evaluation to expose its strengths and weaknesses. I also go along with the idea that we ignore religion “at our peril”.
So here goes: yet more food for thought.
The visitor to London walks past the plaited breads stacked in the window of a Jewish deli. A passerby wears a hijab. Children in grey uniforms run out of the gates of the Catholic school. The air fills with their cries – and with the peal of bells from the Anglican church.
A snapshot of our capital city, circa 2015. Cherish it, because the odds are it will not survive. The tragedy of the Paris attacks (January 2015) does not stop with the victims murdered by extremists. It spills over into our daily existence. In Europe, many have the courage to proclaim “Je suis Charlie”, but how many Jews dare show their observance after a kosher grocery store was targeted by Islamist gunmen?
No wonder a poll today shows half of the 250,000 Jews in Britain do not see a future for themselves here, and another shows that 100,000 Jews have left France in the last few years.
But Jews are not alone. In some parts of the world, wearing the label “Christian” also carries a death sentence. Whether executed for the crime of apostasy in Pakistan, or attacked as “kefirs” (infidels) in Mosul in northern Iraq, Christians are forced to die for their faith in parts of the Middle East. Nor are Muslims spared the persecution the other Abrahamic religions suffer: in western China and episodically in India, public allegiance to Islam is punishable by death.
In ever-greater swathes of the world, being a believer means embracing martyrdom. “Civilised” countries have failed to defend the persecuted – and in fact have created an atmosphere where the person of faith finds themselves pushed into an intolerable place. The extremists want their blind allegiance or will claim their lives, while the secularists suspect their collusion with hot-head co-religionists.
How much longer will believers dare to stand up and be counted? Soon Europe, even London, the much-vaunted bastion of multiculturalism, will become no God zones, banning any public display of religiosity. “For your own good,” the authorities will tell their pious citizens, “you must carry out your ancient rituals in secret. We cannot vouch for your safety otherwise.” Believers will have to hide their precious religious symbols and conceal their rites. Like the early Christians in the catacombs, they will lead lives in the shadows.
Two years ago I wrote “No God Zone”, an e-book predicting that strident secularism would push religion out of public life in the West. I had under-estimated the dangers to people of faith – the enemies come from two sides, not one. Secularists once sought only a separation between church and state; today they want to purge all signs of religion from all public space. The staff at “Charlie Hebdo” said they did not want to hear the bells of Notre Dame mourning their colleagues’ murders. Salman Rushdie weighed in saying religion, as a “medieval form of unreason”, is the enemy. Meanwhile, extremists have no truck with the moderates in their own religion – and only vicious hatred for outsiders.
Squashed between these Scylla and Charybdis, the devout cannot survive – unless the state steps in determined to keep alive our precious religious heritage.
If we in the West want to save the little shop with the sweet-scented challah loaves, the faith school with its uniformed pupils, the pealing of church bells, and yes, the veil, we must act now. We must protect outward signs of religious observance. At present, in Europe, this means posting police and soldiers outside Jewish schools and pursuing the perpetrators of anti-Semitic attacks. Already, many synagogues are surrounded by local volunteers trained by the Community Security Trust who protect the faithful marking the sabbath.
The sacred should be protected, but ignorance should be crushed. Illiteracy is condemned when it comes to the ABCs, yet no one expects children to know who Abraham was, or Moses, or who the Wahhabis are and what they believe – even though more people are ready to die for their faith than for their alphabet. This state of ignorance is shameful and increasingly dangerous. It spreads the kind of suspicion and enmity that explodes in murderous rage.
An ill-tempered debate about faith schools and faith in schools was sparked last year by the Trojan Horse scandal when, in thirteen Birmingham schools, children were subjected to frightening Sunni Islam propaganda and told that hell awaited them if they did not obey. Girls were told that when they married they could not refuse to have sex with their husbands lest the angels punish them. The row left the education authorities feeling wary of teaching their pupils about God in any guise. This is a mistake. We need more religion in schools, not less, and clearly taught, made relevant to 2015 and treated with the same respect we accord literature, science or mathematics. The Paris tragedies show that religion is such a non-negotiable force in most people’s lives that we ignore it at our peril.