Saturday, 11 April 2015

In and/or of the World

Last year, the BBC ran a story about children who were taught using the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) system, a highly fundamentalist educational programme used by a small number of faith schools, and by home learners, mostly in the USA but also in Britain.  I meant to write a post about it at the time, but forgot to.  I kept the link however, and decided to address it at a later date.  That day is today.

I don’t wish to discuss the programme itself, although I will say that I consider it unhealthy and unhelpful at best, and I certainly don’t hold with their literalist interpretation of scripture.  It has always been my opinion that there is no better way to manufacture hardened atheists than to smother and saturate children with religion from an early age, which is why I don’t necessarily approve of ‘faith schools’ generally.  On the other hand, I strongly support the concept of specifically and vociferously atheist schools for almost exactly the same reason, since it seems to me that they will be wonderful for producing enquiring, thinking theists.

What I actually want to write about is a quote from the BBC story, from a former student and strong critic of the ACE programme:

“It leaves them [children] grossly unprepared for the real world. They have a view of society and people which is unrealistic, which doesn't match or fit any of the norms of society.”

Well, fair enough I suppose, and I daresay he's correct, but is that really a bad thing?  After all, we are being constantly informed that we live in a consumer-driven, financially and legally unequal, me-first, litigious, grasping capitalist society, full of selfish people so ignorant that they can’t be trusted with the freedom to make their own decisions, conduct their lives, or even form their own opinions without careful supervision.  I believe this to be a deeply negative portrayal of a society that I daresay is no worse than most societies in human history, but certainly no better either, made up of people individually no better or worse than any selection of humans from any other place or time.

However, do we really want our children, or indeed our adults, to have a ‘realistic’ view of society, or to match or fit with its norms?  I am not arguing for simplistic naivety or a willing blindness to the many faults of both society and individuals, but rather in favour of what Someone once said when He told people that they ought to be ‘in the world, but not of the world’.

I have stated before that I am an idealist when it comes to human nature; I believe that people are fundamentally good, even if that good is sometimes deeply hidden, sometimes a spark so faint, buried so deep in a mind and soul so utterly twisted and corroded as to be all but invisible.  That doesn’t change the fact that people are frequently deeply selfish, wilfully ignorant and generally lacking in even the processed cheese spread of human kindness, never mind the milk.  You of course, dear reader, are clearly an exception to this, since you have shown the singular wisdom, mental clarity, and magnitude of spirit to not only be viewing this blog, but to have stuck with this post for so long already.

We should not be blind to the way society is, and we certainly shouldn’t ignore its faults, or pretend that they don’t exist.  They must be acknowledged and confronted; not necessarily in an antagonistic way, but with a view to fixing them, or at least of demonstrating that a ‘more perfect way’ (I apologise for the grammatical inaccuracy, but you must blame Mr. Wesley) is possible, with all the benefits that come with it.

Greed, ignorance, bigotry, selfishness, hatred; are these the ‘norms’ to which we wish to conform?  I have seen it suggested in the past that the church ought to change to adapt itself to society in order to ‘serve it better’.  However, if we as Christians claim to believe in eternal truths, then that is the exact opposite of what we ought to be doing.  To quote Chesterton (again), “Right is Right even if nobody does it. Wrong is wrong even if everybody is wrong about it.”  We may well disagree on exactly what those eternal truths are, citing historical contexts, nuances of interpretation and simple human error for our differences of opinion, but having decided, as organisations and as individuals, we must stick to them, no matter what ‘society’ tell us.

If that leaves us with a view of society that is not realistic, it is only because we think that society ought to be other than it is.  If we do not fit or match the norms of society, then to my mind it simply means that we are getting things right.  Are we grossly unprepared for society?  I would say that society is grossly unprepared for us.

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