Identifying Christianity

Andrew Motion, who until last month was the UK Poet Laureate, has drawn attention to the poor knowledge in schools of the contents of the Bible. Judging by some of the bizarre answers given in quiz shows such as The Weakest Link, or even University Challenge, he is right to do so. And his observation might go some way to explaining why almost no-one nowadays knows what Christianity is, beyond a vague notion that it’s to do with people being good. (In case you were wondering, it’s to do with people being generally bad, admitting it and being forgiven.)

Mr Motion is concerned primarily that children are missing out on the historical and literary aspects of Christianity – the same Christianity that has been the motivation for countless works of visual, verbal and musical art over many centuries. It continues to motivate artists, of course, though not politicians so much.

Militant atheists may abhor any mention of faith in schools, but most of us would think that depriving pupils of knowledge and telling them what to think is not the optimum educational solution.

Such atheists seem to think that teaching Christianity is the same as evangelism. It is not, of course, and if the only way atheists think they can “protect” children from Christianity is by promoting ignorance, then they can have little confidence in the strength of their position.

It is surely significant that Muslim parents on the whole would rather their children attend an overtly Christian school than a secular one. I leave you to work out exactly what the significance is, and whether Christian parents would be equally happy to see their children attending Muslim schools.

Certainly there is concern among many Christians at the increasing influence of Muslims in our society – with the BBC installing a Muslim as head of religion, and the Koran, so I am told, being placed on a higher shelf than the Bible in courtrooms. The BBC is “known” for being happy to broadcast attacks on Christianity, but treading softly, softly around Muslims. But is that the issue here? It might be worth asking whether the new head of religion is good at his job, and whether he is the best candidate available.

As far as our secular society is concerned, one of the current battlegrounds is homosexuality. Christians hold different views on this, and some of those views are quite forceful. But should they be able to put these views in public debate? The Coroners and Justice Bill, which is presently in the House of Lords and has received heavy criticism there, seems to allow the interpretation that they can’t, which is a disturbingly anti-democratic stance, however the phraseology seeks to disguise it.

The often-shrouded point is that to oppose something, you don’t have to hate its proponents, or encouraging others to hate them. The thinking behind the Coroners and Justice Bill seems to be that in certain areas, everyone has to think and say the same thing. In what way is this different from Orwell’s vision of 1984?

Of course if you happen to be homosexual or gay, or both, then it would be nice if everyone was like you. (It would also signal the end of the human race, of course, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.)

Canterbury, which might be regarded as the “home” of English Christianity, was recently accused of not being gay enough. Apparently, there are no gay bars there. But why should there be? Are there any heterosexual-only bars? Any white-only bars? I should hope not. The point of equality and diversity is that we should be equal and diverse, not pushed into exclusive ghettos, or bars.

Instead of logical thinking, there seem to be huge irrational leaps going on. The fact that it is wrong to express hatred of homosexuals does not mean that it is essential to promote homosexuality. I don’t hate crocodiles or hamsters, but that doesn’t mean I have to promote them. I may feel that the level of crocodile and hamster activity in the world is about right.

But whatever stance Christians take on controversial issues, Christianity has something special to offer, which is forgiveness, love and acceptance – even to those we find completely wrong-headed. No, I don’t mean homosexuals; I mean absolutely anyone we disagree with. So I was delighted to read the restrained response of the Rev Sally Theakston, a team rector in Norfolk, when British National Party representatives attended one of her churches and then launched an attack on the worship there and on the Church in general.

She did not use the opportunity to attack BNP policies or advise people not to vote for them, however much she may have been tempted to do so. Instead, she said: “I am sorry that members of the BNP do not find worship at St Faith’s helpful for their discipleship.”

Way to go, Sally!