Earlier this week I wrote to my Member of Parliament. The purpose for doing was to draw his attention to the National Secular Society’s No More Faith Schools campaign. (In what follows I acknowledge some use of the said campaign’s material).
As a member of the National Secular Society (NSS), I support the separation of religion and state, as well as equal respect for everyone’s human rights, so that no one is either advantaged or disadvantaged because of their beliefs. In recent years I have become more concerned that faith schools are fuelling segregation, discrimination and inequality, both in my local area but also nationwide.
So, in writing to my MP, I wanted to urge him to raise the issue of state-funded faith schools and to support an inclusive and religiously-neutral approach to education, in which children of all faiths and none are equally welcome in all schools and are able to develop their own beliefs.
Successive national surveys have shown conclusively that the UK is becoming increasingly irreligious, particularly with respect to formal religion and especially amongst the younger generation.
At the same time, the diversity within religions in the UK is growing. We need schools that reflect this and are equally welcoming to pupils from all faith backgrounds and none; an education system and schools that do not teach religion from one exclusive viewpoint.
Faith schools fail to do this.
Too often faith schools separate children according to the religion of their families, resulting in religious segregation and, very often, ethnic segregation. This does not adequately prepare children for adult life in a pluralist and multi-cultural UK.
Faith schools also teach their particular religious persuasion in a “confessional” manner, which not only implies that their religion is more “correct” than other worldviews, but also means children are given limited opportunity to form their own opinions or to adequately engage in dialogue across the various religious faiths.
This is a pathway to bigotry and prejudice.
It is unfair that many faith schools are allowed to prioritize children from a particular faith. We all pay for state faith schools regardless of our beliefs – religious or otherwise. I firmly believe that such schools should not then be given the right to discriminate against children on the basis of religion.
A further and significant consideration is the fact that, as faith schools are funded by public money, the British public should have some control over these schools and what religious philosophy and ethics they teach.
National polling consistently indicates that voters are opposed to faith schools. Parents want to send their children to schools that offer a high standard of education. The vast majority of parents don’t consider religion to be an important factor when making this choice. This situation is understandable, but indicates a misunderstanding of the value of religious studies in the educational spectrum.
I want to see the UK work towards making our state education system more inclusive and fair for families of all religions and none. The state has a duty to provide high quality, inclusive education for all children.
The foregoing is, in essence, what I wished to draw to the attention of my MP – urging him and the government he represents to take action to encourage the growth of inclusive schools with no religious ethos. The ultimate aim is to phase out faith schools. That is why the NSS has recently launched a national campaign dedicated to bringing an end to state-funded faith schools.
No More Faith Schools will urge the creation of an inclusive education system free from religious proselytization and discrimination.
The campaign is timely for faith schools account for around a third of publicly-funded schools in England and Wales, while many Scottish and Northern Irish schools are divided along sectarian lines.
No more indoctrination; no more segregation; no more discrimination. No more faith schools!
Of course, the above is not an argument for not teaching the subject of religion in a state system of secular education. On the contrary, as a former teacher of Religious Studies (Religious Philosophy and Ethics) in the state secondary sector, I am of the view that there is a strong argument for teaching religion in state-funded schools.
The question is how? With what specific pedagogical approaches and methods is the subject to be taught? Are we to move religious studies into a subject syllabus which the philosopher and educator A.C. Grayling has called the “history of ideas”?
But these are questions for another essay!
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged bigotry, confessional, discrimination, diversity, faith schools, history of ideas, inclusiveness, indoctrination, inequality, multi-culturalism, National Secular Society, philosophy and ethics, pluralism, prejudice, public funding, religion, segregation, State
The religious festival of Easter is concluding. For the Jewish faith it is the remembrance of Passover; for Christians the remembrance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Easter event is often accompanied by celebrity people, of all faiths or none, conveying their Easter greetings to the multitudes, irrespective of whether the ears of the people are eager or otherwise to hear what is being delivered.
Charles Windsor, the so-called Prince of Wales, was no exception. Mr Windsor dedicated his 2018 Easter greeting to persons worldwide who have suffered religious persecution, that is, persons who have undergone suffering of any kind as a consequence of their faith. Charles Windsor was non-specific about which faiths he had in mind, but there is little doubt that his mind would likely have had a Jewish and Christian focus.
Now, Charles Windsor was also non-specific about the nature and form of this persecution. Notwithstanding, as seems typical of this character, he appeared publicly in a nationally televised photo-shoot with both leaders of the various Christian faith denominations and non-Christian faiths. Such appearances and the accompanying sentiments no doubt seek to justify his royal function.
Noticeably absent from the faith leaders’ line-up was a female representative of any of the gathered faiths. this being the case, it might have been appropriate that it was Charles Windsor, rather than Elizabeth Windsor, who gave the Easter greeting to the religious leaders…..a matter of gender protocol?
So too, there was nothing of the Maundy Thursday “foot-washing of the poor” ceremony that sometimes and in some places accompanies this occasion – as with the example of the Roman Catholic Pope. Nothing particularly new there, then, especially in view of Mr Windsor’s personal life-style! However, he was – as is usual with this celebrity – all smiles, handshakes and sleeve-tugging, with the occasional and characteristic brief moment of conversation, as the opportunity afforded.
Who would know what the snippets of conversation were all about – perhaps he was actually being informed for the first time about the form and severity of the persecution being experienced by the adherents of a particular leader’s religious faith. He gives every appearance that he actually cares what the faith leaders have to say about the possible persecution of any persons belonging to the religious movements that they represent.
To a large extent, however, the substance of that concern remains a matter of conjecture, as does the genuineness of the various world religions to the nature and extent of the persecution faced by each of them. The conflict in and between the different major worldwide religions is in itself a cause of the persecution each experiences!
What Charles Windsor seemingly fails to realize is that, from the perspective of history, his status and office stands closer to the camp of the persecutors than it does to the persecuted. He is the heir to a royal heritage that may one day give him not only the title of King of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth, but will also enthrone (an interesting word) him as the Head of the Church of England and place him at the pinnacle of the worldwide Anglican Church.
These titles will be his by reason of a monarchical line that has historical and constitutional sanctions. The actual formation of the Church of England took place in consequence of a despotic late-medieval English king’s desire, for entirely self-centred reasons, to break with the Roman Catholic Church and establish a dual hegemony over the English state and church. The rest is, as they say, history.
Apart from the dubious historicity of the sanctions Charles Windsor will inherit when he becomes the reigning British monarch and the Head of the Church of England, the only people, give or take a select handful of politicians, who will have any role or function in the official conferring of this office/inheritance will be those attached to official and hierarchical positions in the Church of England. So much, then, for the United Kingdom as a genuine and practising multi-faith nation!
All things being equal, therefore, as the king-in-waiting and the next Head of the Church of England and worldwide Anglican churches, Charles Windsor stands to inherit, as of right, the highest office of the established church in the supposedly democratic nation of the United Kingdom. This is the British establishment in its most public and privileged manifestation.
Institutional religion, of course, has never been something that has epitomized the democratic ideal. In itself, the fact that the United Kingdom has an established Church of England, means that all other Christian denominations, as well as other religious faiths, suffer by comparison and in practice – in terms of reputation, political patronage and position, financial provision, property acquisition and ownership, as well as any other advantages accruing to a religious title which carries national political and constitutional importance.
Of course, the position occupied by the Head of the Church of England carries with it certain demands of the person who occupies or aspires to the position. These demands are religious, moral, philosophical and, of course, constitutional. These demands suggest the necessary proclivities of any candidate for the office.
With this perspective, it is of some importance to note that it was not that long ago when a former Attorney General of the present Conservative Government considered that Charles Windsor was not a suitable candidate to be the Head of State for the British nation and, therefore, not suitable to be the Head of the Church of England, never mind the worldwide Anglican communion.
It is quite apparent that, based on moral as well as theological grounds, many of the constituent churches of global Anglicanism have a much higher regard for the nature and character of the office than does their British counterpart. A search of the British Constitution, as well as the statutes and rules of the Church of England, would probably verify such an opinion.
History has shown, however, that any establishment – be it legal, military, sporting, business or religious – has a way of overcoming obstacles, no matter how severe these hindrances may be. In recent times it has been noticeable that those duties which Elizabeth Windsor, as the Head of the British State and by extension the Church of England, has been unable, or unwilling, to fulfil, have been performed in the main by her grandsons, William and Harry, rather than her son and heir, Charles Windsor. This may, or may not be, significant.
This was not the case, however, when it came to the serious matter of royal Easter greetings and the photo-shoot with the national religious leaders. This was a duty that required to be fulfilled by someone who possessed present or future stature as a representative of British institutional religion. As the likely next-to-be Head of the Church of England, Charles Windsor was such a person.
Interestingly, it was a task to be performed not by the actual and functioning religious leader of the Church, that is, the Archbishop of Canterbury, but by the titular Head of the Church of England – in this case the Prince of Wales acting in the place and on behalf of Queen Elizabeth. Is the enthronement process already in motion – psychologically if not practically?
The reigning British monarch is the Head of the Church of England in title only, that is he or she is the holder of an office without any of the correspondingly specific functions or obligations. That person has been described somewhere as a “titular saint”! There is some argument that this could apply to Elizabeth Windsor, but Charles Windsor…?
Easter is recognisably a season when the traditional Easter greetings are conveyed by accepted celebrities to the masses – or by national leaders to selected and significant others. This practice is generally considered to be appropriate, especially when it is seen to be an ongoing and relatively harmless aspect of the function of royal personages.
After all, much is made of the monarch dutifully attending the appropriate Easter church service (always in a state church, never in a Roman Catholic or a non-state Protestant church, and certainly never in one of the expanding number of non-denominational churches in the UK) – another photo-shoot opportunity, perhaps, to underline the fact that the monarch takes with utmost seriousness her role as the head of the established Christian church in the land.
In offering his commiserations for the present suffering and best wishes for future resolutions and reconciliations to the gathered British leaders of national and international faith movements, Charles Windsor was carrying out a royal function. How personally meaningful it was, never mind a faithful part of his sacred duty, is something we may never know.
Whether or not Charles Windsor thinks that his greetings will make any difference to the situation of religious persecution worldwide is a moot point. Better minds and more extensive physical and spiritual efforts than his have tried and failed.
Whatever else it may be, religious persecution is not simply a consequence of what a person believes. It has just as much to do with social class and caste, lack of personal and political power, national and regional identity, as well as the pervasive and persuasive influence of ideology and myth.
The above being the case, Charles Windsor and, probably, those faith leaders to whom he conveyed his Easter greetings, rather than being with the persecuted may well be closer to the camp of the persecutors than they themselves realize.
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Tagged Anglicanism, Church of England, constitutional sanctions, death and resurrection. religious persecution, Easter, established church, Head of Church of England, Henry VIII, history, moral demands, Passover, titular office
Being a resident of the United Kingdom, I have not had the opportunity of either attending a concert, or, in the absence of a discography, any other way or listening to music performed by the “Australian World Orchestra” (AWO).
The AWO was established in 2011 by Australian conductor Alexander Biger and his sister, the film-maker Gabrielle Thompson. The inaugural patron of the orchestra was Sir Charles Mackerras, the great Australian conductor who died in July, 2010. He was the uncle of Biger and Thompson.
As the name implies, the Australian World Orchestra is an orchestra composed of world-class musicians who perform with other major orchestras around the world – elite musicians from the international stage who make music with orchestras such as the London and Chicago Symphony Orchestras, the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras, as well as from Australia’s own accomplished state orchestras.
A number of critics world-wide consider the AWO to be one of the world’s great orchestras. Following an AWO concert conducted by the renowned British Conductor Sir Simon Rattle, one commentator went so far as to say, “Sir Simon Rattle shows the Australian World Orchestra’s in a class of its own”. This is, indeed, lavish praise and is echoed in the work with the AWO associated with other conductors, such as the Italian Riccardo Muti and the Indian Zubin Mehta.
Being effectively a guest ensemble, the AWO is limited in the time available for concert performances and opportunities to record its music. Therefore, and unfortunately for local (Australian) music lovers, it gathers only for a week every year, and plays just three concerts in Sydney and Melbourne. World tours by this orchestra are a rarity.
In the interests of the lovers of classical music around the globe, it is to be hoped that available time and circumstances will permit the music of the Australian World Orchestra to be more widely accessible and known.
It was in reading an article about the work of the AWO and its conductor, Alexander Briger, that I was reminded of a classical music concert that went out on British TV last year. The orchestra brought together an invited guest ensemble of internationally acclaimed musicians and, whilst not being the AWO, it contained a number of Australian musicians. For me, the highlight of the aforementioned concert was the rapt performance of Gustav Mahler’s sublime 9th Symphony.
As a leading musicologist, Professor Robert Greenberg, the Music Historian-in-Residence with the San Francisco Performance and a former Instructor with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, has stated: “Mahler’s music focuses on the lonely, isolated individual, the struggle between hope and despair, the questions of death and redemption, and the grieving process.” In many ways, the music of Mahler is about the experiences of every human being.
As you, the reader, may be aware, the 9th Symphony, the composer’s last completed symphony, is about Gustav Mahler seeking of some form of resolution of his life experiences. These experiences included a lack of public acceptance – he was an Austrian-born Jew; the trauma of tragedy – the deaths of a close brother and a much-loved daughter, as well as the adultery of his wife.
Mahler was a conductor and composer who suffered at the hands of the prejudices that went along with being at the close of one era, “Romanticism” – the 18th century literary, artistic, and philosophical movement that emphasized emotion and imagination and an appreciation of external nature, and the beginning of another era, “Expressionism” – the early 20th century art movement that celebrates inner reality as the only reality, the importance of emotional experience over physical reality.
Coincidentally, the development of Mahler’s music, as with other composers of the Expressionist movement, took place at a time in history that witnessed the rise of Existentialism, “the tradition of philosophical enquiry that held the belief that philosophical thinking begins with the human subject – not just the thinking subject but the acting, feeling, living and authentic human being”. The “Existentialist Attitude” was first brought to the attention of the philosophical world by the Danish Christian philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard.
Human beings live an existence that is characterized by disorientation, confusion or dread in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world – a tragic world. In this world the individual is responsible to give meaning to life and living it with passion and sincerity, with “authenticity”. Through his sublime symphonies and songs, this is what Gustav Mahler sought to do and express, and to inspire others to do the same. His is the music of soul and inspiration.
After listening to the Australian World Orchestra performing the “life affirming” 4th Symphony of the paramount Russian composer, Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky – another major composer whose music expresses tragedy (observe his 6th Symphony), one commentator was moved to quote the following words of Tchaikovsky: “If you cannot find reasons for happiness in yourself, look at others. Get out among the people… Oh, how happy they are! Life is bearable after all.”
It is the music-making of orchestras such as the Australian World Orchestra, the music of great composers like Gustav Mahler and Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, and the thoughts and writings of philosophers such as Soren Kierkegaard and the Existentialists, that do, indeed, help to make life bearable… and much more!
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Tagged 9th Symphony, Australian World Orchestra, authenticity, classical music, elite, Existentialism, Expressionism, Gustav Mahler, inner reality, life-affirming, Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, Romanticism, Soren Kierkegaard, tragedy