Suppose you taught religious education to children. Personally, I wouldn’t because the subject is ill-defined.
I’d happily (if hypothetically) teach Christianity or Bible studies, but how on earth does one teach religion in general? No such thing exists. There are only separate, distinct religions, each with its own view of God, man or, as the case may be, God-man.
Comparative religious studies is a proper academic subject, but surely only for universities. Children should first be taught the religion that formed our civilisation.
Then perhaps the tail end of the curriculum, say 10 per cent, could be devoted to creeds that are as central to other civilisations as they are marginal to ours. I’d even go so far as to explain that our religion isn’t just different from others but better, but I do realise that such supremacism may well be a criminal offence in today’s climate.
That objection aside, imagine teaching RE to 11-year-olds. Sooner or later the subject of good and evil is bound to come up, and every teacher knows how useful visual aids can be.
What would be yours? No, don’t tell me. Both the mythology and history of Christianity provide enough illustrations to last Methuselah his lifetime, and I’m sure you’d easily find an appropriate polarity there.
However, I’d venture a guess that your two examples, whatever they are, wouldn’t be the same as those an RE teacher at Stoke-on-Trent offered his little pupils.
He showed them an animation, and so far so good. His charges were brought up on cartoons, and they could more easily grasp notions presented in that format.
Yet venturing another guess, I doubt the cartoons they watched at home were full of four-letter words – and I don’t mean ‘love’ ‘good’ or ‘evil’. This one was, though, to be fair, the teacher forewarned the tots in the style of film classifications: “strong language from the onset”.
The video then quickly went into Taoism, whose fine points any 11-year-old presumably must grasp to have any hope of cultural survival in Stoke. Hence there followed a juxtaposition of yin and yang as two complementary forces, although perhaps illustrating such an interaction by the person of Christ would have been more apposite.
In that Asian context, the children were asked to imagine the best and worst things in the world. Having given them a few seconds to ponder, the video then proposed its own, correct, version.
Cheese toast was given as the embodiment of absolute good, while absolute evil was illustrated with a picture of a dildo studded with razor blades.
In fact, about half of the four-minute video included images of sex toys, most of them less evil than the razor-studded one. Those sequences were interspersed with frames showing Jesus Christ reading Playboy (the picture above).
Every teacher knows that the best way of introducing new concepts is to build on the foundation of knowledge the audience possesses already. In this case, the working assumption must have been that those 11-year-olds were familiar with sex aids, in theory or perhaps even in practice. They could also be expected to be intimately familiar with Playboy and other similar publications.
Yet even supposing that today’s tots are as precocious as that, I’d suggest that perhaps such knowledge shouldn’t be encouraged, certainly not in RE classes. Anyway, judging by the reaction of the pupils and their parents, that visual material caught both groups unawares, causing quite some shock.
Protests ensued, the locum teacher responsible was reprimanded, and the school apologised for the offence caused. However, reports of the incident show that the protests were half-hearted, and the apology perfunctory.
One heard no demands that the teacher involved be imprisoned, and the school itself shut down for moral and intellectual fumigation. No one extrapolated beyond Stoke to cry civilisational havoc and let slip the dogs of war. The overall tone was that of regret, rather than rage.
We no longer have any dogs of war to let slip. We have, and put up with, other dogs, those to which the West is going. A civilisation in which that incident could be possible, or even imagined, may or may not deserve to survive. But it’s a dead certainty that it won’t.
P.S. A TV commentator described a tennis player at the Australian Open as ‘stylistic’, meaning stylish. Oh if only our schools taught English, rather than condom and dildo studies.
P.P.S. Speaking of Australia, say what you will about the draconian, liberty-defying measures imposed by the country’s government, but please don’t say they don’t work. Compared to Britain, Australia has suffered one-twentieth the number of Covid deaths per million.