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Hang Ups

It's funny how the most innocuous of remarks can cause offence. A couple of weeks ago, I merely suggested that computers might be the tools of the Devil.

I might also have possibly implied that those gleaming PCs were our new graven images, and that spending too long bowed before them was a sure and certain route to eternal damnation. That like the witches in Macbeth: "the instruments of darkness" that will win us with honest trifles, only to betray us in deepest consequence. All self evident, it seemed to me especially for those of us who have struggled with Dos (an operating system that makes the ouija board seem positively benign).

The remarks didn't exactly bring down the wrath of God, but I have been inundated by a letter. It points out that if I had been writing in biblical times, I would have poured scorn on Paul for daring to use new-fangled epistles to communicate with his scattered churches. In the 15th century, I'd have chastised Gutenberg for having the temerity to print the Bible.

Rather than seeing it as a fiendish diversion, those who seek to promulgate the gospel have always been ready to exploit the latest method of communications. RE teachers, in particular, have pounced on any medium that might add to their subject's appeal. It shouldn't come as any surprise, then, to find many of them promoting the new technology almost as enthusiastically as they do the New Testament.

In one junior school, I watched a class as they used a simple DTP package to rewrite the Gospels in the style of the tabloids. You know the sort of thing: Shepherds Abiding in Field Spot UFO; Five Loaf Feast Feeds Famished Faithful; Wedding Wine Wins Awards. It can seem very tacky unless you see the children actually at work. They bash their way through their Bibles, mugging up the stories and swapping verses with the zeal of born-again Billy Grahams. As a ruse for acquainting pupils with the good book, it's certainly better than the method employed in my school days. We chanted selected verses to the same tune as the multiplication tables, and got a clip round the ear if we were suspected of miming.

I've also seen IT used with fervent abandon in an RE lesson at a secondary school. The children worked in groups on a disparate range of projects. For example, while some hunted specialist databases for evidence about the historical Jesus, others used The Times on CD-Rom to garner the arguments for and against the ordination of women. The topics set by the teacher were deliberately diverse. This ensured that pupils didn't end up engaged in a holy war over who was to use the more popular packages.

There's certainly a bewildering range to choose from. Articles of Faith, for instance, stocks everything from learned concordances to an adventure game in which "you're a Roman spy in occupied Jerusalem". Its catalogue also includes the two CD-Rom discs produced as part of the Computers in RE Project by the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Wales in Lampeter.

Wily RE teachers, of course, don't use computers in their classrooms simply because there is good software around. They also appreciate that identifying RE with IT helps to establish in pupils' minds the notion that religion has a legitimate place in the modern world.

According to Dr Nicholas Tate, chief executive of the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority, we are "far advanced in becoming a religiously illiterate society". He is being too defeatist. Noah, he should remember, "opened the window" and "sent forth a dove" (Genesis 8: 6, 8). RE teachers should follow his example by opening Windows and praying for equally spectacular results.

Articles of Faith, Bury Business Centre, Kay Street, Bury BL9 6BU. Tel: 0161 705 1878

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