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The reshaping of RME studies

Ewan Aitken's article "Reasons to Believe" raises important issues but is ultimately unconvincing. He calls for religious and moral education to be changed into a subject area called "beliefs and moral decision-making" while indicating that non-belief could be encompassed in this.

Construction of a syllabus along these lines would inevitably take us into the realm of philosophy. However, RME is already moving in that direction, with the courses at Higher Still levels being entitled "religious, moral and philosophical studies".

Many RME teachers now say that the philosophical aspects of the subject should be given more emphasis at all levels, including in the primary schools.

The severe decline in organised religion means that RME should be reshaped rather than abolished. It should focus on how believers and non-believers, living together in a pluralist society, can construct rules for behaviour that go beyond what the criminal law demands but do not depend, in the last resort, on any sanctions applied by a supreme being who may or may not exist.

Many non-believers operate according to some more or less explicit moral code, founded on concepts such as good neighbourliness or the welfare of the community as a whole. To some extent, these attitudes are self-seeking and pragmatic, life is more pleasant if people observe certain standards of behaviour.

However, there are wide variations, mainly based on socio-economic circumstances, in the moral codes that are actually practised.

The whole area of moral education has enormous potential for the development of individuals and groups and it can be naturally associated with the study of world religions, provided that these are approached objectively and non-judgmentally.

This quite difficult task is easier for a teacherphilosopher than for a teachercommitted believer. Religious observance in schools, as currently advocated by the Scottish Executive Education Department but increasingly ignored by school managements, is entirely foreign to the philosophy of "new" RME.

There is ample scope for Ewan Aitken's approach within the existing RME curriculum. Your front-page headline ("Minister says RE must go"-I thought at first that Cathy Jamieson had spoken on the matter) is misleading. It is one possible reading of where Ewan Aitken is heading, but certainly not the only reading.

Fred Forrester Glenbervie Grove, Dunfermline

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