A bad case of the Very Holy Willies

12th May 2000 at 01:00
BY THE time you read this I will have carved out another notch for my "This Is Your Life" spectacular; I am shortly to start my new job as a principal teacher of religious, moral and philosophical studies. Don't you just love that title? It sounds so puffed up, like the advanced American shrink who relaxes his clients on a sofa for 100 quid an hour. But such sumptuous images are far from the truth because quite a smattering of religious education teachers would themselves benefit from sessions on the couch - present company excluded, of course.

As a student I quickly realised that the divinity faculty was inhabited by certain types. The Very Holy Willies, unfortunately for the rest of us, did not hide their religion under a bushel. They would say "Hmmm" in a most irritating way and launch into "Let us pray". No moral or religious negotiation was possible because their word was absolute. How we sinners rejoiced when the leading light in the Christian Union succeeded in fathering a child outside marriage.

At the other end of the scale were the Mad Hatters who would have slotted happily into a ghastly Marxist sitcom. Remember that famous comment about religion being the opium of the people? These characters were as blase about the great faiths as they were about opening a tin of beans and the only entities worthy of worship were themselves. Through their rings of smoke - cool dudes, you see - they chucked the great cultures of the world down the Swannie.

Sadly, many in both camps found their way to teacher training college. Here they made their respective marks by breathalysing their classmates after lunchtime or advocating a life which makes the ethos of Huxley's Brave New World appear moral. Even worse, the lecturers in these religious education departments often turned out to be creatures of even more terrible dimensions, hence the following chilling tale.

Towards the end of my teacher training year I was interviewed for a religious eduction job "somewhere in Scotland". Everything was going well . . . I saw myself deftly crossing the stepping stones to success until the last question was flung at me rather in the guise of the last trump. Will you be preaching the Gospel to these pupils? I sensed a trap. The plates in my head were spinning frantically as I struggled to decide. The headmaster didn't look holy, if you know what I mean. I went for the truth - no, I won't be doing that . . . everyone is entitled to make up their own mind about religion.

Bang! I was dead in the water. When I returned to my training college two hours later the extent of my "wrong" answer become apparent. My tutor met me and told me that there had been a complaint about my attitude and that he would personally ensure that I never taught religious education in Scotland. I was too young and inexperienced to recognise the intimidation for what it was.

But now, verily, I am old and wise and, raspberries to these cranks from my past, I am a promoted religious education teacher. The most successful teacher of my subject is the person who approaches religious studies from the same vantage point as a good teacher of any subject - a genuine interest in the subject and the motivation and capacity to make it alive for the pupils. Any desire to convert the heathen should be firmly smacked down.

This does not mean that you cannot have your own faith just as teachers of other subjects may have their own faiths. The person whose job I am taking over is a man who has a very deep faith of his own but who, uniquely, never imposed it on anyone during his seven years as head of department.

Many courses have been developed in the department and at no time was any of these developments dependent on criteria concerning "saving the heathens" of the school. There you have it - I expect someone is offended by my comments. Forgive me, the devil must have possessed my fingers on the keyboard. Nothing is sacred.

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