God and evil

26th October 2007 at 01:00
PowerPoint can provoke some fundamental questions of faith, says Amanda Cottam.Dramatic presentations always make pupils sit up and switch on. One I have used many times with Year 10s when we come to looking at arguments for and against the existence of God, is a PowerPoint presentation showing images of war, terror and natural disasters.

We often cover this topic in the first weeks of the autumn term after looking at arguments for the existence of God, issues of causation and design.

I teach in an inner city secondary school where most of the students are Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus and all the arguments for acceptance of God tend to reinforce what they already believe.

So when it comes to what makes people question or reject the existence of God, we go straight into this presentation with no introduction.

It's a series of pictures showing the planes flying into New York's twin towers, images of flooding, war, famine and refugees. While students are looking at the pictures, we play Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, so the impact is very powerful.

Of course, students see pictures of horrific things in the media all the time, but when you couple them with the question "how can there be a God?" it's as if they are seeing for the first time.

Then we hand out questions asking: "Is God responsible for human suffering?" "Is God good?" "Where does evil come from?" "What is the purpose of life?" We do this in silence and the pupils' concentration is astonishing.

Only after they have finished answering these questions do we have a discussion about what they have seen and whether this has challenged their beliefs.

In the second lesson, I hand out to each child a series of black and white images (I'm a keen photographer and love the dramatic effect of monochrome). They are again of war, famine, illness and natural disaster.

They are asked to write about what they see in the picture, what the people in the photograph are thinking and the meaning behind the scene.

While they are doing this, I play a CD with a series of tracks from George Michael's Praying for Time through to Crazy by Seal. They then hold up their pictures one by one and share their thoughts. We go on to create a collage about evil and suffering.

This happens over two or three weeks. It's a brilliant way of getting students to examine and reflect on assumptions and provokes exciting discussion. It's a good device for kick-starting the GCSE course

Amanda Cottam is assistant head and an RE teacher at Holyhead School, a secondary in Birmingham

Primary resources

Book LCP Foundation Stage RE Flipbook (pound;79.95, available from lcp.co.uk) includes pictures of different celebrations, places of worship, special books, praying, people who help us and Jesus.

Magazine RE Today (pound;45 annual subscription, from retoday.org.uk) offers fantastic support for teaching the major world faiths. Very clear and lots of cross-curricular teaching ideas.

Book Primary Hinduism by Seeta Lakhani (pound;12, published by Vivekananda Centre, London Ltd) is a simple, straightforward but delightful book that teaches about Hinduism through narrative and gives good classroom activities. Seeta Lakhani also visits schools - contact her at hindu@btinternet.com

Book Festival Fun For the Early Years (pound;15 each or pound;70 for the complete set, published by Scholastic) is a good series for images and simple explanation, with titles on Harvest, Divali and Holi, Christmas and Easter, Hanukkah and Rosh Hashana, Chinese New Year and Dragon

Boat festival, Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr.

Joanne Angell is a senior teacher for RE at Stoke Prior Primary School in Leominster, Herefordshire

Secondary resources

Website The Farmington Institute (www.farmington.ac.uk) provides a whole series of research papers and lesson plans, downloadable or available on hard copy for free. They are created by RE teachers on sabbatical who are funded by Farmington to pursue a line of interest.

Website RE Online - a great resource, plenty of ideas and support for just about every aspect of the subject. www.reonline.org.uk

Amanda Cottam is assistant head and RE teacher at Holyhead School in Birmingham Sixth form resources

CD The work of Krishna Das is a superb and accessible introduction to the devotional Bhakti tradition. His latest CD, Flow of Grace, takes listeners deep into the heart of the devotional prayer Hanuman Chalis. For more information, visit www.krishnadas music.com

Ian Jamison is head of RE at Kingsbridge Community College in Kingsbridge, Devon.

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