The nature of belief

14th March 2003 at 00:00
Curriculum Bites, Religion and Ethics programmes for KS3 and KS4. 2-hour video pound;7.50 (plus pound;3.50 postage) available from BBC Educational Publications. Tel: 0870 8308000

TV or video in any lesson can sometimes act like an anaesthetic. Judicious use of the pause button and prepared questions are usually essential to its success as education rather than mere entertainment in the classroom. In RE, the danger can be that a video merely describes a religion rather than asking what makes it tick.

In the small world of the UK, where belief seems largely irrelevant, and the contrasting world of the planet, in which belief sometimes seems frighteningly relevant - often associated with extremism - it's vital to understand what's at stake between the religious and non-religious life choices which children face. The BBC is screening a galaxy of new programmes, some as short as one minute, which tackle the nature of belief and what its effects can be. They are often daring and different, sometimes wacky. Some don't quite work - but they're all well worth the experiment and, used properly, could help to lift classroom RE from the descriptive into the imaginative, thoughtful and deep.

Junior Simpson presents a programme about marketing Jesus. The young people in it think Jesus would now be on a chat show or the back of a bank note in order to be noticed. They depict him as a soldier, a Jedi knight, James Bond, playing table tennis, emphatically not a "wimp in a nightie". 60 Second Sermons, which might be used in collective worship as well as RE, offers a rugby player, an ex-nightclub podium dancer, a male model and other unlikely contributors addressing a biblical text, which a class could then investigate further.

Hotline to Heaven explores prayer. The Tramps' Parables have a Geordie context. The prodigal's father is played by a woman and the fatted calf is a pantomime chicken. All good for tilting at stereotypes. What would Jesus do?, which doesn't quite come off, is based on a video game played by two boys, one a Christian and the other a sceptic, about scenes from Jesus's life, like the arrest in Gethsemane. Would he run away? Attack them? Discuss. Press the buttons. See what happens.

The KS4 programmes, covering GCSE issues, are more serious and information-filled. A Short (religious) History of... series includes evil, the after-life, the environment, money - each in Christianity and one other religion. A Matter of Life and Death has moving interview footage with survivors, who have turned religious or shed religion as a result of their experiences. Keep Taking the Tablets examines the 10 Commandments; and The Big Question is a series of talking heads, including Stephen Hawking and Dolly Parton.

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