Trinity of texts based on a recipe for curate's egg;Religious Education

16th February 1996 at 00:00
LIVING FAITH SERIES. By Michael Keene. The Christian Experience. The Catholic Experience. Christianity amp; Social;nipgt; Stanley Thornes pound;7.99 each Age range 14-16

One of the most difficult challenges facing RE teachers is how to catch the interest of GCSE pupils studying Christianity. It is impossible to write a blueprint for success, but today's adolescents, if they want to look at religion at all, want it presented as a topic for inquiry, rather than as a kind of ontological or ethical fait accompli which tells them how it is (or, even worse, how they ought to behave).

The Living Faith books are uneven in the extent to which they manage to hit the right note. We are frequently told that "Christians believe X", but more than occasionally such proper phenomenological distance is lost. Thus, stated as apparent fact, we read such things as: "The spot where Becket died became extremely holy"; "God has a plan for every human being"; "The very roots of human nature were damaged by the sin of our first parents". Such lapses into theologising (rather than doing religious studies) are unfortunate.

Mostly, the books are clearly written and convey considerable information in a not unattractive manner. Was it wise, though, to have so many monochrome illustrations in the book on Catholicism? Some might also question the need for quite so many exercises for pupils (and is it appropriate to ask them to memorise scriptural passages and prayers?).

More specifically, the diagram given of the main Christian churches is open to misinterpretation (and the Church of Scotland receives scandalously little mention); pupils are likely to be puzzled by reading in one book that "there are some 900 million Roman Catholics in the modern world", while in another that the Catholic Church has "1,500,000 members worldwide"; Arthur Koestler is described as "an American author" (he was, of course a Hungarian-born British author) and it would have been useful to have had bibliographies as well as glossaries.

Curiously, there is scarcely any mention of the existence of non-Christian religions, despite the fact that the encounter with other faiths is such an important issue for contemporary Christianity. What very little is said is of questionable accuracy. (Is it compulsory in Islam and Hinduism to go on a pilgrimage? Does every religion have sacred writings?) We are told that young people attend their local church, synagogue or mosque. True enough, but it is surely unsatisfactory to ignore so casually the existence of millions of Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and others.

Given the overlap between them (many topics are covered in all three books) it is difficult to see why Living Faith appeared as three volumes. If the best bits of each were put together, the result might be the beginnings of a good GCSE treatment of Christianity. But, as it stands, this is a flawed trinity which seems unlikely to find much favour with its intended audience.

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