Why some bishops' lack of inner peace saddens me

27th June 2008 at 01:00
Later this month, men in dark ritualistic clothing will descend on south London for three weeks to talk about sex
Later this month, men in dark ritualistic clothing will descend on south London for three weeks to talk about sex. Within two or three miles, ordinary folk engaged in good and charitable activities - caring for the elderly and needy and supporting the weak - will be condemned as destined for hell by these all-knowing men because they do not follow precisely their belief systems.

Who are these men who sit in judgement of others and who are obsessed with talking about sex? Have the police been alerted? They are the Anglican bishops from around the world, who will assemble at Lambeth Palace for the 10-yearly conference convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

While the great majority of Britain's young grow up with little understanding of spirituality, inner peace and stillness, and while many adults lead lives dominated by material values alone, the bishops prattle on, neglecting the good works they should be doing, obsessing about things of no significance to most people, and abandoning the middle ground so that figures such as Richard Dawkins can erect straw men and destroy them, saying that this is all religion is.

I do not know why the bishops are so threatened by homosexuality and by the ordination of women. When I meet religious professionals, I meet some remarkable men and women, but I am often struck by others' insecurity, concern for status and their lack of inner peace, charity and love. I can understand why the Reformation occurred. Organised religion has failed. We need a Reformation now, to reconnect the Church with love, service and peace.

a headline of the past couple of weeks read "Happiness classes are damaging". Hot on the heels of Professor Frank Furedi - who has yet to accept an invitation to come to my school to find out what the classes are really about - come a host of other academics who have produced research to show how damaging so-called happiness classes can be.

Last week, Professor Dennis Hayes and Dr Kathryn Ecclestone of Oxford Brookes University, found that teenagers were being encouraged to talk about their emotions at the expense of acquiring knowledge. This, apparently, has left them "unable to cope on their own". This week, Dr Peter Clough of the University of Hull, argued, according to the press, that happiness lessons are a dangerous distraction and that pupils instead need "a new hard-line approach that advocates 'mental toughness'".

I agree with much of what these academics say, which is sensible and seems intuitively right. There are real risks that children can become too concerned with their own feelings, which thus become magnified so they lose perspective. They can become self-obsessed and not mindful of others. True happiness comes only from harmony within oneself and with others. We can become too easy on ourselves and expect the good things in life to fall into our laps, failing to understand that resilience and hard work are vital in life, especially in the inevitable hard times. No child, or adult, has the right to expect to be happy. Life is tough for most people most of the time.

That is exactly why we adopt the happiness (for want of a better word) agenda at Wellington College, as does Geelong Grammar in Australia. The Pennsylvania Resilience Program, being introduced to an increasing number of state schools in Britain, has a similar approach. The critics are welcome to come and visit, learn more and toughen up their own research methods.

Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College, Berkshire.

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