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It is both rare and welcome to hear an educating and educated speech by the Secretary of State for Education at his party conference. Michael Gove's at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, particularly the section on the curriculum in our schools, repays careful study. He is generally right in his emphasis on the rigorous study of traditional subjects rather than wasting time on what he calls "pseudo-subjects". We would expect him, as a student of English, to focus on the teaching of language and literature — as he does. His choice, though, of the "greats" — Dryden, Pope, Swift, Byron, Keats, Shelley, Austen, Dickens and Hardy — could have been expanded to include Herbert, Donne, Newman, Hopkins, Eliot, Chesterton, Greene and Belloc. 

It is, however, his comments about the teaching of history that are the most telling. He reminds us of that sundering of our society from its past which I have called "national amnesia", and asserts that until we understand the struggles of the past we will not be able to value our hard-won freedoms. All of this, and more, is music to my ears, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

We must ensure that the teaching of history is not just about a number of significant events and personalities and that there should be a connected narrative. But how is this to be achieved and what is the "golden chain of harmony" that can provide the connection? Surely, this has to do with a world-view that underlies the emergence of characteristically British institutions and values: the Constitution itself ("the Queen in Parliament under God"); a concern for the poor; a social security net, based on the parish church, which goes back to the 16th century; and personal liberties as enshrined in the Magna Carta. 

The world-view that made these fundamental national building-blocks is the Judaeo-Christian tradition of the Bible. This is evident in the way the Anglo-Saxon assembly, the Witan, developed and the role of the Church in this development. Such a role has continued to be influential from the time of the Model Parliament of 1295 to this day. The question now with parliamentary reform hovering in the wings, is how the Judaeo-Christian tradition can continue to be called on, especially when proposed legislation raises important moral issues for the individual and for society. 

Against slavery: St Anselm abolished the "nefarious trade" in Britain in 1102

Both Edward the Confessor and the saintly Alfred made sure that English Common Law was founded on Judaeo-Christian principles, while respecting the customs of the people inhabiting these islands at the time. Christianised Roman Law was studied at the universities and schools and was also mediated through the Canon Law of the Church, which dealt for centuries with matters such as marriage and family, provision for the poor, and as a recourse for justice when it could not be obtained in any other way. It is only recently that public doctrine on marriage, family and the protection due to the human person, derived from the teaching of the Bible, has been ditched in favour of libertarian novelties that refuse socio-religious sanction for sexual relationships and that are able to limit the notion of personhood to accommodate scientific and commercial interests or, indeed, the particular wishes of individuals.

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J Muir
December 16th, 2010
7:12 PM
'history teaches us that civilisation has advanced further and quicker when religion's power has been curtailed and limited,'says Steffan John.Forgive me Steffan but I'm not aware that in Stalin's Russia, Pol Pot's Cambodia (or even Hitler's Germany) where in each case religion's power was clearly 'limited' civilisation actually 'advanced further and quicker.'

John
November 5th, 2010
11:11 PM
Amnesia or rose-colored nostalgia for an imaginary past? Whatever obvious positive benefits Christianity may have generated in the long ago past, it is now well and truly past its useful use by date. What is commonly recognized and sometimes defended as religion in our Age is only the most superficial and factional and often dim-minded and perverse expression of ancient national and tribal cultism. In this time the rug has been pulled out from the mystifications of traditional religion. Anyone who seriously considers the modern Western intellectual, philosophical, and Spiritually informed critique of conventional religion will discover (if they are at all honest) that there simply is no basis in Reality for conventional religious presumptions and ideas. At last, and inevitably, the ancient power wielding exoteric rulerships have failed, and "official" exoteric Christianity (along with all the other "great world-religions" of merely exoteric religion-power) is now reduced to all the impenetrable illusions and decadent exercises that everywhere characterize previously privileged aristocracies in their decline from worldly power. Now, except a Spiritual revolution renews the forever esoteric Spirit of Living Truth, exoteric Christianity (et al) is reduced to a chaos of power seeking corporate cults and Barnumesque propagandists that rule nothing more than their market share of the chaotic herds of self-deluded consumerist religionists who want nothing more than consolation from their religious association. Therefore, the myth of the cultural superiority of "official" Christianity (et al) has now come full circle. The religious mythologies of the "great" world religions are not only now waging global wars with one another - like so many psychotic inmates of asylums for the mad, each confronting the other with exclusive claims of personal absoluteness - but the public masses of religion-bound people, who, all over the world, for even thousands of years, have been controlled in body and mind by ancient institutions of religiously propagandized worldly power, are now in a globalized state of religious delusion and social psychosis. The USA Tea Party is of course a leading edge example of this social psychosis, and religious delusion.

Steffan John
November 4th, 2010
4:11 PM
It's clear that we are a culturally christian country, and children should have a working knowledge of the Bible's myths and legends. However, the story of Britain - and indeed of Western Civilisation - from the pre-christian secularism of Athens, through to the Renaissance, to the establishment of Anglican church, to the foundational secularism of the United States, to the trimumph of the democratic House of Commons over the aristocratic and theocratic House of Lords, has been the gradual limitation and containment of religion outside of the political sphere has been essential to the perserverance and growth of civilisation. Western Civilisation was never more of a contradiction in terms than between the fifth century and the tenth - when christianity's power was at its highest. Freedom of religion is unquestionably vital, but so too is freedom from religion - and history teaches us that civilisation has advanced further and quicker when religion's power has been curtailed and limited. To teach that knowlegde, civilisation and science advanced by submitting to the established wisdom of christianity, rather than ignoring it or challenging it would be nothing but distorted, ideological propaganda. If anyone doubts this, let them come up with a list of intellectual achievements reached by religious jews, and we'll compare it with a list of achievements reached by secular and atheist jews. There's simply no comparison.

Mark H
October 28th, 2010
9:10 PM
"So many of the precious freedoms that we value today, the fair treatment of workers and the care of those in need, arise from values given to us by the Judaeo-Christian tradition. These values, however, are grounded in the moral and spiritual vision of this tradition. It cannot by any means be taken for granted that these values will survive for long if the tradition itself is jettisoned." As a Christian who is concerned at the grave disappearance of British values of freedom, it is very welcome to hear such a comment from one whose wisdom and knowledge surpass mine. But my fear, tempered though it is by a knowledge of God's love, is that we are fast approaching the point of no return when it comes to the preservation of Christian liberty in the socio-political arena.

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