Citizenship, religion, authority and identity


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Exploring the assumptions of citizenship education and a response to it from religious education

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Citizenship, religion, authority and identity

  1. 1. Exploring the relationship between citizenship education and religious education Although citizenship education has been simmering in educational circles for about 20 years, it has recently come very much to the fore of government policy. From 2002 it is supposed to be taught through all the other subjects on the curriculum, including religious education. However an examination of the documents published by QCA show that they contain many hidden or unacknowledged assumptions. This is particularly disturbing as citizenship is an essentially contested concept (Gallie, 1956) and there is concern about the possibility of political indoctrination. In this paper I want to uncover some of these assumptions and explore their implications for religious education. I also want to outline a critique of citizenship education from the perspective of RE. The first question we should ask is, ‘what is citizenship?’ Derek Heater, the doyen of citizenship studies for the past 20 years recommends the following definition from the Encyclopedia Americana: which he believes everyone can accept: Citizenship is a relationship between an individual and a state involving the individual’s full political membership in the state and his permanent allegiance to it. . . The status of citizen is official recognition of the individual’s integration into the political system. (Heater, 1992) This of course raises the question of what is ‘a state’ or ‘the state’? Part of the problem is that the bivocal use of the word ‘state’ is deeply embedded in the English language. In the former use, ‘a state’, it is synonymous with the word country, a sovereign self-governing territory. In the latter, ‘the state’, it refers to the public institutions and infrastructure or state apparatus. This is why the literature, in English at any rate, is very confused when discussions of a/the state are involved. This whole discussion is avoided in the documents published by QCA. As we shall see this is not really surprising. The two issues that I particularly wish to focus on are identity and authority as religion, and hence RE, also have much to say about them. But first of all it is necessary to unpack some of the ideas that are inextricably linked to citizenship. This can only be done by a genealogical examination of their historical and philosophical origins. The classical roots of citizenship The idea of citizenship developed in the Greek city-states, and is part of what Wilfred Cantwell Smith says, deserves to be ranked as one of the world’s great religions. “It is legitimate and helpful to consider . . . the Greek tradition in Western civilization, rationalist-idealist-humanist, within the generic context of various [other] religious traditions of mankind. It is neither absurd, nor trite, to reinterpret it as one of our planet’s major religious traditions: different, of course, from each of the others yet comparable, and understood most truly when so contrasted and compared.” (Smith, 1992)
  2. 2. This is of immense significance. If the whole idea of citizenship is inextricably bound up with a religious world-view, citizenship education is unavoidably the initiation of people into a religion, be it a secular one, with its own conceptions of identity and authority. Traditionally though, Greek philosophy was treated as the handmaiden of theology with Judaism, Christianity and Islam all borrowing from the Greek conceptual vocabulary in order to be able to give an intellectual expression to their own religious insights. And at times, very rich syntheses of religious insight and Greek philosophy were achieved by figures such as Maimonedes, Aquinas and Avicena. However, Greek philosophy as a religion also had its own myths of human existence, origin and identity, its own language and terminology, its own vision of human nature and community, its own theories of right and wrong, and its own view of the good life and the ideal society. It is to this original non theistic Greek philosophy and its later revival in Enlightenment thought, and not to Aquinas, that recent writers on citizenship education have turned. So it is necessary to examine these concepts and see how they contrast with traditional religious views. Although he believed in God, Aristotle regarded human beings as essentially ‘political animals’ that could only live a perfect and self-sufficient life if they became active citizens, knowing how to rule and be ruled, and thus participating fully in the life of the state. Although Aristotle knew that such self-governing communities had to be small, (a Greek city-state was probably the same size as a modern village), western intellectuals have been captivated by the romantic ideal of participatory democracy ever since! The state for Aristotle, and Plato before him, was the highest form of human organization, the source of a person’s identity, and the highest authority. Plato even proposed the abolition of the family as it was an alternative focus of loyalty that distracted people from their duty to lead a public life. But, even during this period there was tension between Greek religion and the state as some cults, such as the Orphics, refused to take part in the ritual sacrifices to the gods that were an integral part of civic life. With the Romans, the state took on a theocratic dimension and is often written ‘State’. As well as being the highest form of human community, it was the source of law and identity. A Roman citizen’s highest duty, or purpose in life, was to serve the State. Roman religion too was primarily a cult of primarily political and state significance. It did not have a developed system of beliefs or morals, but was merely a detailed ritual of sacrifices and prayers to propitiate the gods, so that they would protect the State and brings its armies glory. “[The State] is invested with an unlimited authority over the individual and the power to exact from him the sacrifice of his personal interests, and even of his life. . . . This absolute authority of the State is as noticeable in the late Empire as under the kings. It is this alone which can saddle a man for life with the duties of a curialis even against his own wishes, and makes possible the kind of state socialism which we meet with after Diocletian.” (Meynial, 1932) As long as Roman citizens were willing to acknowledge the absolute authority of the state through fulfilling the rather perfunctory rituals, they were allowed to follow whatever personal religion they pleased. It was their identity as Roman citizens that united people of different religions at a higher level thus maintaining social peace.
  3. 3. The Romans granted the Jews an exception, as they knew that they would never recognize the divinity of the emperor or authority of the state. Hanukkah was a constant reminder of an earlier Jewish response to enforced Hellenism. Christians later also came into conflict with this vision of the State and citizenship. As Alexander Schmemann (1972) explains: “Christianity never denied the benefits of the state or the possibility that it could be enlightened by the Light of Christ. Yet the meaning of the Church's appearance in the world as a community and a visible organism was that it revealed the limitations of the state, destroying its claim to absolutism forever, however ‘sacral’ its nature might be; and it was just this sacral quality that had been the essence of the ancient pagan state. The Church revealed to the world that there are only two absolute, eternal, and sacred values: God and man, and that everything else, including the state, is limited by its very nature—by belonging wholly only to this world; and secondly, is a blessing only to the extent that it serves God's plan for man. Therefore the ‘enlightenment’ of the state means primarily its recognition of its own limitations, its refusal to regard itself as an absolute value. It was for this enlightenment that Christians had suffered and died in the era of persecutions, when they rejected the right of the state to subject the whole of man to itself.” Even after the Empire became Christian, which it did for political reasons, the State never lost its theocratic nature. Indeed under Justinian it became to all intents and purposes an example of Christian totalitarianism: “As God's earthly deputy, the Emperor had both the prerogatives and the responsibilities to put the Divine Will into action through his capacities as a lawgiver. His subjects must be disciplined, guided, protected, and nurtured by his application of Christian principles to the regulation of their lives and action.” (Barker, 1966) The memory of the glories of Roman civilization has continued to haunt European history inspiring the repeated attempts to reunite Europe from Charlemagne to Napoleon, and from Hitler to the European Union. The modern roots of citizenship After the collapse of the Empire in the West, the Church was the only enduring and civilizing institution that remained. It tried to foster the formation of a Christian society, and for a time the Roman Church claimed the power to make and unmake kings, because they were members of Christ’s Church and subject to its discipline. Things started to change with what is traditionally referred to as the Renaissance which followed the recovery of classical literature, culture and ideals. The reforming and modernizing spirit of this movement affected everything: science, art, government, law and finally in northern Europe, the Church. One of the most significant events was the discovery of the Emperor Justinian’s Law Code. Up until then kings did not have the authority to make law as in the popular mind, and culture, this was something only God could do. The kings, to their irritation, were bound by the law as their whole raison d’être was to uphold the law and dispense justice. R.S. Peters has explained how things were very succinctly. “In the medieval world the primary concept was not the state but the law. This law was not made by politicians but was a part of the eternal order to be discovered by the study of custom and precedent. It was made by God and applied to King and peasant alike.” (Benn, 1959) As governments throughout continental Europe sought to modernize themselves, a ready-made corpus of rational law that enhanced the power, authority and prestige of the State was much welcomed. Along with it
  4. 4. was inherited the authority that Justinian had abrogated to himself, “what the Emperor has determined has the force of law.” “Without the revolutionary idea that valid law might be created by an act of will, and not simply discovered by an act of understanding, the modern theory of the state could scarcely have emerged.” “The law-making state became the source of legitimacy for all other forms of social organization; as the locus of sovereignty it was unique.” (Benn, 1958) It was from this law making power that other functions of the state were derived and other concepts related to citizenship flow. Let us look for example at the modern but popular concept of ‘rights’. As Peters explains, “rules prescribe conduct and to that extent impose duties or obligations. If a duty is owed to a particular person, there is nothing peculiar in saying that he possesses rights under the rule.” (Benn, 1959) Now in the past these rules were rooted in custom and tradition, the way of life of the people. No matter how limited the resulting liberties were, they were a person’s birthright and could not be given or taken away by anyone. When the state took upon itself the authority to make the rules and pass legislation, it was then the state which bestowed rights upon its citizens. And of course, what the state bestows, it has the authority to take away or suspend. Thus the State, Hobbes’ Leviathan, gradually came to take the place of God, making law and being the sole source of legitimate authority and identity. Anything outside the control of the State was by definition unofficial and thus if not illegitimate, at least suspect. There was only one institution that challenged the growing authority of the State and that was the Church. But the corruption within the Church itself was its undoing. For example, before he was martyred, Thomas à Becket had few supporters when he tried to defend the tradition that priests, even if they had committed murder, could not to be tried and punished for their crimes in the King’s court. The Reformation sparked off by Martin Luther, though, led to the break-up of medieval Christendom. No longer did all Christians living in Europe, share the same Catholic faith, and acknowledge the authority of the Pope. But the desire to belong to a community with a shared identity remained strong and this led the rise of nationalism. People started to identify themselves as members of a particular nation first, and as Christians second. The medieval synthesis of Aquinas was also shattered, as Protestants claimed that the sole source of authority in the Christian faith was the Bible, interpreted by reason and guided by the Holy Spirit. It was not long before people such as the English Deists, who were trying to make sense of the Bible, came to the conclusion that it was illogical. There appeared to be many contradictions and many things, such as the miracles, appeared to be fantastic. Although the Deists were intellectually trounced in England, when their ideas crossed the Channel they were swallowed uncritically by the French intelligentsia. Moving on from Descartes, the philosophes of the French Enlightenment rejected revelation and tradition as sources of knowledge or morality. Instead they extolled reason as the only sure path to knowledge and as the basis for society. Applying abstract rational criteria, the philosophes, who were nearly all atheists, became
  5. 5. highly critically of the Church and Christian morality. Instead of the traditional Christian virtues and values they proclaimed new secular abstract ones, liberté, égalité, fraternité. Rousseau and his contemporaries rejected monarchy and claimed that democracy was the only legitimate form of government. It was only through participating in and submitting oneself to the will of the people could one find true freedom. So when the revolution came the ancient order was swept away. But if one is going to destroy the old order one soon needs to replace it with a new one and with new sources of identity and authority. Feudal ties were replaced by loyalty to the State, and along with an attempt to abolish Christianity, the Cult of Reason was introduced. “In its Jacobin phase, the revolution is best understood as an effort to establish citizenship as the dominant identity of every Frenchman-against the alternative identities of religion, estate, family and region. Citizenship was to replace religious faith and familial loyalty as the central motive of virtuous conduct. Indeed, citizenship, virtue, and public spirit were closely connected ideas, suggesting a rigorous commitment to political activity on behalf of the community-patria, not yet nation. In Jacobin ideology, citizenship was a universal office; everyone was to serve the community”. (Walzer, 1989) So citizenship became the source of identity for all Frenchmen. It was the State that demanded their loyalty and thus on the statute book ‘crimes against the State’ (an unknown category in English law) are among the most serious. It was the State that gave people rights and bestowed legitimacy on their activities. This is why today any association from a Church to a chess club has to be registered with the State if it is to have any legitimacy. And since man was no longer created by God, it was concluded that, “. . . ultimately man was nothing but the product of the laws of the State, and that there was nothing that a government was incapable of doing in the art of forming man”. (Barker, 1966) And so the State then became responsible for shaping and creating its citizens in its own image and likeness. “It is the task of the Legislator to bring about social harmony . . . to discover means of placing men under the necessity of being virtuous . . . of forcing him to be just to others. Since good laws alone make men virtuous, vice in society is the fault of the Legislator”. (Barker, 1966) The French Revolution is generally regarded as the birth of the modern era. Its influence was carried by the French revolutionary armies throughout Europe and as far as Moscow leaving an indelible imprint on European culture (Napoleon forced travellers in all the countries he conquered to use the right side of the road). In Germany Hegel greeted the French Revolution with enthusiasm, although he was repulsed by the Terror that followed. He developed the philosophy of the State to a new level. Although he was a liberal, many of the passages of his books could be understood, and indeed were understood, as idolizing the state. “The march of God in the world, that is what the state is.” “As high as mind stands above nature, so high does the state stand above physical life. Man must therefore venerate the state as a secular deity, and observe that if it is difficult to comprehend nature, it is infinitely harder to understand the state.” (Hegel, 1942) The path from Hegel to fascism and communism has been traced often enough. So too has the ‘religious’ nature of both of them by philosophers from Berdyaev, who called socialism a Christian heresy (Berdyaev, 1942) to Ninian Smart (Smart, 1992). This is not surprising because, as Cantwell Smith pointed out, the
  6. 6. philosophical tradition is really religious. And it is from this same philosophical stable that the European Union and European Citizenship have come. English philosophers who have theorized about the state have not deviated much from the Hegelian position. For example Bosanquet, despite trying to give the central role to the idea of the individual, still ended up with an unmistakably continental definition of the state. “The term ‘State’ includes the entire hierarchy of institutions by which life is determined from the family to the trade, and from the trade to the Church and University. It includes all of them, not as the mere collection of the growths of the country but as the structure which gives life and meaning to the political whole while receiving from it mutual adjustment, and therefore expanse and a more liberal air. The State, it might be said, is thus conceived as the operative criticism of all institutions—the modification and adjustment by which they are capable of playing a rational part in the object of human will. It follows that the State, is in this sense, above all things, not a number of persons, but a working conception of life. The force of the State proceeds essentially from its character of being our own mind extended, so to speak, beyond our immediate consciousness. The State is the fly wheel of our life.” (Bosanquet, 1923) Identity and authority in England Although there were philosophers like Bosanquet who wrote about the State, and TH Marshall who wrote about citizenship, they were generally not taken seriously as such ideas were seen to be ‘foreign’. (Carr, 1996) In fact it is often noted that British, and especially English history and culture has been quite different to that of the continent. It is not possible, or hopefully necessary, to go into this in too much detail here. But one of the profoundest differences was that in the modern period England was a Christian country through and through. By this I mean that even the humanist tradition in England was Christian. Thus whereas on the continent socialism was, and still is, inseparable from atheism, in England socialists were usually Christians, and the founders of the Labour Party and Trade Union Movement were almost all Christians. So there was never the need as existed on the continent, to find an alternative to God and the Christian faith as a source of legitimate authority, law and identity. There was no need for British people to think of themselves as citizens of a state. Those that cared to think in national terms, and many didn’t feel the need to, thought of themselves as loyal subjects of the King or Queen. ‘In 1608 the last great common lawyer, Sir Edward Coke, defined allegiance to and membership of the community in terms of a natural, perpetual and personal relationship with the king.’ (Heater, 1990) But even then, English people have always had the freedom to question the ‘system’ and kings who weren’t doing there job properly were criticised and sometimes replaced. Professor D’Entreves, a professor of politics in Milan University, commented that: “A foreign observer is apt to be struck even today by the extraordinary circumlocution resorted to in English to indicate what in his own language would be called ‘the State’ without any doubt or equivocation. There may be deep-rooted traditions for this, as well as an inclination to use plain and simple speech whenever possible. In common speech both Americans and Englishmen, unlike the Latin races, hardly ever mention the State: they prefer
  7. 7. to talk about the government, or the people, or the nation, or the country.” (D’Entreves, 1967) Part of this linguistic awkwardness derives from the desire to keep the two different meanings of the word state distinct. Thus the word state usually refers to the apparatus of government such as officials and bureaucrats, but not the government itself. So becoming a loyal citizen of the state is psychologically impossible when one associates the word state with road building, the DHSS and officious bureaucrats. One of the major reasons for the lack of authority and respect for the state lies in the crucial difference of law. Whereas on the continent the state adopted Roman Law, which is now called civil law, England didn't need to as it already had a well-developed legal system based on common law. This is why in some respects England is still a pre-modern society. “In contrast to the formality of Roman law, Germanic law was said to belong to ‘the people’, the corporate inheritance of ‘the folk’ and a summary of their common customs. It was from these that the English later framed the origin of their ‘parliaments’ and the English system of common law.” (Hall, 1984) The state then had a very small role in the national consciousness because it played almost no part in the ordinary life of the overwhelming majority of people. When English people traditionally think of the state they see it as one of several institutions in civil society, not as civil society itself. “Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country forever without a passport or any sort of official permission. He could exchange his money for any other currency without restriction or limit. He could buy goods from any country in the world on the same terms as he bought goods at home. For that matter a foreigner could spend his whole life in this country without permit and without informing the police...” (Taylor, 1965) It was this ordered liberty which was a birthright, and not the gift of the state, that English people treasured above all else. One of the defining characteristics of English civil society has always been voluntarism. First of all the state did not see its role in interventionist terms. And secondly there has generally been a suspicion of state action and a prejudice against receiving help from the state because of the loss of dignity and liberty it entailed. Instead people have preferred to do things themselves and for others. Thus the origins of the educational system are to be found in the Church schools and public schools, independent foundations established by wealthy Christians. Hospitals too were founded by wealthy Christians, usually in the poorest neighbourhoods. And welfare also had a voluntarist origin in the friendly societies, which were a training ground for adulthood. (Green, 1993) It was not until the end of the nineteenth century that this strong moral hostility to government involvement declined, and within a generation much of the voluntary sector was nationalized or undermined, and replaced by state schools and the welfare state. (Whelan, 1996) With the loss of the voluntary sector has come the loss of freedom and opportunities for people to become empowered and develop a sense of responsibility. So naturally enough, human nature being what it is, people have tended to become less responsible and less able to deal with the challenge of freedom. And hence the apparent need for citizenship education.
  8. 8. Citizenship education Unlike other countries, Britain has never had citizenship education on the curriculum. The main reason derives from the nature of English culture and history. The state has never featured very prominently in the consciousness of English people until I suppose the creation of the welfare state. And without an idealised ‘state’ there is nothing for a citizen to feel that he is a member of or that he owes absolute obedience to. ‘No State, no citizen? The history of citizenship would suggest that the concept and status have real meaning and vigour only when the impersonal notion of the state is a paramount political ideal.’ (Heater, 1990) Since this is the case it is no wonder that the government documents on citizenship education are full of prevarication and woolly thinking. Indeed the whole idea of citizenship education would until very recently have been rejected outright as the sort of indoctrination that occurs in foreign countries like France, “French school have the duty and fundamental task of producing citizens who understand and respect the constitution and the basic republican values of freedom, equality and solidarity (liberté, égalité, fraternité).” (Starkey, 1992) This is nothing less than indoctrination into the values of the secular Enlightenment, which are ‘religious’. Andy Green, in his rather stilted Marxist analysis, recognized that unlike other countries, in England government involvement in education per se was quite minimal, and in any case was not connected to ideologically forming or strengthening the state. (Green, 1997) Green cannot really explain why as he doesn’t take into consideration the peculiarities of English culture and attitudes which are not the product of economic forces. Education for citizenship and the teaching of democracy in schools was produced by the Citizenship Advisory Group under the chairmanship of Professor Bernard Crick (QCA, 1998). It is very much a product of the secular enlightenment ‘religion’ that I have outlined above. It comes as a response to a perceived crisis: “Low voter turnouts, an increasing source of concern in those countries with voluntary voting, threaten the legitimacy of the state as the embodiment and guarantee of citizenship, and reduce the role of the electoral system as a form of citizen participation and action.” To counter this ‘worrying’ tendency many people from across the political spectrum, but mainly socialists and other statists, have argued that citizenship education should be introduced as a compulsory part of the school curriculum. It also appears to fit in quite nicely with the government’s re-branding of Britain exercise. Thus the document says, “We aim at no less than a change in the political culture of this country both nationally and locally: for people to think of themselves as active citizens”. (QCA, 1998) This is a curious statement in several ways. First of all it says it’s aim is to get British people to think of themselves as ‘citizens’. This sounds like the task the Jacobins set out to achieve in France, although here it is being done bloodlessly and through the backdoor. It means using the educational system to change the way that people form their identity. Now this was traditionally a natural goal of schools with a religious foundation. But when a government tries to do this it is normally called indoctrination. Secondly, citizens are citizens of a, or, the state. And as we have seen there is a huge amount of ideological baggage that goes along with this idea. Cantwell Smith regarded the western philosophical tradition as a
  9. 9. religion, and so citizenship education is in many ways a dressed up state ideology. As Heater pointed out, for citizenship to have any meaning the state has to be thought of as the ‘paramount political ideal’. If even religious schools hardly dare to teach religion confessionally, it hardly becomes the state to impose its own political correctness on school pupils. But in the age of Newspeak, when words are continually being redefined and political correctness reigns supreme, with a bit of spin the re-branding and modernization of Britain can brush aside such technicalities. Thirdly, many writers recognize that the word citizenship is an essentially contested concept the definition of which is inevitably is partisan. (Porter, 1993) (Rayner, 1997) The document also recognizes ‘the possibility of bias and indoctrination,’ but slides round the issue by agreeing that while teaching about citizenship involves discussing controversial issues, so too do history and other subjects. But this is not the point. To say that British people should conceptualize themselves as citizens of the State, which everyone agrees they historically do not, is in itself indoctrination no matter what definition of citizenship one settles upon. It is using the educational system to socialize people into an alien identity which is the product of a secular European modernistic liberal intellectual elite. Citizenship education takes for granted what ought to be proved namely that people shouldn’t form their own identity and shouldn’t see themselves as loyal subjects of the Queen or as slaves of Christ or whatever. Fourthly, normally when a government wants to promote good citizenship or patriotism through the school system, it tries to encourage pupils to understand and respect the institutions of the country. This document does not. For example it says that, “The purpose of citizenship education in schools and colleges is to make secure and to increase the knowledge, skills and values relevant to the nature and practices of participatory democracy.” [emphasis in original] As we noted earlier, participatory democracy was the form of government of the Greek city-states and the ideal of many political reformers. But Britain is not a participatory democracy. It is a representative democracy. Britons elect people to represent them in parliament. So what is the point of increasing, “knowledge, skills and values relevant to the nature and practices of participatory democracy,” unless it is to change the political system. In promoting participatory democracy as the ideal, citizenship education paradoxically undermines the legitimacy of the existing political culture and system which is a mixed constitution with elements of a monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. In that sense citizenship education is a sort of revolution through the back door. There are almost no references to the monarchy or to the fact that the Prime Minister is the Queen’s first minister. He is not elected in the way that a President is elected by popular mandate. He is merely the MP for a particular constituency and the leader of the group of MPs that have formed a party within Parliament because they share values and policies. Nor is there any recognition that the Queen herself is crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury and that the Church is older than the State. In fact the legitimacy of the state depends on it upholding God’s law. Now this may all seem rather archaic at the beginning of the new millennium, but one has a choice. Either the existing arrangements need to be renewed and filled with fresh spirit, or, there needs to be a new constitutional settlement, openly discussed and arrived at by a consensus of
  10. 10. the overwhelming majority of the population if it is to have as much legitimacy as the present arrangements. It is not appropriate to undermine the present system through the educational system and subtly impose a new political ideology. One important component of this ideology is the concept of ‘rights’. This is itself a deeply contestable concept. Who is to decide who has what rights? What about the right to life versus the right to abortion? The right of an unmarried person to have a child versus the right of a child to have a married father and mother? The right to own a Rolls Royce versus the right not to have my self-esteem damaged by being exposed to something I cannot have? The English sociologist, T.H. Marshall, whose writings on citizenship are quoted approvingly in all the recent literature on citizenship education, “conceptualized citizenship as a particular kind of legal status of ‘official identity’ attached to ‘full membership’ of a sovereign self-governing community. As a legal status, citizenship confers a right to have rights.” His very Platonic suggestion that, “societies in which citizenship is a developing institution create an image of an ideal citizenship against which achievement can be measured and towards which aspiration can be directed” (Marshall, 1950) obviously informs the citizenship document in which the qualities of a good citizen are delineated. This whole rationalistic approach is very reminiscent of what Oakeshott called the ‘morality of ideals’. “The predicament of Western morals, as I read it, is first that our moral life has come to be dominated by the pursuit of ideals, a dominance ruinous to a settled habit of behaviour; and, secondly, that we have come to think of this dominance as a benefit for which we should be grateful or an achievement of which we should be proud.” (Oakeshott, 1962) When one looks at the history of England one can see that the present relatively democratic arrangements are the product of a long evolution and that it is possible they may not last if they do not work. A good political education would encourage pupils to explore the strengths and weaknesses of democracy, examine how other political systems work, and not put democracy on a pedestal as if it were the ideal form of government. It is too often forgotten that Hitler was democratically elected and democracy in Northern Ireland didn’t bring justice or peace. The QCA document is also remarkable for what it leaves out. Traditionally one of the highest duties of a citizen or patriot is to defend, if necessary even at the cost of one’s life, one’s country. It is odd that no one from the armed forces was invited to be on the advisory group. One can only guess that the loyalty of the armed forces is to the Queen is regarded as anachronistic. Instead the main emphasis of citizenship is on voluntary and community service as the sort of things that characterize good citizens. “Citizenship education as generally conceived in England does include voluntary and community service”. (Fogelman, 1997) But if one was to ask a person why they are doing voluntary work or community service, they would be unlikely express it in terms of their duty as a citizen. More likely than not it will be connected to their faith.
  11. 11. Authority and identity in religion I have followed Cantwell Smith and Ninian Smart in drawing attention to the essentially religious nature of the Hellenistic philosophy and enlightenment thought that citizenship education is derived from. Now I want to briefly outline some of the ways that some other religions see things. First of all, in terms of identity, theistic religions assert that the deepest source of human identity in a person’s relationship to the divine. “The central object of religious life is the apprehension and experience of divinity, perception of and submission to the will of the deity or to the ultimate laws which govern human existence.” (Shills, 1981) For Jews, Christians and Moslems the definitive passage of scripture is “God created them in his image and likeness.” If God exists and He created the universe then it follows that there is a purpose to human existence beyond that which one might give one’s own life. As St. Augustine put it, ‘Thou hast created us for Thyself, and our heart is not quiet until it finds rest in Thee.’ It is not possible then to follow Sartre and claim all lifestyles and ways of living are morally equivalent. On the contrary, religions see themselves as following a way of life that was revealed by God. As an important part of their religious identity, Jews and Muslims boys are circumcised. From the perspective of the enlightenment this could be seen as, and often has been seen as, a barbaric act, a violation of a persons physical body, a violation of human rights or in the modern vocabulary, children’s rights. There are people who think the state should prevent its citizens from being mutilated in this way. Jews and Muslims also have strict food laws and insist that animals be slaughtered in a particular way. This way is objectionable to people who argue for animal rights. At what point will the state decide that it has the authority and the duty to intervene? When a religious person does something ‘good’ he or she probably doesn’t see themselves as doing it because it is their duty as a good citizen. He or she is generally motivated in quite a different way. It may be out of fear of damnation, it may be out of compassion, it may be ought of a conscious desire to imitate Christ for example, it may be because it is a commandment, or it may be ought of a desire to advance God’s kingdom. They would be unlikely to express it in terms of their duty as a citizens. It may be the way a Kantian would think, but it is not the spontaneous motivation of a religious person. A citizen’s highest duty is usually thought of in military terms. Defending the state or, in obedience to the sovereign, maybe attacking another. A religious person, for example a Jehovah’s Witness or a Quaker, when confronted with such an obligation would probably refuse claiming to be a conscientious objector. The former because they do not recognize the authority of the State, the latter because of a commitment to non-violence. There is thus at the deepest level an incommensurability between forming one’s identity as a religious person or as a citizen. This is because of the question of ultimate authority. One can see this in Northern Ireland where there are clashes of identity that are both religious and political , and unresolvable as long as people take their religion seriously.
  12. 12. Traditionally government was seen as necessary to uphold and enforce the law of the land. This law was grounded in the religiously influenced traditions and customs of the country. Recently though the government has seen itself as the arbiter of morality and has passed laws which fly in the face of religious morality and also the moral opinions of the vast majority of its citizens. It has done this because it has adopted a rationalistic system of values in which all lifestyles are regarded as morally equal. Up until now it hasn’t given equal rights to paedophiles, but within its own enlightenment framework there is no reason why it should not in the future. This rationalistic approach is also embedded in the convention on human rights. Religious institutions in Britain asked to be excluded from its requirements because it would have imposed on them alien concepts and forced them to restructure their communities according to alien values. For example, in the Catholic Church only men may become priests. Now whatever one thinks of this from the point of view of justice, equal opportunities, or sexual discrimination, a religious community has the right to arrange its institutions according to its own laws. And this right does not come from the state. Furthermore, religious communities are rarely organized democratically. They are often hierarchical and regard obedience to authority as an important virtue. Religious laws such as the Sharia are revealed and not the product of a democratically elected legislature. The Dalai Lama was picked as a very young boy. The Hassidic Rebbe inherits the role from his father. The political ideal of religions is also often not a democratic one. It maybe a kingdom, it maybe a theocracy, rule by religious leaders. So the suggestion that participatory democracy is the only form of legitimate authority can be quite corrosive of other forms of authority which are not democratic but still legitimate within their own terms. Religious communities have their own traditions, which are a reflection of their theological self-understanding. Jews for example believe they were chosen by God to be a holy nation and that the laws, which they follow, were given to them by God. For Christians, the highest form of human community is the Church, which they understand as being the body of Christ, the family of God. God is seen as the father of all humanity, and thus all people are ultimately brothers and sisters transcending nationality, race and other ‘human’ categories. In the past they thought the state should be subservient to the church. In the moral realm, all religions offer very clear and detailed guidance abut what is moral and what is immoral particularly in the realm of sexuality. All regard marriage as normal and God-given and regard sexual relations before and outside marriage as a grave sin. They also traditionally condemn homosexuality as immoral and unnatural. This is why the various faith communities in Britain have challenged the government’s attempt to abolish section 28. They would argue that the state has no business defining what is moral and what is not moral. This is the historical job of religion and the law should uphold traditional morality and not try to undermine it. Fundamentally it is a question of values, what is the legitimate authority for deciding what is moral and what is immoral. I finish this section with a comment by R.M. Hartwell (Hartwell, 1975): “’Up until our own times,’ Benda wrote, ‘men had only received two sorts of teaching in what concerns the relations between politics and morality. One was Plato's, and it said:
  13. 13. “Morality decides politics”; the other was Machiavelli's, and it said: “Politics have nothing to do with morality.” Today they receive a third. M. Maurras teaches: “Politics decide morality.” In working, living and believing the state is now arbiter. It decides about the work place, about the family, and about values. Since the market is no longer allowed to function freely, the state must decide what to produce and how to distribute that production; since the family as a social unit has declined because of the erosion of parental responsibilities largely as a result of state action, the state must decide about education, health, behaviour, and all other aspects of growing up and earning a living; and, finally, since the state decides what values should prevail in society, and ensures that such values are embodied in legislation and enforced by bureaucracies, the state has increasingly replaced the church in determining how we should behave. Politics is now religion.” RE as a critique of citizenship education What then is the relationship between religious education and citizenship education? According to the QCA document, “RE provides opportunities to explore moral and social concerns” This is a very tame place for RE which is not surprising when one consider the place of religion in the citizenship framework: “A main aim for the whole community should be to find or restore a sense of common citizenship, including a national identity that is secure enough to find a place for the plurality of nations, cultures, ethnic identities and religions long found in the United Kingdom. Citizenship education creates a common ground between different ethnic and religious identities.” (QCA, 1998) This reminds one of the way that citizenship functioned in the Roman Empire. It was seen as a ‘higher’ identity than that of the religious identity. Religion was functionally useful because at its civic best it created people who were model citizens. Apart from that, the philosophical culture from which citizenship comes is not known for its friendliness to traditional religion which it has regarded as a rival, and so how it will create a common ground remains to be seen. There have been countries where such a policy has been implemented: the attempt to manufacture a Yugoslavian national identity; the attempt to persuade a huge part of the world that they were Soviet citizens. However, when the surface was scratched, out popped the old national and religious identities often more vicious than before because of their suppression. So what can RE contribute to citizenship education? First of all religious education can unmask the presuppositions and assumptions that lie behind concepts that citizenship education promotes. RE can show that these concepts are not neutral, but are an integral part of an ideology and grounded in a world-view which is historically and philosophically hostile to traditional religions. RE can systematically compare the concepts involved in citizenship, such as authority, law and identity with similar concepts from the world religions. In this way pupils can form a context by which these ideas can be critically evaluated.
  14. 14. RE can examine the philosophies of the enlightenment that lie behind modernity and citizenship education. It can examine the enlightenment view of human nature, epistemology, ethics, and ontology and by comparing them with the teachings of the world’s religion offer a critique. RE can also look at the frequent occasions in history when the state sought to impose its ideology on people, and persecuted religious people because they would not allow bow to the state, and refused to accept the state as having the authority to determine what people believed. How have religious people responded when the laws of the state contradict what they believe is God’s law? On a more positive note RE can reveal the many different ways in which people have sought and found their identity in relationship to a transcendent reality. It can show how people conceptualize their identity and relationships to others without using the language of rights. RE can let pupils be aware of the different teachings that religions have which explain the origin of the world, humanity, the origin of evil and the providence of salvation. It can show the way in which religious people view the world, view suffering, the environment, material prosperity etc. RE can also explore the implications of the moral teachings of the world religions on matters such as sexuality, abortion, war, justice, homosexuality etc. and compare them with the values that the state promotes. Should the government through legislation uphold the traditional moral teaching and customs of the religious communities that live in the country or should it try to reform them according to radical abstract enlightenment values? RE can explore the role religion has played in the history of England from Pelagius to the reconciliation between Saxons and Danes wrought by Alfred the Great (not part of the history National? Curriculum of course); from the role played by the Archbishop of Canterbury in drawing up the Magna Carta, to the flowering of spiritual groups during the Commonwealth; from the evangelical revival, to the formation of voluntary societies, schools, Trade Unions and the Labour Party; from the abolition of slavery and child labour to present-day religious freedom. From this pupils will be able to recognize the part religion, as opposed to citizenship, played in the motivation of outstanding people. In teaching pupils about religion and giving them the opportunity to learn from religion, RE can reveal to them that there is what Evylen Underhill called ‘another world to live in’. Huston Smith who is probably the foremost teacher of world religions has described what he wants his students to notice. “The Lord appearing high and lifted up to Isaiah; the heavens opening to Christ at his baptism; the universe turning into a bouquet of flowers for Buddha beneath the Bo tree. John reporting, “I was on an island called Patmos, and I was in a trance.” Saul struck blind on the Damascus road. For Augustine it was the voice of a child saying, “Take, read”; for Saint Francis a voice which seemed to come from the crucifix. It was while Saint Ignatius sat by a stream and watched the running water, and that curious old cobbler Jacob Boehme was looking at a pewter dish that there came news of another world which it is always religion’s business to convey.” (Smith, 1989)
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