The Future of Religious Education: Debating Reform
RE faces very significant challenges. This paper summarises a series of expert discussions about the subject’s future, hosted by Theos in 2017. (2018)
As The Sacred Podcast releases its 25th episode, Elizabeth Oldfield shares 25 things she’s learnt from her guests on the show.
A year ago, Hussein Kesvani, myself and the wider Theos team started talking about a podcast that wouldn’t be a straight theology or politics or current affairs proposition, but would create space for conversations that weren’t really happening elsewhere. I had returned from maternity leave after a longish sabbatical from public debates and social media, and was dismayed by the levels of tribalism, impatience, self–righteous rage and bad faith I saw. It felt like interactions that involved any difference or disagreement at all most often descended into either fight (spikey debates seeking to ‘win’, or all out insults) or flight (withdrawal into our filter bubbles).
I’ve always been interested in our public conversations, the narratives that form and shape us, and the way they help or hinder us in our search for goodness, truth and beauty. And so, The Sacred was born, as a way of thinking through, and hopefully contributing to a more emotionally intelligent, human way of connecting with people not like ourselves.
I wanted to talk to people from all over the spectrums of belief and non–belief, politics, identity and beyond in a non–combative, non–obsequious way, and give them space to reflect on their own values and those of others. It’s been fascinating seeing how rare that is for people and how precious it is to get beyond just talking about achievements. I’ve also felt pushed to be more vulnerable and open myself, confront my own prejudices, ‘political allergies’ and, difficult though it sometimes is, really listen.
So, as we release our 25th episode this week it felt fitting to reflect on the wonderful people I’ve had the opportunity to feature on the show and to give a snapshot of some of the gold that’s been in these conversations from episode 1 through to 25.
Thank you to all of you that listen, encourage and share your stories with us – without further ado…
1. “We often reject someone’s position before we fully understand it” – Jonathan Rowson, philosopher.
2. “I don’t believe in God, but I miss him” – Julian Barnes, via Pippa Evans, comedian and co–creator of The Sunday Assembly.
3. “If people act in ways that almost provoke you to respond harshly, that’s your moment to take a breath and think right, I’m going to try and react in a different way and treat them in a way they totally don’t expect me to” – Tim Farron, MP.
4. “Sin has become an unhelpful word, it just the Human Propensity to F**k Things Up” – Francis Spufford, author.
5. “Atheism is a rich and interesting tradition which has becomes sadly debased in recent years … and I’m a failed atheist” – Giles Fraser, priest.
6. “‘Truth can never be told so as to be understood but not to be believed’– but we are nervous of people believing things too strongly” Benjamin Ramm, journalist, quoting William Blake.
7. “Statecraft is a macro form of emotional intelligence” – David Goodhart, policy writer.
8. “Trump supporters are acting out a sense of shame and finding he meets a deep human need for honouring, validation and affirmation” – Andy Crouch, author.
9. “When I talk to lots of my friends who are spiritual but didn’t used to be it is often new atheism which tipped them back– that very masculine, combative approach devoid of empathy made me start thinking more about religion” – Dawn Foster, journalist.
10. “The dynamism of evil is what we are compelled by, but Marilynne Robinson has created a fiction of goodness and kindness … and in measuring myself against John Ames I found myself lacking and I needed to make sense of that” – Neil Griffiths, novelist.
11. “I will do things that are lightly blasphemous, but things that are promoting the works of Satan, Prince of Lies, I would generally try and avoid that for money” – Sally Phillips, actor.
12. “There are certain points in philosophical and political debates in which one’s spade reaches bedrock and you have to stop digging– there are fundamental values which you can’t get beneath” – Jonathan Derbyshire, journalist, quoting Wittgenstein.
13. “You don’t have influence over your choices … literally no one is to blame for anything. There is no personal responsibility” – Tom Chivers, journalist.
14. “This denial of humanity’s ability to make choices is I think giving up on humanity… it makes us less than human” – Claire Fox, Institute of Ideas.
15. [on psychedelics] “The fear of being deeply misunderstood, you have this with your Christianity, this is something you deeply believe in and has been deeply transformative in your life and to have that reduced to a …soundbite by people whose respect you would hope to have, it’s upsetting” – Ronan Harrington, campaigner.
16. “My sacred value is listening to the voice of lived experience” – Tom Shakespeare, disability ethicist and sociologist.
17. “Sacred values are so deeply ingrained that…we can only really find out about the sacred once it’s been breached, when you get some kind of moral panic it becomes visible” – Lois Lee, sociologist.
18. “The words that are most meaningful to us, which most point to goodness, truth and beauty for us, we can’t assume that they land in another person’s mind with all the connotations they have for us” – Krista Tippett, OnBeing host.
19. “You need a bit of existential modesty, I think, when it comes to the kind of questions about the purpose of life” – Ian Dunt, journalist.
20. “It’s much easier to accept that terrible things might happen to these people if you don’t really see them as people” – Timandra Harkness, broadcaster and science writer.
21. “Joy and laughter is an echo of that larger, eternal joy…comedy has a moral purpose … making people laugh is autotelik, worth doing for its own sake” – John Lloyd, comedy producer.
22. “Disagreement just *is* disagreeable…but reactions other than outrage are possible” – Teresa Bejan, political philosopher.
23. “There was a day in the real–life Obama White House inspired by Leo’s Big Block of Cheese Day on The West Wing” – Micheal Wear, former White House staffer.
24. “For many years as soon as someone said the word God all I heard was ‘you hate gays’” – Casper Ter Kuile, co–host of Harry Potter and the Sacred Text.
25.“When the majority of evangelicals voted for Trump it was like waking up and not recognising your own family” – Chine McDonald, Communications at Christian Aid.
Image from Ink Drop under a Shutterstock license
Elizabeth is Theos’ Director. She appears regularly in the media, including BBC One, Sky News, and the World Service, writing in The Financial Times and delivering Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Posted 1 November 2018
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Theos researches and investigates the intersection of religion, politics and society in the contemporary world.