On Friday 3rd February, the House of Lords debated the Education (Non Religious Philosophical Convictions) Bill in its second reading. The bill would introduce provision for “religious worldviews” to replace religious education in some schools. The Bishop of Southwark spoke in the debate, arguing that religious education fills a key place in the curriculum:
The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, I speak in this debate feeling somewhat like an officer of the Salvation Army commending temperance to a conference of brewers. None the less, while I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, has made some important points introducing this Bill and I am grateful for them, I want to make some general points to gently demonstrate why this proposed measure for RE in schools without a religious character is unnecessary. I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, although my view is somewhat different on this occasion from his wisdom and I have no immediate plans to join the British Humanist Association.
First, I stress the value of what remains of religious education within our schools. While the outcomes of education remain a contested area of debate in society, the purpose of education and what it does to us receives much less attention. Too much is assumed in that regard, and that partly informs this Bill. My belief is that human flourishing happens in body, mind and spirit and that education engages us in each of these aspects, which need to be held together holistically.
“I celebrate today the contribution of humanists and atheists to the common good. I revel in our common humanity, our shared commitment to society and the gift of friendship.”
On 25th July 2013, Lord Harrison led a debate in the House of Lords to take note of the contribution of atheists and humanists to United Kingdom society. The Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, welcomed the debate and the contribution of humanists and aetheists to the common good. He hoped that the debate would challenge intolerant tribalism and noted that people of faith, atheists and humanists had in common a desire to explore profound questions about life.
The Lord Bishop of Birmingham: My Lords, while I am still privileged to occupy the Bench of the Lords spiritual on behalf of the nation, I am delighted to say that the debate today is most welcome and I am honoured to follow the previous three speakers. They have given us the opportunity to hear the great deal of good that can and should be recognised, wherever we find it, whether in philosophy—the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, reminded us of the great traditions of humanist philosophy—or in science. I note the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, about the very serious business of assisted dying; I am sure that we will work hard on that together to get it right.
There is also the wonderful good that comes from humanists or atheists ringing bells. So often in society we appear to be motivated simply by our own interests, with the consequence that acknowledging good in others is interpreted simply as disloyalty to one’s tribe. Within the church, we are not immune to this problem. None the less, the Christian tradition points to the wider generosity; when Jesus was asked for an example of neighbourliness, he told a story about the Samaritan and not a good religious Jew, such as himself. I hope that, among many other themes, this debate will challenge intolerant tribalism in all walks of life wherever we find it. Continue reading “Bishop of Birmingham speaks of shared values of religious and non-religious”
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