I am a champion of Catholic faith schools. My only reservation is that too many of my friends report that so few of their children, or grandchildren, enter their adult lives as believing and practising Catholics. However today I want to try an exercise. A good ploy in an argument is to be well aware of the case which your opponent will make. It prepares you to make the best case in return. So, I have invited our old sparring partner, Advocatus Diaboli, to do his best (or his worst). I hope you will answer him roundly.
Thank you, Quentin. I am, as you know, a liberal. So I am very much in favour of faith schools – provided that the doctrinal content is innocuous (or nearly so). I think that parents have rights here which we must all defend. I would even champion the rights of the Church of Father Christmas if the parents wished it. After all, there is as much evidence for its doctrines as there is for Catholic schools. Perhaps rather more – I still find a stocking at the end of my bed!
But I can see no credible reason why I should pay for Father Christmas schools through taxation. If they want a specialist education suited to their idiosyncrasies they must pay for it like anyone else. And so must Catholics. I know we call ourselves a Christian country (though if we remembered our own history of internecine religious squabbles, we might hesitate to broadcast that) but in fact we are now a secular society in which the butt ends of the Christian denominations are a shrinking and irrelevant minority.
And that brings me to a further liberal point. We have a very mixed society in class terms, intellectual terms, racial terms and religious terms. While I rejoice in variety, it is essential that we all meld as a community, understanding each other and working together for the good of all. Yet what do we do? We encourage schools in which we can keep our children in comfortable denominational ghettoes, finally launching them into the world with all their prejudices uncontaminated by the rest of our society. It’s potentially disastrous for society – and even more so for the children who have to face adult life without any living experience of the sincere views and beliefs of others. This is surely folly. But I certainly favour the teaching of comparative religion: this is the best way to learn how little any religion depends on evidence – allowing almost any kind of belief that happens to take your fancy.
It is, of course, said that Catholic schools tend to get better results than the average. But that’s not surprising is it? You would imagine that parents who have a religion and are prepared to dodge and weave in order to get their children into a favoured school are likely to have a higher IQ than average. And that’s borne out by the fact that Catholic schools have a smaller proportion of children who qualify for free school meals. And, while I am on that point, just think how a parent would feel if a child were refused a place in a Catholic school which was in the next road simply because the little mite wasn’t a god-botherer!
And that, Quentin, brings me back to your point about Catholic schools not even achieving their end as brain-washers. You know as well as I do that Catholic teachers are like everyone else – as few of them believe in Catholic teaching on sex issues as the rest of the Catholic population. How do you inspire people to follow what you don’t believe yourself? The children are too young to be exposed to intellectual dishonesty. They may get away with it at primary school – at the ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ level but their chances at secondary are nil. That’s a good thing, by the way – the children won’t be tricked into not using contraception, they won’t deny women their rights to abortion, and they won’t despise Gays as given to “disordered” unnatural activities.
So when I recommend that you ditch faith schools I am doing you a favour. If you think highly of Catholic teachers, then get them into secular schools and benefit everyone. And of course you can give all the Catholic indoctrination you like after hours. Make it voluntary and you won’t find the numbers a burden. And you might even end up with more practising Catholic adults than you do today.