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Friday, 12 August 2011

Religion and the riots - and what about 2001?

It is beyond cliche for someone like me to say: "I have enormous respect for John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York" before disagreeing with him about something. He just popped up on BBC Parliament in the Lords bemoaning the non-inclusion of "religious knowledge" in the English Baccalaureate. He is not the only person to imply that a decline in support for organised religion is a factor in these riots. However, I would argue that the proportion of these rioters and looters coming from religiously observant families might actually be disproportionately high, compared to the general population. Tottenham, for example, is a place with a lot of churches and other houses of worship. So I don't buy the idea that if more of these young people had had a religious upbringing, then it would have meant less looting and rioting. Many of them actually come from religious homes - but it hasn't stopped them from committing these crimes, has it? So let's not over-simplify the role of religion in a person's moral upbringing. There is, after all, such a thing as secular moral philosophy.

As for Rowan Williams' suggestion that schools have become focused on turning out consumers and not citizens, that is the sort of statement that has everybody nodding along until one thinks about it. Since when have schools been teaching people to be consumers and not citizens? What does that actually mean? People used to say similarly glib things about state schools when I was at one in the 1980s. There has been a massive expansion of citizenship education over the last ten years; I'm not sure that it even existed when I was at school. This was partly in response to the 2001 riots in Oldham, Burnley, Leeds and Bradford - remember them? How come, when people have been comparing this latest disorder to past instances of such problems, everybody has skipped straight back to the 1980s without first stopping off to consider the events of 2001? I appreciate that those riots were very different from those of the past week. But they were still riots.

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