Train Preachers: Leave the rucksack at home for the time being

5th October 2017

I have seen the new OCR GCSE R.E. syllabus and it is ENORMOUS.  Apparently compulsory R.E. is part of the bookish-rote-learning-for-exams drive of the new Tory education.  You’ll gather that I’m not a fan of this system generally.  I don’t think the UK needs more accountants, bankers and lawyers with exam skills.  I think we need more plumbers, entrepreneurs and nurses with hands-on training and people skills.  But I’m VERY glad that more kids will be learning more about more religions.

This Monday, something utterly ridiculous happened in Wimbledon:

A man began to read passages from the bible aloud on a train carriage and panicked passengers self-evacuated, leading to delays for thousands of commuters.   Thankfully there was a guard on the train with some common sense to calm things down, but the damage to an already flaky public transport system in the morning rush hour had been done.   I don’t know anything about the preacher in question and I’m not convinced that train preaching is the best way to evangelise, but I think the incident is a window into a spectacular religious illiteracy in British society.

Let me conjecture for a moment what went through the mind of the woman who cried terrorist.   In the post 9.11 UK, we live in a nation where successive governments have rightly tried to crack down on religious extremism.  We are all on the lookout for radicalisation.  Meanwhile noisy atheists shout about all religion as the root of all evil, the sole and culpable cause of crusades, jihads, atrocities and wars across the world.  The centre left media seem to love any opportunity to attribute a religious cause to any wrongdoing (did anyone else notice how many times the illegal BBC reports into the illegal police raids on Cliff Richard’s house used the word ‘evangelical’) or to mock religious sensibilities in public figures.  And so we find ourselves in a situation where religious = insidious in the minds of many people, where lawmakers are unable to distinguish between extremists who are good for society (like Justin Welby) and those who are bad for society (like Abu Hamsa) and where the reading of the bible in a public place can cause a stampede.

So…  I’m sorry kids…  I know that is a lot of rote learning about Islam and Hinduism and Christianity.  But you need to understand this stuff better than the current crop of UK grown-ups.  Honestly, I don’t mind if you flunk the exam, but it’s important to me and for this country that you hear and understand the differences between Jesus and Mohammed, between Wahhabiis and Menonites, and between Hindutva and Anglicanism.

And whilst this current GCSE cohort are becoming the next generation of commuters, reporters and politicians I would encourage train preachers to carry a small bible and leave the rucksack at home.