When the anthropopper was a boy at school in the 1950s, each day we had what was called an “assembly” in the school hall. It was in fact a short, non-denominational Christian religious service in which we sang a hymn, said a prayer and listened to an address by the head master or another teacher, and then went on to routine announcements about what was happening in the school. There were always a few children of other faiths, who stayed outside the hall for the religious part of the assembly.
School assemblies in the UK were provided for in the 1944 Education Act. Schools in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland were required (and still are to this day) to provide daily acts of collective worship. In Scotland, some form of religious observance is required. If the school is a faith school, these acts must be in line with the specific religion. In non-religious schools, the acts need to be broadly Christian in character without favouring any particular Christian denomination.
However, a recent report by the University of Leicester says that the duty of British schools to arrange daily acts of collective worship should be scrapped. The study, for the Arts and Humanities Research Council, says such acts, which must be Christian in nature, could discriminate against other religions. It adds there is no clear rationale for the duty, and that parents are often unaware they can withdraw their children from religious assemblies. The report also highlights how in 2004, the Chief Inspector of Schools for England drew Parliament’s attention to the fact that 76% of secondary schools were breaking the law by failing to provide daily acts of worship.
The statutory duty to provide an act of collective worship or religious observance in schools has been controversial for decades. Atheists and secular humanist have never liked it and there is disagreement about the appropriateness of such acts in an increasingly multicultural UK.
The Department for Education said the daily act of collective worship encourages children to reflect on belief, and helps shape fundamental British values of tolerance, respect and understanding for others. A spokesman said: “It is for schools to tailor their provision to suit the needs of their pupils, and parents can withdraw their children from all or any part of collective worship.”
The situation in the UK in 2015 is clearly very different from how it was seventy years ago and there are children of many other faiths and none in our schools whose needs should be respected and represented in school assemblies. But the fact remains that the culture in the UK has been formed over many hundreds of years on the basis of Christian values and traditions and in the anthropopper’s view, it is useful for children of any faith or none to have some idea about where this culture came from. It gives each of us a context in which we can frame our own views and decide what we choose to believe.
Fewer and fewer people today seem to share this view, however, and it is clear that to express any form of interest in, let alone belief, in spiritual values is to commit some kind of social faux pas. I was talking to a priest the other day and she told me that during a conversation while she was having her hair cut, she was asked what her work was. When she said “minister of religion”, everyone in the hairdresser’s shop went quiet, in some kind of embarrassed silence. “It was,” she said, “as though people thought I was going to judge them, when that is the very last thing on my mind.”
And now it appears that we have reached a point where even a sixty-second advert from the Church of England, based on the Lord’s Prayer, is deemed too embarrassing and divisive to be shown in cinemas. This is due to a decision by the Digital Cinema Media agency (DCM), which handles advertising for cinemas in the major chains.
DCM won’t accept ads with religious content in cinemas lest they offend “those of differing faiths and of no faith”. So it seems that, unlike a feature film which may contain scenes of rape, torture, sadism, massacre and all kinds of horrors, it’s too upsetting for cinemagoers to view one minute of the Archbishop of Canterbury and others saying the Lord’s Prayer.
Despite its potentially shocking nature, the church’s advert was passed uncut by the British Board of Film Classification and given a “U” certificate, as well as receiving clearance from the Cinema Advertising Authority.
You can watch the advert on YouTube and decide for yourself. I looked at it and thought it was rather good; the words of the Lord’s Prayer are said and sung by people at work in factories and fields, by schoolchildren, body builders, police officers and a black gospel choir. I imagine that atheists, rationalists, skeptics and those of other faiths are robust enough not to be too traumatised by it.
The decision by DCM should perhaps not be unexpected in the Age of the Consciousness Soul, during which according to Owen Barfield, “…man experiences isolation, loneliness, materialism, loss of faith in the spiritual world, above all, uncertainty. The soul has to make up its mind and to act in a positive way on its own unsupported initiative. And it finds great difficulty in doing so. For it is too much in the dark to be able to see any clear reason why it should, and it no longer feels the old (instinctive) promptings of the spirit within”.
But this may also be the age of the incarnation of Ahriman, which Rudolf Steiner said was likely to happen at the beginning of the 21st century. Whether Ahriman is in bodily form or not, he is clearly working well and confusing us in the West with moral relativism. I can’t help but think, however, that his followers in the East would also have found the advert offensive but, unlike DCM, would have no truck with any such namby-pamby protection of cinemagoers’ sensitivities. Instead, the representatives of IS, Isil, Islamic State, Daesh or whatever name we are currently supposed to use, would go straight to the cinema to spray with bullets anyone who was decadent enough to watch the advert or the feature film. No doubt DCM was trying to avoid provoking them.