What's it all about, Alfie?

I'll 'fess up, OK? I confess that I have been paying a bit of attention to the latest "What in the ^#@* has gone wrong with England story?" That would be the train wreck of coverage about young master Alfie Patten, the baby-faced (this word is included in almost every UK story) 13-year-old who has just become his land's most famous baby father.

Is there a religion ghost in there somewhere?

Well, along comes the Times with a follow-up story that takes that deflected shot and slams it into the goal. The headline points the way: "Parents told: avoid morality in sex lessons." And here's the top of the report:

PARENTS should avoid trying to convince their teenage children of the difference between right and wrong when talking to them about sex, a new government leaflet is to advise.

Instead, any discussion of values should be kept "light" to encourage teenagers to form their own views, according to the brochure, which one critic has called "amoral." Talking to Your Teenager About Sex and Relationships will be distributed in pharmacies from next month as part of an initiative led by Beverley Hughes, the children's minister.

And the context is obvious:

The leaflet comes in the wake of the case of Alfie Patten, the 13-year-old boy from East Sussex who fathered a child with a 15-year-old girl and sparked a debate about how to cut rates of teenage parenthood.

It advises: "Discussing your values with your teenagers will help them to form their own. Remember, though, that trying to convince them of what's right and wrong may discourage them from being open."

The issue, of course, is whether anyone can use government money to take a strong moral stand on an issue with religious overtones, even in a post-Christian land like Great Britain. More on that in a moment.

On one level, it is wrong to call the leaflet "amoral." It has a morality, which is that it is wrong for parents to attempt to pass on their own moral beliefs to their children. Oh, is it wrong for parents to pass along their amoral beliefs to their children? I guess so. The children might rebel into traditional morality. But I digress.

The story does not tell us much about the actual content of the tax-funded sex sermon, but there is a hint in one reaction from a traditionalist.

The leaflet provides technical information on different forms of contraception, from condoms to implants, and will reignite the row over the government's "value-free" approach to sex education.

Simon Calvert, deputy director of the Christian Institute, attacked the leaflet, saying: "The idea that the government is telling families not to pass on their values is outrageous.

"Preserving children's innocence is a worthy goal. We would like to see more of that kind of language rather than this amoral approach where parents are encouraged to present their children with a smorgasbord of sexual activities and leave them to make up their own minds."

The story also includes am authoritative voice from the left who stresses that, after all, claims that some actions are right and others are wrong under a healthy relativism, which would be, uh, wrong (whatever "wrong" means).

But I noticed something else interesting about this story. Let me illustrate with an old, old joke that I used very early in the history of this weblog. Here it is again:

Once there was a man who lived in a lighthouse on the foggy Atlantic. ... This lighthouse had a gun that sounded a warning every hour. The keeper tended the beacon and kept enough shells in the gun so it could keep firing. After decades, he could sleep right through the now-routine blasts. Then the inevitable happened. He forgot to load extra shells and, in the dead of night, the gun did not fire.

This rare silence awoke the keeper, who lept from bed shouting, "What was that?"

So what was the sound of silence in this Times report?

Traditional Christians and Jews, you see, are not the only people in the island of the postmodern island of the mighty who believe that sex outside of marriage is sin. It is a rare thing these days, in the British press, to see a story on this kind of national issue without a quote that offers the viewpoint of Islam.

How does this value-free approach to sex and marriage, and, of course, faith and morality, go over in the mosques? Is it too out of bounds to ask how this might affect Muslim children attending public schools? Of course, it could also affect traditional Christian and Jewish children, but that's not the hot-button issue in mutli-cult England. A hole in the story?

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