There's a tremendous debate going on in the U.K. about the place of religion, not only about its place in the public square, but internally, among believers, notably the Roman Catholics and Anglicans themselves.
Spoiled as I am by easy access to online stories from Britain, I confess to a sense of frustration that we only seem to get sexy soundbites and informational hors d'ouvres from the British press. This is particularly irritating when the subject is education, which you would think the reading public probably takes seriously, as in this article about the religious studies curriculum for GCSE's (General Certificates of Secondary Education are academic qualifications in a particular subject area prior to university).
We learn that the syllabus will embrace such subjects as ethics, Druids, Rastifarians and atheism. Apparently little time will be spent on such well-thumbed texts as the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. But we find out almost nothing about this interesting tidbit: the increasing interest in courses about religion, which has caused registration to swell.
Religious studies is currently one of the fastest-growing GCSEs in the UK and in the last two years the number of entries has increased by 24,000 to 171,000.
Why this kind of interest? How about some quotes from students signing up for these certificates? What about some quotes from their parents?
That being said, the red-hot London media marketplace does seem to be faithful about covering the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminister-even when, as with Rowan Williams, it's not totally clear what the scholarly prelate is saying.
"Britain is not a secular country but is "uncomfortably haunted by the memory of religion", the Archbishop of Canterbury said.
He said church attendance may not be as high as it once was but although Britain may have become secularised it is not yet secular.
Rowan Williams made the comments during a speech at Leicester Cathedral, entitled Faith in the Public Square.
Speaking to around 400 people from across Leicestershire, he said although British attendance at church may not compare to 200 years ago, the church offered something that could not be found elsewhere.
He dismissed ideas that Britain is "secular" or "religiously divided" were cliches and said: "I don't believe we are living in a secular society and I don't believe we are living in a deeply religiously divided society.
"I believe we are living in a country that is uncomfortably haunted by the memory of religion and doesn't quite know what to do with it and I believe we are living in a society which is religiously plural and confused and therefore not necessarily hostile."
One assumes that Williams isn't talking about ghosts, and the phrase has a lovely evocative feel to it--but what does it mean? There's been speculation in the commentariat about what exactly the Archbishop meant by "haunted." Why didn't anybody ask him? If they couldn't get to him, how about his public relations staff? What happened to enterprise reporting?
I am left to wonder, as I often do with some segments of the British media, whether these racy tales are actually giving the public (or perhaps a certain slice of the reading public) exactly what they want: another opportunity to be slightly titillated, occcasionally amused and a just a touch appalled by the words and actions of those who represent church and state.
The picture of a Chief Druid is taken from Wikimedia Commons