The Archbishop of Canterbury has warned against downgrading the status of religious education in UK secondary schools in his last Easter sermon as leader of the Church of England.
Dr Rowan Williams told the congregation at Canterbury Cathedral that young people’s hostility towards faith is not as extreme as society perceives with many taking the issue of religion seriously.
And he argued a number of youngsters appreciate the role it plays in shaping and sustaining human existence and are keen to learn about it.
“There is plenty to suggest that younger people, while still statistically deeply unlikely to be churchgoers, don’t have the hostility to faith that one might expect, but at least share some sense that there is something here to take seriously – when they have a chance to learn about it,” he said.
“It is about the worst possible moment to downgrade the status and professional excellence of religious education in secondary schools – but that’s another sermon.”
Dr Williams, who will resign as Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of the year to take up a post at Cambridge University, also told followers the ultimate test of the Christian religion is not whether it is useful, beneficial or helpful to the human race but whether or not its central claim – the resurrection of Jesus Christ – actually happened.
“Easter makes a claim not just about a potentially illuminating set of human activities but about an event in history and its relation to the action of God,” he said.
“Very simply, in the words of this morning’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we are told that ’God raised Jesus to life’.”
He said any understanding of the significance of the resurrection which fell short of this truth would be to misunderstand it.
Dr Williams added: “We are not told that Jesus ’survived death’; we are not told that the story of the empty tomb is a beautiful imaginative creation that offers inspiration to all sorts of people; we are not told that the message of Jesus lives on. We are told that God did something.”
The religious leader also touched on the conflict in the Middle East.
And he said Easter raised the “uncomfortable and unavoidable” question that religion may be more useful than the “passing generation of gurus thought”.
He told the congregation that the answer would not be found in instant scientific analysis but in a longer measure of the effect of belief in the lives of believers.
Dr Williams reinforced his point that it was the truth of the resurrection that counts, not its effect.
“When all’s said and done about the newly acknowledged social value of religion, we mustn’t forget that what we ultimately have to speak about isn’t this but God: the God who raised Jesus and, as St Paul repeatedly says, will raise us also with him,” he said.