Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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( 'Nother Solent is this blog's good twin. Same words, searchable archives, RSS feed. Provided by a benefactor, to whom thanks.
I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)

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Monday, December 06, 2004
What are blogs for if not to point out possible errors in a Religious Studies textbook published in 1991?

I've been reading a lot of RE textbooks for a worky sort of reason. Now quite a lot of the propaganda has been chased out of history and geography textbooks - stop laughing. Disregard your own fading memories, you crinklies, and look at, say, a recent schoolbook treatment of British generalship in World War I: John Terraine's point of view is well and truly represented, albeit by people who clearly needed a nice cup of herbal tea afterwards.

However RE, RS, or whatever they call it this week, is unreformed. I may highlight some of the funnier things I've found in future posts. Or I may be found slumped lifeless at my computer, an expression of unearthly terror stamped indelibly upon my features. I tell you, to have opinions like mine and yet open a Key Stage Four Religious Thingies book is to stare into the abyss.

I quite liked the oldish textbook I shall look at today, Moral Issues in Six Religions, edited by W. Owen Cole and published by Heinemann Educational. Its format, in which each religion is written about by an author who believes in that religion, avoids the anonymous blah-progressive editorialising that mars many modern textbooks on religion. Most of the authors do display background anti-capitalism (for instance V P Kanitkar, who wrote the section on Hinduism, says, "... greed for money is a social evil which is spreading among the Hindu society. It is made worse by the increased advertising and availability of luxury consumer goods"), but a personal opinion stated as a personal opinion arouses my disagreement rather than my ire.

The section on Christianity was written by Joe Jenkins. The factual stuff is competently done. As for opinion, I nodded at "The State in its oppression of the people makes use again and again of the name of God," although Mr Jenkins and I probably had different States and different oppressions in mind. When I read "The self-interest and greed that seem to motivate a free capitalist market economy ... hardly fit in with the teachings of Jesus about selflessness and generosity", I growled, so the stratification and unequal power relationships that motivate an unfree non-capitalist non-market economy fit better, do they?

But for the life of me I did not know what attitude to take to this line from a "box" about the German theologian, resistant and anti-Nazi martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

Bonhoeffer helped form the 'Confessing Church' which opposed the Nazis. He also became involved in helping groups of Jews escape the death camps.

In 1940 he joined the Abwehr, an organization that secretly worked to overthrow the Nazi state.

Emphasis added. I think that's a howler. The Abwehr was German Military Intelligence. The funny thing is, though, that the description of the Abwehr as an organization that secretly worked to overthrow the Nazi state is nonetheless quite defensible. Still, the form of words used does seem a little compressed.

Another thing that might be an authorial mistake or authorial secret irony is his choice of quotations to illustrate sexism in Christianity. After quotations which, fair to say, won't get St Paul and Martin Luther any prizes for embracing gender diversity in the workplace, the author supplied the following quote from Samuel Butler (the earlier one): "The souls of women are so small that some believe they have none at all." One of Butler's less amusing ditties, I'll admit, but I do think it ought to be pointed out that Butler was joking. Odd how simply putting the line breaks in makes it plain that it is meant to be funny: The souls of women are so small, / that some believe they have none at all; / Or if they have, like cripples, still / They've but one faculty, the will.

UPDATE: this GCSE revision page is clearly based on the sexism double page spread from Moral Issues in Six Religions, and has the same quotes.