Church of England’s purging of school hymns is reckless cultural destruction

It’s a long-standing joke that the Church of England exists largely to remove any idea of religion from our national life.

The more the Church has sought to make its services more “inclusive” and “relevant”, the more Christians have converted to other denominations where they think things are done properly (notably Roman Catholicism), and the more those curious about Christianity have avoided the C of E.

Confirmation of this absurd situation arrived yesterday in new guidance for faith schools from the Church, preposterously named a statement of “entitlement and expectation”.

No, this does not refer to David Cameron’s catastrophic attempts to build a post-Downing Street business career, but what hymns should be chosen for singing in assemblies.

The diktat has it that strongly “confessional” hymns are to be avoided because they may make children and teachers alike feel uncomfortable.

They are said not to be sufficiently “invitational”, which seems to equate Anglican worship with a cheese and wine party.

Those of us (and I speak as an atheist) who thought one of the purposes of religion was to make people feel guilty about having done things frowned upon by the Bible, and to expect God to be both unhappy about our behaviour but to forgive us our trespasses, will wonder what is wrong with a little discomfort.

Apparently, the halfwits who run the Church of England (and are running it into the ground) feel it is dangerous because “there should be no assumption of Christian faith in those present.”

It is all, of course, about diversity: and the increasingly toxic idea that causing someone the mildest offence (such as assuming that someone in a Christian school might actually subscribe to Christianity) is equivalent in gravity to gratuitously amputating one of their limbs without permission or anaesthetic.

In a Church of England school, it is surely a reasonable assumption that the children are there because their parents subscribe to the basic tenets of the Church of England and the Christian faith; and that the teachers are grown up enough to know what to expect when they sign up for such a job.

The children, like generations before them, can like it or lump it until they reach the age where the law says they are masters of their own destiny.

The teachers, having reached that age, if they feel the institution insufficiently diverse, should go and work somewhere else.

Millions of us who found the Christian story somewhat far-fetched nonetheless went through our educational careers being culturally enhanced by the magnificent tunes that many of our hymns featured.

The doctrine, except for the precociously devout, were neither here nor there.

One obvious casualty of this bonkers pronouncement will be one of the most ravishing hymn tunes ever written, Repton – recognisable immediately from its opening lines:

Dear Lord and Father of mankind
Forgive our foolish ways!

One can almost hear the squeals of anguish from the Church’s imbeciles-in-chief.

Can we really be expected to tolerate being told that some of our ways might be foolish?

And even if they were, why would it be God’s place to forgive them?

That magnificent tune comes from Sir Hubert Parry’s oratorio Judith.

In these culturally benighted times, when the nearest most children come to being inculcated with an idea of beauty is being force-fed pop music and the inanities of CBeebies, when otherwise would they have a chance not just to hear, but to participate in, the music of a composer so great as Parry?

One must also doubt that they are encouraged to sing another of his majestic tunes, Jerusalem – which although not a hymn appears in most hymn books – given the entirely erroneous associations made for it with English nationalism and, therefore, colonialism, fascism, imperialism, white supremacy and all the rest of the largely imaginary components of our growing litany of cultural self-hatred.

It is suggested, instead, that other favourites such as Kumbaya and Lord of the Dance – neither of which one could pretend has the slightest association with a high aesthetic or cultural enrichment – are perfectly safe, because they do not entail undue grovelling to the Almighty for real or imagined wickedness.

It does not seem to occur to the those advocating this censorship that few take any notice of the words anyway, and that in life we all have to put up with things – including aspects of the Church of England – that we find tedious or that we disagree with; but that in putting up with them we are provoked to think, mature, and eventually form our own conclusions.

The Church of England has done its best to desecrate – and I choose that verb carefully – its cultural heritage.

Worshippers have been driven away by having to endure the Princess Margaret Bible and the Rocky Horror Prayer Book. Organs have been replaced by guitars and tambourines. Continue reading

  • Simon Heffer writes a weekly column in the Sunday Telegraph
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