What Crack Would Jesus Smoke?

I think it’s always a bad move to criticise someone’s position based on the religious creed they profess to follow. When Tony Blair slabbered about things like ‘the true voices of Islam‘, he was taking it upon himself to decide what the true voices of Islam actually were. And who decides that? If it’s a matter of faith, then my faith is just as true as yours. If someone believes that slamming a plane into a tall building is an authentic expression of Islamic values, as many people do, there are no grounds for arguing that it is not. That is, what constitutes an authentic expression of faith is totally subjective. You could point out that most Muslims don’t approve of this sort of thing at all, but that doesn’t take you any closer to resolving the matter of what is authentically Islamic. Sadly for some, in terms of belief, there is nothing truly Islamic, or truly Christian. All there is is a series of contests, which result in things like Ian Paisley having a go at the Pope at the European parliament.

The Coca-Cola man was saying the other night that to exist as a profitable global entity his company had to develop its products in such a way that they were acceptable to every local culture. He didn’t know it at the time, but he was trying to emulate Jesus, who is the master of glocalisation. Jesus would change his brand identity, depending on where he was. He could express a desire for love, social justice and universal harmony in some places, and in others he could approve of genocide while disapproving of sex before marriage. He could be the ultimate avenger, destined to return in a flaming chariot to flay the non-believers, the Jews, the sodomites and the communists. Or he could demand that getting exploited and starved by your masters was all part of his plan for you to take up his cross. Then he could be simply a regular guy, not too judgmental about stuff in general, but tending to favour a free-market approach to the provision of public services.

In some parts of Northern Ireland, like in the residence of the Bishop of Derry, Jesus disapproves of the current system of academic selection. A short distance away, at Lumen Christi College, which plans to introduce its own form of academic selection to replace the 11-plus, he thinks academic selection is a good idea.

“We find nothing inconsistent with Catholic social teaching in offering academic selection,” he said.

Mr Doherty said parental choice was the main motivation behind the school’s decision. “For us the most important single thing is the primacy of parental choice. Catholic teaching clearly establishes that parents are the prime educators of their children. Parents certainly will most dearly protect the interests of their children and her imposition of a one size fits all model will deny that parental choice,” he said.

Like I said before, you are on a hiding to nothing if you try and argue that those at Lumen Christi are wrong and that in truth Jesus doesn’t want academic selection. The best you can do, when confronted with words like these, is try and see what role Jesus is playing this time.

The way I see it, Jesus is playing the role of free marketeer. In education, as with the provision of all public services under neo-liberalism, the corollary of ‘choice’, as referred to by the principal, is competition. The funny thing here is that ‘parental choice’ is nothing of the sort, since a system of academic selection, by definition, has nothing to do with choice made by parents, but with the choice made by the academy.

Jesus is also laying down the law here on the separation of sheep from goats. Ontologically speaking, there cannot be academic selection without academic rejection, just as a privilege cannot be a privilege if everyone has it (the mealy-mouthed idea of ‘underprivilege’ is fundamentally ludicrous). Protecting the interests of your children via academic selection then, means destroying the interests of other children through academic rejection. Preserving middle-class privilege means maintaining others at a disadvantage. There is, as the lady said, no alternative. And Jesus, this time, agrees.

2 Responses to “What Crack Would Jesus Smoke?”

  1. 1 copernicus April 26, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    “Protecting the interests of your children via academic selection then, means destroying the interests of other children through academic rejection.”

    Well exactly – “parental choice” is a classic zero-sum game. Puts a bit of a new twist on “suffer the little children to come unto me” – the children who suffer won’t be the ones who “come unto” Jésus through a selective faith school.

    The term, of course, comes from those people who want a tax rebate for sending their kids to Eton and not “burdening” the public system. They never mentioned the childless getting a tax rebate though. Funny that.

    “choice” joins “meritocracy” in the tawdry lexicon of educational politics. In fact they are two sides of the same coin. The system of “choice” is how you ensure that your meritocracy is nothing of the bloody sort. Heaven forfend!

  2. 2 Hugh Green April 26, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    Don’t get me started on ‘meritocracy’ as it will bring me out in a rash. Briefly, meritocracy means rule by the people who deserve it. So whilst the people who hold power are those who deserve to rule, they are also the people who decide what the criteria for deserving to rule are. ‘Continuously Improving Oligarchy’ might be a useful alternative term.

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April 2008

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