ATHEISM AND THE FUTURE OF RELIGIOUS EDUCATION
John M. Hull
in Stanley E. Porter, Paul Joyce and David E. Orton (eds) Crossing the Boundaries: Essays in Biblical Interpretation in honour of Michael D. Goulder Leiden, E. J. Brill August 1994, pp. 357-375 ISBN: 90 04 10131 4
Insofar as it participates in European understandings of religion, religious education in Europe is a product of the Enlightenment. Religious education shares with Biblical Studies and other theological disciplines this commitment to a self-critical and scientific methodology, an enquiring approach and independence of thought. Indeed, religious education receives the inheritance of the Enlightenment not only from the religious side but also from its character as an educational process. The ideals of the Enlightenment, whether we think of its rejection of prejudice and superstition or its commitment to free enquiry, are essentially educational, and the Enlightenment may be looked upon as an educational movement.
The impact of the Enlightenment upon religious education has been softened by the fact that religious education has been thought of as primarily for: children. The religious education with which we are mainly concerned here is certainly taught in schools, but even within the religious communities most of the effort has been directed towards the young. However, by the early years of the twentieth century, the methods and findings of biblical criticism were being introduced in the British classroom and religious education was seeking to establish itself as an inter-disciplinary activity drawing upon the social sciences, psychology and history, all of which may be regarded as products of the Enlightenment. Particularly in psychology, one can trace the impact of an Enlightenment thinker such as Emmanuel Kant upon religious education through the influence of Jean Piaget and the neo-Kantian influences in twentieth-century ethical theory. Only by using instructional methods within closed communities can the European religious traditions avoid such influences, and by encouraging churches, mosques and synagogues (to refer to the three major European religious traditions) to become enclaves embattled against modernity. The shock of the transition from the protected haven of childish mythology, which is marked by the collapse of belief in Father Christmas and his ontological partner the Tooth Fairy, cannot be avoided or constructively interpreted unless the Enlightenment principles of education and the Enlightenment approaches to the understanding of religion are introduced at an early age.
However, the responsibility of religious education towards the European understanding of religion is not fulfilled merely by drawing upon the work of theologians and biblical scholars who take seriously the European intellectual climate of the past two hundred years. Some of the major witnesses to the European understanding of religion are hostile to religion. European religious education must accept the challenge of this hostility, and with it the possibilities of emancipation from the false comforts of a pre-modern approach.
Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud and Ernst Bloch were all atheists. The atheism, as will be shown below, takes different forms, but in every case is integral to the world view expounded. Speaking of the first three J.P. Stern remarks "Their anticipations are inseparable from their religious situation. All three were professed atheists who looked on man's belief in God as an historically determined symptom of man's weakness and subordination." The first three are by general consent amongst the major intellectual influences in the creation of the modern European outlook, while Bloch, who died in 1977, nearly forty years after Freud, is remarkable for his attempt to synthesize the pre- and post-Enlightenment traditions of European religion, incorporating theism and atheism in a new and striking manner.
To ask whether religious education can learn from such figures may seem almost presumptuous. It is like asking whether Jack has anything to learn from the a whole tribe of Giants, who treat him with a mixture of disdain and pity, and have every intention of finishing him off for dinner rather than giving him private tuition. On the other hand, Jack might take the view that he has somehow survived but that if he wants to go on surviving, he should try to learn a bit more. Jack, of course, is religious education and not religion.
For Marx and Freud religion is mainly of heuristic interest; it is to be treated as a symptom of something deeper. In both cases, the relationship between symptom and cause is not straight- forward but deceptive, and deliberately so. For Marx, religion is part of the mist which shrouds social reality; it is the screen upon which confusing images of reality are seen in a heavenly projection. Religion is an "inverted consciousness of the world." It is the "encyclopaedic compendium" of the world, its "spiritual aroma." Genuine social relationships are inverted so as to create a disguise, which is distracting, mystifying and soporific. Freud takes a similar view but with respect to the internal life of the individual rather than to the relationships between social classes. Infantile hopes and fears are displaced onto religious images and concepts, so that the latter become charged with the powerful emotions of childhood whilst appearing to spring from realities in the spiritual world which are thought to be objective. Insofar as society as a whole is religious, or that religions occupy a place in culture as well as in individual life, we may conclude that religion still serves infantile experiences common to large numbers of people, thus indicating that society is still insufficiently mature to confront the reality of the world without illusion.
Marx and Freud agree in emphasising the considerable diagnostic significance of religious phenomena. From the methodological point of view, the skills acquired through practice in the analysis of religion are fundamental to the disciplines of political economy and psychoanalysis. For Marx, the criticism of religion) is the test bed of all criticism. Religion is the compendium in which the suffering of the world can be read, once the technique of interpretation has been mastered. The parallels between religious behaviour and the repetitive rituals of the neurotic I encouraged Sigmund Freud to develop parallels between the emotional lives of children and the rituals of pre-historic culture, thus paving the way for the application of psychoanalysis to anthropology and art, history, folklore and literature. Even more fundamental than the interpretation of religion for Freud was the interpretation of dreams, which pre-dates his discovery of the significance of religious parallels by several years. Dreams, however powerful as diagnostic phenomena, were exclusively individual and private, while religion was both a private and a social 1 reality. By establishing similarities between dreams and religion, Freud created a bridge from the private to the public which enabled psychoanalysis to become an interpretation of civilisation in the widest sense.
In spite of their keen appreciation of the diagnostic significance for religion of their various disciplines, and thus the place they gave to religion as one of the principal stimuli in the birth and development of the social sciences, Marx and Freud were contemptuous and dismissive of religion. Religion is an illusion from which people need to be delivered. It functions in a way which is opposed to the emancipation of society and the maturation of the individual. Freud, however, distinguished between his own personal atheism and the implications of psycho-analysis as a discipline. In this respect, psychoanalysis is in principle neutral. Over many years Freud maintained a personal friendship and a lively correspondence with the Swiss reformed pastor Oskar Pfeister, who was one of the first to apply psycho- analysis in church counselling and pastoral work. In commenting upon Pfeister's success, Freud generously remarked that he, Pfeister, was able through his religious faith to draw upon a source of sublimation unparalleled in its power . This suggests that Freud was aware of the fact that the religious imagery can exercise attraction as the omega of the developmental process as well as its alpha, or, as Paul Ricoeur expresses it, as both thearchē and the telos. As far as I am aware there is no indication that Marx ever thought of religious imagery as offering a lure from the future which might pull history forward. It is invariably viewed in negative terms, and the tone of Marx is almost always caustic, especially in the many witty analogies which he suggests between religion or theology and various aspects of capital, commodities or money. Religious educators should not be deterred by this any more than they should be encouraged by Freud's slightly more benevolent attitude. The question is whether the clusters of disciplines and traditions now variously associated with Marxism and psychoanalysis may be or should be available to the religious educator as a resource for religious education.
That possibility is not as remote to us who stand at the end of the twentieth century as it appeared to be half a century or a century ago. While the first generation of psychoanalysts (Ernest Jones, Karl Abrahams and Otto Reik) were virtually unanimous in accepting the negative religious implications of the discipline founded by Freud, a second generation (W. R. D. Fairbairn and Erik Erikson) made a more constructive use of religious material, while the emergence of British object-relations psychoanalytic theory uncovered fresh links between individual and societal forms of religion. The creator of the latter movement, Donald Winnicott, although continuing Freud’s own sceptical attitude towards faith in God, made it possible for religious actions, objects and words to be interpreted in positive as well as negative ways. More recently, psychoanalysts such as Meissner and Rizzuto have demonstrated the power of psychoanalytic techniques to illuminate and purge religious faith from infantile accretions, whilst allowing and even encouraging a mature and liberating use of religious imagery in adult life. In a somewhat similar way, the Marxist tradition did not remain unanimously opposed to religion. The two major twentieth century Marxist theorists who continued to find positive social roles for religion were Walter Benjamin and Ernst Bloch, the latter of whom remained a sensitive and vigorous atheist, although Benjamin retained a rather more favourable view of his Jewish tradition. It is true that the major currents of nineteenth and twentieth century European Christian theology did not take up the significance of certain fundamental Marxist concepts and interpretations for the furtherance of the mission of the church in Europe, and the much lamented bourgeois captivity of the European churches is largely attributable to this failure. Had Rudolph Bultmann, for example, followed the hermeneutics of Benjamin and Bloch rather than the ontology of Heidegger, western theology in the second half of our century might have been more stimulating. Nevertheless, perhaps it is not too late, and the influence of the Marxist hermeneutic through Bloch to Jurgen Moltmann and J. B. Metz and then upon one of the most significant theological movements of our time, liberation theology, is of great significance for the future of religion and of religious education.
Before turning in more detail to Bloch, we must resume the chronological sequence in this brief history of atheist religious educators by returning to Friedrich Nietzsche, who died in 1900, but whose active work came to an end early in 1889. Unlike Marx and Freud, Nietzsche is not the founder of a specific discipline. He is usually regarded as a philosopher, but the very fact that a well-known book about him is called Nietzsche as Philosopher suggests the difficulty of putting him in a pigeon-hole. Unlike the closely argued and systematic works which we associate with philosophers such as Hume and Kant, the writings of Nietzsche are, for the most part, episodic and fragmentary. What is sometimes regarded as his major systematic work, The Will to Power, was assembled after his death from hundreds of miscellaneous notebook fragments, and his most acclaimed book Thus Spake Zarathustra is a series of poetic visions and rhetorical utterances, part novel, part philosophy, part fantasy. Nietzsche was a classical philologist, whose contributions to the history of the Greek drama, historiography, musical criticism and the history of ideas are not only original but dazzling. He is recognised as one of the greatest masters of the German language, and although some of his writing is sustained and orderly, he is at his most brilliant in the short essay of two or three pages, or even more briefly, in the aphorism. His exaggerations, his irony, his style or method of posing aphorism against aphorism make it difficult to interpret him, while his belief that language not only reveals but conceals gives his work an enigmatic quality which somehow intensifies the intellectual energy which makes such an impression upon the reader. He is sometimes regarded as an existentialist, a nihilist, and as a forerunner of Wittgenstein, Sartre and Camus.
Nietzsche shared with Marx and Freud the conviction that religion as a whole was illusory, and that two of the greatest world religions, Buddhism and Christianity, represented different kinds of world-denial, exhaustion or degeneracy. He was particularly I hostile to the European religious tradition of Christianity and Judaism which he regarded as springing from and sponsoring a certain kind of emotional in-authenticity which was detrimental to the health and vigour not only of European culture but of the human species. Although his sharpest attacks were directed against Christianity, he was critical of all attempts, whether philosophical or religious, to create stable world views and moral systems claiming to represent things as they are, or to be supported by either revelation, reason or nature, asserting that modern European culture must confront courageously and creatively the collapse of all authoritative guidance. Neither the cosmos, the evolution of the species, human history or the individual biography has any meaning. If we are to live life richly and significantly, we must create our own meanings.
If St. Augustine, because of his distinctive kind of autobiographical self-consciousness, may be thought of as the first modern European, Nietzsche may be thought of as the last. Whereas Marx and Freud looked upon religion as something which could be safely disposed of, Nietzsche regarded the death of God and the vacuum in values thus created as a cultural and personal calamity. He was both more sensitive and serious in his understanding I of the role of religious values in people's lives, and more ruthless in his attack upon those values. He was like a doctor treating a patient with a terrible illness by a method which was almost as shocking and hurtful as the disease but which, if the patient could only survive it, would lead to a new life. Freud, of course, turned this insight into an actual technique of therapy but did not enter into the situation itself with such passion.
Nietzsche has an interest to the religious educator which goes beyond his atheism. This lies in his powerful attack upon Christian ethics, particularly his concepts of resentment and bad conscience. Christianity's much vaunted advocacy of the oppressed is little more than an expression of bitterness and envy on the part of those who are too weak to be anything but slaves. "It convinces the outcast and under-privileged of all kinds; it promises blessedness, advantage, privilege to the most insignificant and humble; it fills poor little foolish heads with an insane conceit, as if they were the meaning and salt of the earth." So successful is the slave morality in disguising itself as love that even some of the healthy and well-off are seduced, suffering pangs of guilt which Christianity so subtly induces. The result is a creeping mass of deception which, together with the failure of Christianity to affirm the passions and the instincts, constitutes a threat to personal and social vitality. This is particularly true when Christianity becomes the partner of a conventional morality, laying the dead hand of its life-denying and authoritarian moral demands upon human spontaneity.
Nietzsche distinguished between religious energy which is the product of the shrewdness or cunning of the weak and, on the other hand, that which expresses the sheer joy of being alive, the Gods of the vine and the dance, the ecstatic religion of the power of life itself, beyond codes of good and evil. He reacted sharply against the moralism and intellectualism of his Protestant background, and detested the degrading superstition, as he perceived it, of the more priestly and liturgical branches of the church, but he idealised the sunny Mediterranean lands. He adopted the identity of the Greek God Dionysus, particularly in his later writings, and in this guise opposed himself to the Christ of St. Paul. The myth of the atonement, under the influence of Paul, had become an instrument for the glorification of a weakened and tortured God, offering salvation to those who would submit. Behind the Christ of St. Paul Nietzsche disowned the figure of the original Jesus, who was something else. Christians are to be despised because they fail to do what Jesus did, converting the cost of discipleship into mere words. In Jesus of Nazareth Nietzsche encountered a set of values which he was not able completely to revalue. He consistently exaggerates the liberal passivity of the gentle, peace-making Galilean, and one wonders why he was not able to respond to the energy of the young prophet who cleansed the temple, or the teacher who lashed with his tongue and his deeds the hypocritical conventionality of the religious and moral authorities of his day. If Nietzsche could only have read Goulder on the Song of Solomon he might, perhaps, have been more open to the Bible and its imagery.
It is not until we come to Ernst Bloch that we find such a positive appreciation of the Bible. I have chosen Bloch as my fourth and final atheist because he sums up many of the qualities which make the others interesting to the religious educator.
Although somewhat unorthodox, he remained a Marxist all his life. Like Freud, he believed that the transcendent God-projection was a dangerous and socially regressive illusion. Like Nietzsche he believed that our culture was in a state of crisis, and that human beings are on their own in facing this crisis, but he rejects the aristocratic elitism which was such a central part of Nietzsche's outlook, being passionately committed to the search for justice through a new social and economic order.
Nietzsche despised democracy and socialism, regarding Christianity as their natural ally. Bloch agrees that biblical religion has powerful affinities with social democracy, and he seeks to bring together the symbolism of the Judaeo-Christian heritage and the historical materialism of the Marxist tradition. Bloch shares with his fellow atheists a profound sense of the ambiguity, the enigmatic qualities of religious concepts and images, but he insists upon a dialectical relationship between atheism and Christianity. "Only an atheist can be a good Christian; only a Christian can be a good atheist."
Like Marx and Freud, Bloch was of Jewish origin, and may be compared to Freud in the use he made of the Mosaic tradition. Freud found in the story of Moses and Yahweh an historical development and confirmation of his theories about the prehistorical origins of religion, and also to some extent appropriated the imagery of Moses and the entry into the Promised Land as a background against which to interpret his own self-understanding, as the herald of a new age of liberated men and women. Bloch's appropriation of his Jewish origins was far more penetrating and exciting. Moreover, his contacts with Christian apocalyptic mysticism enabled him to integrate substantial elements of the European spiritual tradition in a remarkable attempt to achieve a cultural, religious and political synthesis. Whereas Nietzsche's appropriation of the European spiritual heritage was largely confined to the religion, literature and art of ancient Greece, which he passionately loved, the encyclopaedic learning (and, it must be added, his very long life) enabled Bloch to create an interpretation of architecture and music, of painting and philosophy, of advertising and of the tourist industry which is quite astonishing in its scope.
Bloch's central thesis is that human life is an expression of a cosmic movement of becoming, the end of which we do not know. Hieroglyphs of hope, anticipations of this future consummation, are to be found in all expressions of the human spirit, and supremely in the liberating and apocalyptic strands of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Spirituality, distorted and crushed so often by the powerful elites who saw only too well what its inner tendency was, remains as unconquerable testimony to human hope and a principal provocation of hopeful action. In its revolutionary spirit of liberation, the exodus story continues to offer a challenge in the name of the God who casts down the mighty from their seats and sends the rich empty away. This God is the one who will be; the one who represents the unknown Utopia of the future.
Marxism needs this vision in order to redeem it from heartless materialism; the spiritual tradition needs the insights of Marxist theory in order to know itself more deeply and to redirect its own energies. Bloch in advancing a critique of religion also proclaims religion as critique.
What Have Marx, Nietzsche, Freud and Bloch to Offer ReligiousEducation?
The description offered by Karl Marx of religion as the super- structure of the capitalist mode of production has undergone a century of criticism and development. The relationship between , the industrial base and the ideological superstructure is generally regarded as being more dynamic and mutual than in the account , offered by Marx himself. It is also clear that given the characteristics of the commodity market today we must add symbolic values to the values of use and exchange which Marx described.
A particularly interesting situation has arisen in Britain in recent years, where the imposition of market procedures upon education has brought about a re-valuation of educational values. Moral and spiritual education emerge as the rhetorical legitimisation of these transformations, with religious education being the principal vehicle and Christianity the preferred content of that rhetoric. The position in the late autumn and winter of 1993-1994 is particularly interesting. The British Prime Minister launches his ‘back to basics’ programme in order to restore traditional values. Cases of ministerial immorality and malpractice proliferate while the country, led by the press, gazes fascinated upon an official polemic which is clearly becoming more strident as its advocates are seen to be human, all too human. It becomes evident that there is an inverse relationship between the moral and religious rhetoric and the actual ethics of the market-driven government which it is intended to protect. Religious education teachers are called upon to instruct children in the difference between right and wrong, supported by the Ten Commandments, to young people who are increasingly shrewd about the difference between words and deeds. The religious education teacher is painfully aware of the double standards which he or she is expected to conceal and to commend at the same time. The social sciences, especially ideology critique and the sociology of money, make a distinctive contribution to the religious education teacher's understanding of this situation, and the Marxian tradition is still central in this.
Nietzsche is important to religious education because he sets the scene which the religious education teacher, together with the teacher of personal, social and moral education whether in a f religious context or not, faces with most secondary students in most countries of Europe today. Students who have come from homes where clear perceptions of religious beliefs and ethical values have been successfully communicated must now reappraise those values and, it may be, appropriate them more intelligently. Most students will not be in that posit-ion. The great majority will have, like most of us adults, a mixed collection of values and prejudices, some rigid and unexamined, others floating in a sea of conscious confusion. Whatever may be said about the position of Nietzsche from a philosophical perspective, it makes psychological and pedagogical sense to adopt what might be called "procedural nihilism." In the conflicts of values in the secondary school, nothing can be taken for granted. Nothing can claim the "credibility of mere authority, and the pupils who are served by a teacher with the wit, wisdom and poetry of a Zarathustra will be fortunate.
Nietzsche’s doctrine of perspectives may be regarded as an anticipation of more recent approaches to epistemology found in the sociology of knowledge and the philosophy of science, where descriptions understood as analogies or models of reality have frequently been used to illustrate the character of religious discourse. In other words, Nietzsche’s perspectivism can be thought of as providing a rationale for the plurality of the approaches to values represented in the modem dialogue between religions and other life stances. True, Nietzsche insisted that they were all false, while the religious and moral education teacher should perhaps take a leaf from Ernst Bloch and offer a little more hope to the student by suggesting that one or more of them may not be entirely false and, in any case, they are commitments which can only be received after examination.
Nietzsche’s own position is vulnerable to philosophical criticism, since if, as he taught, everything is false then this must apply to his own teaching, otherwise he taught something true. Moreover, it is hard to see how all perspectives other than Nietzsche’s own fall prey to perspectivism. Nietzsche's ambivalent attitude towards Socrates as a teacher may be a model for our own ambivalence towards Nietzsche as a teacher. Nietzsche admired the critical enquiry which left nothing untouched; he was appalled at the creation of a metaphysical world of being which stood over and (so he believed) devalued this world of becoming. For our part, we may regard Nietzsche as standing at the point where the received values of former generations are felt by the adolescent as unable to carry the weight of adult commitment. This may be both a developmental crisis and a cultural phenomenon. A religious education teacher who is not sensitive to the individual and the culture in that position needs to ask some searching questions about his or her own fitness to engage with young people today.
If Marx offers insights which illuminate the sociology of religious education teaching, and Nietzsche offers us a paradigm of the teaching procedure in a time of conflicts and losses of values, Freud offers a good deal of curriculum content. Young people in the later years of their secondary schooling should certainly be familiarised with the Freudian critique of religion. The study of religious symbolism, whether in dreams, art or in sacred literature, can hardly proceed without some awareness of psychoanalysis, and some insight into psychoanalytic questions will enable teachers to interpret much of what pupils say in response to religious material. Many young people will be helped to recognise and be empowered by understanding something of their own emotional and religious development, and while the cognitive stage development theory has much to contribute here, theories of emotional development should not be neglected. Of these, that initiated by Sigmund Freud continues to be of great contemporary significance.
The contribution of Ernst Bloch lies partly in the area of what is often called implicit religion. The religious education teacher has much to learn from Bloch about techniques of interpreting the religious significance of a wide range of cultural artefacts. His comments about the difference between dreams and day-dreams, and his witty aside about Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream ("Pharaoh was delighted by Joseph, because Joseph did not see through him, the prophetic interpretation of dreams left the internal affairs of the subject untouched") will enrich the repertoire of any teacher of religion.
Bloch is also important in offering a model of how to handle explicit religious phenomena. Religion is an ambiguous thing and the attitudes of most people towards it are ambivalent. Bloch helps us to understand the character of this two-sided nature of religion. He shows how religion is situated on both sides of the struggle between the rich and the poor and thus invites us to clarify our lifestyle and to decide what interests any religious commitment of our own shall serve.
It is appropriate, after all, to one whose central emphasis and life-long interest was upon human hope, that one of the contributions of Bloch towards religious education should be towards the setting of its goals. Considered theologically, religious education is a branch of practical theology. As such, it possesses all the ambiguity of religion, made sharper by the fact that it is a practical art, a professional skill. All education shares this ambiguous participation in social conflict, but the situation of religious education is compounded, as we saw in our opening remarks, by I inheriting the tradition of the Enlightenment both through its educational side and through its religious side. Religious education will contribute to the age-old dream of the universal will topower, so eloquently expressed by Nietzsche, or it will contribute to the European search for worldwide justice, civil and human rights, and equal opportunities for all. A study of Ernst Bloch will help religious education to confront that choice.
But What of the Atheism?
As a branch of theology, religious education should be regarded as practical theology and, perhaps, as faith in quest of reason. However, religious education is also to be regarded as a discipline and a practical activity within education. Psychology and sociology, history and pedagogy all contribute to its theory and practice. There is an important sense in which the theological critique of religious education, at least insofar as it takes place in state I schools and in other more or less neutral educational institutions, must be through the other disciplines or in a multi-disciplinary context and should not take place without such mediation. The religious education teacher can and should speak of God. But as t teacher he or she is not an evangelist nor a witness to the truth of the faith. The religious education teacher will teach about God from the perspective of cultural anthropology, of God from the perspective of philosophical theology, and before God through empathetic spirituality. This task requires much study, a good deal of training and a lot of experience. It makes demands upon one's wisdom, patience and humour.
The connection between these activities and attributes, and faith in God is certainly not a straightforward one. There is no reason why the body of religious education teachers (I am not referring to the context within the church or mosque) should not exhibit as wide a range of theistic and atheistic convictions as are represented in educated society as a whole, provided that the personal gifts and professional training are also there.
Before we leave them, let us think again of the personal qualities of the atheistic people we have been considering. One cannot read Marx without being profoundly impressed by the remorseless analysis which systematically strips layer after layer from the pretences which cover the inhumanity of people to other people. Take for example the descriptions of the plight of the most poorly paid workers or the agricultural labourers. One thinks of Friedrich Nietzsche in his almost constant sufferings, his solitary life, the failure of most of his books to make any money or achieve any recognition. One remembers his courage through years of disillusionment and the impending sense of loss and death which came to him in the months before his final collapse. One remembers Freud in his constant sufferings, his cancer, fleeing from the Nazis, continuing to write until the end with the same calm lucidity, the same soaring imagination which had marked all his scientific work. One remembers Bloch, always on the margins. He was born on the wrong side of the town, hated by the Nazis because he was a communist, suffering reproach in the United States because he was a Jew as well as a communist, in danger from the regime in the then East Germany because he was not an orthodox Marxist and was too religious, patiently editing his books in the blindness of his old age. All these died without seeing that for which they had struggled.
Of course, we are accustomed to the idea that the religious education teacher in the state school, unlike the faith catechist or the mosque instructor or the Christian nurturer, could regard it as a successful outcome of his or her work if the occasional student became a thoughtful atheist. Indeed, in a religious education as faithful to the Enlightenment tradition as the one I have been describing, it would be surprising and worrying if this did not happen often. The religious education teacher is not there to transmit religious faith.
What would the situation be, however, if instead of the occasional student or a few small groups being attracted to a thoughtful and value-laden atheism, the entire upper school became atheist? Marx and Nietzsche, Freud and Bloch were not only personally atheists; they predicted and worked for futures in which religion would inevitably decay with the appearance of socialism (Marx), or with the arrival of the superior human being (Nietzsche), or with the greater maturity of the culture (Freud), or would be transcended and eclipsed by the great light which will some day dawn (Bloch).
Will the religious education teacher in the Europe of the twenty-first or twenty-second centuries be little more than an antiquarian, as if the school at the present time had on its curriculum the study of the religions of ancient Egypt? Such a study might remain a significant branch of the humanities, as is Egyptology today, but would hardly be a relevant contribution to the moral and spiritual development of every pupil, as religious education hopes to be and is expected to be today.
In the New Jerusalem there is no temple, since the Utopia will no longer require explicit religion, and Jeremiah anticipated an eschatological liquidation of the religious education profession when he said "and no longer shall everyone teach his neighbour ... saying ‘Know the Lord’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord." Perhaps for all we know, whether theist or atheist, everything up until now may be but the prehistory of religion, which may take forms glimpsed only faintly by both atheist prophets and religious mystics. By way of some slight analogy, perhaps far-sighted and over-conscientious members of the legal professions might wonder what will become of them some day if society should ever become wholly law abiding, and the police might have similar worries. Maybe doctors and nurses might worry about the future of their profession should the battle against disease ever be won. Jesus said "take no thought for the morrow" but Nietzsche said that Jesus would have changed his mind had he not died so young.
As we have seen there are many and varied types of atheism. The atheists we have been considering were not worried about the alleged failure of the arguments for the existence of God. , Perhaps, writing in the aftermath of Hume and Kant, they considered that to be a closed question and could concentrate upon the creation of a new world. Perhaps British atheists, often in the empirical tradition of positivistic science, have something to learn from the German atheists we have been considering. The atheism of the social sciences is both more penetrating and more value la- den than the atheism of the natural sciences or of Anglo-Saxon philosophy. Beyond the atheism of negation rises the atheism of hope. Atheism has its own connections with the ethic of love, but I atheists give the ethic of love as many meanings as the different forms which their rejection of God takes. These visions of transformed human relationships in the context of a critique of religion have an essential contribution to make to the religious education task in Europe today. Religious education seems to offer one of the most enterprising areas in which there can be fruitful cooperation between teachers whose vision of the future is inspired by faith in God and those who believe that faith in God will fade away.