God talk (with no apologies)

A few months ago I chanced upon a web site of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and learned of a program they ran called “Face to Faith.” The program, designed for children and teenagers, aims to promote religious literacy and tolerance–certainly, a worthwhile and timely goal in our post-9/11 world.

But it’s their strategy that’s brilliant:  Instead of experts lecturing about the what and how, it’s the students themselves, thanks to information technology, who engage in virtual face-to-face conversations.  It is from their peers that they learn about religious traditions and cultures based on one another’s first-hand experiences.  


It was exactly what I was looking for at the time!   First of all, we were in the process of designing a religious education curriculum for our IB students, having just launched Xavier School’s Diploma Program for the first time.  Secondly, I had long suspected that our usual religious education program, with its traditional objective of indoctrinating students into the Catholic faith, needed some rethinking, if not overhauling.   It just doesn’t work anymore!

I don’t mean we should stop teaching our students about the faith; the way we teach just doesn’t seem to do the job anymore.  In a couple of recent workshops, I spoke with educators, and all of us just about threw up our hands in collective exasperation at how inadequate our strategies in religious education had become today, strategies that used to work so well for earlier generations.

Ian Jamison and Simmi Kher

So imagine my surprise and disappointment when I learned that the Face to Faith program hadn’t yet been launched in the Philippines.   It was present in at least a dozen other countries, including Singapore and Indonesia, but not here!   I decided to send the Tony Blair Faith Foundation a quick email inquiring about their interest in introducing the program here, and before I knew it, they responded, and after a few calls, a couple of months later, they came visiting.  This afternoon their Ian Jamison and Simmi Kher met with 76 school representatives at the EDSA Shangri-la to present their program.

A couple of things struck me:

First, Tony Blair’s central insight that faith is an important ingredient, an ingredient that people have ignored, dismissed, or tiptoed around in the name of political correctness or plain secularist bigotry.  Religion is, after all, an important part of our identity and culture.  No need to apologize for talking about it!

And secondly, global citizenship doesn’t mean requiring everyone in the world to be the same.  Rather, people ought to recognize and celebrate one another’s diversities and may disagree with one another in an acceptable and respectful manner.

The people who attended the meeting seemed genuinely enthusiastic; a number, in fact, already wanted to sign up.  I’m not sure where this whole thing will go; Ian and Simmi seem determined to come back to begin training teachers of interested schools.  Their dream is one that resonates with many of us:

Young people of different cultures and faiths learning with, from, and about one another.

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