Statement by George Courtauld, author of 'The Pocket Book of What, When and Who on Earth.'
A few years ago I was horrified to discover how very little most British children knew about their own country’s history. So shocked was I that I put together a simple timeline that became the surprise international bestseller of 2004, "The Pocket Book of Patriotism."
It was the realization that our children were being deliberately deprived of their own history; their birthright, their heritage, their very identity; and in some cases being actively encouraged to regard it with contempt, that sparked my initial outrage. That something so essential and precious was being lost was bad enough, but that it was being ridiculed and corrupted was intolerable. I felt impelled to do something, however lame.
Having been rejected by every publisher I approached with our timeline my wife and I decided to run off a few copies as a book ourselves -- and sold 140,000 copies in three weeks. It was similar feelings that prompted me to compile the "Pocket Book of What, When and Who on Earth" last year: To outline some of the Christian words, traditions and customs for the millions of English speakers around the world who have no knowledge at all of the laws, beliefs and rhythms on which centuries of civilization have been built.
There is no question that Britain is becoming a more secular society; that the establishment, many politicians and much of the media either dismiss all religions as equally nonsensical, embarrassing and irrelevant, or kowtow to the fundamentalist or fanatical few in an attempt shut them up for a while so they can pretend they are not really there. In modern Britain and much of Europe now the religious are regarded as insane or silly.
Christians in Britain have been remarkably acquiescent in the face of this institutionalised denigration. The voice of the Church, the involvement of the Church, in our every day lives, in our schools, hospitals, councils and boardrooms, has been gradually but emphatically diminishing over recent decades. It is no longer uncommon for educated adult English people to be entirely ignorant of the religion by which their grandparents and parents often lead their lives, that marked every right of passage, triumph and disaster, and on which so much of our national character is based. Whole layers of understanding are being lost to us, whole avenues of culture, tradition and history.
The leader of a famous adult choir told me recently that it is not uncommon for new recruits to have no idea what a psalm is. A hospital chaplain said that many of the ministers to nowadays have never heard of Heaven. A Scripture teacher explained the brown paper cover on his book by the fact that none of his charges would sit near him on the bus or train on school trips if he were seen to be reading the Bible.
As a simple layman’s guide to the calendar, the customs and the culture, the history the words and the beliefs that still saturate our lives I hope this book will be read by adults and children, Christians and non-Christians alike. An understanding of the religion whose symbol remains emblazoned across so many national flags, that remains the bedrock of so much national and international law and inspired so many heroes and champions down the ages is surely essential to an understanding of our past, present and future.