“The retreat of God from education has left a moral and spiritual vacuum and the breakdown of any shared value system.” Tim Hastie-Smith, Chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference said yesterday.

As a fairly liberal, fairly lapsed, British Anglican, preparing to settle down in America’s Bible Belt I can see both sides of the coin. The hole left in the individual by our national secularism isn’t satisfactorily filled by our blossoming individualism, since it lacks any unifying moral and philosophical content. To rework an old phrase, there is a God shaped hole in the heart of Britain, and for many secularism, individualism and rationalism cannot fill it, no matter how fanatical the incarnation.

Americans in the southern states are often conservative, they live more comfortably under authority than the British, and are more readily accepting of dogma, which despite being heavy on faith and light on fact, provides them with a personal spiritual bulwark and unites their communities. American schools have a thing called ‘school spirit’, an anathema to cynical Brits where there could be no more assured social suicide than cheerleading for you school, or for any other authoritative institution.

In Britain we often look down our noses at the Individualistic Americans, but we are, in many cases, more individualist than they are, since they at least have God. As a nation we struggle and chafe against anything bigger than ourselves: we have stripped ourselves of religion; of any useful expression of national pride; we routinely besmirch our fine institutions and national heroes; and gradually let our social idealism turn to greed.