The Drum’s Dominic Knight writes:
With compulsory ethics classes, some religious topics could still be covered in the classroom, and the learning process would benefit enormously from all the kids studying together. Those who believed could share their perspectives, which might inspire others to find out more about their religions. Wouldn’t that be a better preparation for living in a society where not everybody shares the same beliefs, and yet we have to work through complex moral issues together in order to co-exist harmoniously?
In my experience of life with religious zealots, hypocrisy is a pit that they often fall into. It is very difficult to live life on earth as a saint, the Blessed Virgin or Christ himself did. These are role models very few of us mere mortals can emulate. Yet Christian teachings urge us to do so.
I know as a small child, being told to love Jesus more than my father, really made me feel like a sinner, because try as I might, I just couldn’t do it. No matter which way you look at it, a pastor is a pastor. He has been trained to preach and guide people in Godliness. That is his job!
That’s why I agree wholeheartedly with Dominic Knight’s statement above. If we wish to have a truly democratic, multicultural society, then we need to encompass and tolerate all religious beliefs. However, secular schools are not the place for religious instruction. Christians and muslims can promote their particular beliefs in their respective churches and mosques. I don’t think religious specific schools are a good idea either, because those children who attend never have the chance to mix with other children; Muslim, Christian or atheist, and so form biased opinions of them. This only serves to perpetuate prejudice and stereotype.
Elaborate and grandiose buildings were designed to display the wealth, power and domination of a particular religion. Religion is not just about faith and charity, it’s also about politics and controlling the masses. It is obvious that still today, there is competition between Christianity and Islam. Each see a threat to their numbers worldwide. Muslims especially are brutally opposed to their own congregations converting to other religions. Death is often the end result. That’s how serious it is. These days, Christians do not suffer the same fate if they choose to become atheists or believe in another God. But history reveals that in the past the Holy Office of the Inquisition could be just as brutal to those who strayed from “the only true faith”.
I hope that most NSW residents would agree that Reverend Fred Nile is not the best person to decide ‘objectively’ whether ethics or religion should be part of the state school curriculum. He claims that Jesus is “history’s greatest teacher of ethics”, but I dispute that. Jesus belonged to a break-away political, more liberal group, which disputed the religious teachings of strict Judaism at that time. In other words, he had another agenda behind his preaching and good works. And anyway, Fred Nile is not a man with a track record of loving his neighbours if they happen to be gay or Muslim. He is narrow minded and has not progressed with the times.
Parents must, and should have, the right to decide whether their children are taught religion in schools. Parents and their children have a wealth of information at their fingertips today and are generally very well informed. It is not as easy to force religious views onto them as it once was. Most parents I know are happy to let their children make their own decisions about what or who they believe in. Especially now that there are many and varied faiths existing in Australia, why should Christianity be singled out as the only religion to be taught in state schools.
Reverend Nile has proposed an ethics repeal bill.. He’s arguing for the cancellation of Ethics classes in NSW schools by claiming that they have been shown to bring about Nazism and, simultaneously, communism. The alarming thing is he seems to have the approval of the Premier, Barry O’Farrell. It seems like the NSW government is going backwards in time. Even the Anglican Church admits that it has lost half of its religious instruction classes since Ethics became a subject of choice in schools. Apart from anything else, Ethics is so much more interesting. You can talk about the great philosophers and sociologists who actually existed and left scripts that they wrote themselves, rather than someone else writing them hundreds of years later as in the case of Christianity’s Jesus.
Pastors and chaplains are not formerly trained teachers, whereas Ethics teachers have to be. Those children who currently do not want to attend religious instruction, (ridiculous interruptions in my sons’ school) have to sit idling in the corridor or school yard, unable to take in any other classes lest the religiously motivated are left behind. What a ludicrous situation in 2011! The government is paying millions to ministries to hold these classes while state school principals are having to hold fetes and ask for parental contributions towards all manner of things the government should be paying for.
The Australian constitution mandates separation of church and state, so why is the government hell-bent (excuse the pun) on employing groups like Access Ministries at great cost to instruct such small numbers of interested pupils. It doesn’t make any sense. One has to wonder what power is exerting so much pressure on the government to act outside the mandate of the constitution. Is the Extreme Right so powerful in Australia? The other worrying aspect is: What happens when taxpayers of other religious affiliations demand that their children be granted the same rights as Christian children in the classroom? If the government doesn’t comply could that be considered discrimination against other faiths?
People with no formal educational training have no place in our public schools. They take up precious time in our classrooms indoctrinating children in religious dogma which is at best outdated and losing credibility amidst the general population. If parents want their children to receive instruction in their own faith and culture, then they can organise this in their homes or at their various places of worship. Dominic Knight talks sense, when he says that public schools are a good place for children to learn and mix with others of different faiths. At the very least it will promote tolerance and understanding of each others’ different cultures and beliefs. Children will learn that really, when all is said and done, most children have similar aspirations and needs.
Perhaps some of the myths, stereotypes and prejudices they have learned at home will be dispelled by the friendships they form at multicultural public schools undivided by religion.
For more, see previous posts on religion in schools: