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Christianity

God Hitchens

A must read for anyone interested in the background of the three monotheistic religions spawned in the Middle East:

Judaism, Christianity and Islam

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Are USA, Australia, Secularist or Theocratic Countries?

Although the following discussion refers to USA, it could easily refer to

LNP far right conservative  government of Australia in 2016: 

The Catholic Church, Jesus, Religion in State Schools, Nazi alliance with the Vatican, Islam, Jihad, Christianity

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dawkins_hitchens in conversation photo Newstatesman

Richard Dawkin’s last interview with Christopher Hitchens in 2011 (photo; New Statesman)

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“Never be afraid of stridency”:

Richard Dawkins’ interview with Christopher Hitchens

Is America heading for theocracy?

How worrying is the rise of the Tea Party?

Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins discuss God and US politics.

Transcribed by Richard Dawkins

RD As an Orwell scholar, you must have a particular view of North Korea, Stalin, the Soviet Union, and you must get irritated – perhaps even more than I do – by the constant refrain we hear: “Stalin was an atheist.”

CH We don’t know for sure that he was. Hitler definitely wasn’t. There is a possibility that Himmler was. It’s very unlikely but it wouldn’t make any difference, either way. There’s no mandate in atheism for any particular kind of politics, anyway.

RD The people who did Hitler’s dirty work were almost all religious.

CH I’m afraid the SS’s relationship with the Catholic Church is something the Church still has to deal with and does not deny.

RD Can you talk a bit about that – the relationship of Nazism with the Catholic Church?

CH The way I put it is this: if you’re writing about the history of the 1930s and the rise of totalitarianism, you can take out the word “fascist”, if you want, for Italy, Portugal, Spain, Czechoslovakia and Austria and replace it with “extreme right Catholic party”. Almost all of those regimes were in place with the help of the Vatican and with understandings from the Holy See. It’s not denied. These understandings quite often persisted after the Second World War was over and extended to comparable regimes in Argentina and elsewhere.

RD But there were individual priests who did good things.

CH Not very many. You would know their names if there were more of them. When it comes to National Socialism, there’s no question there’s a mutation, a big one – the Nazis wanted their own form of worship. Just as they thought they were a separate race, they wanted their own religion. They dug out the Norse gods, all kinds of extraordinary myths and legends from the old sagas. They wanted to control the churches. They were willing to make a deal with them. The first deal Hitler made with the Catholic Church was the Konkordat. The Church agreed to dissolve its political party and he got control over German education, which was a pretty good deal. Celebrations of his birthday were actually by order from the pulpit. When Hitler survived an assassination attempt, prayers were said, and so forth. But there’s no doubt about it, [the Nazis] wanted control – and they were willing to clash with the churches to get it. There’s another example. You swore on Almighty God that you would never break your oath to the Führer. This is not even secular, let alone atheist.

RD There was also grace before meals, personally thanking Adolf Hitler.

CH I believe there was. Certainly, you can hear the oath being taken – there are recordings of it – but this, Richard, is a red herring. It’s not even secular. They’re changing the subject.

RD But it comes up over and over again.

CH You mentioned North Korea. It is, in every sense, a theocratic state. It’s almost supernatural, in that the births of the [ruling] Kim family are considered to be mysterious and accompanied by happenings. It’s a necrocracy or mausolocracy, but there’s no possible way you could say it’s a secular state, let alone an atheist one.

Attempts to found new religions should attract our scorn just as much as the alliances with the old ones do. All they’re saying is that you can’t claim Hitler was distinctively or specifically Christian: “Maybe if he had gone on much longer, he would have de-Christianised a bit more.” This is all a complete fog of nonsense. It’s bad history and it’s bad propaganda.

RD And bad logic, because there’s no connection between atheism and doing horrible things, whereas there easily can be a connection in the case of religion, as we see with modern Islam.

CH To the extent that they are new religions – Stalin worship and Kim Il-sungism – we, like all atheists, regard them with horror.

RD You debated with Tony Blair. I’m not sure I watched that. I love listening to you [but] I can’t bear listening to . . . Well, I mustn’t say that. I think he did come over as rather nice on that evening.

CH He was charming, that evening. And during the day, as well.

RD What was your impression of him?

CH You can only have one aim per debate. I had two in debating with Tony Blair. The first one was to get him to admit that it was not done – the stuff we complain of – in only the name of religion. That’s a cop-out. The authority is in the text. Second, I wanted to get him to admit, if possible, that giving money to a charity or organising a charity does not vindicate a cause. I got him to the first one and I admired his honesty. He was asked by the interlocutor at about half-time: “Which of Christopher’s points strikes you as the best?” He said: “I have to admit, he’s made his case, he’s right. This stuff, there is authority for it in the canonical texts, in Islam, Judaism.” At that point, I’m ready to fold – I’ve done what I want for the evening. We did debate whether Catholic charities and so on were a good thing and I said: “They are but they don’t prove any point and some of them are only making up for damage done.” For example, the Church had better spend a lot of money doing repair work on its Aids policy in Africa, [to make up for preaching] that condoms don’t prevent disease or, in some cases, that they spread it. It is iniquitous. It has led to a lot of people dying, horribly. Also, I’ve never looked at some of the ground operations of these charities – apart from Mother Teresa – but they do involve a lot of proselytising, a lot of propaganda. They’re not just giving out free stuff. They’re doing work to recruit.

RD And Mother Teresa was one of the worst offenders?

CH She preached that poverty was a gift from God. And she believed that women should not be given control over the reproductive cycle. Mother Teresa spent her whole life making sure that the one cure for poverty we know is sound was not implemented. So Tony Blair knows this but he doesn’t have an answer. If I say, “Your Church preaches against the one cure for poverty,” he doesn’t deny it, but he doesn’t affirm it either. But remember, I did start with a text and I asked him to comment on it first, but he never did. Cardinal Newman said he would rather the whole world and everyone in it be painfully destroyed and condemned for ever to eternal torture than one sinner go unrebuked for the stealing of a sixpence. It’s right there in the centre of the Apologia. The man whose canonisation Tony had been campaigning for. You put these discrepancies in front of him and he’s like all the others. He keeps two sets of books. And this is also, even in an honest person, shady.

RD It’s like two minds, really. One notices this with some scientists.

CH I think we all do it a bit.

RD Do we?

CH We’re all great self-persuaders.

RD But do we hold such extreme contradictions in our heads?

CH We like to think our colleagues would point them out, in our group, anyway. No one’s pointed out to me in reviewing my God book God Is Not Great that there’s a flat discrepancy between the affirmation he makes on page X and the affirmation he makes on page Y.

RD But they do accuse you of being a contrarian, which you’ve called yourself

CH Well, no, I haven’t. I’ve disowned it. I was asked to address the idea of it and I began by saying it’s got grave shortcomings as an idea, but I am a bit saddled with it.

RD I’ve always been very suspicious of the left/right dimension in politics.

CH Yes; it’s broken down with me.

RD It’s astonishing how much traction the left/right continuum [has] . . . If you know what someone thinks about the death penalty or abortion, then you generally know what they think about everything else. But you clearly break that rule.

CH I have one consistency, which is [being] against the totalitarian – on the left and on the right. The totalitarian, to me, is the enemy – the one that’s absolute, the one that wants control over the inside of your head, not just your actions and your taxes. And the origins of that are theocratic, obviously. The beginning of that is the idea that there is a supreme leader, or infallible pope, or a chief rabbi, or whatever, who can ventriloquise the divine and tell us what to do. That has secular forms with gurus and dictators, of course, but it’s essentially the same. There have been some thinkers – Orwell is pre-eminent – who understood that, unfortunately, there is innate in humans a strong tendency to worship, to become abject. So we’re not just fighting the dictators. We’re criticising our fellow humans for trying to short-cut, to make their lives simpler, by surrendering and saying, “[If] you offer me bliss, of course I’m going to give up some of my mental freedom for that.” We say it’s a false bargain: you’ll get nothing. You’re a fool.

RD That part of you that was, or is, of the radical left is always against the totalitarian dictators.

CH Yes. I was a member of the Trotskyist group – for us, the socialist movement could only be revived if it was purged of Stalinism . . . It’s very much a point for our view that Stalinism was a theocracy.

RD One of my main beefs with religion is the way they label children as a “Catholic child” or a “Muslim child”. I’ve become a bit of a bore about it.

CH You must never be afraid of that charge, any more than stridency.

RD I will remember that.

CH If I was strident, it doesn’t matter – I was a jobbing hack, I bang my drum. You have a discipline in which you are very distinguished. You’ve educated a lot of people; nobody denies that, not even your worst enemies. You see your discipline being attacked and defamed and attempts made to drive it out.

Stridency is the least you should muster . . . It’s the shame of your colleagues that they don’t form ranks and say, “Listen, we’re going to defend our colleagues from these appalling and obfuscating elements.” If you go on about something, the worst thing the English will say about you, as we both know – as we can say of them, by the way – is that they’re boring.

RD Indeed. Only this morning, I was sent a copy of [advice from] a British government website, called something like “The Responsibilities of Parents”. One of these responsibilities was “determine the child’s religion”. Literally, determine. It means establish, cause . . . I couldn’t ask for a clearer illustration, because, sometimes, when I make my complaint about this, I’m told nobody actually does label children Catholic children or Muslim children.

CH Well, the government does. It’s borrowed, as far as I can see, in part from British imperial policy, in turn borrowed from Ottoman and previous empires – you classify your new subjects according to their faith. You can be an Ottoman citizen but you’re a Jewish one or an Armenian Christian one. And some of these faiths tell their children that the children of other faiths are going to hell. I think we can’t ban that, nor can we call it “hate speech”, which I’m dubious about anyway, but there should be a wrinkle of disapproval.

RD I would call it mental child abuse.

CH I can’t find a way, as a libertarian, of saying that people can’t raise their children, as they say, according to their rights. But the child has rights and society does, too. We don’t allow female – and I don’t think we should countenance male – genital mutilation. Now, it would be very hard to say that you can’t tell your child that they are lucky and they have joined the one true faith. I don’t see how you stop it. I only think the rest of society should look at it with a bit of disapproval, which it doesn’t. If you’re a Mormon and you run for office and say, “Do you believe in the golden plates that were dug up by Joseph Smith?” – which [Mitt] Romney hasn’t been asked yet – sorry, you’re going to get mocked. You’re going to get laughed at.

RD There is a tendency among liberals to feel that religion should be off the table.

CH Or even that there’s anti-religious racism, which I think is a terrible limitation.

RD Romney has questions to answer.

CH Certainly, he does. The question of Mormon racism did come up, to be fair, and the Church did very belatedly make amends for saying what, in effect, it had been saying: that black people’s souls weren’t human, quite. They timed it suspiciously for the passage of legislation. Well, OK, then they grant the right of society to amend [the legislation]. To that extent, they’re opportunists.

RD But what about the daftness of Mormonism? The fact that Joseph Smith was clearly a charlatan –

CH I know, it’s extraordinary.

RD I think there is a convention in America that you don’t tackle somebody about their religion.

CH Yes, and in a way it’s attributed to pluralism. And so, to that extent, one wants to respect it, but I think it can be exploited. By many people, including splinter-group Mormons who still do things like plural marriage and, very repulsively, compulsory dowries – they basically give away their daughters, often to blood relatives. And also kinship marriages that are too close. This actually won’t quite do. When it is important, they tend to take refuge in: “You’re attacking my fundamental right.” I don’t think they really should be allowed that.

RD Do you think America is in danger of becoming a theocracy?

CH No, I don’t. The people who we mean when we talk about that – maybe the extreme Protestant evangelicals, who do want a God-run America and believe it was founded on essentially fundamentalist Protestant principles – I think they may be the most overrated threat in the country.

RD Oh, good.

CH They’ve been defeated everywhere. Why is this? In the 1920s, they had a string of victories. They banned the sale, manufacture and distribution and consumption of alcohol. They made it the constitution. They more or less managed to ban immigration from countries that had non-Protestant, non-white majorities. From these victories, they have never recovered. They’ll never recover from [the failure of] Prohibition. It was their biggest defeat. They’ll never recover from the Scopes trial. Every time they’ve tried [to introduce the teaching of creationism], the local school board or the parents or the courts have thrown it out and it’s usually because of the work of people like you, who have shown that it’s nonsense. They try to make a free speech question out of it but they will fail with that, also. People don’t want to come from the town or the state or the county that gets laughed at.

RD Yes.

CH In all my tours around the South, it’s amazing how many people – Christians as well – want to disprove the idea that they’re all in thrall to people like [the fundamentalist preacher Jerry] Falwell. They don’t want to be a laughing stock.

RD Yes.

CH And if they passed an ordinance saying there will be prayer in school every morning from now on, one of two things would happen: it would be overthrown in no time by all the courts, with barrels of laughter heaped over it, or people would say: “Very well, we’re starting with Hindu prayer on Monday.” They would regret it so bitterly that there are days when I wish they would have their own way for a short time.

RD Oh, that’s very cheering.

CH I’m a bit more worried about the extreme, reactionary nature of the papacy now. But that again doesn’t seem to command very big allegiance among the American congregation. They are disobedient on contraception, flagrantly; on divorce; on gay marriage, to an extraordinary degree that I wouldn’t have predicted; and they’re only holding firm on abortion, which, in my opinion, is actually a very strong moral question and shouldn’t be decided lightly. I feel very squeamish about it. I believe that the unborn child is a real concept, in other words. We needn’t go there, but I’m not a complete abortion-on-demand fanatic. I think it requires a bit of reflection. But anyway, even on that, the Catholic Communion is very agonised. And also, [when] you go and debate with them, very few of them could tell you very much about what the catechism really is. It’s increasingly cultural Catholicism.

RD That is true, of course.

CH So, really, the only threat from religious force in America is the same as it is, I’m afraid, in many other countries – from outside. And it’s jihadism, some of it home-grown, but some of that is so weak and so self-discrediting.

RD It’s more of a problem in Britain.

CH And many other European countries, where its alleged root causes are being allowed slightly too friendly an interrogation, I think. Make that much too friendly.

RD Some of our friends are so worried about Islam that they’re prepared to lend support to Christianity as a kind of bulwark against it.

CH I know many Muslims who, in leaving the faith, have opted to go . . . to Christianity or via it to non-belief. Some of them say it’s the personality of Jesus of Nazareth. The mild and meek one, as compared to the rather farouche, physical, martial, rather greedy . . .

RD Warlord.

CH . . . Muhammad. I can see that that might have an effect.

RD Do you ever worry that if we win and, so to speak, destroy Christianity, that vacuum would be filled by Islam?

CH No, in a funny way, I don’t worry that we’ll win. All that we can do is make absolutely sure that people know there’s a much more wonderful and interesting and beautiful alternative. No, I don’t think that Europe would fill up with Muslims as it emptied of Christians. Christianity has defeated itself in that it has become a cultural thing. There really aren’t believing Christians in the way there were generations ago.

RD Certainly in Europe that’s true – but in America?

CH There are revivals, of course, and among Jews as well. But I think there’s a very long running tendency in the developed world and in large areas elsewhere for people to see the virtue of secularism, the separation of church and state, because they’ve tried the alternatives . . . Every time something like a jihad or a sharia movement has taken over any country – admittedly they’ve only been able to do it in very primitive cases – it’s a smouldering wreck with no productivity.

RD Total failure. If you look at religiosity across countries of the world and, indeed, across the states of the US, you find that religiosity tends to correlate with poverty and with various other indices of social deprivation.

CH Yes. That’s also what it feeds on. But I don’t want to condescend about that. I know a lot of very educated, very prosperous, very thoughtful people who believe.

RD Do you think [Thomas] Jefferson and [James] Madison were deists, as is often said?

CH I think they fluctuated, one by one. Jefferson is the one I’m more happy to pronounce on. The furthest he would go in public was to incline to a theistic enlightened view but, in his private correspondence, he goes much further. He says he wishes we could return to the wisdom of more than 2,000 years ago. That’s in his discussion of his own Jefferson Bible, where he cuts out everything supernatural relating to Jesus. But also, very importantly, he says to his nephew Peter Carr in a private letter [on the subject of belief]: “Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it ends in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise and the love of others which it will procure you.” Now, that can only be written by someone who’s had that experience.

RD It’s very good, isn’t it?

CH In my judgement, it’s an internal reading, but I think it’s a close one. There was certainly no priest at his bedside. But he did violate a rule of C S Lewis’s and here I’m on Lewis’s side. Lewis says it is a cop-out to say Jesus was a great moralist. He said it’s the one thing we must not say; it is a wicked thing to say. If he wasn’t the Son of God, he was a very evil impostor and his teachings were vain and fraudulent. You may not take the easy route here and say: “He may not have been the Son of God and he may not have been the Redeemer, but he was a wonderful moralist.” Lewis is more honest than Jefferson in this point. I admire Lewis for saying that. Rick Perry said it the other day.

RD Jesus could just have been mistaken.

CH He could. It’s not unknown for people to have the illusion that they’re God or the Son. It’s a common delusion but, again, I don’t think we need to condescend. Rick Perry once said: “Not only do I believe that Jesus is my personal saviour but I believe that those who don’t are going to eternal punishment.” He was challenged at least on the last bit and he said, “I don’t have the right to alter the doctrine. I can’t say it’s fine for me and not for others.”

RD So we ought to be on the side of these fundamentalists?

CH Not “on the side”, but I think we should say that there’s something about their honesty that we wish we could find.

RD Which we don’t get in bishops . . .

CH Our soft-centred bishops at Oxford and other people, yes.

RD I’m often asked why it is that this republic [of America], founded in secularism, is so much more religious than those western European countries that have an official state religion, like Scandinavia and Britain.

CH [Alexis] de Tocqueville has it exactly right. If you want a church in America, you have to build it by the sweat of your own brow and many have. That’s why they’re attached to them.

RD Yes.

CH [Look at] the Greek Orthodox community in Brooklyn. What’s the first thing it will do? It will build itself a little shrine. The Jews – not all of them – remarkably abandoned their religion very soon after arriving from the shtetl.

RD Are you saying that most Jews have abandoned their religion?

CH Increasingly in America. When you came to escape religious persecution and you didn’t want to replicate it, that’s a strong memory. The Jews very quickly secularised when they came. American Jews must be the most secular force on the planet now, as a collective. If they are a collective –which they’re not, really.

RD While not being religious, they often still observe the Sabbath and that kind of thing.

CH There’s got to be something cultural. I go to Passover every year. Sometimes, even I have a seder, because I want my child to know that she does come very distantly from another tradition. It would explain if she met her great grandfather why he spoke Yiddish. It’s cultural, but the Passover seder is also the Socratic forum. It’s dialectical. It’s accompanied by wine. It’s got the bones of quite a good discussion in it. And then there is manifest destiny. People feel America is just so lucky. It’s between two oceans, filled with minerals, wealth, beauty. It does seem providential to many people.

RD Promised land, city on a hill.

CH All that and the desire for another Eden. Some secular utopians came here with the same idea. Thomas Paine and others all thought of America as a great new start for the species.

RD But that was all secular.

CH A lot of it was, but you can’t get away from the liturgy: it’s too powerful. You will end up saying things like “promised land” and it can be mobilised for sinister purposes. But in a lot of cases, it’s a mild belief. It’s just: “We should share our good luck.”

RD I’ve heard another theory that, America being a country of immigrants, people coming from Europe, where they left their extended family and left their support system, were alone and they needed something.

CH Surely that was contained in what I just . . .

RD Maybe it was.

CH The reason why most of my friends are non-believers is not particularly that they were engaged in the arguments you and I have been having, but they were made indifferent by compulsory religion at school.

RD They got bored by it.

CH They’d had enough of it. They took from it occasionally whatever they needed – if you needed to get married, you knew where to go. Some of them, of course, are religious and some of them like the music but, generally speaking, the British people are benignly indifferent to religion.

RD And the fact that there is an established church increases that effect. Churches should not be tax-free the way that they are. Not automatically, anyway.

CH No, certainly not. If the Church has demanded that equal time be given to creationist or pseudo-creationist speculations . . . any Church that teaches that in its school and is in receipt of federal money from the faith-based initiative must, by law, also teach Darwinism and alternative teachings, in order that the debate is being taught. I don’t think they want this.

RD No.

CH Tell them if they want equal time, we’ll jolly well have it. That’s why they’ve always been against comparative religion.

RD Comparative religion would be one of the best weapons, I suspect.

CH It’s got so insipid in parts of America now that a lot of children are brought up – as their parents aren’t doing it and leave it to the schools and the schools are afraid of it – with no knowledge of any religion of any kind. I would like children to know what religion is about because [otherwise] some guru or cult or revivalists will sweep them up.

RD They’re vulnerable. I also would like them to know the Bible for literary reasons.

CH Precisely. We both, I was pleased to see, have written pieces about the King James Bible. The AV [Authorised Version], as it was called in my boyhood. A huge amount of English literature would be opaque if people didn’t know it.

RD Absolutely, yes. Have you read some of the modern translations? “Futile, said the preacher. Utterly futile.”

CH He doesn’t!

RD He does, honestly. “Futile, futile said the priest. It’s all futile.”

CH That’s Lamentations.

RD No, it’s Ecclesiastes. “Vanity, vanity.”

CH “Vanity, vanity.” Good God. That’s the least religious book in the Bible. That’s the one that Orwell wanted at his funeral.

RD I bet he did. I sometimes think the poetry comes from the intriguing obscurity of mistranslation. “When the sound of the grinding is low, the grasshopper is heard in the land . . . The grasshopper shall be a burden.” What the hell?

CH The Book of Job is the other great non-religious one, I always feel. “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” Try to do without that. No, I’m glad we’re on the same page there. People tell me that the recitation of the Quran can have the same effect if you understand the original language. I wish I did. Some of the Catholic liturgy is attractive.

RD I don’t know enough Latin to judge that.

CH Sometimes one has just enough to be irritated.

RD Yes [laughs]. Can you say anything about Christmas?

CH Yes. There was going to be a winter solstice holiday for sure. The dominant religion was going to take it over and that would have happened without Dickens and without others.

RD The Christmas tree comes from Prince Albert; the shepherds and the wise men are all made up.

CH Cyrenius wasn’t governor of Syria, all of that. Increasingly, it’s secularised itself. This “Happy Holidays” – I don’t particularly like that, either.

RD Horrible, isn’t it? “Happy holiday season.”

CH I prefer our stuff about the cosmos.

***

The day after this interview, I was honoured to present an award to Christopher Hitchens in the presence of a large audience in Texas that gave him a standing ovation, first as he entered the hall and again at the end of his deeply moving speech. My own presentation speech ended with a tribute, in which I said that every day he demonstrates the falsehood of the lie that there are no atheists in foxholes: “Hitch is in a foxhole, and he is dealing with it with a courage, an honesty and a dignity that any of us would be, and should be, proud to muster.” – Richard Dawkins

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The 2011 Christmas issue of the New Statesman was guest edited by Richard Dawkins. 

It was to be Christopher Hitchens’ final interview; he died as it was published.

Christopher Hitchens was  a former journalist at the New Statesman

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-Anne Frandi-Coory  3 September 2015

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Updated 7 February 2014

The TAbbott govt gained power in the September 2013 election.

Since then Australia has been in the grip of the extreme right wing LNP party.

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?

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Reverend Fred Nile

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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.

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The Duomo Florence

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Koutoubiya mosque in Morocco

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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 (now renamed Congregation Of The Doctrine Of Faith) 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 properly 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 the 21st Century!  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 reading on this subject, see links below:

Access Ministries Gain Access to children’s Minds
Religion vs Ethics in Schools
God in the Classroom?
Need Religious Schools?

God Is Not GREAT!

Catholic Convent School run by Mercy Sisters in the 1950s   Photo: ©Anne Frandi-Coory

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Love them or hate them, state schools at least spread literacy quickly throughout the Western world.  The Roman Catholic Church can also take much credit for their educational infrastructures which enabled schools to be established quickly within communities around the world.  Convents and seminaries created ready-made teachers at an economical and speedy rate.  Catholic Schools provided education for the faithfuls’  children so that while being educated, their souls could be saved. Now in the light of  priest sex abuse scandals, millions paid out to victims, and dwindling numbers of priests and nuns,  Catholic schools are closing down while Islamic schools are spreading.

In the past, Catholic schools fought for supremacy over state schools which largely followed Protestantism. Protestant Church leaders were terrified lest papist teachings crept into state school curriculums.   I can remember when I was attending a convent primary school in New Zealand, I was terrified of state school children who shouted at me and my school friends on the street, “Catholic dogs stink like frogs and don’t eat meat on Fridays”.  Of course, in my narrow world I had no idea then of the wars of religious domination raging throughout the world.  I only knew that we were not allowed to walk into a Protestant church or make friends with the children at state schools, ( I wondered what heinous things children in state schools got up to!)  To transgress this rule was tantamount to committing a mortal sin in my mind.

Even in those days in New Zealand there were savage disputes between Protestant and Catholic groups, and in America there were deadly riots over the use of the King Jame’s Bible in state schools.  We were instructed during catechism lessons, never to read any other bible than the King Jame’s version. I never in my childhood’s wildest dreams had any notion of the politics these two Christian faiths were engaged in.

The problem arising is that religious schools have received, and still receive, financial assistance from respective governments out of tax revenue.  Should this continue unchecked?  Perhaps a better use of taxpayers’ money would be investment in more public secular schools.  I can see in the future that this current rise in religious segregation could create problems of separatism.  Schools should have a common purpose:  to educate children and not classify them into separate religious groups.

There is dialogue taking place at the present time in America about this issue, between Perry L. Glanzer, associate professor at the Baylor University and School of Education and Institute of Church-State Studies, and Charles Haynes, senior scholar for the First Amendment Centre in Washington DC.   In America, voucher programmes tend to redirect tax dollars into religious schools.  There have already been tensions over publicly funded charter schools which offer Arabic-language instruction.  Haynes posits that while religious parents should have a choice of schools to send their children to, those schools shouldn’t be funded by tax dollars. He says that “despite all their flaws state schools have played a key role in building one nation out of many faiths and cultures, something that should be appreciated in any debate about choices”.

“There’s really only one institution in the United States where we learn to live with our differences and that’s public schools…the less we do that the more challenging it’s going to be” says Mr Haynes.

State schools are certainly more tolerant these days of other ethnicities and religions than in the past.  Notwithstanding this, history is repeating itself.  Again.  I can see parallels in the current situation of secular state schools versus Islamic Schools, and Protestantism versus Catholicism.

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More…Access Ministries Access Children’s Minds

&           God in the Classroom?

Khalil Gibran – Proselytising?

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Updated October 2015

Why is the current LNP government hell bent on forcing religious instruction on children in our secular state schools? And will it stop with Christianity? We have three major religions in Australia, all of them extremely wealthy. Will we soon be sending our children to state schools where Islam, Christianity and Judaism form part of the religious instruction curriculum?

Last week Muslim children walked out of a state school assembly because they said the other children singing the National Anthem was offensive! A group of children singing a beautiful song about tolerance is offensive? Muslim children attend secular state schools free of charge, like other Australian children, and yet they insult us by walking out of assembly! What I would like to know is: Where is this going end? 

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Christopher Hitchens writes in GOD IS NOT GREAT; How Religion Poisons Everything:

When we consider that religion has “done more harm than good” – not that this would say anything at all about its truth or authenticity-we are faced with an imponderably large question. How can we ever know how many children had their psychological and physical lives irreparably maimed by the compulsory inculcation of faith. This is almost as hard to determine as the number of spiritual and religious dreams and visions that come “true”, which in order to possess even a minimal claim to value would have to be measured against all the unrecorded and unremembered ones that did not. But we can be sure that religion has always hoped to practice upon the unformed and undefended minds of the young, and has gone to great lengths to make sure of this privilege by making alliances with secular powers in the material world. [my emphasis].

Sexual innocence, which can be charming in the young if it is not needlessly protracted [as in Islam and Christianity] is positively corrosive and repulsive in the mature adult. Again how shall we reckon the harm done by dirty old men and hysterical spinsters, appointed as clerical guardians to supervise the innocent in orphanages and schools? The Roman Catholic Church in particular is having to answer this question in the most painful of ways [to them], by calculating the monetary value in terms of compensation. Billions of dollars have already been awarded but there is no price to be put on the generations of boys and girls who were introduced to sex in the most alarming and disgusting ways by those whom they and their parents trusted. – Christopher Hitchens

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The Judeo-Christian concept of ‘Original Sin’ allows and often has stated that: “children are imps of Satan” or “limbs of Satan”.  Is that why religious zealots spend so much time and energy indoctrinating children with their man-made ideologies, and why clergy have been able to rape and abuse children unabated for centuries? There is no doubt now that all three major religions are guilty of these heinous crimes, which I might add, are still prevalent throughout the world. 

Fred Nile has been given the job, by Abbott LNP govt, of making sure ACCESS MINISTRIES has access to Every state school, to eliminate the study of Ethics and replace it with Religious Education! It is my belief that ‘religious education’ is an oxymoron; stuffing young children’s minds with outdated hocus pocus, is not educating them, it is confusing them! 

If this isn’t proselytising……

“In Australia we have a God-given open door to children and young people with the Gospel, our federal and state governments allow us to take the Christian faith into our schools and share it. We need to go and make disciples.  I believe that this is the greatest mission field we have in Australia: our children and our students. Our greatest field for disciple making”.

“Two sisters in their early 20s spoke of the impact of CRE on their lives. They came from an unchurched family, but at CRE, Christian religious education, they heard of God’s existence and his love for them. They love the stories and they pester their parents to take them to church! The parents really didn’t want to do this, but eventually they gave in. The children came to faith, and later so did their parents.” 

“My view is that we have every opportunity to create new congregations through our schools ministries, as we do this we have the responsibility to fulfil the great commission of making disciples. What really matters is seizing the God-given opportunity we have to reach kids in schools. Without Jesus, our students are lost”.
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The above words were expounded by a member of Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion, at their 2008 conference.  It is irrelevant who that member was, to the issue at hand, and that is, why is the Australian secular government even allowing these people into our schools?     We have no idea what these ministers are filling young children’s minds with.  I am sure if there is a God, he or she loves children whether or not their families go to church.  I remember so well the terror of hell, Satan and whatever else we were threatened with during religious instruction.  Using fear and eternal punishment as inducements to ‘morality’ is psychologically damaging as we now know. I thought those days had long gone and so did many other parents.  Each family is free to follow their own particular culture and religion at home.  Isn’t that what Australia is all about, freedom, and not having someone else’s personal beliefs thrown at you in a public school setting?

EFAC’s  Mantra is:  ‘Growing gospel Ministry Amongst Anglicans In Australia’.  My question is: How can they possibly do anything else but proselytise?

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God is not great 2

GOD IS NOT GREAT

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I urge all parents pondering the harm ‘religious education’ may inflict upon their children to please read GOD IS NOT GREAT; How Religion Poisons Everything  by Christopher Hitchens. I have lived through and written about many of the issues he writes about, but he is a scholar and has studied for years the source documents and religious texts of the three intertwining religions; Judeo-Christian and Islam which itself takes many of its practices and tenets from the former.  Both the Bible and the Qu’ran have violent, misogynist and sacrificial elements that derive from the same sources.

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See   God in the Classroom?

&   Religion vs Ethics in Schools

& Fred Nile & The Ethical Dilemma

Updated 28 August 2014

 

This debate is still going on….TAbbott govt is run by far right wing Christian bigots who want to keep Australia in the dark ages, and has allocated almost half a billion dollars in total for School Chaplaincy Programme in State Schools against the wishes of most parents and school principals! 

A Melbourne law firm has begun a legal challenge against the way religion is taught in Victorian government schools.

My question is,  why does religious dogma have to be aired in public schools anyway?  If  families prefer their children to have their own particular religion imparted to them, they have the choice of sending  them to religion specific schools.  If this is not possible for some families, then they ought to teach their children at home, or at the family’s  place of worship.  It just makes more sense.

The claim has been lodged with the Equal Opportunity Commission against the state education department. Lawyer Andrea Tsalamandris says if parents decide they do not want their children to participate in the classes, their children are sometimes left unsupervised.  She says forcing children to opt out of the classes, is discriminatory. “These are young children. They are vulnerable,” she said.  “For them to identify themselves as non-believers and walk out of the classroom is distressing for them and these are the kind of stories we are hearing from the parents.”

Here is an interesting statistic:  While other religious groups – including Jewish, Islamic and Hare Krishna – are accredited to run classes, 96 per cent are taught by Christian education provider Access Ministries, made up of volunteers.

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The following article has been taken from the internet site ‘Fairness of Religion in Schools’ or FIRIS:

When questioned, most parents cite one, or both, of two main areas of concern:

  • Special Religious Instruction is instruction, not education. It amounts to the preaching of a particular form of Christianity to our youngest and most impressionable children regardless of the beliefs of their parents or the children’s ethnic or religious backgrounds. SRI is most certainly not, as many have been led to believe, the teaching of comparative religions or religious history.
  • The teaching of SRI is often felt by parents as being de facto compulsory. The opt-out provisions play to the politics of exclusion and conscientious objection, something that young children should not be forced to endure. It often appears as intolerant and rigid, quite contrary to most religious and ethical beliefs in the Australian community at large, with its belief in the “fair go”, tolerance and the enjoyment of diversity. All other activities offered at schools are offered to parents as opt in, except for this one. Many parents simply miss the check box to opt their child out, which results in their default attendance.

We regard any instruction of children in matters of faith as a deeply personal matter that families and religious communities should take very seriously. It is not for the Government school system (currently influenced too much by some) to determine what children should be taught to believe about these matters or how and when they are taught it. It is a matter solely for parents and their communities to decide on and administer.

It is simply not good enough, if you conscientiously object to this system by withdrawing your children from SRI, that your children must spend time actively engaged in pencil sharpening or playing computer games while being made to feel they are outsiders.

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Professor Gary Bouma, an Anglican priest at Saint John’s church in East Malvern and the UNESCO chairman in Interreligious and Intercultural Relations, has described the curriculum developed by Access Ministries as appalling. ”Now, unfortunately, most of the Christians out there trying to train the next generation are putting them off with the kind of crap they serve,” he said.

Once every hundred years Jesus of Nazareth meets Jesus of the Christian in the garden among the hills of Lebanon. And they talk long; and each time Jesus of Nazareth goes away saying to Jesus of the Christian, “My friend, I fear we shall never, never agree.”                                – Kahlil Gibran

This debate is especially relevent to Australia’s multi-culture, multi-religion, society.  As far as Christian religious instruction goes, many of us still carry within us the fear engendered by Christian dogma about  the devil, fires of hell etc, etc.  Obviously I can’t comment on the other religions, but they too are possibly frightening and perplexing to the uninitiated.

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Jewel Topsfield, Education Editor, says on her internet site 5/04/2011:  Proselytising is supposed to be forbidden in religious education classes, but the accounts of many students suggest it happens. One mother withdrew her children after her six-year-old daughter was taught that families who did not attend church would drown when the second flood came. ”She begged me to start going to church so we wouldn’t die. She was so frightened she had nightmares and her siblings felt the fear too,” the woman said.

Ms Topsfield continues: Unlike New South Wales, which offers ethics classes for students who opt out of scripture classes, Victorian students are not allowed to do other work. They are often forced to sit in the back of the classroom or in corridors or the library. The Victorian Education Department says core curriculum cannot be offered instead because the other students would miss out. In 1872, Victoria became one of the first places in the world to provide free, secular and compulsory education. Instead of upholding this proud tradition, we have allowed our schools to be infiltrated by evangelising volunteers.

I will follow this debate with interest.

See Religion vs Ethics in Schools

Access Ministries Want To Access Children’s Minds

There is a debate currently going on in Australia about giving school students the choice between taking either classes in Ethics,  or in Religious Studies.  Apparently the respective Christian Churches are not at all happy about this development.  Well, they wouldn’t be would they? They believe they are losing their grip over young minds.

Ethics clarified

In his book  ‘Moral Reasoning; Ethical Theory And Some Contemporary Moral Problems’ Victor Grassian defines ethics as:

‘Ethics may be defined as the philosophical study of morality-that is, of right conduct, moral obligation, moral character, moral responsibility, moral justice, and the nature of the good life. The philosophical study of morality should be distinguished from the descriptive or scientific study of the same subject matter’.

Mr Grassian goes on to say… ‘Although a study of  ethics will not in itself make one into a good person, it can certainly provide us with more than the knowledge of abstract philosophical theories and terminologies that seem incapable  of aiding us in the solution of our own practical moral problems.  A study of ethics can serve to help us better understand and classify our own moral principles; most of all, it can help refine, develop, and sometimes change these principles’.

In other words it can help us to question and to think for ourselves.  I particularly identify with the following paragraph as I am sure a lot of my readers will do especially those who were indoctrinated with  Catholic dogma  from infancy:

‘The study of ethics can lead one from the blind and irrational acceptance of moral dogmas gleaned from parental and cultural influences, which were never subjected to logical scrutiny, into a development of a critical reflective morality of one’s own’.

Childhood ethics


Robert Coles, who was a professor of psychiatry and medical humanities at Harvard Medical School,  also draws on his experience as a teacher and child psychiatrist in his book:

‘The Moral Intelligence of Children’. He writes about the confusion children feel when they are  caught between two parents who have different religious beliefs; who constantly clash over opinions  and values but who never-the-less expect their children to follow in their religious path unquestioningly.  Simply stated,  Mr Coles found in his research that children are morally intelligent and it is therefore beneficial to them to be raised in a home where they are encouraged to question and to think for themselves.  Parents who only see  issues in black and white can have a detrimental effect on their children’s outlook on life.  The problem begins when the child is expected to ‘learn by example’ from the adults in their family but has intelligently worked out for themselves that something is not right.  The atmosphere in the household is one in which the child is not permitted to question any ‘laws’ laid down by their parents and this includes religious beliefs.  At the same time the child is being bombarded by media images and peer group pressure.   Perhaps the high rates of depression in our young people is understandable when there is so much conflict in their world view.

Erik H Erikson, a child psychiatrist who knew only too well the psychological trauma caused by  strict and rigid upbringing in a religious household comments in ‘Moral Intelligence’:

It is a long haul, bringing up our children to be good; you have to keep doing that, bring them up, and that means bringing things up with them: asking; telling; sounding them out; sounding off yourself; teaching them how to go beyond why?……’

Lets hope then, that all schools will eventually allow students to choose Ethics over Religion in schools.  We might then see some changes taking place in the behaviour of young people and their readiness to take responsibility for their own actions.    <><><>

-Anne Frandi-Coory 20 October 2010

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See previous posts:  God in the Classroom?

&          Access Ministries Want Access to Childrens’ Minds

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