Bible in schools looks like a class out of time, the remnants of a time that's passed. But 650+ schools still choose to teach it. What are the pros and cons? I wrestle me way through them

On Tuesday, Jeff McClintock and the group of people around him will begin their appeal against a decision to throw out their challenge to the Bible in Schools programme. The legal battle is technical; the underlying debate must more pressing. And it's an issue I see from both sides.

The prima facie case seems pretty clear cut. New Zealand has a proud tradition of separating church and state that, in education, dates back to our commitment to a secular education system in 1877. The religious debate, as much as it was, took place between Catholics and Protestants, and so at a time when it was accepted that New Zealand was a Christian society and it was widely assumed that the bible would be part of any decent education, the creation of a non-denominational bible study programme was a progressive and sensible step.

Fast forward to today, and New Zealand is clearly a different very society. We can no longer realistically call ourselves a Christian society and most wouldn't want to. We are home to many beliefs and cultures, the Christian faithful are fewer and many would agree it's more important to know maths and Mandarin than about Moses. 

Bible in schools through this lens looks as anachronistic as some 1950s housewife basting the pot roast waiting for hubby to return from work and as last century as a tape-deck. 

And the arguments are pretty compelling. Surely we send our kids to school for the three Rs, so why add a fourth (religion)? In a crowded curriculum where science and art are struggling to hold their place, why make time to teach one faith in a world of many? Who are these people to force others to learn about their beliefs? Surely there's plenty of time for that outside a secular education system? Surely it's for the parents? And how does a Muslim child feel sitting in this class, or being led away when the bible teacher arrives?

Yes, it's important kids understand the drive of religion in a world where faith drives so much politics and division, as well as healing. And yes it's hard to appreciate the roots of our democracy, law, even science if you don't understand some of the tenets of biblical theology and history. But all of that can be taught in other ways.

And if you want to teach morals, well, why do it through a programme supplied by evangelists of one faith? 

The Churches Education Commission, which provides around 80% of the bible in schools in New Zealand, is making a significant effort to ensure its programme isn't too preachy. It has read the tea leaves at least that much and knows that where it over-steps the mark (and sometimes its volunteers do over-reach - and over-preach), it imperils its long-term survival.

Yet it's hard to accept hand on heart that the programme isn't an attempt to draw children towards the faith when its units include teaching that God created night and day and animals; that God is a shepherd and light. Those are distinctly (if not uniquely) Christian principles. Of course not all Christians would subscribe to the views found in the CEC's material, but equally this is material that could only come from one faith.

I'm a Christian, as you'll know if you've read much here, but my head says the for this time has passed. It's no longer fitting to squeeze one set of beliefs into a system that has to make room for all.

Freedom of conscience is at the heart of Christianity... and there are arguments that forcing children to absorb some of the stories could confuse children or even rebound, driving people away. No-one likes to feel compelled, even kids.

There are arguments in favour, of course. CEC says research suggests religious teachings in amongst normal school work tends to produce higher results. (I haven't seen the research and would obviously wonder about variables, such as richer, more successful people liking religious schools).

But perhaps the best argument is one of choice. No school is forced to have bible in schools and fewer than half do. But what's interesting is the CEC still works in 650-odd schools because the schools want it there. 

Since David Lange's Tomorrow's School revolution, boards of trustees have decided what goes into their curriculum and many still want some bible teaching. It's what their communities want.

Look at the recent debate about whether or not to compel schools to teach the New Zealand Wars. It's the flipside of the same coin, and the government came down firmly on the side that schools and their communities should choose. Hekia Parata said "that's the New Zealand way".

Critics say some of those communities don't know the content of the material bing taught and would be surprised. But my read is that many Kiwi parents reckon a bit of bible does their kids no harm in a world where the narratives swirling through a child's mind are either often full of violence and fear or sickly-sweet, banal niceness. In a fast-changing world, parents want some things handed down, without having to do all the handing down themselves. They like the idea that, while their own beliefs may be only loosely formed, their children are exposed to the formative stories of Noah's Ark, David and Goliath, et al.

And if you can get a bit of 'love thy neighbour' in there, all the better (though many may struggle with 'love thy enemy'.)

And this is where I start to question my head, where I wonder if the practice is really that bad, even if the principle is. The logic against is unimpeachable. But...

I guess, given my faith, I don't think it's a bad thing that a child never exposed to Christianity might have the chance to learn something about God. But of course my head immediately reminds me that's not a school's job.

 But where I really get to is that if it's not compulsory and schools are choosing it as a representation of what their community wants, is it such a bad thing to have a tiny bit of this amongst the crush of modern knowledge children have to absorb today.

Maybe it is. But I'm agnostic enough on this that I think I'm willing to roll with the status quo for now. In principle I support those advocating for removal, and I wouldn't oppose it being removed. But in practice I think a little bit of bible doesn't hurt.

I think.

Comments (36)

by KJT on April 23, 2016
KJT

No. I do not think that children have to be told things such as "they will go to hell if they do not believe in God".

Which caused my son nightmares about that, and nailing people up, when he was seven.

My children were effectively punished when I withdrew them. Pulled out of the class and made to do chores which in that school were normally punishment, even though the school was, theoretically "closed" during bible study. Not an option to stay away when you use school buses.

Learning about religions yes. Being exposed to proselytising religious fanatics as part of school. No!

 

by barry on April 24, 2016
barry

"Since David Lange's Tomorrow's School revolution, boards of trustees have decided what goes into their curriculum and many still want some bible teaching. It's what their communities want."

I have always had a problem with that, and given that the schools are "closed" during Religious Instruction (not Education), it doesn't really apply anyway.  I think the curriculum applies to all students in NZ wherever they live and the ones whose parents don't want them to learn about the NZ wars are probably the ones who need it most.

Given that law students are expected to know about the 10 commandments, and that many expression in common usage are sourced form the bible, I can see advantages in including bible studies (and Koran, Gita, Buddhist sutras) as part of Social Studies and English.  However teaching superstition as fact has no place in a school (even if the OP does believe it).

I allowed my youngest son to go to RI on the basis that it was "values" based.  However the first day he came home with a piece of paper with "Jesus loves you" on it.  That can only be classed as proselytising, superstition-based teaching.  I asked him how he felt, and he was happy to go off reading by himself during that time.

I don't think there is any argument that would persuade me to support RI in schools.  It is a waste of time, a distraction from real learning (whether academic or social) and an affront to a significant number of people.  If boards really consult and find a majority in favour then it is an example of the "tyranny of the majority".  There are plenty of other options for people to get RI for their own children, why inflict it on others.

by Charlie on April 24, 2016
Charlie

As a lapsed Anglican and now agnostic/atheist I made sure my kids got LOTS of religion in their early years. As we travelled around the world for work, they attended a Lutheran kindergarten, a Catholic preschool run by Polish nuns and then a state primary school where they were the only non Jewish kids in the class. Today I am pleased to say they are fully inoculated against this scourge of mankind!  :-)

But here's the rub: I also see that parochial schools often offer a higher standard of education than many state schools and there is a queue of parents trying to get their children into them, many of which are atheists or agnostics themselves. Is this because the parochial schools are good or because our state schools are sometimes poor? I can only conclude it is the latter.

So I have a bob each way: I'm generally anti-religion but I'm not against others believing in fairies if it helps them get through their lives. Maybe a class of 'comparative religion' in would be a good idea?

 

by Angela Hart on April 24, 2016
Angela Hart

One of the main reasons for bible in schools running in so many primary schools is that it allows non contact time for teachers each week. A time when all of the school's qualified teachers are available at once for administrative or professional development purposes. For this reason it is extremely valuable to the management of the school. 

Value to the students is another matter. My own experience as a parent with bible in schools coming in was very negative. It was detrimental to my child, but there was effectively nothing helpful I could do because of the stigmatisation when a child is withdrawn.

I hope that this issue can be sensibly resolved now, many years after my children suffered through it.  I don't believe that bible in schools should be running, and I don't believe that schools should be able to close for the sessions or that these unqualified, unvetted religious people should have this form of access to our young, impressionable children.

by Peggy Klimenko on April 25, 2016
Peggy Klimenko

"Look at the recent debate about whether or not to compel schools to teach the New Zealand Wars. It's the flipside of the same coin..."

Tim, I don't agree that these are equivalent. There is a compelling case to be made for teaching the Land Wars: it's a fundamental part of this country's history, of how we got to where we are now. If it were the case that the prime purpose of the bible in schools programme is to teach children about the history, along with the content, of the bible and other holy books - religious studies, in other words - I'd agree. But it's not: proselytisation is what they do.

I was working in primary schools in 1985, at the time of the furore over homosexual law reform. People old enough will remember the Coalition of Concerned Citizens, and the petition it organised against law reform. It was the bible teachers who brought that petition into our school. I can't recall the detail of it, except that it was a pernicious, disingenuous piece of work, purporting to be less extreme than it actually was.

Those teachers had no business bringing something like that into any school, let alone a primary school.

Further back in the 1970s, in the primary school in which I worked then, I remember the bible teachers inserting themselves into the debate about abortion law reform. It was not their remit either.

Those incidents and others have coloured my views; when my offspring started (state) school, the BoT asked the parents whether such a programme should be introduced. The majority of parents were opposed to the idea. At the next school, the BoT as I recall made an executive decision to decline the programme.

The 1877 Education Act established state primary schools here as being - among other things - secular. This is an aspect of the system which is greatly valued by many of us. I don't see the bible in schools programme as being consistent with it.

by Tim Watkin on April 26, 2016
Tim Watkin

Angela, I've heard that reasoning too.

It's disheartening to hear the experiences several of you have relayed. And I think that's a point even those wanting kids to become Christians should heed. It may be doing more harm than good in this environment.

Many do it well, but obviously some do it badly. And some very badly. Although beyond that it seems impossible for it to be done in a way that doesn't evangelise in some way. I mean, 'Jesus loves you' is what it's all about and when that's annoying people such as Barry, you have to wonder if there is a way to do it well.

Of course the day after I wrote this, I was leaning the other way and thinking it wasn't really a good idea...

by Fentex on April 26, 2016
Fentex

My only memory of religious education at school was winning a pencil case (with rubber, sharpener etc) for something at years end, and all I remember doing was drawing pictures of tanks and planes bombing Jericho.

My maternal Grandmother was a Presbyterian deacon and my father brought up very much with the attitude "spare the rod, spoil the child" and the thing I was proudest of about him was his decision (when I was about six) to put away the rod as he would defy his upbringing and not beat his children.

As an adult I loath evangelism for it's lies but respect the generous for their efforts. I do not think for the second one needs religious education, but children do need a practical  grounding in morality and knowledge of it's history.

I would rather NZ develop a solid educational curriculum of basic humanities that melds history, law and other contemporary civic knowledge, with general philosophy than leave the self interest of proselytisers to pretend to do the job.

by Lee Churchman on April 26, 2016
Lee Churchman

And yes it's hard to appreciate the roots of our democracy, law, even science if you don't understand some of the tenets of biblical theology and history.

I personally find most of this to be an outrageous statement. Can you elaborate?

by Tim Watkin on April 26, 2016
Tim Watkin

Lee, there's a direct line in western society between 'thou shalt not lie' and 'the whole truth and nothing but the truth', for example. Slavery was born and defeated on the basis of theology. Similarly, the monarchy (kingship images of God) and then the commitment to one person, one vote (we are all children of God, all equal in the eyes of God) rest in part of theological justifications.

So much of what's called western civilisation was formed out of theological debate and evolution (indeed, evolution itself!). So I didn't think that was especially contentious.

Were you more outraged by the science comment? A NZ theologian called Harold Turner some years ago argued that the Jewish/Christian development of God as a creator was fundamental to the rise of science. Most religion up until that point had god(s) at least partially in creation. Nature worship through to bird gods and so on. But this new religion put God outside of creation. That meant that rather than honouring/worshiping/revering nature, you could study it dispassionately. Hence, science.

So that's the sort of thing I was referring to.

by Tim Watkin on April 26, 2016
Tim Watkin

For all those suggesting we should teach but not preach religion in schools, I pose the question NZF's Tracey Martin did on Twitter over the weekend... what would you remove to fit that in? We already have a congested curriculum.

by Tim Watkin on April 26, 2016
Tim Watkin

Peggy, to be fair I think the quality control on the teaching of bible in schools is dramatically different from the 1970s. And I think you can only go so far with the 1877 act argument, because yes that was created secular but also assumed bible teaching in schools. The secular nature was at least as much to stop Catholic v Protestant debate infiltrating schools; I don't think anyone in those days would have expected no bible teaching.

Take your point about the NZ Wars (and part of the teaching might be to stop calling them the Lnd Wars, as Belich proposed, because they weren't just about land!). But the point is one of choice for the school. If they get to choose about history, thy presumably get to choose about religion too.

by Murray Grimwood on April 26, 2016
Murray Grimwood

"I'm a Christian".

That explains a lot. It explains why you hide behind 'opinion' rather than examine data when said data doesn't gel with your wish-list of beliefs.

 

by Liam W on April 26, 2016
Liam W

It's a pity that  McClintock's representatives have fumbled this so badly. This conversation desperately needs to take place.

My own (recent-ish) experience of state secondary schooling was heavily coloured by strong Christian elements - it was a major factor in my disengagement from education at the time (through ostracisation and the resultant "problem" I had with the school powers-that-were), and I was by no means alone. My point is that for people who are not Christian (atheist or otherwise), Christian instruction (or an overt emphasis on Christianity) in school can be damaging to students' educational prospects.

This should always be at the center of this debate. At best, religious instruction in schools is a distraction from state schools' core business - education. At worst it is detrimental to students. Why are we paying for this? Why do we allow it?

by Murray Grimwood on April 26, 2016
Murray Grimwood

Unfortunately, religion - any - gives believers - all - the opportunity to off-load their personal responsibilities.

Thus a first-world 'reporter' can cry over the picture of a dead refugee boy, while benefitting from the resource-grab which caused the migration in the first place, while simultaneously avoiding the obvious responsibility link.

Ultimately, no society can deal with its impacts in real time and in real terms, if it fudges reality. That fudging can be anything from believing that some mythical deity is in control, to climate-denial to overpopulation-denial to resource-depletion denial to exponential growth ignorance.

Only truth and facts count. The moment we slip from ascertaining them - the moment we 'believe' of 'have an opinion' we are moving in the direction of 'away'. When reality hits (think the Titanic sinking; a few passengers were believers and optimists too) it just is.

We need our future generations to learn to deal with facts. We may even be too late as it is. Where we have to go, religion is a hinderance. Sooner banished the better.

by Stewart Hawkins on April 26, 2016
Stewart Hawkins

Off topic somewhat but the best non-military defence I can think of to avoid the battle of civilisations (Islam versus every other one) is absolute secularism in both private and state schools. I am against all evangelical preaching in schools but would be in favour of the study of the history of religion and its social consequences.

by Peggy Klimenko on April 27, 2016
Peggy Klimenko

Tim: "I think the quality control on the teaching of bible in schools is dramatically different from the 1970s."

Hmm, many of the comments here suggest otherwise - given that many commenters here will be much younger than I am.

I do wonder to what extent the deplorable situation with regard to the legal status of abortion in this country is a consequence of that religious constituency running interference at the time of that debate. My Australian relatives - never mind those in Central Europe - are disbelieving that abortion is still in the Crimes Act here.

"I think you can only go so far with the 1877 act argument, because yes that was created secular but also assumed bible teaching in schools."

Times have changed, and our perception of what constitutes secularity has also shifted. I doubt that many people would now equate secularity with Christian proselytisation.

"...part of the teaching might be to stop calling them the Lnd Wars, as Belich proposed, because they weren't just about land!"

However it's charcterised, it certainly needs to be taught as part of our history; giving schools choice is a peculiar stance for Heki Parata to take. Events so fundamental to this country's development need to be front and centre of any history curriculum, otherwise it's difficult to understand how we got to where we are now. And while the wars weren't exclusively over land, it was certainly at the heart of hostilities; Peter Walker's "The Fox Boy" gives an absorbing account of what happened in Taranaki and the Wanganui area during that time.

"And if you want to teach morals, well, why do it through a programme supplied by evangelists of one faith?"

It isn't at all clear to me why morals and Christianity - or any religious belief system for that matter - must be spoken of in the same breath; there's no necessary connection between them. As we see in the news every day.

Stewart Hawkins: "the best non-military defence I can think of to avoid the battle of civilisations (Islam versus every other one) is absolute secularism in both private and state schools."

Indeed. My view as well.

 

by Moz on April 27, 2016
Moz

Raymond Chen at TheOldNewThing blog has a relevant point that he thumps home fairly regularly - everything starts at -100 points. In other words, the question is not "is this good", it's "is this better than everything else". We have enough good things to teach that we could teach 24/7 and still have to leave things out.

One other point is that we have an accreditation and training requirement for every other teacher. You can't just rock up to a primary school and say "I'm a subject specialist teacher in X" and go for it. You have to have evidence that you can teach, have the curriculum designed by experts and approved by the government, then you have to actually teach it. To the best of my knowledge no such restriction applies to proselytisers of religion in our schools. Evidence that it's not about formal learning in the usual sense, perhaps?

I'm in NSW, home of the "ethics have nothing to do with Christianity, NOTHING" school of religious instruction. Schools can opt to teach ethics instead of religion, and some Christianists are extremely upset about that. They have been vigorous in pointing out that the goal of Christian, sorry, "religious" studies is nothing to do with ethics and everything to do with Christianity. I agree with them, but my conclusion is that therefore they have no place in schools.

I think the only valid argument is that we're ruled by someone who inherited her own church and we should know something about that. As a display of fealty, if not for purely historical reasons. I'd like to see it taught as an example of just how little the fundamental beliefs of the religious actually matter, but it's also an interesting piece of history in its own right. If schools taught the interesting bits of history I'm sure kids would be more interested.

by Lee Churchman on April 27, 2016
Lee Churchman

Lee, there's a direct line in western society between 'thou shalt not lie' and 'the whole truth and nothing but the truth', for example. Slavery was born and defeated on the basis of theology. Similarly, the monarchy (kingship images of God) and then the commitment to one person, one vote (we are all children of God, all equal in the eyes of God) rest in part of theological justifications.

Well, the Athenians managed a rudimentary form of democracy (male citizens only) without having to worry about a monotheistic god. As a result Greek thinkers and historians wrote critically about merits of and the justification for such a system of governance. The kind of individualism and respect for the rights of ordinary citizens against the aristocracy was present in the Athenian culture of the time. Indeed, the Classical world loomed large in the minds of the founders of modern secular states such as the USA. I could go on, but these ancient works are freely available in any decent library. 

As for slavery: it was taken to have biblical sanction by supporters of the Confederacy. IIRC, Stonewall Jackson, who did not much like slavery himself, thought it unimpeachable on theological grounds. 

So much of what's called western civilisation was formed out of theological debate and evolution (indeed, evolution itself!). So I didn't think that was especially contentious. 

I don't think this is accurate. The basic mechanism of natural selection was understood long before that. For example, it formed part of the speculative natural philosophy of the presocratic Empedocles of Acragas (he of the volcano fame). What was lacking was empirical proof, which was supplied by Darwin.

Were you more outraged by the science comment? A NZ theologian called Harold Turner some years ago argued that the Jewish/Christian development of God as a creator was fundamental to the rise of science. Most religion up until that point had god(s) at least partially in creation. Nature worship through to bird gods and so on. But this new religion put God outside of creation. That meant that rather than honouring/worshiping/revering nature, you could study it dispassionately. Hence, science.

This is just flat out wrong (and this is a rare occasion where I actually get to use my own expertise). That particular conception of god (as transcendent arche) has its origins in presocratic philosophy and is developed in the Greek philosophical tradition. For a decent account you could read Lloyd Gerson's God and Greek Philosophy, or you could just read Plato's Timaeus (wanting:it's fairly nuts)The philosophical-scientific content of Christianity, such as it is, is derived from this tradition. Of course, the "god" of Greek philosophy is a first cause, and not a personal god (Aristotle's for various reasons is only interested in itself). 

The basic moves away from the worldview you mention had already been made long before you suggest and even the idea of "science" as a comprehensive method existed long before then, as arguably it was first formulated as such by Aristotle of Stagira – in his Posterior Analytics – (we use a heavily modified version of his basic way of looking at the matter). The influence of the Hebrew religion on this appears to have been nil, and since then the adherents of that religion and its various sects have in my view hindered rationalism and science more than they have benefited it. 

Offhand, I can think of a couple of things where Christianity has been very influential. One is a moral change, where humility and concern for the poor and weak comes to be seen as a virtue rather than a vice. The other is the enhanced moral status of children, because the historical Jesus is reported to have liked them and a child figures in the central myth of the faith (I seem to remember having to translate those parts of the gospels for a Greek class many years ago). 

by Tim Watkin on April 27, 2016
Tim Watkin

This comment was posted by Royalcourtier on the other post when I accidentally doubled up:

Separation of church and state and secular education are two entirely different matters.

Separation of church and state simply means no established Church. It does not mean that religion is excluded from the state, or that religion cannot be taught in schools.

From the outset it was expected that there would be some religious studies in schools. That should continue.

by Tim Watkin on April 27, 2016
Tim Watkin

Liam, obviously what you describe it not what anyone would want – religious classes playing a part in you dropping out of education. But can you explain why half an hour a week of bible in schools would turn you off education so completely? It seems an usually strong reaction. Or are you talking about more than just bible in schools classes?

by Tim Watkin on April 27, 2016
Tim Watkin

Murray, I wasn't going to engage, but the hypocrisy of your comments deserve note, given you have repeatedly posted comments on this site asserting the certainty of opinions with little willingness/ability to back them up with facts. You repeatedly declare your opinions as if they are fact – your views on religion included – and then mock others. I'm at least honest that my views are simply that. So dare I suggest you take the plank out of your own eye? (That's Matthew 7:5).

by Tim Watkin on April 27, 2016
Tim Watkin

Peggy, re the 1877 act, that's exactly my point. Times have changed so I don't think it carries your argument very far.

I would like to see the New Zealand Wars taught in schools (although the reason for not calling them land wars does matter), but point was simply to point to government policy and make the argument for consistency. As I wrestle with this, I'm not entirely convinced by it, but it's a strong argument nonetheless.

As for abortion, I think it's a very long bow you're drawing between bible in schools and that issue. I don't know the stats on Christians' views on abortion, but I believe at the very least the church universal would be very split on it.

by Tim Watkin on April 27, 2016
Tim Watkin

Lee, we're going to disagree on large chunks of that. Obviously there's plenty of room for debate (while I can't compete with your classical reading, I've done a little in that area including some academic discussion). Fundamentally, you're right that there are other influences for all those things, quite agree with that. But that doesn't mean Christianity wasn't influential in the western formation of government, science and so on. These things had many parents, and it's good to know both your mother and your father, no?

And... the early Jewish faith predates Athens, does it not? Moses, Abraham etc is much earlier than Aristotle & Co... As I said, my point on slavery was that it was used to justify both the existence and end of slavery... and our tradition of science also stems from the likes of Newton and Einstein, men of faith.

by Peggy Klimenko on April 28, 2016
Peggy Klimenko

Tim: "As for abortion, I think it's a very long bow you're drawing between bible in schools and that issue."

Not a long bow at all, I'm afraid. My recollection of those times is that the bible in schools teachers weren't afraid of a bit of light activism on the side, once they'd done with the proselytisation in the classroom. I think that they cut their teeth, so to speak, on that campaign, so that when the homosexual law reform issue came along, they were very well-organised. Different times: it was less likely then that teachers and parents would object to bible teachers getting involved in such an issue.

"I don't know the stats on Christians' views on abortion, but I believe at the very least the church universal would be very split on it."

I don't know the stats either. However, the Coalition of Concerned Citizens, which morphed into Christian Heritage, was anti-abortion as well as anti-homosexual law reform. And, judging by what happened with their petition, it seems very likely that quite a few bible in schools teachers were members.

My impression from engaging in debates on the topic is that Christians are generally opposed to abortion, and that many young Catholics have no idea what the church's teaching is on abortion and contraception.

But that's a digression from your argument.

by Lee Churchman on April 28, 2016
Lee Churchman

But that doesn't mean Christianity wasn't influential in the western formation of government, science and so on. These things had many parents, and it's good to know both your mother and your father, no?

I think you need to make a better case for Christianity being the originator of such things. It's an accepted historical fact that Christianity hoovered up and transmitted all sorts of prior influences, as did Islam. It's also the case that many people who identified as Christians were originators of new ideas, as was the case with many Muslims (you can simply look at how many Arabic terms infest the sciences to see that), and perhaps the case that Christian and Islamic societies created fertile soil for ideas to develop. However, none of this is to say that Christian and Islamic beliefs per se had any formative role.

And... the early Jewish faith predates Athens, does it not? Moses, Abraham etc is much earlier than Aristotle & Co.

The problem is that it's not clear what we are talking about when we talk about early Jewish faith. There's a tendency of religions to anachronistically attribute contemporary views to their forbears. For example, it's unclear whether ancient Judaism was henotheistic rather than monotheistic, and it obviously seems absurd to attribute subsequent theological decisions to the historical Jesus. One place to start is to look for the origins of the concept of immaterial being – this is a philosophically sophisticated concept and while it's possible to read it back into ancient religious traditions, there is precious little evidence that it originated there. 

To make a comparison: there is a continuity in Hinduism between the simple hymns of the Rig Veda and later, more metaphysically complex versions of Hinduism (such as that described in the Bhagavad-Gita). The later, intellectually more complex theologies grew out of the Hindu tradition (as far as I know: I'm not an expert on Hinduism). The Abrahamic religions had no such development, because they borrowed all their metaphysical concepts from the separate intellectual tradition of Greek philosophy. This made sense at the time because to mount an abstract intellectual defence of a faith at that time required you to defend it within an existing abstract intellectual tradition. As Nietzsche sagaciously remarked: Christianity is Platonism for the people. 

by Tim Watkin on May 01, 2016
Tim Watkin

Well, Lee, I'm not sure if the timing is that unclear. Whenever you might date back the birth of the Jewish religion to, it's certainly pre-Athens. So any which way I don't see how your argument – that the worldview putting God outside of creation and re science's foundations were made "long before then" etc – makes sense timewise when you then tie it to Athens and Aristotle, which are well after any beginning of Jewish monotheism (ie Abram, Isaac, Moses etc).

And as for that worldview, my point was simply that an animistic culture would struggle to give birth to science as we know it. Whereas the Christian view of a precious creation of God (amongst other influences of course) was fertile ground the study of that creation.

Of course I accept that many other traditions influenced the evolution of Christianity as much as Christianity influenced Western traditions. But I'm surprised that you make sweeping statements that Christianity's influence was nil and Abrahamic religions didn't develop except due to the impact of Greek philosophy (at least that seems to be what you're saying). I mean, Christianity itself was a development out of Judaism, as in some respects was Islam. You can see Christian thought changing in its prayers and songs as well. Surely as Christianity was hoovering up other ideas, you'd accept that as the dominant faith of the West over centuries, it was also shaping its culture.

by Lee Churchman on May 02, 2016
Lee Churchman

But I'm surprised that you make sweeping statements that Christianity's influence was nil and Abrahamic religions didn't develop except due to the impact of Greek philosophy (at least that seems to be what you're saying).

That's not quite it. What I'm asking you to do is provide actual evidence that Ancient Judaism had such conceptually advanced views, and that doesn't mean later authors anachronistically reading back complex theology into earlier sacred texts, but evidence that those views were actually held by ancient Hebrews. There's a tendency among scholars of ancient works (and I know this well having been one for a long time) to impute later views to ancient peoples that those peoples didn't really have, but we would have liked them to have.

If you want me to provide evidence that the scientific worldview you described originates in Early Greek philosophy, I can happily guide you to any number of primary sources along with secondary sources that make the case and which establish more or less precise datings for those primary sources.

Where's the evidence that such a view was part of Ancient Judaism and that this is where the influence spread from? We could appeal to the Bible, but that would be difficult given scholarly opinions on its date of composition and the need to find evidence to avoid anachronistic interpretations of the Bible. I actually sat down and did this when I was an undergraduate for a course I was taking, and I would be loath to attribute any definite metaphysical views to the authors of the early Biblical books, because the evidence just isn't there. 

There is on the other hand a great deal of evidence that early Christian thinkers used the philosophical concepts already available in their culture to defend their faith. Augustine is an obvious example.

Look, I know that the internet is full of religious partisans wanting to make their particular religion the origin of all that is good, but once you depart from those sources, there's not a lot out there.

by Dave on May 02, 2016
Dave

I've been motivated enough about this issue to create a website detailing my experience of religious instruction classes in my daughters school and the board's pretty awful handling of my complaint about them. You can view it at www.religiouseducation.co.nz

The Churches Education Commission asked their members to get onto school boards to arrange access to the schools (and the kids) in 2007. So to say that "schools want them" when boards of trustees have absolute authority to insert them into the school regardless of community support is not true.

In our case, the school asked the parents an extremely misleading question where they claimed that the classes were ministry of education approved (they are not) and even then, only 15% of the parents responded to the survey, with 40% of them approving of the classes. So based on a result where 6% of the school community said yes to the classes, they were approved.

I've spent a huge amount of time on this topic and the more I find out, the more appalled I am by the manipulation, outright lies, coercion and misinformation being employed by people who are standing up for these classes on the basis of "Christian values".

 

 

by Jude on May 03, 2016
Jude

As another Christian, it is saddening to hear such unflattering accounts of Christianity in today's New Zealand - many of which no doubt have some solid basis in fact. Words like 'coercion', 'indoctrination', 'self-interested proselytising', 'misinformation' and 'manipulation' are such a far cry from the gospel message and what Jesus offers. Christians that act inconsistently with this message can contribute to distorting it - and I've had my fair share of moments I'm not proud of in this regard! Thankfully, Jesus is way bigger than my stuff-ups and shortcomings, and those of everyone else for that matter.

What I would say is this: the gospel message that often gets lost in translation is not one of Jesus coming to condemn the world or to strong-arm it into religious slavery. The real message instead is of Jesus coming to pay a high price that we could never pay, to offer us a relationship with a loving God that we could never earn.

by Peggy Klimenko on May 03, 2016
Peggy Klimenko

Tim: "But that doesn't mean Christianity wasn't influential in the western formation of government, science and so on. These things had many parents, and it's good to know both your mother and your father, no?"

In my view, defending the bible in schools programme by appeals to christianity's influence on the development of Western society misses the mark. As has already been pointed out, these classes are about prosleytisation, not education in the history of religion. Moreover, the history of religion doesn't belong in the primary curriculum. It can be taught at high school level, perhaps, but in the context of the history curriculum.

Jude Murdoch: "The real message instead is of Jesus coming to pay a high price that we could never pay, to offer us a relationship with a loving God that we could never earn."

You make the point very neatly: this is a message of faith. And faith is what the bible in schools programme aims to instil in small children. This is indoctrination, and it doesn't belong in the secular primary school system. People who want their children to be indoctrinated in christianity have any number of churches or religious schools to choose from, where there will be people willing to help. Our state primary schools are not the place for it.

by Murray Grimwood on May 04, 2016
Murray Grimwood

*http://www.mnforsustain.org/bartlett_arithmetic_presentation_long.htm#III.%20%20The%20Power%20of%20Powers%20of%20Two

**http://homestar.org.nz/

http://www.unece.org/oes/nutshell/2004-2005/focus_sustainable_development.html

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/chris-martenson-trouble-money

http://www.donellameadows.org/wp-content/userfiles/Limits-to-Growth-digital-scan-version.pdf

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Looking-Back-on-the-Limits-of-Growth.html

http://www.peakoil.org.au/limits.htm

http://www.resilience.org/stories/2011-04-04/commentary-will-we-be-able-maintain-replace-our-energy-transportation-infrastruct

http://simplicityinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/RetrofittingTh...

http://www.springer.com/engineering/energy+technology/book/978-1-4419-9397-7

http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2012/04/economist-meets-physicist/

http://peak-oil.org/peak-oil-reference/peak-oil-data/

http://ourworld.unu.edu/en/to-power-up-or-power-down-that-is-the-question/

http://www.albartlett.org/presentations/arithmetic_population_energy.html

http://www.ted.com/talks/jared_diamond_on_why_societies_collapse.html

http://ourenergyfutures.org/page-titre-The_Jevons_Paradox-cid-25.html

http://simplicityinstitute.org/publications

http://www.mnforsustain.org/bartlett_arithmetic_presentation_long.htm

http://www.dublincity.ie/WaterWasteEnvironment/Sustainability/Documents/SEAP-FINAL%20version%20for%20website.pdf

http://www.peakprosperity.com/blog/trouble-money/73469

https://www.populationmedia.org/2012/04/04/the-meaning-of-sustainability-by-professor-emeritus-albert-a-bartlett/

http://www.albartlett.org/articles/art_reflections_part_1.html

http://www.simondale.net/house/essay.htm

http://questioneverything.typepad.com/

http://www.resilience.org/stories/2015-04-09/changing-human-circumstances

http://cluborlov.blogspot.co.nz/2015/02/extinctextincterextinctest.html#more

some of these have been posted on this site. Tim won't have read any of them, a stance which I call 'chosen ignorance'. I suggest it is also a prerequisite for having a 'belief' or a 'faith'.

No relation to investigation, fact-seeking, anything like that. We need religion - all religion - gone if we're to take responsibility for our.........sins.    :)

 

by Geoff Fischer on May 05, 2016
Geoff Fischer

I am in favour of teaching the Bible in schools, because a key purpose of the education system is to give young people an understanding of the most important texts in the cultural history of humanity, of which the Bible most certainly is one.  More correctly the Bible is a collection of texts or books (numbered at 66 by most ecclesiastical authorities) some of which obviously have greater significance than others.

The key to successful teaching of the Bible is a curriculum so good that atheists or agnostics would be happy to teach it.   The approach to the text should be strictly analytical, and based on a proper understanding of the symbolic schemes employed by the writers of the Hebrew scriptures (the "Old Testament") which carried over, with some variation, into the the Greek Scriptures (the "New Testament").  The intention should be to discern the writers' meanings before going on to consider historical interpretations, if that be considered necessary or desirable.

Starting perhaps with that sublime work, the Book of Genesis, which Tim seems to struggle with, in which it is said that God created light and dark before night and day, and night and day before sun and moon.  Children, however, may understand better than adults, because they are still close to their own authentic experience of the world in which effect precedes cause and the rules of science are the last formed things.  So we have a creation story which is not  so much concerned with the foundation of the material cosmos as the foundations of human consciousness and which seeks to place Mind where it truly belongs at the centre of human existence.

Then we have the  greatly under-rated and much misunderstood story of Cain and Abel immediately following the creation accounts and immediately preceding the deluge.  Its clear purpose is to establish the principle of pluralism, to uphold the proper relations between the spiritual and material sides of the human being, or, in institutional forms, between king and priest or church and state.

After that, the much loved but still little understood story of Noah, the ark and the flood, the story of moral degradation, the alienation of righteous man, social catastrophe and finally social and political regeneration.

And that brief synopsis only takes you through the first nine chapters of the first of the sixty-six books.

The problem for the current regime, is that the Biblical view contradicts the fundamental premises of secular liberalism, which is the de facto ideology of state.  In its political economy the state is wedded to the principles of scientific materialism.  To the extent that it thinks at all about religion, it is only to ask with Cain the rhetorical question "Am I my brother's keeper?".   It does not understand that moral corruption can lead inexorably to political dysfunction, then to social collapse, and finally, if God wills, to the emergence of a new political order in which materialism does not rule to the exclusion of that which is given by God.

Young  New Zealanders are indoctrinated in the counter-intuitive beliefs that cause precedes effect, that the laws of man and God, economics and science stand before the facts and that matter gives rise to mind.   One would expect that in the normal course the alternative to those doctrines of science and economics would be provided through religion, but in New Zealand the doctrines of secularism go virtually unchallenged.

Karl Marx observed that religion is the inverse of political economy.  The religious might argue that political economy is the inverse of religion.  But no matter from what perspective one chooses to view things, it is critical to our future that our children should be exposed to both modes of thought.   And I have not even started on the Gospels of Jesus the Christ.

I would care about the quality of religious education.  It has to be good.  It has to be very good indeed if it is to be worth having, and if it is to provide a truly pluralist foundation for popular thought.   It would have to be world leading, and, sadly right now I don't see New Zealand leading the world in any field of intellectual endeavour.  The reason?  Because we live under a rather peculiar secular regime which disapproves of critical thought that touches even lightly on social, economic and political matters.

by Peggy Klimenko on May 07, 2016
Peggy Klimenko

Geoff Fischer: "I would care about the quality of religious education.  It has to be good.  It has to be very good indeed if it is to be worth having, and if it is to provide a truly pluralist foundation for popular thought."

What you're talking about in your comment as a whole is what's already happening: proselytisation. It doesn't matter how well it's done, it's still proselytisation. It doesn't belong in our state primary schools.

It's possible to make an argument for comparative religious studies to be in the curriculum, but in the history curriculum at high school. It doesn't belong in the primary school curriculum, in my view.

"Because we live under a rather peculiar secular regime which disapproves of critical thought that touches even lightly on social, economic and political matters."

Say what? That'll come as a surprise to the community of scholars in New Zealand, I'm sure.

by Geoff Fischer on May 12, 2016
Geoff Fischer

If you define proselytisation as anything that questions your own ideological premises, then so be it.  But if it is proselytisation why would you allow it in secondary schools while banning if from primary schools? Where is the logic in that?

The "community of scholars" will be very well aware of the influences, pressures and incentives to conform to the ideology of neo-liberalism.  There will be no surprises for them in my comment.

by Peggy Klimenko on May 15, 2016
Peggy Klimenko

Geoff Fischer: "If you define proselytisation as anything that questions your own ideological premises..."

I do not. I'm not interested in creative definitions. I know what proselytisation is, and that is what the bible in schools programme does. As you'll see if you read the comments in this thread, and follow the links.

"But if it is proselytisation why would you allow it in secondary schools while banning if from primary schools?"

Did you not read my comment? I don't see proselytisation as belonging in the secondary school curriculum either. It is possible to make an argument for comparative religious studies - the sort of topic many of us did at university to fill in gaps in an undergraduate programme - but it would properly belong in the history curriculum.

State schools are not the place for christian doctrine - or any other form of religious indoctrination programme.

"...the influences, pressures and incentives to conform to the ideology of neo-liberalism."

Again....say what? What has this to do with secularism? There is no necessary connection between secularism and neoliberalism. And - more pointfully - how does this intersect with your earlier claim, of which I pasted a portion only:

" It would have to be world leading, and, sadly right now I don't see New Zealand leading the world in any field of intellectual endeavour.  The reason?  Because we live under a rather peculiar secular regime which disapproves of critical thought that touches even lightly on social, economic and political matters."

It seems to me to be conceptually dodgy to attempt to use "secularism" and neoliberalism" interchangeably, as it appears you wish to do. And I'm sure that the community of scholars might wish to challenge the assertion that there aren't any intellectual world-leaders here.

by Dave on May 16, 2016
Dave

And now we find out that the Ministry of Education has had legal advice for 15 years telling them that Bible in Schools classes are discriminatory. They did nothing!

http://religiouseducation.co.nz/ministry-knew-bible-classes-discriminate...

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