That Old Time Religion: It is probable that many parents are entirely unaware that every week their local school is formally closed so that God-Knows-Who can spend 60 minutes filling their children’s heads with God-Knows-What.
THAT NEW ZEALAND’S primary schools are permitted by law to close for the purposes of religious instruction is outrageous. With fewer than half of the New Zealand population now identifying themselves as Christian, the whole concept should long ago have been relegated to the educational scrap-heap, along with the strap and the cane. That New Zealand children continue to provide untrained religious enthusiasts with captive audiences for ideas that foster judgemental and intolerant behaviour is a state-of-affairs that should be brought to an end immediately.
It is probable that many parents are entirely unaware of what is being conveyed to their children during the hour that the school is formally closed. They may not even realise that the religious instruction which the school’s Board of Trustees has authorised is not being delivered to their offspring by the qualified teaching professional who usually stands in front of them.
Under the Education Act, teaching staff are forbidden from imparting religious dogma to their pupils. Why? Because New Zealand’s primary education system is legally required to be “free, compulsory and secular” – and has been ever since 1877. Hence the need for the legal workaround of the school being closed while God-Knows-Who spends 60 minutes filling their children’s heads with God-Knows-What.
But, surely, the information being imparted about the moral teachings of Jesus and his disciples is unlikely to do these young ones any harm. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Does that sound so bad? Christianity is supposed to be a religion of love and forgiveness. What’s not to like?
If the moral precepts of Jesus and his disciples – as generally understood – were all New Zealand’s children were being taught by their religious instructors, then there would, indeed, be little to complain about. Unfortunately, the sort of Christians who feel sufficiently motivated to spend an hour every week instructing the children of complete strangers, have slightly more than “love thy neighbour as thyself” on their minds.
Even in 1964, when the present arrangements for religious instruction in schools were originally set in place, the liberal Christianity which took its marching orders from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount was in rapid retreat before the fire and brimstone of Christian fundamentalism. Fifty-four years later, liberal Christian congregations are few and far between and most of their members would shy away from instructing other people’s children in the very adult choices of religious faith. Overwhelmingly, the protestant Christian churches of Aotearoa New Zealand (the Catholics have their own, separate, system of religious education) are evangelical in their intent and profoundly conservative in their theology.
The religious instructors sallying forth from these churches are minded to save the tender souls of young New Zealanders from the temptations of a sinful and ultimately doomed world. Children have returned home from these encounters convinced that if they fail to accept Jesus into their heart as Lord and Saviour, then they are bound to burn in Hell for all eternity.
Parents have the right to take their children out of these emotionally fraught situations. There is, however, no guarantee that the child will not then be stigmatised for her subsequent non-attendance. After permitting such potentially dangerous instruction to take place in its classrooms, the school’s Board of Trustees may be reluctant to acknowledge that it is guilty of inflicting psychological harm on youngsters to whom it owes a duty of care. Such an unfortunate outcome is much more likely if a percentage of the board are themselves evangelical and/or fundamentalist Christians: men and women who have stood for election to ensure that God’s word reaches the children of “godless” parents at least once a week.
Though they would almost certainly inflict less harm than some Christian instructors, it is easy to imagine the outcry that would follow the revelation that a group of Wiccans had taken over the Board of Trustees of the local school and for one hour every week were allowing witches and warlocks to instruct its pupils in the beliefs and practices of the “Old Religion”.
That New Zealand’s parents have not objected with equal force to the intolerant and dangerously judgemental version of Christianity currently being imparted to their impressionable sons and daughters in our supposedly secular education system is a sin of omission difficult to forgive.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 11 May 2018.
Congratulations on getting The Daily Mail gig. Excellent first effort. Would have gone the whole Satan/Hell/Brimstone shebang thing though. But enough to get the ball rolling. 7.5/10
When my son was eight years old he came home from school one day very upset. At first he would not tell us why, but eventually, in a state of real distress, he told us that the scripture teacher had told him that I was going to hell because of my professed atheism. What a terrible thing to tell a child. Rather than complain to the school, I though it would be more remedial to show him just how much the teacher understood about the what she was teaching. I asked him, to ask her, "if God is all powerful, can he create something to heavy for himself to lift (It was not an original question but a deeply theological one)
The next week he did just that. He came home smiling. Apparently the teacher had answered something like "God doesn't need to play tricks" and other waffle. Being an intelligent boy, he became "woke" to all this nonsense. Now twenty three last night he came with me to hear Richard Dawkins speak and spent $50 o0n an autographed copy of the God Delusion.....He's a happy young man.....thank God!
Only up to first para and totally agree with you. Since the freeing of of curriculums and conveyance of so much control to local school boards of very ordinary local luminaries there is this way to get a wedge between parents and good knowledge, and good knowledge and biased opinion. So much of what is being passed on is detestable and should be debatable. The trouble is too much is going on for parents and thoughtful people to be able to give their mind to this.
How do you know that your children aren't being taught that cranky stuff that rolls science back to the pre-knowledge days of the bible? Evolution or creation? The Holy Bible being used as a technical literal fount of information on everything! Your children are possibly being prepared for futures where they won't know how to critically assess any of the factoids being thrown at them and the most persuasive and most thundering message will carry the day.
God help us all, they still doing this? I can barely remember it it was so long ago but we had a rather wishy-washy Anglican woman who got us all colouring in pictures of Jesus or something. But later a secondary school and university was all happy clappy and guitars. It obviously didn't take with me, but I didn't bother to try to get out of it I don't think. Although I did flat refuse to go to Sunday school after a couple of times. I think they only sent me there so they could have sex on Sunday mornings anyway.
That aside, as most of you will know I think it's all superstition – but the dangerous superstition is exactly those people Chris is going on about. I think we could do with a bit of separation of church and state. Religious instruction should be done in the home – if it has to be done at all. Just be thankful we don't live in the US, where Pence is a heartbeat away from the presidency.
Nice article! Parents could be forgiven for not standing up and taking more action for two reasons. The first is the incredible level of misinformation they are subject to from both schools and the churches education commission itself. The second is that the vitriol thrown at them from parents who support religious instruction if anyone cares to criticize it is intimidating and many do not cope with the social pressure. And my personal experience there is widespread collusion and a willingness to deceive in order to maintain religious privilege and access to primary school children.
I remember being the only kid whose parents objected in standard two and being sent to the resource room to read. The experience of being an outcast now and again as a child is a very good thing and we should not bow to pressure to let our kids conform. Sometimes I wish I knew a bit more about Christianity cause I do rather like Renaissance art....but mostly I am glad I escaped my parents' catholic upbringing. I do note that the most activist and hard-working youth workers in low decile schools tend to be from born again churches. They sell eternal salvation and hip hop classes. They do a lot of good....but I wonder about the social conservatism - what advice do they give the pregnant teen and should schools allow that?. Now imagine if there were a left political movement that did some of that community work....
The school system is full of do-gooder christians who come in as teachers to proselytise despite the secular curriculum.
All religious promotion should be banned. Teach about the history of religion but God can stay in his churches. Schools are not churches.
The openness of curricula to individual viewpoints instead of having people planning education to convey a broad knowledge and understanding of the world and society has taken us away from ideas of the enlightenment.
There are two centres setting themes, seemingly opposing, being materialistic or spiritual, but actually converging in many ways.
Business is materialistic, and is using forms developed under economics to preach for certain attitudes and behaviours based on ideas and presumptions much like religion. Religion itself is a mix of spirituality and materialistic homilies, cleanliness is next to godliness, good Christians work hard, then the racism by skin colour message picked up from the bible is not a Christian message. The tax-free situation of religious business, because of the supposedly spiritual good they do is a true moral hazard for religion, with church franchises becoming a new business sector, which has been successful in the USA and spread here.
I think that is where the impetus came from to allow schools to develop their own religious teaching, though in a secular country this should never have been considered. What should have been provided is understanding of world religions, how religion affects culture and sets behaviour standards and so on. If we knew how our own behaviour and culture had a bedrock of religious rules and values, and how when they were broken or misinterpreted people wanting to have a better society fought to get change to fairer, kinder, more respectful rules that are policed and are protective of our general freedoms. In this way religion's importance would combine with studying civics for a healthy overview and wisdom about our behaviour to each other and respect for others and the good running of countries.
I am not Ester and I am Rebecca by Fleur Beale are books affordably on Trademe now about the struggles to leave a religious cult dominated by a group of men who take over the lives of the women in it, prescribing everything that they do and also having stringent control over the other men and their families.
The cults in NZ are strong and gain traction as our governments become separated from serving citizens and organising needed infrastructure for supporting the country. As government turns to devising 'wealth creation' for themselves, their cronies and the materialistic avid, to the detriment of those 'without', the people are drawn to those who profess to be more supportive, moral, virtuous and good-living than wider society.
Absolutely spot on. At my sons' primary school the old, old story was retailed by a semi literate 70 year old woman. Fortunately, my two sons and many of their classmates treated the whole affair as a jest. Nonetheless, as a matter of principle, I withdrew them from this imposition. Today, for them, religion is a non-issue.
Some interesting and useful information on the topic is to be found at the Secular Education's Network at: http://religioninschools.co.nz/
A record of Christianity's love and acceptance is to be found at: http://www.truthbeknown.com/victims.htm
The Bible in Schools program may not greatly benefit the cause of religion or education, and therefore there is a good case for bringing it to an end. However in doing so we should ask ourselves whether secularism forms a sufficient basis for a strong and stable society. Arguably it did not in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, and it seems to hold no greater promise for New Zealand in the era of neo-liberal capitalism.
We could also consider whether religious believers, whether of a fundamentalist or liberal flavour, have something of value to contribute to the world. My experience, both here at home and in the Islamic world, has persuaded me that they do, and that it behoves us to read their scriptures and observe their way of life with objective dispassionate interest.
New Zealand parents have been demoralised. They must put their infants or toddlers in daycare to be looked after by strangers so they can both work to earn enough money to keep a roof over their heads. They are told by the media, the medical profession and teachers how to raise their children. They are uncertain of everything. If children misbehave, the sadists say it is because they were not smacked, the evangelists say it is because they have no moral basis taught by religion, and some teenage dietician will say research shows they have not been fed properly. There will always be some deficiency in parenting pointed out.
I was subjected to a solid catholic upbringing in the 1950s and 60s. It has taken me decades to get rid of the nonsense that was put into my head. I could never say the priests and nuns were other than kind, intelligent people who lived their faith but how they could believe the hocus pocus is still beyond me. The only good thing I can say about my religious experience is that it inoculated me for the rest of my life against ever falling into some other religion, cult or sect, or ever believing the end of the world doomsday sayers. It is unfortunate that this does not happen often enough.
In a secular society like ours where there are examples of just about every religion and every form of atheism and agnosticism to choose from . those who choose a religion and to become immersed in it seem to me to do so in a moment of vulnerability. Some people clearly have a disposition toward adopting one and if not brought up from birth with one variety or other, often move from one doctrine to another, searching for some meaning to life and or a kind of security.
I'm sure it's like drugs. Most people can experiment a bit and do some socially and it doesn't come to control their lives. A few are susceptible and become dependent, and it doesn't depend on the particular drug so much as the individual, If your addiction prone any poison will work, and I suspect it is the same personality that is susceptible to religion as is susceptible to drugs. Religion is often a way out of drug addiction .
Capturing little children at an impressionable age is a long established priority for evangelists . There will always be a church of some kind for anyone to gravitate to if life throws up a need or desire for someone to look. I agree with Chris there is no place in our society for the compulsory education system to be providing a platform for recruitment .
D J S
BTW Where's Yulia?
New Zealanders are lucky if they can put their infants into daycare "to be looked after by strangers". The unlucky ones cannot afford to have children at all. When I was growing up we were taught that the communists in Russia wanted to destroy the family by making mothers work in industry and putting children into the care of state institutions. Capitalism has now effectively achieved the same result in New Zealand, but without accepting the Soviet system's social obligation to provide equally for the material needs of all children.
So why is that as well as being forced to give their children into the care of others, New Zealand parents are "uncertain" of their role? It could be that the system has willfully created the illusion of parental inadequacy (all the better to have them surrender their children to commercial day care and state educators) or it could be that the old simple verities which gave parents confidence to manage their children have disappeared from their lives along with organised religion.
Regardless of why or how parents are made to feel inadequate, it is in the nature of children to misbehave irrespective of diet, discipline or moral instruction. "Misbehavior" (however defined) in children is normal, and needs to be recognised as normal, but is condoned to the peril of society, parent and child.
I had the different experience of being raised as an atheist (also "in the 1950s and 60s"), and came to the study of religion as a mature person. In doing so I learned that with benefit of detachment we can understand what drives religions, sects and cults and we can more or less follow their internal logic. That enables us to draw certain truths from the world view of religious believers, and, where appropriate, to incorporate those truths in our own world view.
What Nietzsche's "God is dead" means
Spoiler: in rushed social engineers (like a bull in a china shop)
Interesting how everyone commenting so far appears to be set against the option of "Bible in Schools". When I grew up my family was involved in delivering bible in schools and my father was well respected in the country region I grew up in. There was no talk of hell used to scare children and the sunday school camps were almost universally attended by the children of the primary school (churched and unchurched alike) due to the fun everyone had them. I am sure that the opposition to Bible in schools is based on a few isolated incidences that were not perfect and get blown up out of proportion by those who wish to change society for "the better". I think the perfect example of this that has already played out to the detriment of NZ society is the effort to remove corporal punishment from schools and finally households. There has been no associated benefit for society and instead a number of ruined careers (eg the teacher who recently was fined for calling two boys kicking a soccer ball in class a pair of dickheads and grabbing them by the shirt neck and arm!) and terrified parents. Please think some more about the impact removing traditional ways of doing things has on society before demanding that all conform to your opinion of the way society should operate.
In answer to David Stone, the comparison between religion and drugs was made by Karl Marx but his much quoted aphorism "religion is the opiate of the masses" or more strictly "religion is the opium of the people" needs to be taken in its context which was understanding of and even sympathetic to the role of religion in society. I won't try to quote the entire passage here, but suggest that everyone who wants to understand religion, whether as believer or critic, should read it with the care and attention that it deserves.
Apart from that, what differentiates the practice of religion from the use of opiates? First religion in general discourages the use of opiates and mind-altering drugs and proposes an alternative routes to nirvana, enlightenment or salvation. (Yes, there are exceptions and contradictions which I will not attempt to explain here). Second, religion in general provides structures, relationships, rules and doctrines which assist the believer to function effectively within "the world" or given system of things, where drugs normally deplete our ability to effectively either function within or oppose the temporal order.
Why are there so many religions, and why do some people move through a succession of religious beliefs as David notes? If we accept Marx's theory, we would expect there to be as many religions as there are social realities, and that is indeed true, from social orders down through classes to the level of the individual. People move between different religious expressions as they develop intellectually, emotionally and socially. Every social order spawns its own broad religious expression (Catholicism, Protestantism, Shia or Sunni Islam, Hinduism and so on) and a given broad religious current will find different expression within different social classes. For example within the Protestant tradition are high church Anglicanism ("the Tory Party at prayer") and non-conformist sects like the Salvation Army (the working class seeking after its own salvation). So religion as ideology is a sword that cuts two ways. By mirroring the worldly order in an idealized divine order established religions both sanctify and challenge social systems, while embryonic religions (such as Calvinism at the time of the Reformation) provide the model for the structures and doctrines of new, revolutionary social orders.
After Marx, read the story of Cain and Abel in the fourth chapter of the Biblical book of Genesis. Often misconstrued by those ignorant of scripture as an account of "the first murder", it is in fact a sublime commentary on the relationship between church and state, religion and civil society, spiritual and temporal realms.
I am a regular commentator on this forum
I am a happy Christian water melon (socialist green committed to an ecologically sustainable future) whose receiving of the Holy Spirit (conversion) in the early 1980s gave me a world view (Sermon on the Mount)sharply at odds with the conservative stuff I used to swallow as a Young Nat at Auckland Uni.
I support LBGTI rights
I also taught in Sunday School when attending a Brethren Church.
I also helped with Bible in Schools
The sad thing demonstrated by your comments and those responding is that none of them appear to have any idea what is actually taught in BIS.
They are not permitted to proselytise and they in combination with chaplians have done an amazing job in pastoral care with kids for years.
Getting tired of kneejerk Christohobia.
Very brave Andrew, I'm a non believer but well versed in the Bible, used to be sent to Sunday school in the 60s.
I actually believe that the lack of religious grounding in a supposed scientific rationalist secular era poses the West a problem. Secularism has no intrinsic moral system, nor a compositorium of countless generations ethical experience based upon just that; action and consequence. The Western mind is based upon the concept of individuality in the image of the transcendent. Not something easily replaced by market fundamentalism or Marxism, nor sheer denial of our cultural antecedents.
I despair at the various modern versions of Christianity, yet they serve to keep alive our central cultural artifact. And there's the problem, we have declared God dead. So now what are we going to do?
In reply to Nick J: We are challenged to acquire an authentic knowledge of God. When we say that God is dead, we are really saying that we have rejected all or a good part of our received knowledge of God. Meanwhile people of good faith can still hold to an understanding of God as revealed in the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, and those with an intellectual appreciation of the Old Testament Hebrew scriptures can also come to authentic knowledge. I personally believe that the best place to begin is at the beginning with the Book of Genesis, but that is a work which can only be deciphered by an informed and discerning intellect. More commonly people in contemporary western society start with the Gospels which is in some ways an easier point of entry, but in other ways leaves us guessing.
"Interesting how everyone commenting so far appears to be set against the option of "Bible in Schools"."
Possibly because we don't want our kids brainwashed by strangers? I mean at the very least some of us might want to brainwash them ourselves if we happen to be of a different religion/sect than those doing the brainwashing at school. Or some of us might want to just ignore the whole question of religion because we don't believe in it.
I certainly wouldn't have wanted my kids inculcated with a hatred of non-Christians and gay people, "socialists" and the various other things that fundagelicals seem to dislike. And I certainly wouldn't have wanted my kids to be segregated and singled out because they didn't take part.
Funny, thousands of people in New Zealand have managed to bring up their kids without any religious instruction at all, and they seem to turn out fine. So I don't see the necessity for Christian morality – or Hindu morality or Muslim morality. And let's not forget, their is a much higher proportion of religious people in jail than there are atheists in most countries.:)
A glance at the webpage of the Churches Education Commission would have allayed any of the misconceptions and misunderstandings that your article reflects.
Two direct quotations will suffice to show the intention of the programme and the safeguards that are put in place.
“Churches Education Commission has been providing CRE (Christian Religious Education) programmes to State primary schools throughout New Zealand since 1973. The CRE programme weaves together Bible stories with values set out in the New Zealand Curriculum. The Bible stories are used to illustrate and teach different values such as loving your neighbour, personal worth, courage, inclusion and forgiveness. Whether in a small group, large group or Champions programme, our CRE programmes are a fun, engaging 30 minute lesson which allows students to learn about positive Christian values and beliefs.”
Also, The Code of Conduct which is agreed to by all teachers on Christian Religious Education states the following:
1. Become an accredited CRE volunteer by completing the provided training.
2. Teach from the Life Choices curriculum approved by CEC New Zealand.
3. Educate children about values and Christian beliefs. Never evangelise.
4. Use positive language that children understand. No religious jargon.
5. Respect the variety of experiences and beliefs represented by the families of the children in the class.
"but that is a work which can only be deciphered by an informed and discerning intellect. "
Oh God here we go again. The idea that some people are too stupid to read and interpret the Bible. Especially atheists who are obviously stupider than religious people/sarc, because it's probably needed here. Still, I've got no objection to anyone reading the Bible. It's one of the quickest ways to atheism.
Geoff Fischer, I have read the Gospels and the OT, quite frankly nothing wil in effect persuade me of the literal and real existence of the God of Isreal or Jesus. That does not mean I reject the wisdom therein, the widely acknowledged absence of which is to me a real problem.
The below is from Dr Google and Wiki, it expresses what I would have said in reply as to what the real problem is if you adopt a pure enlightenment rationalist/ atheist viewpoint.
Nietzsche recognized the crisis that this "Death of God" represented for existing moral assumptions in Europe as they existed within the context of traditional Christian belief. "When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one's feet. This morality is by no means self-evident... By breaking one main concept out of Christianity, the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in one's hands." This is why in "The Madman", a passage which primarily addresses nontheists (especially atheists), the problem is to retain any system of values in the absence of a divine order.
The Enlightenment's conclusion of the "Death of God" gave rise to the proposition that humans - and Western Civilization as a whole - could no longer believe in a divinely ordained moral order. This death of God will lead, Nietzsche said, not only to the rejection of a belief of cosmic or physical order but also to a rejection of absolute values themselves — to the rejection of belief in an objective and universal moral law, binding upon all individuals. In this manner, the loss of an absolute basis for morality leads to nihilism. This nihilism is that for which Nietzsche worked to find a solution by re-evaluating the foundations of human values.
Nihilism, and the rejection of absolute values. Sounds to me very post modernist./
Nick J: "nothing wil in effect persuade me of the literal and real existence of the God of Isreal or Jesus".
Consideration of the "literal and real existence of the God of Israel or Jesus" must be preceded by an authentic understanding of the meaning of the phrase "the God of Israel..". I recall Margaret Thatcher saying that there is no such thing as society, and that the only thing that could be said to exist is the individual. She evidently believed that only that which is present to the senses can be said to exist. Instead of asking whether society (or God) "exists" I find myself asking whether God or society are important and meaningful, and if so, in how and why.
It is true that the "Death of God" and the loss of "absolute values" may lead to moral relativism and thence to nihilism. Along the way, post-modern society has persuaded itself that there are no absolutes. Yet in physics we cling to the notions of the absolute zero of temperature, perfectly elastic bodies, absolute darkness and so on. Physical absolutes remain crucial to human understanding of the world, and moral absolutes are still the essence of rule of law.
Guerilla Surgeon: "Oh God here we go again. The idea that some people are too stupid to read and interpret the Bible." I argued that some people misunderstand the meaning of certain scriptures. To argue otherwise is to deny the possibility of any argument over Biblical interpretation. Be an atheist if you must, but as far as you can, try to keep the discussion on a rational plane.
"It is true that the "Death of God" and the loss of "absolute values" may lead to moral relativism and thence to nihilism. "
FFS, where do you people get this stuff? It's pretty much a truism that the less religious a country is, the more moral and ethical people are, the less crime there is, the smaller the prison population is. All things being equal let's say, we can exclude theocracies like Saudi Arabia where they'll chop your damn hand off for shoplifting or whatever.
As professor Stephen Law of the University of London observed: "If a decline in religiosity were the primary cause [of social ills], then we would expect those countries that have seen the greatest decline to have the most serious problems. But that is not the case."
And within the US – that laboratory that teaches us so much – the most religious states have much more crime than the secular ones.
So stop saying this.. Just stop!...
Geoff, by the God of Is real I mean God the "individual" as written in the texts who "does stuff" as written by human hand. I don't buy that, yet if you were to describe God as transcendent, well yes, that's what a God is for want of a better description. In that respect I have reason to believe.
Guerilla Surgeon said: "It's pretty much a truism that the less religious a country is, the more moral and ethical people are, the less crime there is, the smaller the prison population is".
You would need the results of objective research based on closely defined terms before you could claim that as a true statement, let alone a truism. For example New Zealand is not, on the whole, a very religious country, and its prisons, which are many and large, are overflowing with convicted criminals.
However, I can accept that there may be some truth to the claim that "the less religious a country is... the smaller the prison population is..". If I had been less religious I would not have occupied a cell in Her Majesty's Mount Eden Prison and other places of detention, and similarly the penitentiaries of despotic regimes regimes the world over would be less full if they did not have to accommodate those among their people who follow the way of God.
So we can discuss these issues dispassionately and objectively, but if the secularists were right they would be able to provide evidence and rational argument to back their claims. Putting believers in prison, or screaming at us "Stop saying this..Just Stop!.." doesn't cut the mustard.
"You would need the results of objective research based on closely defined terms before you could claim that as a true statement, "
I could trawl through the academic databases, but I can't be arsed.
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