Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Religion in Public Schools.

Ok, so I know someone who has a horse. The horse is about two metres tall. That my friends, is a high horse, and I am about to get on it!!

Recently, Tony Abbott stated that all public schools should have a religion class because without the teachings of Christianity, they were not getting a complete education.

Julia Gillard has recently announced that she is an Athiest and does not believe in God, however, the Labor Government will provide a chaplain service for all public schools. Julia has been slaughtered via the media by the Anglican Church for stating her views, she has been told it will lose her votes and may cost her the election.

I sincerely hope that the general public do not vote according to people's personal belief systems and are a lot more open minded than that.

I have a pretty strong opinion on this one. I truly believe that without education, people become ignorant, cruel, intolerant and close-minded. All schools should teach religion as part of the curriculum so that children have a wider view of their world. This class should not be a stand alone topic, it should be part of social studies. It should include ALL religions and give students a view of their fellow pupils that we did not have as kids. Understanding other religions and where they originated, their main focus, the book they derive their beliefs from, the language they use and the rituals involved would give kids a much larger capacity to engage their peers in discussions, create empathy and stop the questions regarding celebrations (or lack thereof).

It should include Catholic, Anglican, Adventist, Buddism, Hinduism, Islam, Scientology, Mormons etc...and the sub religions should also be covered. In later years they should be taught the religious beliefs that may affect them directly. Which religion is tolerant of gay couples? Which believes abortion is the womans right to choose? Which believes that there is no place called hell, it is merely a lack of God? Which believes that there are many Gods? All of these questions should be answered in school. These should be taught in a purely educational way, without bias or passion.

Tolerance is not something we are born with, it is learned. The best way to learn is to be given all of the information regarding the topic, not just the Christian views. We live in a society filled with people from all different religions and right now, intolerance has never been higher. In my own family there are 7 Day Adventists, Catholics and Agnostics (or Darwinists). It took me a long time to get my head around the fact that I can't plan anything between sunset Friday and Sunset Saturday (Sabbath) if I wanted my Grandparents or cousins to come. They do not eat meat, so dinner parties have to provide for that, and we can't go to many of the pubs for a meal as they are mostly steak houses and that is useless to them. They can't be baptised until they are older, it must be a personal choice and cannot be made by your parents for you. The Bible is the same. The teachings are very similar to Catholic teachings but in so many areas, they differ.

Buddism is another religion we have had a lot to do with. As a child I was a flower girl at a same sex wedding with the celebrant being a monk. The wedding was not legal (more's the pity) but the ceremony was a beautiful one filled with ritual, song and a joy I can't really describe.

I would have loved to find out more about these religions. More about why some come to my front door with pamphlets, why some adorn themselves with robes, veils, henna, dots, why some are bald, why some don't celebrate birthdays. What they eat, drink, say, do, and believe. I want to know all about my neighbours customs and I would love for my children to learn about them too.

My daughter attends a Catholic School. This was more out of necessity than want. We argued long and hard about this decision as both my husband and I are Agnostic, but in the end it was an easy choice. The more she learns, the more tolerant, loving and open-minded she will be. This is what we would choose for our children and provided the information is given in a dispassionate and educational way, there is surely no harm in it.


  1. This is exactly how I believe religion should be taught in Public Schools as well.

  2. Leigh your points are clear and welcome in this debate.

    Interestingly while in conversation with an older woman recently her criticism of her mother for voting the same way as her husband was strongly voiced, citing the suffragettes sacrifices, femanism and women's action groups to support her argument for an individuals responsibility to form their own opinion. Her mother totally believed she should do as her husband directed.

    On the issue of abortion law reform the woman was equally strongly opinionated, her church told her abortion was wrong, end of story.
    A total contradiction of her former stance for independant thinking.

    Moral, there is no knowing how logic or taught behavior will effect peoples opinions or principles.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I won't bother with giving my beliefs or opinions about which religion(s) should be taught in public schools. Instead I will offer some thoughts about yours as they are presented in this paper, where I think they are weak and where I think they are false.
    first let me say i know very little about politics and almost nothing about politics in Australia and so I also will not bother mentioning names or parties, but stick to the positions held by such groups.

    The first position is that religious studies in school are of benefit to both the student personally and to the society at large. This opinion seems to be accepted by most, whether it be a political party, individual politician or, your average mom/student/activist.
    what you propose to teach here is dispassionate data about religions. Knowing that there is such a thing as a religion and knowing the claims that that religion makes IS the very definition of dispassionate data, but let us dig a bit deeper. While simply giving data about a religion does make students more informed it does not necessarily improve morality (social or personal) per se. for example, i could relay the dispassionate data that Buddhists believe the material world including its wealth is an illusion, but that need not increase giving to the poor which is an obvious benefit to society. In order to improve social morality in the form of charity we would need to attest to the truths as they are taught by Buddhism. A truth like, "material wealth is a delusion and delusions are needless and so give your wealth away to any who ask" would need to be taught, and this is anything but dispassionate, it is pushing religious doctrines upon students. It is saying this religion is correct here, here, and here because it fits my/our understanding of beneficial and our understanding of morality.

  5. cont
    Attesting to the truth of a particular religion or religions (plural) is quite a different thing, and lacks all semblance to objectivity. for instance, if we say that Christianity teaches it is wrong to steal and furthermore Islam, Buddhism, and numerous other religions teach it is wrong to steal, and so you can see the truth of this particular religion or group of religions, you have not eliminated the problem of attesting to the truth of religion; you have merely multiplied the number of religions to which you attest.

    There are benefits to teaching religion in schools in a simple "here's the data" sort of way, but they are shallow at best. They might answer some questions about who is who and what they do, but the why they do what they do is left up to interpretation. If you ask a pamphlet-bearing Jehovah's Witness why he is at your door he would say "to obey God, and tell you the Truth". If pressed he might be able to explain why these activities are commanded by God, but in a world religion class your instructor would only be able to say that their church tells them they must. Thus it would go with other faiths. Why do they not eat meat? Because their faith/church says so. Why do they assemble on the weekends when i want to have my family barbecue? Because their religion requires it. Or, the elephant in the room, why do they not want to let two people that love each other get married? The only answer an objective (if there is such a thing) teacher could say is because their god says homosex is a sin. It would be silly for an objective teacher to explain why it's a sin, firstly because he probably doesn't know and secondly if he gives a fair explanation then he will be suspect of being one of the "nuts". And so the benefit of tolerance is not the outcome of this kind of religious studies. What we end up with is an arrogant ignorance. People thinking they know about "other" religions and giving shallow explanations for others' held beliefs all in the name of tolerance. And when a person of that "other" faith tries to give witness to what they believe and why, they are shushed and shut out of conversations and called freaks and nuts and bigots and all manner of evil names.

  6. cont
    Your first proposed solution to intolerance has merely made the intolerance more sophisticated or multifaceted. Giving facts about a myriad of religions might have some benefit but without showing why the religions are true we labor in vain. It's the "so what?" question that needs to be answered in a religions class.

    As for the paper itself and how you try to reasonably justify your position, have a few things to point out.

    you say:
    I sincerely hope that the general public do not vote according to people's personal belief systems and are a lot more open minded than that.

    This very statement is a statement from your own personal belief system. You have formed opinions, beliefs, about the world and how it SHOULD be and therefore you are directing others in the public to agree with your system. What you must do is show WHY they should. If your system is better you must show how it is better. I think you might be better off going with an angle like the following: "citizens should consider voting for candidates that propose REAL solutions to the problems we face in our community. While you might have certain beliefs (religious or otherwise) in common with one candidate you shouldn't base your vote simply on these commonalities but rather consider the methods the candidates will employ to solve our problems and base your vote on that."

    You say:
    I would have loved to find out more about these religions.

    Thanks be to God its not too late.

  7. cont
    You say:
    The more she learns the more tolerant, loving and open-minded she will be. This is what we would choose for our children and provided the information is given in a dispassionate and educational way, there is surely no harm in it.

    This assumes that educations breeds goodness. Is it true that only the uneducated hate? Or that educated people love? Obviously not. Love is a choice of the heart and while you might hope it for your children and do your best to encourage it, you are not able to choose it for them no matter how much education you provide them. Some of the most notoriously evil men in history were well educated. We need only to take a look at child development and psychology to see that what breeds love is love, not information.

    For now I'll say that the paper doesn’t offer much on the side of persuasion. A few declarations about how it should be and a few sweet anecdotes entertain but won't make people act differently, much less convince them to change their point of view.

    Next, if you'll allow, I'll address the Tony Abbott statement and "complete education".

    Anyway, this has been enjoyable and I look forward to reading more from you. Best wishes on your schooling and your politicking. :)