Reverend Christine got back to me again to expand on her reasoning for supporting bible in schools. I’d heard most of these before but I appreciate the effort that she put into replying to me, as she went into extra detail that I hadn’t seen anyone else cover before. The thing that struck me about her reasons is that aside from the faith aspect of her beliefs, most atheists would agree with her about the values and morality and even the part on education about religion. If you don’t know about religion, you’re ignorant of a large and important part of our culture and history. I do think it’s foolish to exclude religion entirely from the school curriculum but I would like to see academic study, not religious faith teaching.
If you missed the first email I sent to Christine, you can find it here. This blog is part of a story about my experience with religious education in my Daughter’s school. If you missed the start of it, you can find the beginning here.
From: Christine Allan-John
Sent: Saturday, 30 April 2016 8:01 p.m.
To: Dave Smyth
Subject: RE: newsletter
Hi Dave, Thanks for your reply. Sorry it’s taken a while to get back to you. (Busy with church activities!!)
You have some good points.
When the 1877 education act was drawn up the word “secular” meant no particular brand of the Christian faith, but now the meaning has changed to mean “no faith” and as I have said that was not the intention.
There would be no culture in the world who has no religion/faith of some sort. Having a belief in something greater than ourselves is part of being human. It’s a deep thirst within us all. We are body, soul and spirit. To deny spirituality is to deny a third of our being.
The Judaeo/Christian faith is our founding culture. It would be ridiculous to leave teaching about our own culture till year 11 and then have it as an option. Imagine suggesting that teaching the Maori culture being left till then! There would be an uproar. Imagine the response if you said to a Kaumatua on a school visit to a Marae “No Karakia (prayers) please!” That would cause great offence to the Maori culture. The Maori gods Rangi and Papa are taught in the school curriculum but not our own Bible Stories. Kids may have gone to Sunday School in the past and learnt the European cultural stories but now many don’t. I once asked some 11 year olds who Jesus’ Mother was and got the serious reply “Merry Christmas.” We now teach “classics” as a subject – all about the Graeco/Roman gods, but there are no Christianity/Theology classes unless you attend a Church School. Why are people so afraid of teaching about the Christian culture of our European heritage? Perhaps one of the reasons Bible -in-Schools has persisted because there is nothing about Christianity in our School curriculum. And yes I would agree that Bible in Schools is probably more faith based than Christian culture. Yet 60,000 people (Bible in Schools teachers) in New Zealand think that the Christian faith is worth passing on. That says something in itself! My experience of B in S teachers is that about 90% are ex teachers anyway so you do have many experienced people coming into the class room and the teachers are usually there these days anyway.
I can see that if you are coming from a “non faith ” perspective you would see Christianity as taught to a five year old as indoctrination. I agree that your point about only hearing about a God of love and not hearing about sin and hell till later on would seem disingenuous. I suppose it’s like not teaching about sex to five year olds and waiting until they are older and they can truly understand the concepts. But even five year olds can understand the concept of “doing the wrong thing” and the consequences. As I say to my atheist cousins – one day we will know who is right and who is wrong about heaven and hell. I’d rather err on the side of heaven, than live with regret for eternity. I would still rather have my child taught about a God of love who says to care about each other and put others before yourself than the god of individualism we have in schools now.
Our whole legal system is based on the last 6 Ten Commandments. The teachings of Jesus don’t have things like sati (suttee) as they have in India where
“a woman who dies burning herself on her husband’s funeral fire was considered most virtuous, and was believed to directly go to heaven, redeeming all the forefathers rotting in hell, by this “meritorious” act. The woman who committed Sati (suttee)was worshipped as a Goddess, and temples were built in her memory.”
We don’t have a caste system nor do we leave the dying on the streets. These are things from a culture which is not Christian. You talked about teaching “good values”. The caste system is valued by the Indian culture. The values you favour are all from Christianity. “Do unto others as you would have them do to you ” as taught by Jesus, is an extremely foreign value for many cultures. The values in the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan are bizarre to many cultures. The prodigal son should have been beaten to death for being so dishonourable to his father!! But that wasn’t the way Jesus taught. All the “Good values” you espouse come from Jesus and his teaching about a loving God. Why not acknowledge where these “good values” come from. They didn’t just “happen”.
Why have church attendance and the numbers who say they have faith, dropped so much. The church dropped the ball in passing on faith. Church was a community gathering point, where the faith was passed on by being there. Then came television and “choice”. “They can choose if they want faith when they are older!” No one chooses in a vacuum. If you don’t know anything about the subject you won’t choose it. You have to choose from an informed perspective between two or more options. The liberalism of the 60s was having an impact, the” Lloyd Geering” effect especially in the Presbyterian church. The ministers had lost their faith and an empty Gospel doesn’t get “caught” by the next generation. Bible Classes used to be the only entertainment especially the dances and camps but they mostly faded away with new forms of electronic entertainment. Many Christians worked hard to give their children a good education or sporting opportunities but forgot about passing on their faith until it was too late. Any young person who was any good at sport and got into a rep team faced the problem of Sunday morning practices. (We had that issue with one of ours) Unless the church had a lively youth group, young people just dropped away. The Baptists made great choices about the priorities of youth workers, but the rest of us were pathetic.
Your statement about Christian militants. These people aren’t Christian, they are sectarians. Christians are people who follow the teachings of Jesus and they certainly don’t. I am just as horrified by their behaviour as you are. Don’t get me started on Republicanism.
As an ex teacher I valued critical thinking very highly and especially the ethics around genetics would make for very interesting discussions now. Christians don’t take their brains out when they become Christians! Theology used to be seen as the Queen of the sciences and most early scientists were Christians – they wanted to understand more about the earth and its origins. There probably wouldn’t be a need for Bible in Schools if the curriculum did cover the basics of Christianity and the well known stories, but it doesn’t.
Anyway – thank you for the debate. I have enjoyed our discussion.
Rev Christine Allan-Johns
Vicar of Oxford-Cust
What do you think of Christine’s email? Please comment below and then read my response here.