This blog is an email in response to Reverend Christine’s latest email to me. Apparently, I am now famous in the Parish of Oxford-Cust! Reverend Christine has referred to me in her last newsletter and shared her response to me on their facebook page. I did notice that my first email to her or my subsequent response has not been shared on the facebook page, so I’m not sure how the Parish will understand the discussion we had.
Christine, if you’re reading this, feel free to share my emails! No one can consider themselves informed if they only read one side of an discussion!
From: Dave Smyth
Sent: Monday, 2 May 2016 2:15 p.m.
To: ‘Christine Allan-John’
Subject: RE: newsletter
Thanks for your response. You raise a number of points, which I would call “Christian Myths”. I’ve heard them repeatedly from other people on the topic of Bible in Schools but they don’t stand up to scrutiny.
Secular didn’t mean “no faith” in 1877
I think that this concept might have come from the fact that the word “secular” has (like many words), multiple meanings. However, it seems to have caught on amongst Christians to cling on to a “made-up” definition when it comes to debate on Bible in Schools. “Secular” most certainly did have the meaning of “non-religious” in the 19th century. Here’s a definition from an 1828 dictionary. If there’s still any doubt what people understood secular to mean in NZ at the time the Education Act was established, below is a contemporary newspaper cutting from the “New Zealand Tablet” on 25th October 1878. I do agree that secular education shouldn’t mean no education about religion. I think it would be beneficial to teach about religion as they do in the UK, from an academic perspective.
Christian faith is our founding culture
There’s no denying that Chrisitan beliefs have played an enormous part in moulding our present cultural practices. However, I think any anthropologist would think it’s a stretch to call it our “founding culture”. For a start, we don’t speak any language found in original biblical scripture. Christianity was layered on top of rich and diverse pagan cultures that were so strong they have even found their way into Christian celebrations and are now considered “traditional”. Both Christmas and Easter are full of pagan symbolism and the date of Christmas itself was originally chosen to coincide with pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. Early Christians wisely decided to absorb existing pagan festivals into their religious celebrations rather than try and fight them.
What if we banned Maori culture?
The comparison of Maori culture with Christian culture doesn’t work. Teaching about Maori culture and mythology is not the same as instructing in Christian faith, which is what the bible in schools classes do. Also, a visit to a Marae is unlikely to include any religious instruction. It should also be noted that Karakia are not traditionally a Christian prayer and some Maori do resent the Christian appropriation of their culture in that way.
I think you are quite right that the lack of any religious education is probably why bible in schools persists. However, I believe that religion should be taught academically and that ideals can be passed on without passing on faith.
It’s not indoctrination
I’m not sure what you think indoctrination is but I don’t see how teaching Christian faith to 5 years olds could be anything other than indoctrination? Here’s what I think it is;
- Teaching beliefs uncritically from a position of authority.
That sounds very much like bible in schools classes to me! In fact, the presence of the kids normal teacher is an implicit endorsement that the beliefs they are being taught must be true.
You also confuse the teaching of values and morality with teaching faith, as if the two cannot be separated. Clearly, you can raise a child and teach them values without religious faith. In fact the Ministry of Education requires it as part of the curriculum.
What if you Atheists are wrong and you’re going to hell?
It’s no coincidence that most Muslims grow up in countries where Islam is the main religion and most Hindus are in India. There’s not as much choice in most people’s beliefs as you might think. That is unless you’re an atheist. Most atheists seem to have decided to leave a religious background rather than been born into it. I can only speak for myself but I think that there is no basis for belief in the bible as the word of a Christian god. There are too many inaccuracies and contradictions. Our experience of human life is not reflective of the kind and good god that modern Christians believe in. If I were to believe in a god, he certainly seems more like the petty, jealous, vengeful god of the old testament.
What if you’ve chosen the wrong religion? There are around 3000 religions in the world and being born into one is not exactly the most likely way to be right. We could try and worship multiple gods, like the Romans did but that sounds too hard.
Our legal system is based on the last 6 Commandments
Ahhh… not entirely true. Aside from the fact that I think we can be pretty sure that people realised killing and theft was naughty before Moses held the tablets aloft, laws were created well before the 10 commandments.
Our English legal system is also derived from pagan Roman and Greek law and our modern court system descends from the secular legal system established by William the Conqueror, nearly 1000 years ago.
Blasphemy laws are still in New Zealand law, which I think is appallingly backward.
- Honour thy father and thy mother
Nothing in law about this one.
- Thou shalt not kill
Yes, this is in our legal system but was also recorded as law in Mesopotamia in the Code of Ur-Nammu, hundreds of years before Moses.
- Thou shalt not commit adultery
Pretty sure this isn’t illegal outside of biblical laws and Gore. Of course, in the new testament, divorce and adultery are against the law and as Jesus himself stated in Matthew 5:17-18, the old testament laws still applied and so under biblical law, the adulterer would be stoned to death.
- Thou shalt not steal
Yes, this is in our laws, although Roman law had “Furtum“, which was effectively the same thing.
- Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour
Again, this is in our law but was also in Roman law in Table VIII – “Whoever is convicted of speaking false witness shall be flung from the Tarpeian Rock.”
- Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.
While envy is an ugly emotion, there is nothing illegal about it.
Not sure how the practice of Sati is relevant. However, I am equally happy that we don’t have the god-endorsed stonings, infanticide, genocide, rape, murder, cannibalism and general slaughter that appears in the bible.
All good values come from Jesus
My Daughter is 6. She knows nothing of religion or belief in gods (yet) and behaves the way she does because it’s what we are teaching her. I teach her these values, not because of any religious influence but because life works better for everyone if we all care for each other. Saying that all good values come from Jesus is not exactly critical thinking. There are many people alive and dead who have/had good values without any Christian influence at all. That is the kind of blinkered faith-teaching, indoctrination that I would prefer her to avoid.
“Do unto others as you would have them do to you” is certainly a great value to hold but it is not foreign to other cultures or religions are you suggest. The concept of reciprocity is found in…
- Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” Udana-Varga 5:18
- Confucianism: “What I do not wish men to do to me, I also wish not to do to men.” Analects 15:23
- Ancient Egyptian: “Do for one who may do for you, that you may cause him thus to do.”
- Hinduism: “This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.” Mahabharata 5:1517
- Inca: “Do not to another what you would not yourself experience.” Manco Capoc, founder of the empire of Peru.
- Islam: “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” Number 13 of Imam “Al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths.”
- Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary.” Talmud, Shabbat 31a.
- Native Americans: “All things are our relatives; what we do to everything, we do to ourselves. All is really One.” Black Elk
- Shinto: “The heart of the person before you is a mirror. See there your own form” Munetada Kurozumi
- Sikhism: “Don’t create enmity with anyone as God is within everyone.” Guru Arjan Devji 259
- Taoism: “To those who are good to me, I am good; to those who are not good to me, I am also good. Thus all get to be good.”
- Socrates: “Do not do to others that which would anger you if others did it to you.” (Greece; 5th century BCE).
There’s many more but you get the idea. Christians often claim that all good things come from their beliefs but in our diverse society, that comes across as quite an arrogant thing to say.
They know not what they do
I’m referring here to the interpretation you’ve put on the decline in Christian faith. Ironically, while you are pointing out that too much “choice”, is part of the reason for people turning away from religion, you don’t seem to realise that what you’re really complaining about are the choices people made due to an increase in their free will. I think that it’s unreasonable to assume that people who have moved away from religion have done so because of a kind of “accidental” drift. Many people have done so consciously and with conviction.
Prior to the 1960’s society was very oppressive of individualism and conforming to social expectations such as religious observance was expected. Women were not commonly ordained into the Anglican church until the 1970’s and without this change, you would not be in the position you are in today. Given the verse in 1 Timothy 2:12, biblical interpretations are apparently quite flexible!
They are not real Christians!
It seems that every religious group can point to another branch of their own religion and say that they are not following the teachings as they are intended. Most Muslims would certainly say the same thing about ISIS not representing “real Muslims” but that did not deter you from comparing teaching Muslim suicide bombers as an alternative to Christian religious instruction in NZ schools.
This comes back to what I’ve been saying about the difference between teaching values and instructing in faith. The fact remains that we can teach values (that also happen to be held by Christians, Muslims etc.) without any need for reference to Jesus, God or any kind of faith teaching. It’s simply not necessary to raise good kids. I will always support someone’s right to their own religious beliefs but that right does not and should not extend into access to children in our secular school system. Not for any religion.
By the way, I saw in your latest newsletter that you’ve shared your previous response to me on your Parish facebook page. I’ve also been blogging extensively about the whole Bible in Schools issue and posted our discussion. Here’s the first page. Feel free to share my responses on your facebook page as well.
So what do you think? Please comment below…
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.