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Bible in Schools Revisited

I just listened to a Radio New Zealand podcast which discussed the future of teaching religion in New Zealand schools. Its a subject I have mentioned here a couple of times in the past, including in the entry “Bible in Schools” which attracted a record (for this blog) 87 comments!

In that entry I said that I supported the Bible (and other aspects of Christianity) being taught in New Zealand schools because kids tended to be able to see when the material they were being taught wasn’t necessarily 100% accurate. I also said I would have liked to have seen other religions being taught as well.

My thoughts on this subject have hardened somewhat. In fact I don’t think the Bible should be taught in schools any longer. I do think that religion should be taught and stories from the Bible should be discussed in the context of their literary merit and their possible application to morality but I wouldn’t want to see Bible stores being presented as if they really happened (except in the rare case when they are accepted as real history but I can’t even think of any that I would put in that category).

According to current legislation New Zealand schools should reflect the wishes and world views of the community they exist in. This may be the law but I don’t think its a very good idea because it means that kids could be disadvantaged if they live in a community with a silly world view (such as creationism or other forms of superstition).

Schools should be presenting a view which reflects the values of the country as a whole and should try to avoid world views which are immoral or irrelevant. Of course the opposite view also has some merit: that schools should offer some variety and not just parrot whatever the current form of political correctness dictates. Maybe there’s room for a compromise there.

The podcast mentioned the case of Christian propaganda in schools causing great confusion to some pupils. I personally think its immoral to tell young kids that Jesus is the King of the World. That’s just stupid but the parent can’t tell their kids that without causing conflict between what the teacher and what the parent is saying.

It is usually possible to opt out of religious material being presented at schools. Why is that? Its not possible to opt out of other subjects. Also, religious education is only possible by exploiting a loophole in the law where the school is technically closed while the instruction takes place. Don’t these factors indicate that this isn’t instruction at all but a form of disinformation?

I do agree that education about Christianity is important because a lot of New Zealand’s history, culture, law, art, and politics cannot be understood without that background. But that education should follow the history and politics of Christianity and stay away from unsubstantiated nonsense like Jesus being the King of anything.

And other religions and philosophy in general should also be covered, including the history of Islam. Maybe if other religions were better understood there might be less conflict between the world’s belief systems. Or to take a more cynical view: if you see Islam as the enemy its even more important to understand their motivations!

Different groups have wildly different ideas on what form religious education should take but there was one anecdote mentioned in the podcast which we need to do something about. A fairly senior student told his teacher that he didn’t know why we celebrate Easter. He had never heard the Christian crucifixion story at all.

I think the crucifixion story is basically fiction but we should still know that it exists. And we should also know that it originally came from pagan fertility celebrations before that. Those are important social historical aspects of our society.

Another issue is morality. Many Christians insist that morality cannot exist without religion. I would disagree and say that it is actually difficult for it to exist with religion, but either way I think morality and ethics are important subjects. So I think more philosophy should be taught and that would naturally branch into theology on occasions.

Its possible to talk about religion sensibly and I have no objection to most of the discussion being about Christianity because I freely admit its the most important religion here by far. But the history and morality of Christianity is one thing, making silly statements like “Jesus is the King of the World” is just totally unacceptable!

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