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More Bible in Schools

The topic of teaching religion in schools occasionally rises to the surface of the subjects currently considered sufficiently important to justify multiple stories, editorials, cartoons, etc. In many countries the idea probably wouldn’t get a lot of attention but here in New Zealand – which I am proud to say is a relatively non-religious country – any controversy involving the topic is often seen as quite interesting.

So yes, the subject has come up in the media yet again. It has hardly been given the same level of importance as our contaminated milk exports, or the government’s spying activities, but it has been mentioned in several places.

In the Herald, for example, there was a cartoon, an editorial, an opinion piece, and a few articles. The general theme seemed to be that religion is silly and decreasingly relevant and probably should be kept out of schools.

Well yes, it’s hard not to agree. For example the cartoon showed some medieval scholars being taught some element of doctrine regarding non-believers being tortured by Lucifer. One of them asks “do you think schools will still be teaching this stuff 1000 years from now?” and the reply is “no way – people will be far more advanced, surely”. Apparently not.

It’s not the funniest cartoon ever I agree, but it does make the point that I have made several times in the past: that religion is primitive and embarrassing and we really should have matured as a civilisation sufficiently by now that we don’t need fairy tales any more.

Christianity is the dominant religion in New Zealand and it has the most significance from the past, but there would still be a case to say that if religion is going to be a topic in schools that there should be some time spent on alternative views, including atheism (even though, I hasten to add, it is not a religion).

And if religion is going to be taught in schools the last person doing it should be a minister, priest, pastor, etc. They are too locked in to their own doctrine to offer a reasonable and fair appraisal of the subject. If we were going to teach environmental science at school would be invite GreenPeace or the operator of a coal-fuelled power plant? And if we were going to teach politics would we invite the leader of the Communist Party or the leader of the Nationalist Party?

I think if the teaching of any other subject involved such blatant bias there would be a huge protest against it. So why should religion be taught by a representative of a local church? Clearly this is totally inappropriate.

I have discussed religion with real theologians from the university I work for and they have a far more reasonable approach. I think a discussion of religion from someone like them would be genuinely useful, although I must admit it can be hard to pin them down on certain points: one wouldn’t even tell me if they thought there was a god or not!

So yet again religion is demanding special privileges. It always does and unfortunately often gets them. But maybe the most annoying thing is that even with all of those advantages the dominant religion still claims it is persecuted. I know persecution is an essential part of the Christian myth but surely this is a bit ridiculous. They are allowed to teach their fairy tales as if they were fact. Who else is allowed that privilege?

So religion has clearly showed us that it cannot be trusted to act reasonably. In previous blog entries I have argued for allowing religion in schools because I thought kids would be able to disentangle fact from fiction. But I’m beginning to change my mind. Religion is totally oriented towards propagandising the masses, especially the young and impressionable. If they could be trusted to offer a balanced view I would say OK, let them in. But they can’t. So I say get them out, or should we let GreenPeace and the Communists in to our schools as well?

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