Sam Clements: Keep religious teaching out of schools

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Knowledge of Bible as a cultural force has its place, but not coupled with evangelism, writes Sam Clements.

Religious instruction is an anomaly in our secular state school system. Photo / Getty Images
Religious instruction is an anomaly in our secular state school system. Photo / Getty Images

As a rich historical and cultural tapestry of interwoven metaphors, symbolic drama, storytelling and morality tales, the Bible has played a prominent role in the development of human civilisation over the past two millennia, both for better and for worse. It remains a source of inspiration and succour for many Christians, albeit on a steadily diminishing scale in the developed world, where the number of non-believers, spiritualists, atheists and agnostics is rising by the day.

Dr Dana Wesley is right in suggesting the need for greater awareness and appreciation of the Bible as a historical artefact that has influenced great literature and art, but not in her advocacy of continued Christian teaching in schools. She incorrectly refers to a majority of New Zealanders as identifying with the Christian faith, when Statistics New Zealand figures (2013) clearly demonstrate the reverse. In addition, 41.5 per cent of New Zealanders referred to themselves as non-religious, up from 34.7 per cent in 2006, a trend likely to continue.

Today, New Zealand is a richly multicultural society, with Christianity but one of many different faith systems on offer. The secular state education system we enjoy has long made the legal toleration of religious "instruction" in schools an unfortunate ethical anomaly - a leftover perhaps from days when 97 per cent of New Zealanders referred to themselves as Christian, the vast majority attended church on Sundays, and when virgin births, bodily resurrections and life eternal were rarely openly questioned.

A Herald correspondent recently suggested Bible in Schools teachers must follow strict guidelines, including not seeking to evangelise or invite children to church. This is utterly oxymoronic. If they are not in schools to "spread the word", what are they there for? Continuing to contradict themself, the writer continued by stating such instruction provides lessons in "right living", and how children can live a "fulfilling life". Could anything smack more of the moral superiority complex, dressed in the sheep's clothing of spreading "God's" love and "truths"?

Reports surface periodically in the media of children arriving home distraught having been told they will go to hell unless they repent and turn to God, some parroting biblical expressions and teachings, and others attempting to "save" their parents. In recent times, similar incidents across the Tasman have stimulated public debate on the increasing intrusion of religious organisations into Australian schools, and the way these organisations can manipulate secular educational laws to spread their message.

No religious organisations ought to have access to state schools and their students, particularly at primary, intermediate and junior secondary levels. For Years 11 to 13, broad examination of global religions and belief systems and their philosophical and practical contributions to human history, by suitably qualified state-registered teachers of ancient history, history and the social sciences, would be far more appropriate.

Such critical inquiry and examination encourages young people to better appreciate both the positive and negative contributions various faiths have made in human history, and to develop individual outlooks on the philosophical, ideological, theist and atheist views of the world, which in turn helps to shape their beliefs on how best to live their lives and contribute towards the progress of civilisation in their own unique ways.

The children of Christian parents have enough exposure to religion through church services, Sunday school and in their daily home lives without the state tacitly endorsing Bible lessons in schools, conducted by the unwittingly dogmatically deluded, seeking to indoctrinate impressionable young minds. Indeed, ridding our state education system of this antiquated legal loophole ought to be pursued by a politician or political party with the courage to do the right thing, in keeping with the ethos of our state secular education system.

Christian religious instruction has no place in the schooling of our young, any more than would classes in pot smoking and joint appreciation. May this antiquated programme be removed from our state schools once and for all.

Sam Clements holds graduate degrees in political studies and management from the University of Auckland.

- NZ Herald

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