Sheryl White: An 'atheistic, rationalist, secular humanist' speaks

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Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Thank goodness for the "small minority" that "has recently been vociferous in its opposition to the widely supported programme of teaching of values from a Christian perspective in schools". Hugh Dickey's article moves me to make my voice heard as well.

On his first point, that the Christian teaching programme in schools is concerned with moral principles and values and not religious doctrine, if the "spiritual" issue included in the example given - that "God can comfort us in our sorrows" - is not religious doctrine, what is it?

And I'd like to ask, what comfort could the Christian God give that human individuals can't give each other? I have a feeling the answer would open a big can of doctrinal worms.

On his second point, the high standards set for the teaching of the Christian programmes, one would expect no less for any New Zealans classroom, but that's got nothing to do with my and others' opposition.

Having a Christian-based values programme in schools is repugnant to me for two reasons: first, that it implies these values are somehow special to Christianity, whereas they are in fact human values. They are espoused as worthwhile for human life as much by people outside of religious affiliation as those within it.

Secondly, the teaching of a fairy story as fact in our education system can't be justified on any level. As far as I'm concerned it will remain a fairy story until the second coming, until born-again Jesus turns out the loaves and fishes in front of my very eyes, water into wine etc. I'd be willing to rethink things at that point.

He argued that opponents of the programmes are insulting principals and boards of trustees. How about the insult to the parents and children who are opposed to it? I believe principals and boards of state schools who would choose the programme should be scrutinised for bias, and for over-stepping their brief.

Only those in charge of Christian schools, where parents knowingly and willingly subscribe to the inclusion of Christian teachings in the curriculum, should be choosing such programmes.

He asked, why don't Christian-opposers also insist that programmes about bullying and drug education have no place in schools? Christianity is a story based on a set of beliefs not proven to have any basis in fact. Bullying and drug-taking are behaviour which occur across the spectrum of the population.

They run counter to widely-held human values of care and respect for self and others, and concerns for health. If values-teaching is part of the curriculum, these would seem to be very valid topics which affect all of us.

I am curious as to why the article's author is so keen to see the Christian-based programme in schools. Containing this material to churches and Christian homes and schools would ensure children of such families receive the teaching he sees as important.

At the same time that would respect the rights and beliefs of non-Christian parents and children, who will benefit equally (or perhaps more so) from general values education.

He accuses those in the "atheistic, rationalistic, secular humanist cause" of "evangelistic fervour". I suspect Mr Dickey of more than a touch of that himself.

The term "rationalist" appears to be a dirty word to him (along with the three other adjectives used). It's not surprising then that the arguments made in the article seem to be largely lacking in reason and logic.

The intensity I detect in his use of these descriptors, often applied, I've noted, by Christians, suggests fear of the power of rationality. I don't think of myself as an "atheistic, rationalist, secular humanist" but I suppose I must be one. I don't believe in any supernatural god. I believe what science has discovered about evolution, and also that science doesn't know everything.

In my experience, taking a rational approach to life doesn't preclude a sense of wonder about the beauties, mysteries and and terrors of the world we live in and the universe beyond. It doesn't preclude any of the virtues and values that religious people sometimes like to claim as belonging only to them. It does mean being intellectually grown up, and also trying to live one's life based on the virtues and positive values - not because a parental god tells me to but because I've learned from experience that's the healthiest and most satisfying way to live.

* Sheryl White, a former primary-school teacher, is a counsellor in addictions and mental health.

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