Yesterday we posted a call for FIRIS parents to “explain” to a comment from “Fiona” about why, since the Majority of people in Australia have Christian Heritage why then the system of SRI we currently have isn’t perfect.

some of the replies can be read here:

I’m going to ask Bess, who some of you may know from her cameo in this FIRIS video, to read the responses and award a prize to the “best” one and get back to us on the winner, we may even do another video … where we give the best FIRIS answer to the predictable complaints we keep hearing.

In thinking about this question a bit more however, it occurred to me that part the premise of the question it is a bit like Dr. Pangloss, in Candide who went around saying that we live in the best of all possible worlds.

I think it is really significant to accept that things are not, nor have they ever been “perfect”.   Australia almost from the day “Christians” got here, has been hard at the work of getting things right.  In industry this is called “continuous improvement” and most people in business accept this as something they have to do to stay “in business”.  No one at Holden sits around and wishes for the carburetor to come back and restore the industry to its glory days when a motor was something you could fix with a few farm tools.

The point isn’t whether things were bad or not, it is that clearly, at least for some people, they did suck, and therefore needed to improve.  In fact, any half attempt to think about the past, immediately shows that a great many people have had to struggle to get a fair go.  There is more though.  Entire “new” ideas about laws and rules and rights “emerged” from these struggles.

One of these ideas was reflected in the education act of 1872 – which was in many ways a radical document.  The idea that there would be compulsory education was pretty radical, what was the alternative to requiring children to attend school?  It wasn’t watch TV all day, it was child labor!

Before Compulsory Schooling Kids did not watch TV all day!


Today everyone thinks of course you can’t put your kid to work behind the plow, or down the mine – if you do that we toss you in jail.

Equally radical however was this idea that there could be “secular” instruction, but unlike child labor, it seems like people have not got the memo.

At the heart of this controversy really is the fact that not everyone really agrees that it is a good thing for this country to be secular, or what the boundaries of that idea really are.  This issue is compounded by the fact that factions in religion have decided that secular principles, are no longer things that protect them, but rather their enemy.

This is a sad thing to say, since as justice Kirby once remarked, secularism has been responsible for the greatest expansion of human rights in history, and lies at the heart of the English Constitutional principle, so it is sad to see secularism become a boogey man to “faith” rather than its champion and patron. Never the less, the argument we hear over and over again,  is the idea that “this is a Christian Nation” – and that our “values come from our Christian Heritage”.

The problem we really have is that politicians have lost the means to speak against this idea – when faced with the proposal that “our laws are based on the bible” they dive under the table and act like history never happened.  Women, who have only recently been allowed to do things like study engineering, and own property and vote, should be especially disgusted that there is some “foundation” upon which our civilization “sits”.

The real problem is that civilization is not like a building, it was not drawn according to a plan, it does not do one thing, it was not designed and engineered by an architect, it is an emergent property of the sum total of human endeavor, and understanding, and it should not be a radical idea to suggest that as our knowledge grows and our understanding growns so too is it proper that our civilization grows and matures.  Civilization is not like a building, standing on a base of stone, it is not even like an organism, growing from youth to old age and death, it is more like a coral reef or a forest.

Regardless of anyone’s religious commitments, the idea that a set of blue prints were handed down to some group of people that contains the secret sauce of “civilization” is really problematic.

Civilization grows and evolves and creates something rich and diverse – far different from anything like where it began.  Parts go extinct, whole ways of being vanish completely or morph into something totally different.  This is what “civilization” is – its not the Parthenon being eroded and ruined and looted, it is the Amazon.  So it is not that we don’t need to care about civilization, its that we must adopt the right model for its care and stewardship.
This whole debate really comes down to a failure of analogy.  Religious conservatives keep saying that if we undermine the foundations on which we stand, foundations which they also propose to have the proper understanding from based on scriptural authority (the role of women, tax law, who gets to be king, what is justice, how long should your sideburns be, etc …)  our whole civilization will fall apart.
The concern itself for “civilization” is not the problem, we all should care about the project of “civilization”, and civilizations do fall apart, it is not a crazy ass fear to worry about “society” or were we are headed, as a society – these are fine things to talk about, however it is simply not constructive to go around talking about the foundation of our society like such a thing exists.  It is true that our laws should reflect our sense of right and wrong – but these laws have been constantly changing, and are by nature, adversarial, contested and dynamic.  That is why they work, and this is why we should be proud of our laws – not because of their “foundations” but because they are just – and have been constantly improved to be more so.  The current law that sets up SRI is however, an unjust law – it should be changed, because it causes children to be treated differently in school because of their religions.  This is wrong.
Any time you announce that “civilization” is “based on a foundation”, what you are really announcing is that you don’t have a valid understanding of what our civilization is, and often what follows the invocation of the idea of “foundations” is likely to be a flawed policy prescription, or oppressive ideas, since things that tend to be valuable are valuable now.   The idea that the “society” or “civilization” can be kept healthy by those proposing to protect it foundations usually means whatever it is they want is hard to defend in present terms.
Pretending that we are living in a building that will fall apart if the foundations erode is to ignore that society is not like building, it is like a forest that is living and changing.  We do need to worry about the health of society, and people are right to debate what is and isn’t good, but pretending that it is something resting on foundations, rather than a system of living parts that is ever changing and growing, is common mistake.