With the uprising in NZ of parents who are “sick and tried and not going to take it”, the “Religion In Life” Curriculum published here in Victoria by ACCESS Ministries, is on trial.
Predictably, people have emerged from the distinguished perches within the University and respected stations in the church to crap on the parents who are not buying the party line. The latest is an essay by Dr. Paul Moon in today’s NZ Herald.
Moon claims to have “taken a look” at the material and finds it “innocuous” and relates that most parents see it as beneficial or at least harmless. He even suggests that complaining about the way this policy discriminates is an insult to the idea of discrimination. He argues that:
By 1930, Catholics and Protestants united in advocating for Bible readings in state primary schools, and in the following decade, the Bible in Schools League encouraged the non-denominational “services” in schools. All the time, the vast majority of New Zealand parents saw the roughly 30 minutes a week spent on Christian instruction as either harmless or beneficial: a half-hour of innocent stories or a fortification of children’s moral fibre.
This kind of argument, from tradition and utility, is what the Bishop of Melbourne fronted up in the AGE when Parents in Victoria made it to VCAT
In fact the CEO of the Bible Society has wound this argument into a book length case, complete with a child with some kind of dramatic restraint over its mouth. The implication is that Christians are being gagged.
What Clarke is saying here, is substantially like what Moon says in todays NZ article and it’s what the Bishop of Melbourne said.
In fact it is the only thing that anyone wishes to say in public … they argue that something deeply important is being lost, and FIRIS and the Parents in NZ are “taking it” from everyone.
To these people I say, shame on you.
Consider Greg Clarke’s point about how it is vital for people understand Christian influence in “architecture”. Let’s ignore the fact that “western civilization’s” dominant architectural practice has been to “revive” Classical antiquity and the thinking of the Greeks and Romans (e.g. the influence of Vitruvius) none of which is “in the bible”. What is shameful about Clarke’s behavior is that he blames everyone and everything except the people who wrote the materials that are being used in the schools.
Nowhere in “Religion in Life” is there any discussion whatsoever of “architecture”. Religion in Life jumps back and forth between Palestine and your kids life – with the volunteers trying to explain to the kids how what Jesus did is what you should do. Jesus forgave, you should forgive.
Jesus found a Lost Sheep, “Ok, class, who wants to play he part of Jesus and who wants to be the Lost Sheep?” See how Jesus cares for his sheep! – and on it goes like this. Needless to say, after six years of lessons from ACCESS Ministry no child is in danger of being aware that “Gothic” means something besides dressing like a Vampire.
Why? Because what Religion in Life does with a half hour a week from P-6 has absolutely nothing to do with cultural enrichment. It is what Evonne Paddison called, “both missional and incarnational” It is merely a chance for volunteers to do something that ACCESS euphemistically calls “sharing god’s love”. The quickest way to see what is on offer is to just listen to the songs that kids sing as part of “Religion in Life“. I particularly like the one called “God Made Cows”.
Frankly, I’ll be the judge of whether this is “innocuous”, and I say, it’s not. Tell me, is there an opt out clause in any other subject in primary schools? No. Any parent wish to abstain from fractions? No. Only “Religious Instruction” is set up under these comical premises, because it is nothing teachers want to involve themselves with – it is about promoting faith to kids. In shorthand, it is proselytising .
If Greg Clarke wrung his hands over Aesop’s contribution to our culture, or the importance of Pythagoras to Triangles … I’d take him seriously. But to hear him tell it, English Common Law just fell out of the sky on a stone tablet. Greg Clarke is like the father in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” who thinks that Greeks invented all words. When he’s asked what the Greek root for the word “Kimono” is, he just keeps right on going. Who pays for him to run around spreading this culture war on our kids?
It would be perfectly reasonable to expect that a course of instruction on Christianity spanning years P-6 to have some discussion of the monumental works associated with Christianity, a unit on Great Cathedrals, lovely images of these amazing works of art. It would also be perfectly reasonable to teach about how artists have presented the bible’s stories in great works of art and to show children these things in pictures, video, other media. However, none of this sort of thing makes it into “Religion in Life”. The time is full up with getting the kids to do word searches about why Jesus died for them.
Clarke is right – children should be able to look at a church and have some idea of what the architecture means. But you can’t teach that by asking kids to pick out the words “blood” and “sacrifice” from the above bit of busy work. If Dr. Moon wants a villain look no further than ACCESS Ministry. Dressing this up as “our cultural fabric” is an insult.
Greg Clarke is too good a scholar to not know this, so he must have ulterior motives. Could it be that Greg Clarke is just trying to keep the 3% of the school time in the control of Evangelistic Groups who give out his “Big Rescue Bible“? What else explains his lack of criticism of the material taught by ACCESS Ministry in our grade schools?
Clarke, Frier, and Moon, can only defend “Religion in Life” by being deeply unserious about education, and their arguments amount to little more than opening up a culture war on people like the Parents at St. Heilers who are after all just refusing to participate in what Evonne Paddison called “our greatest mission field”.
A full 3% of instruction time is given to church groups in Victoria – and there is ZERO scholarly attention paid to what is taught or what is learned.
Besides the objections parents have to what is being taught, we should be appalled at what is not being taught – but when parents complain about ACCESS Ministries, these kinds of presentable wise sounding people appear to intone about what “we” are losing – when in fact very little that they are bemoaning has made it into these lessons anyway. The level of intellectual deceit here is staggering, and the disengagement and lack of concern by the teaching profession is also appalling.
There is a vast gulf between what people seem to be defending (denying children their heritage) & (erasing the role of Christianity from history) – and what is in Religion and Life.
The bible is also not treated in any way as context for literature. Except unless you count modern evangelical literature like “Soul Surfer” here is the entire lesson:
Greg Clarke talks about “the frames of all museums being empty” if we exclude Christianity from our schools, yet no one seems to see that when groups from churches are given the chance, they put “Soul Surfer” in the frame, not Caravaggio. There is absolutely no information in “Religion in Life” about the relationship of Christianity to western history.Concepts like what does it mean to be a “Protestant” vs. a “Catholic” are not in the material. None of the great figures on Christian thinking other than Cartoon Jesus and the Cartoon Holy Land are in these lessons and these are all presented in a cartoon form because some bright spark thought that since kids like “The Simpsons” that the Holy Land should also be presented as if Matt Groening wrote the bible. You think I’m joking? Here is the cover of the bible published by Greg Clark:
Let’s imagine what it would look like if ACCESS Ministries taught all the humanities to our children. Does anyone think that kids would learn the importance of Michelangelo’s iconic “Vitruvius Man” if we replaced him with Homer?
It is safe to say that if we ran a test where we put one group of kids though “Religion and Life” and sat another in front of the 1959 Cecil B. DeMille, version of “The Ten Commandments” that the kids who watched Charlton Heston & Yul Brynner fight it out, would know far more about Western Culture than the group which spent 6 years once a week with ACCESS Ministry singing praise that “God Made Cows”.
So tell me, who is destroying our heritage? Is it the people who write cartoon Jesus books and talk about Soul Surfer? Or is it the parents at St. Heliers and FIRIS who won’t stand for this garbage?
How did a modern-day story about a girl who lost her arm in a gruesome shark attack, become something that well-educated men like Moon and Clarke wish to defend as having critical importance to understanding “great art and literature” .
Soul Surfer is not a great work of art, it is a feel good evangelical tract, that says far less about our “culture” than say a movie like “The Castle” – which does deal with profound questions about power and justice rights, and other themes that one might argue “distinguish” our culture.
Soul Surfer, on the other hand is the classic one-dimensional, “what can God do for me if I believe in him” pabulum.
If Soul Surfer has anything to do with “our culture”, I’ll eat a surf board.
All cultures have stories of how a God can be trusted to help you overcome hardship. This is perhaps the most primitive kind of religious motivation, because it comes very naturally to anyone who feels danger.
After all what is the Odyssey? It’s an epic tale about a guy, who is protected by a Goddess, who has to overcome the terrors of the deep, not give up, get home and get back on his board. In this way, its like Soul Surfer, only much longer and it has a much bigger cast of Gods. Soul Surfer does not teach children any culturally distinctive teachings of Jesus, instead it implies that Jesus is a skyhook. The idea of drawing on a divine power to help YOU overcome hardship is hardly a “Christian” value, it about self-preservation – a cry for help. I imagine that dogs are capable of this level of “spirituality”. Please Lord, bring me a bone.
Soul Surfer is what kids get in “Religion in Life” … not “the western Cannon” (of which Homer the Greek, not Homer the D’oh figures prominently).
The gap between what people like Professor Moon and Dr. Greg Clarke and the Bishop of Melbourne are talking about, and what is actually inside of “Religion in Life” means that if they actually know what is taught in these classes, then they are being disingenuous. They are highly educated men in positions of public office saying one thing but pretending that what is in our schools is distance made good toward their interest in western culture, when it’s really just tunneling under the school gates to conduct mission on my kids, and it is time we called them on this.
It would be trivially easy to compare material written for children, aimed at communicating information “about Christianity” (let alone about Western History) which is written in an objective, factual and scholarly way – and the materials in “Religion in Life” which, as the lesson above shows, are all aimed at pushing children to adopt faith in Christ, and let Christ be their Savior, the latter is what “missionaries” are interested in. Spreading the Gospel. ACCESS Ministry does not conduct any evaluation. That they leave for eternity to sort out.
The frustrating thing is how blatantly false these men’s case is that children are missing out on “their heritage” by eliminating “Religion in Life”.
This whole debate is on giant sleight of hand being carried on by people who seek to impose their religious ideology on others, and who don’t trust that families will attend to their own religious and spiritual needs. The arguments of these men are a horrible waste of education.