Are you Experienced?
How SRE’s apologists are against education about religions:
John Dickson and Michael Jensen swear on a stack of bibles that they believe SRE does not, and should not exist as a form of missionary work, wherein Christian Evangelists take the bible into schools and recruit children to follow their religion.
It is absurd of them to assert this, because it is abundantly clear that this is why religious groups, and especially evangelical ones, burn to prevent FIRIS from accomplishing what they call our “end game”. Namely, to terminate the practice of granting access to “religious groups” to operate in our state schools (because they should not be using our schools as “mission fields” – schools are places of learning, not places of worship and not street corners to hurl threats of damnation at passers by. We should expect what is taught in schools to submit to some standards).
SRE does not have any metrics like this, and its most ardent supporters don’t want it to – because they aren’t in schools to educate, they are there because they want to recruit.
Michael Jensen, especially is incandescent with rage because he sees FIRIS as “anti-religious”. Keep in mind that Michael Jensen is not some internet hack, he’s a respected Ph.D., scion of Sydney Anglican Royalty – and he’s constantly slandering FIRIS as “anti-religion” – he knows it isn’t true, but it fits his narrative of persecution.
John Dickson, however has a more nuanced way to slime FIRIS. His claim is that we don’t want people to “believe religion”!
I want to drill down on Dickson’s claims and show how this agenda is not educational at all: that his goals, while coated in elaborate and often original euphemism, have only one meaning. John wants dedicated and protected space to have people “experience his religion” inside the schools. To be clear, this is what John should be doing – he is after all a priest – he’s sworn to go out and bring people into his faith. It is just much easier if he’s given the schools as a venue to do this. He’s not content to live in a society where people are free to come to him; he wants a world where the Minister for Education lets him come into the schools, and then indicate if you want “opt out” of the time slot he’s been assigned.
Here is one of FIRIS’s intellectually adept voices, Andrew Glover, stepping in to push back:
John’s response is to claim that few people accuse FIRIS of wanting to get rid of religion (despite that Michael Jensen just said that is what we are about), John wants to defend the idea that FIRIS is against “believed-religion” – he says we “despise believed-religion”.
So you have Michael Jensen claiming we “hate religion” (untrue) and Dickson claiming that we despise something he called “believed-religion”.
This is breathtaking dishonesty (on both counts), given that high profile religious leaders routinely make FIRIS’s case. What John Dickson wants to do is act in the role of “confessor” and define a category of “religion” that he arbitrates, so he can accuse FIRIS of being against it!
John then makes another move. He claims, in effect, that treating religion as something which can be “studied” (ie as a school subject that is non confessional in nature), is a form of attacking religion (despising it), as it is tantamount to killing the living thing!
To carry this analogy further, into the educational realm, if we can have “botany”, we must despise living plants. Because to systematise and classify, and catalog in drawers – the plants turns them into “museum pieces” instead of living things.
Beneath this claim is a disdain and contempt for learning that should strike horror into anyone who values education and knowledge, as a source of human understanding and advancement. John’s proposition is that learning in a systematised, objective, mutually understandable and repeatable, content-driven fashion, is hostile to something he’s in favour of: something that in his formulation can be defined as something that “ignites a worldview”.
What does it mean to “ignite a worldview”? I put to you that this is dressed up way to say “saved” or “converted” .
Andrew Glover’s response was exemplary:
One of the key reasons why SRE deserves to be kicked out of the classroom is that NO ONE will tell you if you’ve learned the material or not, because the only metric that they care about is one that can’t be measured by mankind: salvation. The goal of SRE instructors (evangelical ones at least) is “salvation from eternal punishment for not believing“.
This is what John’s proposing: to sort those who believe from those who don’t.
John Dickson wants us to avoid that truth, by dancing around with lots of euphemisms; watch him respond to Glover’s intellectual checkmate, by reaching for “heritage and culture” – his “go-to” cover story. What he seems to miss is that our “culture” deliberately has moved beyond “our heritage”: why does SRE fullfill John’s demands – why not demand that we take all children to mass on Sunday, as was done in yesteryear? Why does John not demand that girls be made to experience the domestic arts to experience “their heritage”? Because that would make John Dickson look like a fool. But as long as he keeps this argument vague enough, it’s a con he can put over on us, largely because of a reserve of goodwill and deference that most decent people afford piety.
It isn’t that John is wrong about what he’s saying here. It’s OK for him see religion as something that you do, not something that you “learn about” or “study”, just as it’s OK to be someone who loves plants so much that you can’t stand to see them studied in a systematic way. But this kind of passion is not a qualification for teaching in a school, and in fact it is fair to say that it is hostile to a classical understanding of education.
We should not set up schools built on the liberal arts and on secular foundations and then have priests come in and “do religion” in them, any more than we should have botany instruction that is only given though the lens of “aboriginal knowledge of plants”. Such an education would not be a serious education, just as SRE is not a serious education: it’s there to give evangelists something to do, some people to convert.
SRE is really about the need for the instructors to appeal to students with their passion – more so that something that is there for the students to be educated in any way that we can speak of in a sense of being informed or educated.
John Dickson has no interest in people who are educated about Christianity – he is only interested in having people become Christians, and from his comments it is clear that all his claims about the importance of understanding the bible as means to know about art, literature and culture are hollow.
John compares religion to sport or dance – or music, but the vast majority of us watch and passively consume these things, and in order to understand a footy game, you need to know who the teams are, and the rule; people who cannot move their legs can enjoy footy. There is no need at all for me to pole vault to watch the Olympics, and my enjoyment of the sport is not diminished by knowing that the games have ancient origins.
Johns arguments are completely self-serving and invasive and anti-educational. Religion, in John’s formulation, is more like sexual intercorse than music, because he feels that it can’t be really appreciated without doing it. It has to be personally felt to qualify as being something you can claim to “know” in the biblical sense (pun intended).
John is really claiming that unless he is allowed to get naked with you, that you really haven’t had the experience he thinks you need. John Dickson wants to go into the schools and have you “do religion” … not just learn about it. He wants to know “are you experienced” …
He takes it even further, and argues that our advocacy that all children should learn “about religions” in an educationally valid way, is to despise religion.
John’s intentions are euphemistically worded, but it means the same thing: “Let me have a go”.