Thursday, April 15, 2010

Thy will be dung


Creation theory by Pants


A long time ago when I was a little girl in Sydney our primary school week contained an hour of torture we called scrip-cha. The ingredients of this tasteless dish were a weedy man who looked a bit like John Majors' Spitting Image puppet, a bible and a box of felt figures. It was an anachronism that dated back to the founding of secular schools. Previously education had been a responsibility of the church and, in relinquishing that responsibility to the state, church leaders negotiated that all schools would be legally obliged to provide one hour of instruction in the Christian religion per week to all children. Imagine my shock to find that this is still going on.

Australian states all have separate education systems so I don't know if this is the case in all the others. It's come to my attention because there is a trial commencing next week in some New South Wales schools to offer an alternative lesson in secular ethics to children whose parents doubt the cultural enrichment of stories about naked people messing with apples and snakes.

Although schools have always had a legal requirement to provide scrip-cha, pressure from parents eventually allowed for children to be excused but church leaders insisted that no educational alternative was to be provided for the heathens who dared opt their children out. If they were lucky, they got colouring-in to do instead of playing with felt figures.

In a Sydney Morning Herald piece, ethicist Leslie Cannold relates the story of a little girl who was made to sit on a chair outside the scrip-cha class by herself. She was the only girl in her class who had been opted out of religious instruction. She begged her conflicted mother to let her rejoin her peers. Is this Scarlet Letter version of Christian values really a good foundation for our multicultural society? It's a wonder they didn't burn her at the stake. Call me old fashioned but isn't there also a pedagogical dilemma here? Aren't teachers supposed to dissuade thumb twiddling during school hours?

I tend to forget how powerful and arrogant the church really is sometimes. At the moment the Catholic church is facing down a deluge of disgrace with the audacity of an extended Gotti family. The seven deadly sins have become a code of honour at the Vatican it seems. I guess virtues are for pussies, not prelates. In Britain, bishops still form part of the unelected component of central government. Religious education is a mandatory requirement in state schools there too, although these days they prefer to call it an 'entitlement'.

So threatened are the clergy in Australia by the ethics lesson trial that the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney has been lobbying vigorously against its permanent introduction - before the trial has even begun. In some circles this level of paranoia might be considered a symptom of a serious mental illness.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports on statements made by Archbishop Peter Jensen,

''Be warned: if the government allows this course to continue after the trial, it will jeopardise religious education in public schools,'' Dr Jensen wrote in the Anglican newspaper Southern Cross.

Ah-ha! Even the Archbishop thinks scrip-cha is boring. They don't have any idea how good it's going to be, they just know that anything would be better than scrip-cha. The church has known this all along, otherwise why would it be so determined that there be nothing even vaguely interesting to compete with it? Unfortunately colouring-in wasn't on offer when I was a kid. If it had been, I would have jumped at it, and I would have gone outside the lines.

Spoiler Alert - Logic Cop has just arrived. Dr Jensen then goes on to say,

''Without such a religious component, public schools will cease to be inclusive of all children.''

The really scary thing is they actually think this stuff. It's like Galileo never lived. This is the kind of unintelligible hysteria you'd expect from Foxtel, not a 'spiritual' leader.

And still it goes on. Jim Wallace, Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby argues in the Sydney Morning Herald that Christianity is the basis of all the societal values we hold dear and can't be dispensed with. Well, I guess if you believe God made Plato...