School-sponsored ignorance

  (20 October 12)
  by Greg Spearritt

Ignorance is not bliss: it’s damaging, and at its worst, dangerous. The world of religion has shown us the truth of this in recent times.

The ignorance of the Catholic faithful, wilfully encouraged in an era of uncritical acceptance of authority, allowed terrible abuses to occur. As Alan Howe of the Herald Sun puts it, these are “days of shame” for Australia’s Catholic Church.

''Ignorant people are very dangerous things,'' say members of a Muslim family whose brother was killed in the Bali bombings. ''The thing is the degree of their knowledge - they don't question. You can move them to do dangerous things and kill beautiful people.''

You might think that ignorance was the very thing schools would be designed to overcome. Not, it seems, in the realm of religion. The Queensland Teachers’ Union, among others, makes the point that religion taught in State Schools should not just be about Christianity. (The QTU is also against chaplains in state schools.) Yet the only significant exposure to religion most students have is in two forms: through ‘religious instruction’ lessons usually delivered by fervent believers from local Churches who have next to no knowledge even about the complexities of their own faith let alone knowledge about other religions; and through contact, in Queensland at least, with Scripture Union-trained chaplains.

School chaplains in Queensland are expected by their employer to model Bible-based Christian values and not to be shy in explaining their own (conservative-evangelical Christian) faith when opportunity knocks. Most parents know nothing about Scripture Union (SU) and assume that a Christian perspective from the ‘chappy’ can only be a good thing – isn’t it all warm fuzzy stuff about honesty and being good and loving your neighbour?

So what values and beliefs do chaplains bring to their work in our state schools? Here’s a brief selection:

Sex outside marriage amounts to sin. (See Acts 15:20; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 6:13, 18; 10:8; Galatians 5:19; Colossians 3:5; Hebrews 13:4 and more). De-facto relationships and living together before marriage are therefore morally wrong. To put this in perspective, the Australian Bureau of Statistics tells us that in 2010 11% of all Australians aged 18 years and over were living in a de facto relationship and that 79% of married Australians had lived together before marrying.                      

Divorce: Matthew 5:32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery. On this measure, a significant number of parents in any school community must be considered adulterers.

Homosexuality is immoral, an “abomination” (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, 1 Corinthians 6:9 etc.; see Genesis 19:4-8 for a real eye-opener on Biblical priorities). It’s also, according to Christians with links to SU (notably Jim Wallace, formerly head of the Australian Christian Lobby), a lifestyle choice. In the 2011 Census 33,714 couples declared themselves to be same-sex couples. Between 2 and 15% of Australians report as same-sex attracted. At a large state high school, that means between 30 and 300 students – potential targets for ‘pastoral care’ from our chaplains – are likely to be same-sex attracted.

Headship (1 Corinthians 11:3: … the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man... Ephesians 5:22:  Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife…). Are these sexist attitudes ones we would want inculcated in our sons and daughters?

Exclusivity (Acts 4:12: Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.) Salvation is only in Christ, therefore any Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist students or other members of the school community – let alone atheists – are destined not to be saved, i.e. they’ll go to hell. Australia, remember, is a multi-cultural society.

Creation. The earth and its inhabitants were created in 6 days rather than over billions of years. The theory of evolution, an idea that’s foundational to much of our science – and we’re talking about our fundamental educational institutions here – is repudiated by many “Bible-believing” Christians.

Arguably it’s ignorance that brings about the acceptance of such views, since people with sophisticated understandings of biblical texts – an understanding, for instance, of historical-critical approaches to the Bible – rarely take a literal view of the Christian scriptures. Unfortunately, SU does not advocate such an approach. It believes the Old and New Testaments to be “God-breathed” and “fully trustworthy in all that they affirm”.

It would be good – in the interests of reducing ignorance – for the Education Departments of the various State Governments in Australia to make parents more aware of the nature of the organisations that employ taxpayer-funded chaplains in our state schools. Perhaps then there’d be support for properly-trained student welfare workers instead of faith-based chaplains from evangelical organisations with key beliefs and values that are truly out of kilter with our society.


To be sure, Grant, there's more that we can all learn, but this doesn't mean we're necessarily ignorant or fundamentalist. There are plenty of Christians in my town who would read the biblical texts cited above with an understanding of their historical and cultural context and would therefore not take them literally as conveying values we should all hold nowadays. Regrettably, these are not the kinds of Christians SU is wont to employ.

Posted by Greg

Would you allow your views in a school, even on the risk that you might bring ignorance? - just saying. Your article makes me wonder... we are all ignorant and fundamental and all those bad words, aren't we?? This is one of the short-comings of trying to be relevant in today's multifaith world - we become fundamentalists about it!

Posted by Grant

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