by Greg Spearritt
Modern secular standards in Australia seem to be so much more in line with the Jesus of the gospels than do many of those tagged as ‘Christian’.
For instance, can you imagine Jesus advocating that children be caned for misbehaviour? The little we see of his interaction with children shows anything but the Old Testament ‘spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child’ mentality. Yet here it is, still, in Queensland – and only in Christian schools.
Jesus accepted women and Samaritans as people of value. Which 21st-century employers are clamouring to exclude people based on their gender, sexual orientation or religious belief? Why, it’s the religious ones. Victoria, for example, has just passed laws allowing faith-based organisations the right to discriminate in their hiring of staff.
And while we’re on exclusivity, back to schools… many of the faith-based private schools in my town are well-known for their devotion to core Christian values such as privilege and status. World-class facilities are on offer, facilities not available to the also-rans at State Schools. Take all comers? Well, yes, provided you can pay and we’re happy that you’re the right sort of person. I hasten to add that these Christian principles don’t apply to all faith-based schooling locally: there are Catholic and other low-fee religious schools with values and practices far more genuinely compatible with those espoused by Jesus. And then, of course, there are the secular State Schools who take inclusivity seriously, regardless of economic circumstances and social background.
It’s probably true that Jesus was no democrat, however he does seem to have been able to tolerate significant variation on the received truths of his own faith, such as that the Sabbath laws were absolute. The imposition of hierarchically-ordained ‘orthodox’ views, of course, is a problem faced by many organisations, including secular ones. But which organisation has recently disgraced itself in spectacular fashion by forcing the resignation of a respected leader who simply pleaded for allowing ideas counter to current practice to be considered? (Not adopted, mind, just entertained.) Yes, it’s the good old Catholic Church. Any recourse to fair secular practices here, like due process? With Ratzinger as Pope and Pell pre-eminent in the Australian hierarchy it’s a rhetorical question.
And there’s much, much more. The Presbyterian Church precipitously sacks the board of a well-run local hospital (and installs yes-men with little experience) because they won’t toe the line on fundamentalist anti-abortion policies. It’s the rules, you see: forget compassion and individual circumstances. Enclaves of extreme minority religious belief are tax-payer funded through rate exemptions; they’re happy to accept a regular public hand-out from those they consider ‘unclean’ and destined for hell. Church leaders lobby against allowing students who opt out of religious instruction to be given lessons in ethics.
Of course Jesus had no intention of founding the Church. At least (arguably*) Christendom eventually self-secularised to produce modern secular humanism, so some genuine semblance of Jesus’ principles remains with us.
* This is Don Cupitt’s thesis in The Meaning of the West.
It is a dismal picture you paint Greg and one I cannot refute. It is an outrage that our state school teachers get so little support from politicians. When John Howard criticised them for only having wishy-washy values like 'tolerance' I vowed I wouldn't listen to another word he said.
However, it is sad also to be told that in some state schools during 'religious education' (which is really religious instruction) the non-religious are treated like outcasts.
Perhaps those of us who believe in both freedom of thought and freedom of religion ( and realise that state education is the place where these democratic values can be best practised) eg. Humanists and Sea of Faith members, should begin volunteering to supervise the children whose parents do not want them to be in the RE sessions.
Posted by Judith bore