Religious education only brainwashes

Heard the one about the lie detection clocks at the Pearly Gates? Everyone has one, apparently. Every time you tell a lie, the hands on your clock move. Mother Theresa's hands never shifted at all, they say, indicating she never told a lie. Mahatma Gandhi's moved only twice, telling us he told only two lies in his entire life. George Washington was the same. Tony Blair and George W Bush? It's said their ones are used in Jesus' office as ceiling fans.

Was reminded of that old yarn this week as a procession of "Bible in Schools" programme advocates popped up to defend their access to state primary school classrooms. They were only teaching values, they said; not belief. They only wanted to make people aware of Christianity, not seek to indoctrinate. How fast must their clock hands be turning right now? Maybe they can cut one off and use the other to track the seconds?

We should at least offer an immediate dispensation on this to Reverend Clay Nelson of St Matthew-in-the-City. As he said of "Bible in Schools" the other day, "it's un-Christian to force our faith on other people". Christian education in public schools should be "swept into the ashcan of history". Well said, that man. Not for the first time in recent years, the central Auckland church has proved itself a leader where so many others have exposed themselves as imposters.

Values-based learning indeed. The Churches Education Commission, this country's biggest provider of "Christian instruction", must find it hard to keep a straight face. So much for the ninth commandment. Check out the Te Awamutu Bible Chapel's explanation of "Bible in Schools" as an example: "The motivation is to see the children develop an understanding of who God and Jesus are, and to encourage them to let Jesus into their hearts." 

That seems pretty clear, doesn't it? To these people, values equal Jesus, and Jesus equals values. They want to convert our kids. They'll use words like enlighten and enriching but really? They simply want to capture the impressionable minds of our children as early as possible. The Royal Oak Baptist Church's call to become involved in "Bible in Schools" is just as obvious: "The entrance of your word gives light," it tells potential volunteers.

It's remarkable we continue to give the benefit of the doubt to these God peddlers. Bad enough, surely, that tax-payers are contributing to the church's existing school-sponsored hatcheries, without creating loopholes in the Education Act to allow them to infiltrate the public system as well. These people are selling God. And by allowing them in our primary school classrooms we give their beliefs a credibility they don't deserve.

Little wonder, as the New Zealand Herald noted the other day, many schools are starting to opt out of the bible programme amidst growing opposition from parents and pupils. Shouldn't come as a surprise. The only reason more kids haven't mutinied is not because of the allure of "Bible in Schools", but because nothing else is provided for those who decline. Try offering options of sport, theatre, music and dance and see what happens.

It's true; we had a massive argument about this a few weeks ago. Just in case the same questions are raised again, here are some background notes. No, I'm not an atheist, I consider myself agnostic. Yes, I do have some background in religious education, having been raised a Catholic, educated by Catholic nuns, taken to church every Sunday, and encouraged to believe in God. (Oh, to have seen the clock faces of my "betters" then. How their hands must have been spinning).

Religious education? "Bible in Schools"? Here's my ten cents worth. The entire initiative is a confidence trick and it shouldn't be allowed near our state education system. It's not an exercise in teaching values, it's simply a recruitment campaign. The more parents who encourage or assist their kids to opt out, the better.

» Read more of Richard Boock in the Sunday Star Times.
» Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardboock.

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