Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: Oh, God

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  • mark taslov, in reply to Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    I’d be very happy to see comparative religion taught, but not until secondary school social studies – at primary school it’s just too easy to get it wrong.

    I think that sounds about right, I did a bit of digging today and uncovered the NCEA Religious Studies and it looks more or less sufficient.

    Te Ika-a-Māui • Since Mar 2008 • 2281 posts Report Reply

  • chris, in reply to Simon Bennett,

    Sorry, wrong login.

    Probably risking being shot down in flames here

    I'm glad you brought that up. In it's way it also helps to explain how a country that bans religious teaching in schools has 30 million Christians.

    The lite version:
    Universities no place for undercover missionaries

    The hardcore:
    Read this you scumbag missionary "English teachers" in China!

    Mawkland • Since Jan 2010 • 1302 posts Report Reply

  • Amy Gale,

    I had 2 years of hour-a-week RE in my state primary school, both taught by local ministers.

    I don't remember anything about one of them, but my recollection of the other is that we spent the entire year learning to sing Lord Of The Dance, never quite seeming to reach the standard our instructor hoped for. At one point he even brought in a tape of other kids singing to inspire us to greater heights.

    I've always filed this mentally under "adults are weird", but it now occurs to me for the first time that maybe he was being quietly subversive in his own way. Still weird, though.

    tha Ith • Since May 2007 • 471 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford, in reply to chris,

    Universities no place for undercover missionaries

    I sometimes feel duped, when I discover the waiata we sang on the marae, translates to Christian babble.

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4327 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to steven crawford,

    Romanic depressives...

    waiata ... translates to Christian babble

    stick with the Latin...

    and get all that law as a bonus!

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7892 posts Report Reply

  • chris, in reply to Sacha,

    These aren’t even trained teachers for the most part – just well-meaning local religious fans.

    Which sounds innocent enough. I was picturing a doddery old bit, there off her own bat, reciting parables over knitting needles. In Emma’s yahoo link the Churches Education Commission CEO Simon Greening claims their competition -The Wanganui Council for Christian Education are “too evangelical” despite CEC Chairperson Mitch Jordan being one of the drafters of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization’s document Evangelization of Children. Of the 800 state schools believed to be running religious instruction classes approximately 600 are being run by the CEC.

    In his examination of things Dylan Reeve conducts a thought experiment:

    Would you still be as supportive of the idea of religious instruction in schools if the religion were not Christianity?

    and concludes:

    Of course this could happen – ultimately the decision to offer religious instruction is made by the school’s Board of Trustees. If the Board members were supportive of this idea, and a Mosque were willing to run the course then there’s nothing to stop it. The law makes no distinction about which religions may provide instruction.

    Have there been many cases in NZ where a state school’s Board of Trustees have allowed any other religion to run a course? New Zealand school boards aren’t exactly multicultural melting pots. Composed of pillars of the community, the access granted to marginalized religions must be limited at best. And that’s without even factoring in the competition.

    With a turnout of 80, the CEC’s ‘Business Breakfast’on March 1 2013 could probably be classed as a success. Christian banker would always be an odd fit, but Andrew Thorburn’s speech about his passion for God and “Tips for stressed out small business owners”was by one account “particularly well received!”.

    The third sector primarily relies on monetary donations. With countless community groups vying for attention, outstanding marketing and communications are essential. As one of New Zealand’s largest charitable trusts, these types of endorsements by community leaders are invaluable. Auspiciously in November 2013 Andrew Thornburn replaced Jonathan Ling as Chair of Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum, an appointment endorsed by the New Zealand Government.

    Set up to aid in the relief of poverty, the advancement of education or religion, charitable trusts that benefit the community in a charitable way and meet certain criteria outlined by Inland Revenue may be granted a non-profit tax exemption. Whether the CEC qualifies for this exemption is unknown but we’ll assume that it qualifies as a charitable trust by advancing either religion and/or education.

    In the CEC Annual Report (April 2013 – March 2014), Mitch Jordan states:

    "programmes need to be developed and marketed to schools"

    In 1897 The Education Board allowed the Rev. J. McKenzie of Nelson to organise Religious Instruction, using a loophole in the law, he was able to teach for a half hour one day per week from 9 to 9.30 am when the school was officially ‘closed’. The Bible in Schools League was formed in 1912 to lobby politicians to amend the secular clause. On no less than 42 occasions the League failed to get sufficient votes.

    in 1973, following a number of amalgamations, the current Churches Education Commission was formed, the Syllabus, Religion in Life, recently renamed Access Ministries, can be purchased from Epworth books. Academic Marion Maddox’s 2013 review of the Access course-ware stated:

    "In the case of ‘Religion in Life’, the message is barely-hidden: my assessment is that the material before me would clearly convey to non-Christian students that,according to the materials being presented as authoritative in a classroom context, not being a Christian is inferior to being a Christian and that they should follow the example of the people described in many of the lessons, and convert. The tone of ACCESS materials is unequivocally evangelical, not only in that it relentlessly pushes the participating students towards cultivating an individual faith but, perhaps more importantly, in that a person participating in the ACCESS program would come away with the idea that Christians believe that being (or becoming) a Christian is the only acceptable life choice."

    Unequivocally the CEC preserves its charitable trust status by way of its advancement of religion. Schools are being lobbied, and as commission director David Mulholland wrote in a 2012 newsletter:

    "Christian followers were also encouraged to join school boards so they could have “more influence” on holding religious study in class.”

    We’ve arguably drifted a little from from Rev McKenzie of Nelson wanting to teach some Gospel after school: An entity’s whose existence hinges on gaining/surreptitiously enabling access to New Zealand’s children in order to evangelise and induct potential donors, marginalising outsiders, infiltrating our boards of education, publicly denying the true nature of their activity, and as intimated in ’Evangelization of Children’ most likely and most subversively engaging in recruiting children to assist them in this pursuit:

    “Marketing companies have recognised that children have the power to enthuse others. Imagine if the church worldwide could harness the enthusiasm of children and encourage them to tell their friends and get them involved as well.”

    “Children bring unique gifts to the task of evangelization. For example, they have access to thousands of children outside the church – and are often the only means of reaching these children. They have a simple faith that is attractive. They put their whole heart into reaching out. Children will do the job of evangelism in simple obedience. Even adults will listen to children because they are perceived to have no hidden agenda.”

    …in a professedly secular state, with the cooperation of Government endorsed community leaders, while the Prime Minister of the nation unabashedly qualifies it all with:

    "That’s part of the choice we offer in our schools."

    Mawkland • Since Jan 2010 • 1302 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    stick with the Latin...

    I find that helps. And then there are groups like Lesiem who just make up their own language and sing in that. It's kind of like opera - the music is great, but the plot is awful.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1198 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen R, in reply to Moz,

    I find that helps. And then there are groups like Lesiem who just make up their own language and sing in that. It's kind of like opera - the music is great, but the plot is awful.

    I feel the same way about Icelandic heavy metal and French pop songs...
    Great music to code by.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2009 • 259 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to chris,

    That post by Dylan is well worth reading. The linked video....brrrr.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • chris, in reply to BenWilson,

    It is, I’d avoided the video till now. Thanks Ben … What most astonished me is how these evangelical organisations, propped up by legislation, are not simply catering to a need but creating one.

    Mawkland • Since Jan 2010 • 1302 posts Report Reply

  • 81stcolumn,

    As an aside to religion in Universities:


    In my first year I was billeted in halls and witnessed a tale that has passed into urban myth. During freshers week and for a month or so later it was quite common to have the student evangelical union roam the halls looking for lonely souls on Sunday nights. One weekend they happened upon a young man five doors down from me who had just dropped his first (and only) “trip”. After being talked into attending a prayer meeting he had a “lysergic epiphany” and of course, he was baptised on the spot. Had the f***ery ended there, perhaps things would not have been so bad. Unfortunately he found the resolve to dump his girlfriend that night and phone his parents to tell them of his most recent conversion. Unfortunately his family were Hindu. At the time this caused quite a scandal. The young man concerned continues to enjoy a successful career in finance (make of that what you will).

    Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • chris, in reply to 81stcolumn,

    I like that story 81st, it reminds me of a couple of things. As mentioned earlier, I attended a Christian secondary school. When I was 16, Dad decided it’d be a great idea for me to get admitted to Communion. I didn’t know what that meant, still don’t, I wasn’t a Christian, neither was dad. It involved me having a weekly Tuesday evening meeting with the Chaplain for about 6 weeks which culminated in some kind of communion ritual at the alter beside the one other student who was getting admitted. Dad’s rationale for getting me to do this was that it would look good on my CV. And yes indeed, in the 19th century, which is incidentally where he spent a great deal of time, it would look fantastic. But an employment environment where something like that had any kind of leverage…not for me thanks. The taint lingers.

    Scratching around, one of the partners in the law firm where CEC CEO Simon Greening works:

    is active in community and church activities with a keen interest in Christian education. He has extensive experience on Trust and Not for Profit boards, and chairs the Mt Albert Baptist Church

    Cynically, this informs my preferred interpretation of your tale. Isolated minority youth has moment of clarity, assimilates in order to forge successful career. Perhaps the alternative is too dire to consider.


    Back at school, we had RE with homework up to 5th form, chapel with hymns and sermons three mornings a weeks, compulsory Sunday communion once or twice a term and a voluntary Bible Studies club. There were 520 students at the school – and I shit you not – 5 actual card-carrying Christians. The card read ‘Bible Studies club’. Not only were those kids ostracised, they were actively persecuted and subjected to the most depraved bullying you can imagine. In spite of this, a couple of them stuck that out for the full five years. The only other student who received anything like that kind of treatment was the school satanist. Given the environment, one could even spin things in such a way to claim that this shit was administered in the name of Christianity. But yeah, tribalism.

    Of the 514 other students, it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that a number of the more successful remain connected quasi-Christians.

    Mawkland • Since Jan 2010 • 1302 posts Report Reply

  • Dinah Dunavan,

    I know that NZ is not a secular country - like the USA where church and state are definitely seperate, oh yes siree! - but I would have liked to believe that our state schools were. Ha!

    My sister discovered that her children's had RE at their primary school when her daughter came home expressing distress about going to hell, or something like that. So my sister asked that her children be excused from RE.

    The school at that time 'closed' for an hour in the school day and the teachers used RE as an excuse for a break. The students not attending RE were made to sit outside the secretary's office - as if they had been naughty. So my sister would show up at the school and take her children into the playground to play.

    After a while the number of children being excused from RE and playing with my sister and her children increased to a bit more than the school was happy about. So the school board told my sister that she could go to the school and supervise her own children but it was not legal for her to supervise other children as she wasn't a registered teacher. The irony that it was ok for a non-registered RE teacher to 'supervise' the children, or ok for the school secretary to 'supervise' but not ok for a university lecturer and parent, was completely lost on the school.

    It is a very sad indictment on the Ministry of Education that 7 or 8 years later it appears that little has changed.

    When I was training to be a teacher our trainer said that we would each take a turn to start the day's lessons with a karakia. Some of us objected to this, on the basis that bringing any form of prayer into a NZ school setting was not appropriate, also that enforcing a prayer on a tertiary class was a bit paternalistic. We were told that we were culturally insensitive. We did finally compromise on having a choice of prayer, karakia, or little homily to start each day.

    Dunedin • Since Jun 2008 • 186 posts Report Reply

  • Tess Rooney,

    I haven’t read all the posts, so if someone has already suggested this, I’m sorry to double up, but as for the start of Parliament I think a solution would be a time of silence rather than a prayer. A friend suggested that and I think it’s a good solution whereby no one is excluded and no one is offended. Those that wish to pray may do so in silence, but it is still a shared, communal moment of reflection.

    Since May 2009 • 267 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Tess Rooney,

    a shared, communal moment of reflection

    best if its purpose is explicitly advised.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19688 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart, in reply to Dinah Dunavan,

    I know that NZ is not a secular country

    I'd have said that NZ is very much a secular country for all practical purposes, and becoming more so all the time. In support of this, Te Ara gives the example of the lack of interest by the courts in prosecuting religious satire. Apparently we're one of the most secular countries in the world. Go us!

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 822 posts Report Reply

  • chris, in reply to chris,

    The taint lingers.

    And sorry too keep rabbiting on here. The positive I got from Rosemary McDonald’s lesson was

    “it will not do them any harm as long as YOU, their parents, are the biggest influence in their lives.”

    It’s pragmatic, we can tell our own children that it’s all cobblers. In the eventuality that National are reelected, beyond the opt out, that’s all parents will have for three more years, three years that count. From what Dinah says above, that doesn’t sound much cop. Even if National aren’t elected, none of the parties seem to be coming out particularly strongly on the issue, even an – opt-in, not opt-out dispensation would still involve taxpayers forking out to God:

    "Churches by and large have not woken up to the fact that this is a mission field on our doorstep. The children are right there and we don’t have to supply buildings, seating, lighting or heating,"

    There is no question that parents are invariably the biggest influence on their childrens’ lives, but sometimes that’s the problem, every child deserves a chance to make their own mind up. And this goes right back to Emma’s first paragraph in which she mentions her mum. The Government can’t guarantee our children won’t be fed religion in the home. The Government can’t guarantee that religious parents won’t force their children to participate in the religious classes under an opt-in/opt-out system. What a Government can guarantee, if they choose to, by repealing the legislation, is to secularise state primary schools so that all New Zealand’s children, ours and theirs, might have at least some form of sanctuary, a safe haven, the slightest chance to escape… all that bollocks.

    Sorry to blather all over your thread Emma, I’m now officially passionate about this topic.

    https://www.facebook.com/KeepReligionOutOfSchoolNZ

    Mawkland • Since Jan 2010 • 1302 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to chris,

    It’s pragmatic

    It is, but using it as a way of saying that it's OK for opt-out or compulsory RE to be in state schools doesn't work for me. It's like saying that your sheep will be safe from rustlers so long as you make sure you always guard them. Yes, watching your sheep is a good idea if there are rustlers about, but that doesn't make it OK to rustle, and getting rid of rustlers should be a high priority. They definitely should NOT be people working on your farm.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to chris,

    The positive I got from Rosemary McDonald’s lesson was “it will not do them any harm as long as YOU, their parents, are the biggest influence in their lives.” It’s pragmatic, we can tell our own children that it’s all cobblers.

    I have exactly as much confidence in the sincerity of that claim as I do in my ability to get a posiition teaching the doctrines of The New Church of the Great Old Ones in a primary school. Christian parents can just tell their children it's all a load of cobblers when they get home...

    We went through this in NSW very recently, and the "it doesn't really matter" crowd vociferously objected to the proposal that ethics be offered as an alternative to Christianity where there was demand. They were willing to compromise and allow explicitly Islamic schools to teach their version of the Gospel, but Herendetthelesson (to quote Goscinny and Uderzo). The hatred expressed by some participants in the debate was hard to reconcile with some of the claims made about the followers of Isa/Jesus.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1198 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    On the topic of other 'religions' in schools:

    A bitter dispute is raging in the northern Southland town of Riversdale due to the school wanting to introduce a calming technique for its pupils in the wake of bullying.

    It is understood some Christian parents at Riversdale are furious the school wants to introduce the "mindfulness" technique, claiming it has Buddhism origins.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4650 posts Report Reply

  • Oliver Thompson, in reply to Emma Hart,

    Thanks Emma, I was just on the point of un-lurking to post that. I'm pleased that my children haven't had single faith type religious education at their primary school. I suspect that was a pragmatic choice - there could be many children withdrawn from the sessions at their fairly heterogeneous primary school.

    Having said that, I'd love them to have had exposure to a variety of religious ideas, presented by people who understood them properly. As a post-Christian type person, I can give them a fair idea of what different Christian groups think about the world but when my daughter asked me to suggest a couple of religions she could compare for an awareness exercise for Scouts I realised she doesn't know much about world religions at all.

    Lower Hutt • Since Apr 2011 • 9 posts Report Reply

  • chris, in reply to Moz,

    We went through this in NSW very recently, and the “it doesn’t really matter” crowd vociferously objected to the proposal that ethics be offered as an alternative to Christianity where there was demand

    Not being at all familiar the circumstances there, I’m a little uncertain how to interpret that, “it doesn’t really matter” sounds neutral, “vociferously objected” clearly isn’t. A 2014 NZ poll found:

    The numbers show that we’re not particularly comfortable with ‘Christian’ education, at least as far as the first statement goes. 27% of New Zealanders agreed that “New Zealand schools should include classes on Christianity taught from a Christian perspective”, while 47% disagreed and 26% were neutral or undecided.

    http://www.primaryethics.com.au/infoforschools.htmlPrimary Ethics is proud to be the first authorised provider of philosophical ethics classes. These classes are made available to children who don't attend the Special Religious Education (SRE) classes at their schools. We are a non-profit organisation, established by St James Ethics Centre.

    Mawkland • Since Jan 2010 • 1302 posts Report Reply

  • Roger,

    I went to private anglican schools so with saturday morning school that meant 9 years of church six times a week before you got to Sunday! Religious education came on top of that, however while my junior experiences were bigoted hardline homophobia, my secondary experiences were actually genuine comparative religion and teaching that different faiths were just cultural expressions of one god.

    However, the result of all that has just left me as a firm follower of Richard Dawkins.

    Hamilton • Since Jun 2007 • 179 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to chris,

    Not being at all familiar the circumstances there, I’m a little uncertain how to interpret that, “it doesn’t really matter” sounds neutral, “vociferously objected” clearly isn’t.

    Precisely. A group of Christians were very clear that forcing children to be indoctrinated by Christians as part of their schooling is at worst irrelevant (when pressed they were willing to concede that). Obviously to them it's unquestionably good. To them, however, even allowing the possibility that some children might be taught ethics is extremely bad, wrong, unacceptable and will cause the collapse of civilisation. It's not that they're hypocrites per se, to them the world is divided into the condemned and the saved, and it's just obvious that every child should be at least given the opportunity to be saved. By them, obviously.

    I keep saying "obviously" because that's how it came across. They don't see shades of grey, the possibility that they might be wrong, anything like that. Their response to "ethics education" was the kind of uncomprehending "without God there can be no morals or ethics" stuff that you'd expect from uneducated persons of impaired intellectual ability. George Brandis, our federal Attorney-General and beliver that "gay marriage leads inevitably to legalised beastiality" was one of the opposition, for example. They're not operating in a reality-based framework, by definition.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1198 posts Report Reply

  • Tones,

    Ironically, the only part of religion in schools that I could ever bear was the hymn singing. I've always been an atheist (in that sense I'm kind of similar to those people that new they were gay even when they were five years old) but I sang in a cathedral choir while I was in primary school and used this as an excuse to get out of religious instruction. I, at least, was allowed to go to the school library and read, which in any case was my favourite occupation at that time. But I always loved the music and those hymns still stir me, even though I've had time in the intervening four decades to reflect on the idiocy of most of the texts. If I recall correctly, the straw that broke the camel's back as far as RI for me was concerned (aside from the fact that I always secretly knew it was all bunkum), was Mr Pedley's insistence that we write the whole of the Lord's Prayer out. That was too much sacrifice for my non-existent faith.

    Cologne • Since Sep 2014 • 1 posts Report Reply

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