Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: Oh, God

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  • Carol Stewart, in reply to Moz,

    Religious nutbaggery when I was in primary school was not optional,

    It was theoretically optional during my primary school days, but my parents didn't believe in giving me special treatment so I suffered along with the rest of the class. They probably figured that without any reinforcement at home the ideas wouldn't take hold, and they were pretty much right. I was a dismally poor student of Bible studies and used to fail all the tests.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 830 posts Report

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Mellopuffy,

    My son’s school doesn’t have Bible class. But it does teach this set of values, under the auspice of ‘character education’.

    I hate the fact that I am always wary of 'character education' or 'values education' because of the way it's sometimes used to smuggle in Christian teaching. It's not like atheists don't have ethics (and I'd prefer it was called ethics). But... it's like those Ian Grant parenting courses, which never mention in their promotion where they're coming from. You have to be old enough to remember The Herd.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report

  • Duane Griffin, in reply to Jeremy Andrew,

    I don't believe "ritualized invocations" of any creed are appropriate in Parliament.

    Point of order! Ritualized invocations are exactly how Parliament operates.

    I agree we could do with fewer religious themed ones. I wouldn't mind if they were more diverse: the speaker leading the chamber in a quick "Nammo tassa..." would be quite the thing.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 21 posts Report

  • Isaac Freeman,

    I'll say this for religious instruction. If I hadn't attended, I'd have missed the visiting evangelist who, through hard work and faith in God, has been granted the ability to sing in the voice of Donald Duck. He really did sound a lot like Donald Duck.

    Apart from that, I didn't get a lot out of it. I learned a lot more about Christianity from listening to my Baha'i parents talk about religion with their friends and neighbours than I ever did from religious instruction at school. People who sincerely want a good religious education for their kids are much better served by a proper Sunday School or similar from their own religious community than with the garbled version they'll get during school hours.

    Christchurch • Since Feb 2007 • 134 posts Report

  • "chris",

    Thought provoking essay Emma. Destigmatising some of the language, if I may, the question is whether our schools must study mythology, and in this case that mythology native to the supplanting culture in NZ?

    As to whether indoctrination is the sole purpose of this, I’d be inclined to accord that decision to the respective teacher. Certainly I’m no Christian so my stake in this zero, but I’ve been allocated a few words so I thought I’d share all of them.

    Unquestionably I’m in agreement with you that there is a place for teaching comparative religion and looking at the role of religion in society, but it would seem to be an additional discipline reliant on a slightly different spectrum of faculties.

    To look at this wording more closely: Indoctrination is a fairly loaded term that is assumed to be partisan in nature and generally speaking implies a kind of universal vulnerability to ideology (in order to be entirely successful). Though tentatively challenged by the hypothesised God gene (VMAT2) this ‘discovery’ remains contentious , but as Carl Zimmer characterises things, perhaps
    it points the way toward one neurobiological pathway that may be important. I love this violet.

    Who knows, it just came to mind in terms of what kind of success rate one can anticipate when administering indoctrination. Whether it’s categorically indoctrination or three stars for effort there.

    Despite religious education of all types being banned in China there are nonetheless still 30 million Christians s and a much higher number of religious believers than 100 million – namely 31.4% of the population over 16 years of age. In this environment a reasonably strong argument could be made that for better or worse certain personality types gravitate towards religion quite naturally and regardless of education. The specialty here is political, historical, geographical indoctrination.

    Not to dismiss the fact that these bible classes could be characterised as an attempt and do succeed in indoctrinating certain individuals, but to highlight that like other mythologies such as Santa, it’s nearly impossible to put that cat back in the bag. Yes, organized religion is immeasurably more invasive than belief in the Claus but once skepticism has taken root then Christian indoctrination can never be complete (such is the requisite for complete faith) and that religion remains merely a form of social ID, as you say “Like any other club or activity”. And therefore, beyond indoctrination there may be other benefits on offer here.

    More importantly, and this is the point I’m desperately threshing through these inconsequential words to reach, as touched on in my China example above: Isn’t this charged charge of ‘indoctrination’ arguably applicable to a range of subjects, is it not merely just another facet of education itself. Part of its function? in accordance with a capitalist agenda? Questions best left for another time. Certainly from my recollection at school, Social Studies was rife with all sorts of misleading info, propaganda and abject lies masquerading as truth, Did Columbus discover America? Settlers or invaders? Was Marco Polo the first European in China? Did he even really make it that far? Do drugs categorically turn your brain into a fried egg? Simplifications and obfuscations all over the show. I guess what I’m asking is, did our study of falsehood, myth and error encourage the development of any useful skills? Do these fables and parables weaken or strengthen our inquiring minds? Even when presented as fact?

    Stepping back in time, there is every likelihood that a concerned parent was equally critical of Aristotle choosing to indoctrinate a young Alexander in the bible class of that epoch, filling their childrens’ heads with a a lot of nonsense about Achilles and Icarus. Perhaps the parent’s issue was with the Greekness of it all and they’d have preferred an equal amount of Rostam and Zahhak or an overview of all the beliefs going round at the time. But the deeper questions in my mind would be: Was Aristotle a competent teacher? What was his angle? And of what benefit could this be to both my child and Alexander? Beyond listening to a bunch of stories with unfamiliar words and structures, beyond the lessons they embedded, beyond the questions they elicited, beyond the ideas they ignited and the critical faculties they encouraged, beyond the deeper understanding of the culture, language, idioms and laws. Would it have been better to instill a vague understanding of religions as a whole? That sounds like a different subject entirely. Or was it not such a bad thing to immerse the students in the mythology of a culture, their culture, at least the culture of the Greek homeland as it had been transplanted onto Macedonia.

    Difficult to answer. But I’d be of the opinion that with these types of subjects, our key motivations to study them lie well beyond acquiring teh knowledge (for which we have the net) or to cement belief (walking on water – best left to The Avengers). The content is merely a means to an end, a framework in which to develop certain disciplines and allow talents to unfurl themselves. In unto itself really quite arbitrary. Some may argue that it’s worthy enough (or not)stuff in that it serves as a traditional connection to our collective colonial culture back beyond the time when in Europe we were subordinate to the far more advanced Islamic Umayyad Caliphate culture. And in that vein that its stories present telling answers as to the whys and what-fors of our more recent histories. But it’s generally only later in life that these connections began to make any sense to me.

    Certainly in China, though religion is banned, the children are still taught various legends, myths, what have you. Not as history. And not as Bible Class, but then that’s just a name you’re calling it. But it’s something that continues to bind a culture(s). Despite and far beyond Mao’s Cultural Revolution, many are still able to explain the meanings and histories of various festivals as more than simply being an opportunity to spend up large on fireworks and mooncakes. Sure we could progress to an era where the Easter holiday is all about the chocolate and buns, Christmas the tree and toys, Shrove Tuesday only about the Pancakes. An era when we have no idea why certain shops are closed on Sundays and no reason to continue with the practice. But it strikes me that there is nothing to lose from having a deeper grasp of our context and that in teaching and learning these stories that have in their way defined our culture, language, laws and customs, we may be reaping benefits that may be just too familiar for objective appraisal. Tangentially on that note I’m also well in favour of the teaching of Maori Mythology. But basically, to me, it really depends – like any study we engage in – on how much you trust the teacher, whether you think they’re up to the material, how they’re framing it. I’d most definitely recommend focusing on the the individual minister and what they’re bringing to the office rather than the office itself.

    As for the hymns, I guess we could ban Beethoven, but again I’d suggest it comes down to who’s selecting the playlist rather than placing limits as to genre. Though I may have missed a joke there. As I do, all the damn time.

    The Blind Leading the Blind, Matthew 15:13-14
    For Everything there is a Season, Ecclesiastes 3

    location, location, locat… • Since Dec 2010 • 250 posts Report

  • linger, in reply to Duane Griffin,

    Ritualized invocations are exactly how Parliament operates

    I'd be quite happy if there were a daily reminder along the lines of:
    We are gathered here today to serve the New Zealand public, to represent the voices of all. Let us ensure that no group is disadvantaged by our actions and decisions.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1944 posts Report

  • Carol Stewart, in reply to "chris",

    As for the hymns, I guess we could ban Beethoven

    Why? He was all for universal brotherhood.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 830 posts Report

  • Danielle,

    I was gearing up for a battle when my oldest starts school next year, but according to the survey results spreadsheet our local school doesn't have "Religious Instruction" at all, which is a relief. I remember having it on Auckland's North Shore in the very early 1980s. My mother was most unimpressed by it but let me go for the sake of "fitting in": the instructor was very pretty and popular with the children. I rather wish she hadn't now. All I recall is getting the impression that my deeply irreligious New Zealand family were off to eternal damnation, and it obviously rather worried me. A horrible tale to tell little kids.

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report

  • Sacha, in reply to linger,

    We are gathered here today

    that's the sort of thing, yes

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report

  • tussock, in reply to linger,

    Let us ensure that no group is disadvantaged by our actions and decisions.

    There's a few lessons in the problems of Pareto efficiency that's going to run into very quickly. Comes down to Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, that there's a lot of possible social choice sets where every possible outcome disadvantages the majority of people, let alone just one group.

    What you might try is "ensure that no substantive group is consistently disadvantaged in areas where it can be shown they are already disadvantaged." Which you might think is really weak, but it's probably still impossible in the real world, because there's so many possible groups and contradictory definitions and sensations of advantage.

    Even junk like "don't be Evil" doesn't seem to mean anything once things get rolling. After all, we're already doing something somewhat similar, so the new thing can't be Evil either, because we've already defined ourselves as not being Evil.

    Wouldn't it be nice if they'd just promise not to loot the place? Not that it would stop them, obviously, English is far too fuzzy of a language, "not stuffing all this money in my pocket would be them looting us", but nice anyway.

    Since Nov 2006 • 611 posts Report

  • tussock, in reply to "chris",

    Isn’t this charged charge of ‘indoctrination’ arguably applicable to a range of subjects, is it not merely just another facet of education itself.

    No. Absolutely not. There is a real world which people from different backgrounds can study independently and come to the same conclusions about. Spelling, math, science, all sorts. Nihilists are factually incorrect, so don't be a nihilist.

    Indoctrination is where you take a self-serving point of view about something without evidential backing and teach it so as to get other people to share that view. Often by misleading them about other views, and actively denying the validity of all others.

    It is in fact normally used as an antonym for "teaching". So we teach spelling and math, but we indoctrinate right-wing politics. Yes, the right, as the real world has a substantial left-wing bias.

    Obviously you indoctrinate religion, rather than teach it, what with it being not conducive to the sniff test. Which is to say, bullshit.

    Since Nov 2006 • 611 posts Report

  • Pete,

    I'm fed up with being even-handed and fair to these lying kiddiefiddlers.

    How about we tackle this evil where it flourishes? How about we lift the taxable exemption for all churches and charge them as if they were at the full corporate rate?

    They are in the business of "souls" which don't exist so how about we make these fuckers pay for their delusions?

    Civilisation will dump the idea of gods sooner than some people realise and in the corporeal world we will be left with some buildings on some nice real estate that could be turned into something useful.
    A childcare centre or playground would make more sense - how about instead of talking to your invisible friend in the sky which doesn't exist you do some good on the face of this earth?

    Since Apr 2008 • 106 posts Report

  • "chris", in reply to tussock,

    Sure Tussock, Spelling, math, science, languages don’t apply to the point I was attempting to make. Emma was quite clear that this is being taught as part of +Social Studies+, I likewise name checked the subject specifically in my 8th paragraph with the intent of avoiding this misinterpretation. I’m sorry it was a bit of an eyeful. But yeah, again, primary school Social Studies, I’m sure your familiar: Romantic New Zealand Journal tales of brave pioneers moving to this unpunished country, God fearing and hardworking, here in order to carve out this brave new land alongside the welcoming native cousins. Countless tales like this of the Brave European and the Noble savage.

    What I don’t recall is anything like an alternative reading about greedy European usurpers, land thieves and arms dealers and drug peddlers being presented until well into secondary school. Certainly we were presented next to nothing about the average Maori citizen who was perfectly content with the status quo prior to colonization or the signing of the treaty. it’s in that heavily biased context, amid that narrative, as part of that subject (the range of components including history, geography, sociology, anthropology, politics etc), taught at that level, amongst that much indoctrination, that I question the stigmatization of the study of this book. And I’ll freely admit that I can and have found value in studying subjects where the student isn’t necessarily expected to take everything at face value.

    As I went to lengths to state, it really depends on the teacher’s angle and framing. Like any subject. From the ages of about 4 to 16 I endured my fair share of Religious Studies, Bible Studies, Religious Education classes etc. And mostly it boiled down to readings, discussions, drawing pictures of the parables, watching videos. I never felt much compulsion to believe anything, because. There was some nice stuff. The one that made the earliest impact was the tale of the Good Samaritan. This stuff was studied in exactly the same way as we studied the Aesopica. Both Jesus and Aesop told a ripping good yarn, these were ostensibly Christian schools but the teachers were actually just teaching, right across the board.

    As for being told that anyone’s family were off to eternal damnation or we’re going to Hell, I’ve never encountered anything remotely similar. That’s an utterly appalling thing to do, scaring/scarring children like that. And most importantly that’s just incredibly crap teaching, whatever the subject. A science teacher could turn up to class and scare the living shit out of children if they so desired on any given day, if that’s their agenda. I have vivid recollections of our class being shown an incredibly graphic video about Ebola in 4th form which without a proper introduction and presentation would have scarred me for life. Basically if a teacher is so fucked up that they want to traumatise children then this can be achieved regardless of the subject. Likewise if our teacher had presented Under the Mountain as factual then I’d have absolutely lost my shit, the Wilberforce were scary enough as fictitious characters. But the teacher didn’t.

    The bible is just another book, albeit a book of massive cultural influence and importance, but still just a book that among a lot of down right absurd and freaky shit manages to present a bunch of positive ethics in a relatively easily and successfully consumed format. Its tall tales can be presented without recourse to indoctrination, And the issue as I see it is that we naturally don’t expect a science teacher to barrage 8 year olds with a freaky hour long horror speech about how a high enough concentration oxygen can totally fuck you up, but from various anecdotes here it seems we do expect this kind of trauma inducing stuff from a Bible Studies teacher. So that bar is obviously too low, the teacher’s selectivity is at fault. Generally though, when a teacher is a bit shit we go after the teacher rather than the subject they’re supposed to be exploring.

    Having said all that I’m aware that my ideal experiences with this kind of thing are colouring my interpretation of what it is exactly that Emma’s children are being subjected to, my apologies if I’ve trivialised anything here Emma.

    location, location, locat… • Since Dec 2010 • 250 posts Report

  • Mellopuffy, in reply to Emma Hart,

    Yep, and I mentioned in my twitter discussion of this my disquiet at the 'values' of 'obedience' and 'duty'. I'm continuing in my discussions of this with the principal. So far the evidence he's presented as to the efficacy of the approach? - "We use it and it works." A discussion I had with a teacher friend last night led me to understand that this is quite common in NZ education however (the paucity of appropriate research evidence/poor quality research evidence used to justify the introduction of 'innovative' programmes in schools). Frankly I don't have the energy to fight this at the moment but I have gone back to ask that the school provide better support to teachers that have to teach the apparent contradiction between these values and the 'Keeping Ourselves Safe' programme.

    Dunedin, NZ • Since Feb 2007 • 63 posts Report

  • Mellopuffy, in reply to Danielle,

    Check out the school's values and ask questions about those is my suggestion ;) . Also take note of the nature of the response to questions about their processes to deal with inappropriate behaviour and bullying etc. In retrospective our boy's principal kinda blew these questions off with more of a 'we don't have many of those problems' answer, but he was so charismatic and forceful that I didn't think to challenge it at the time. Our boy is quite happy at school so it's not such a big issue for me that I would withdraw him at this point but i'm not as happy with the school as I was when he first started.

    Dunedin, NZ • Since Feb 2007 • 63 posts Report

  • "chris", in reply to Pete,

    While I'm not against lifting the taxable exemption.

    I’m fed up with being even-handed and fair to these lying kiddiefiddlers.

    Beyond the target there's more or less nothing to differentiate this bigoted hate speech from that which I've heard fundamentalists level at marginalized groups such as the LGBT community. Newton's third.

    location, location, locat… • Since Dec 2010 • 250 posts Report

  • Geoff Lealand,

    Of course Religious education, Bible classes ... whatever ... must be opt-in and not opt-out, and should be general policy.

    The only memory I have of bible stuff growing up in a small Taranaki town was the rather dismal bible class dances which largely constituted social life in those days. No much opportunity to explore my Jewish heritage either.

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2562 posts Report

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Mellopuffy,

    Emma was quite clear that this is being taught as part of +Social Studies+

    No, I wasn't, because it isn't. Comparative religion should be, and its influence on society. If you're teaching about Christianity in that context, you also mention the negative side. It's not exactly small. Witch-trials. Crusades. Persecution of women, POC, LGBTI people.

    The bible is just another book, albeit a book of massive cultural influence and importance, but still just a book that among a lot of down right absurd and freaky shit manages to present a bunch of positive ethics in a relatively easily and successfully consumed format.

    Again, only if you cherry-pick it. The Bible also preaches a lot of hate. It supports slavery, murder and rape. If you were educating and not indoctrinatng, you would mention that. It's also central to Christian doctrine that non-Christians go to Hell, so if that's not being taught to kids, again, that's cherry-picking.

    The fact that some of the "teachers" are very poor is intrinsic to the system, because Bible class is not taught by teachers.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report

  • Sacha, in reply to "chris",

    if a teacher is so fucked up that they want to traumatise children then this can be achieved regardless of the subject.

    These aren't even trained teachers for the most part - just well-meaning local religious fans. Even more outrageous that schools expose the children in their care to that risk.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report

  • Sacha, in reply to Emma Hart,


    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report

  • Lucy Telfar Barnard, in reply to Emma Hart,

    It’s also central to Christian doctrine that non-Christians go to Hell,

    Emma, that may be what you interpreted from your exposure to Christian doctrine, but Hell is not necessarily central to Christian doctrine, nor the requirement that non-Christians end up there.

    A brief, non-scientific sample:

    My husband’s Catholic upbringing had Hell being the result of bad behaviour rather than lack of Christianity.

    In discussions with my high-school close friend who was a dedicated Christian, her view was that it wasn’t lack of Christianity that was the problem on its own, so much as the rejection of God – if you’d never been told about Jesus, you couldn’t be punished for not being a Christian (I found that problematic: why go convert heathens who didn’t know about Jesus, when they apparently had a better chance of getting to heaven if they didn’t know… but I digress).

    Also, my dedicated evangelist cousin takes the view that “hell” is not so much the fiery lake of burning sulfur (Revelations 21:8), as the discovery, upon death, that God exists, but that you will be forever “shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

    The main point to this is that “Christian” is a very very broad word encompassing a huge range of biblical interpretations, or even views on how literally the Bible should be taken, and it’s as risky to say that Christianity means any one view as it is to say Feminism means any one view.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 585 posts Report

  • Steve Barnes,

    Meanwhile, back in Tennessee

    A young girl in Tennessee says she was suspended after breaking a class rule of saying “bless you” after a classmate sneezed.

    In a world with innumerable shades of grey some people can see only in Black and White.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    Meanwhile, back in Tennessee

    A young girl in Tennessee says she was suspended after breaking a class rule of saying “bless you” after a classmate sneezed.

    In a world with innumerable shades of grey some people can see only in Black and White.

    Different cultures? When an old lady in a Berlin supermarket let out with a deafening sneeze, the discreet thing to do would seem to be to ignore it. Instead the old dear came out with a reproving "Gesundheit!", as if to say "You should have said it".

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    Also, my dedicated evangelist cousin takes the view that “hell” is not so much the fiery lake of burning sulfur (Revelations 21:8), as the discovery, upon death, that God exists, but that you will be forever “shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

    Yes, God exists, but you are kept from his presence. Which means that fudging intermediaries like Limbo suddenly make no sense. If Hell is the absence of God, then Limbo, where unbaptised babies get sent, is Hell.

    The issue is that the Bible is internally contradictory on the faith vs works thing. In one place, Jesus specifically says that Pagans can go to Heaven if they're good people, but there are plenty of other verses that say belief is absolutely necessary. And this kind of complexity and debate is one reason I don't find religion particularly suitable for children.

    But because Bible in schools is for the most part taught by people from evangelical organisations, it's a particular kind of Christianity that gets taught. It was not, for instance, my mother's Christianity.

    There's also weird stuff that goes on inside kids' heads when they're given information like this, regardless of the intention or nature of the teaching. I can remember a Sunday School lesson focused on teaching us the meaning of omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient. That was the nature of God. A few months later, when I was molested by a stranger in a park? God saw, he knew, he was in control, ergo he did it. And as it was awful, he must have done it to punish me for being bad. By thinking about sex. so he showed me what it was like.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report

  • Rosemary McDonald,

    My three kids all went to Catholic Primary and Secondary Schools. (Don't ask, long story)

    Neither of their parents have any religious connection, although paternal Great Grandfather was a card carrying Orangeman from Ireland, so we did cop a bit of flak for exposing the offspring to the Catholics. Seriously.

    However, off the kids went for the prescribed number of years, attending Mass and doing all the other God Stuff, other than First Holy Communion.

    Religious Education was kept separate from the usual state school curriculum...which was followed religiously (pun intended)...and Darwin did get a mention in high school science class.

    No need for the exorcist to pay a visit afterwards.

    All three kids are happy atheists/agnostics.
    They don't pray, attend church, or show any ill effects of having a high exposure to religious dogma.

    All three are honest, hard working, intelligent free thinkers who have the confidence to argue their point of view....with the expectation that their arguement makes sense.

    Because thats how we roll at home.

    SO, don't panic if little Johnny comes home from school talking about Big Daddy, Junior and the Spook....it will not do them any harm as long as YOU, their parents, are the biggest influence in their lives.

    Here endeth the Lesson.

    Waikato, or on the road • Since Apr 2014 • 1346 posts Report

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