Wednesday, September 24, 2014

We need to talk about god.

I was raised a Catholic, but I’ve been an atheist for a long time; about 35 years. As a single person, and before having children, I didn’t really have cause to think much more about religion. I expected to live my life amongst like-minded atheists. When I moved into the suburb in which I now live and started having children, I had to rethink my views about religion. My community is one in which there is an evangelical Anglican church. This church supports men who are studying ministry (and their families) and missionaries, who travel overseas to spread the word.

Members of this church attend the local public school. There aren’t any other community hubs in our suburb (unless you’re Catholic), so the church and the school share some resources. It is often church-going parents who are available for volunteering at school. I’ve been socially involved with these families, and have asked members over the years about aspects of their faith. I understand that they believe they are right and want to spread the word. I understand they think they are doing the will of god. I’ve done my own further research about the life of Jesus and the beginnings of the church. I’ve always questioned their belief that they have a right to access children at public schools. Some evangelical Christians attend public schools as ‘salt and light’, that is, as an example of Christians living in our community in an effort to convert other people to Christianity. For an atheist family to say they were at a public school as an example of an atheist family would be considered preposterous. Some evangelical Christians attend public schools to grow their church. For any other religious group to state that they use public schools in this way would cause an outcry. I’ve been interested in, engaged with and understanding of the local church group. I have a degree in ancient mythology, and understand the need for the ritual and community that religion provides. My view has always been to live and let live. My aim has been to emphasis what we have in common rather than what divides us. It is easier when you like the people involved. I’ve even defended church members against their critics, asking for understanding, and hoping for a harmonious community.

I can no longer remain polite about allowing the local church to fulfil its aim of using the public school to seek converts. I believe it is morally wrong. It is wrong to gain access to non-Christian children with the aim to convert them. It is wrong in primary schools, where children may not have developed the ability to reason and question. It is wrong in high schools, where children are concerned with fitting in to a group. It is wrong to approach children with lollies, balloons and parties, knowing that children will be attracted by these things. It is wrong to market religion to children. It is wrong to tell Christian children to talk to their little friends about Jesus. More than morally wrong, I say it is sinister. It is time to get churches out of public schools.

This includes chaplains, scripture teachers and ministries such as Access and Generate, who, by their very names, are clear about their intentions. I argue that if it isn’t OK to have Muslim or Jewish groups entering schools to preach to those of other faiths, then it isn’t OK for Christians. If it isn’t OK for atheists to tell Christian students that there is no god (which is quite different from ‘not believing in god’ which assumes there is a god and atheists don’t believe in him), then it isn’t OK to tell non-Christians that there is. We are respectful enough to not tell children who believe in Santa that their belief is wrong, even though Santa is used to reward and punish children in order to manipulate their behaviour, even though all adults know there is no Santa, yet some Christians feel they have the right to preach about sin, heaven, hell, and the mythologies of the bible to non-Christian children. It makes me wonder if Christian children are being taught that non-Christians and atheists are to be regarded with pity or in a disparaging or disrespectful manner because they are going to hell and should convert, yet these other groups are given no right of reply. I don’t understand how anyone could consider this acceptable. 

At our school Protestant Scripture has recently been rebranded as Christian Scripture, even though the school also offers Catholic and Greek Orthodox Scripture classes. This appears to be an attempt to cast a wider net, attracting Christians who may not be Protestant. 

If the message from the church is strong enough to withstand scrutiny, then approach adults, not children.

Some people think Christian groups should be present in public schools in order to teach values. Anyone who has spent time in public schools would see that values are stated in policy documents , embedded in the school rules, modelled in respectful relationships and are reinforced every day.  The core values, as stated in a policy document of March 2004 are: integrity, excellence, respect, responsibility, cooperation, participation, care, fairness and democracy. The general capabilities embedded in the new Australian curriculum include: critical and creative thinking, personal and social capability, intercultural understanding and ethical understanding. These are the aims of a secular education. How do these sit with religious indoctrination and the belief that people of one religion have the to right to try to convert public school students?  I say they don’t.

World-wide we are doing a very poor job of respecting difference, emphasising what we have in common and allowing others to believe what they please. Future generations will look at this time in history in wonder and disbelief that people in the 21st century held religious beliefs, fought over them, colonised and killed over them. There is now more archeological evidence of stories in Greek and Roman mythology than there is for some stories in the bible. That doesn’t mean we need to practise a religion around them. The only way forward, which is sure to come, is to actively teach atheism. Surely we are grown up enough, and knowledgeable enough, that we can let religion go. There is no other hope for world peace.

Monday, September 22, 2014

I have a passion for using the correct word*

I’ve already had my rant about the overuse of the word ‘grab’.

I also take issue with the use of the word ‘nightmare’. Too often I’ve heard people say things like ‘the renovation is such a nightmare!’. Well, no. You can afford to update a house you own. It is an inconvenience, and manageable, and you chose to do it. Being a woman in the DRC or Afghanistan would be a nightmare. Being raped in front of your children would be a nightmare. Being caught in a tsunami would be a nightmare. Have some perspective.

Recently I’ve added another to my list.

When I used to read the mum forums whenever there was a disagreement someone would say ‘we’re all passionate mums’. I thought the use of the word was silly then. The silliness has grown.

I had someone say to me recently ‘oh, so you’re passionate about road safety’. No. I’m concerned about road safety. I care about children not being killed getting to school. Lets save passion for passion.

My partner was asked at a job interview what he is passionate about. The correct answer was supposed to be ‘coding’, which would be ridiculous.

I’m expecting to be asked the same question when I’m applying for jobs, but it’s one I just can’t take seriously. Better to ask what I care about, or what I’m concerned about . Or what I’m compassionate about. That I can answer truthfully.

Lets leave passion for the bedroom (or anywhere else you might like to encounter your preferred sex partner).

* This doesn't mean I always do use the correct word. But I try to, and I'm willing to learn.