I went to an Irish Catholic school for 13 years and yes surreptitious religious indoctrination was definitely part of my daily school life ;-) However, as part of the school curriculum, Christian students had to go to Catechism classes once a week while the rest of us attended 'Moral Science' classes. These classes started from Year 1 and attending one or the other was compulsory right up to Year 12.
Being of non-Christian faith, of course I went to the moral science classes where, for a change we weren't just being talked at, being lectured, being forced to strive towards academic excellence that some of us clearly had no drive for… In these classes, we talked about almost anything of any relevance, including current affairs, world issues, human rights, books, religion, politics and much more. Even with the limited worldview that childhood brings, we debated and discussed issues with our classmates. The teachers didn't preach - they encouraged us to think, respect someone else's opinion and most importantly, have an opinion of our own.
The reason I bring this up is because last week I heard about Fred Nile and his Christian Democratic Party pushing for NSW public schools to do away with the recently introduced Ethics classes which are an alternative to scripture classes for non-religious students. Nile believes these ethics classes are "in competition with scripture".
This made me angry and while I was busy trying to frame my thoughts in a coherent way, 11-year old Charlie Fine came along and said it better :
"By all means, Mr Nile, you go out and be as Christian as you want; I respect that entirely. But that does not give you and your supporters the right to attempt to shape a future generation of adults in your mould – that is a religious conservative."
One of the first things I noticed when I moved here was how little Australians cared about religion and I liked that. However, of late religion seems to have become such a big part of Australian politics. Politics is dirty and when religion comes into play, the waters get even murkier.
During the last election campaigns, the Liberals constantly harped on Gillard's atheism. Suddenly Australians were going on about "Oh she doesn't believe in God…" even though it probably would have made no difference to them had Tony Abbott not used it as his catchphrase. Would Julia Gillard's capabilities as a Prime Minister have improved if she were Christian? And would God help Tony Abbott "Stop the Boats!" had he become Prime Minister?
And now Nile and his CDP are promising to "torpedo" the NSW state government and its legislations unless their religious demands are met. Nile doesn't surprise me but it is disgusting that the NSW Premier is considering a "deal" with a man who is unashamedly homophobic and believes pornography is equivalent to eternal damnation.
A progressive society is made up of free thinking people with a variety of opinions and beliefs. Governments don't need to play nanny to what morals or beliefs children are being taught at school - I think that is a parent's decision. Encouraging children to think critically to grow into free-thinking adults is a tough ask and if these ethics classes are aiming at that, I am all for it. I am not saying ban scripture - but I believe religious study should be an option for children and their parents, not something that is forced on them.
I'd just like to say to Mr. Nile that being religious does not automatically create a better breed of Australians or a better society. I'm sure you will find that sometimes religious fanaticism makes a country regress. So just let people be Mr. Nile…I assure you we are capable of making our own decisions, without any help from you. And if that decision involves us not believing in God…oh well, shit happens.
As even an 11 year old will tell you, "I think it is possible to be non-religious and a good person."
This post is part of the NaBloPoMo August challenge.