20 Apr 2010

Who Needs Ethics When You've Got Religion?

By Bob Dumpling
Despite desperate lobbying by the church establishment, ethics classes have begun in some NSW primary schools. Bob Dumpling explains why this means the End of the World
The beginning of ethics instruction in NSW primary schools makes this a black day for right-thinking people everywhere. Last year newmatilda.com talked about this crazy idea — crazy because there are perfectly good instructors already in place: Special Religious Education teachers.

SREs and their predecessors have been doing an outstanding job since 1880 when the Public Instruction Act was introduced, allowing young people the opportunity to learn about the glory of God for up to one hour per week. But of course, like everything these days, people want to "modernise" with the latest whiz-bang concept, in this case teaching a 10-week ethics course to the 50–80 per cent of school children that have asked not to participate in the current SRE program.

Now of course you can't go around and confront each of those public school children and demand a valid reason why they do not want to take religious classes once a week — that would take too long. So thankfully, the Church — by which I mean those people dedicated to the proper development of young people's values, namely Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Peter Jensen, Catholic Archbishop of Sydney George Pell and NSW Upper House MP Fred Nile — are actively instructing the Christian faithful to lobby NSW MPs. Not ones to sit around idly, members of the Church are also protesting outside public schools to ensure the souls of the state's young ones may be saved, despite growing up in godless, immoral households.

To give you a better idea of how immoral these households are, under the current longstanding agreement between the state and the churches, children who do not wish to attend religious classes perform alternative tasks such as collecting rubbish in the playground. That's right: some parents would prefer to see their kids foraging among garbage than learning about the sanctity and salvation of Christianity.

The Anglican Bishop of North Sydney, Glenn Davies, has "urged Anglican priests to collect information from principals of public schools to stop the spread of the secular ethics classes the Sydney Anglicans believe may threaten religious education".

Of course, there has been private lobbying too. Over the weekend the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Peter Jensen had effectively shut down the trial of an alternative program, due to start at 9am today. Jensen met with NSW Premier Kristina Keneally to reconsider this harebrained idea. No doubt as part of those discussions he reminded her of his concerns which include this prescient statement: "That this is being offered as an alternative to children already in Christian SRE classes is well outside the definition of the trial. It is like [giving Christians] a place for their child in Islamic scripture." If you can't see the water-tight logic behind that statement then I think you need to read it again.

The ethics trial has been developed by Associate Professor Phil Cam from the UNSW who looks like a fully fledged atheist. He has developed a curriculum with the St James Ethics Centre. Now apart from a fancy name, there's little to suggest this organisation has any understanding of ethical implications.

Every day, our Christian institutions deal with questions of ethics. Not from some ivory tower, but within large majestic buildings, often made with marble, alabaster and the finest of sandstones. And these questions of ethics aren't merely empty hypotheticals such as those posed by the devil's own lawyer Geoffrey Robertson. The Church willingly confronts every day the ethical failings of its very own employees. The Church doesn't make a big show of these — bragging or parading critical failures or breaches of trust. Instead the Church sensitively deals with these issues behind closed doors, ensuring anonymity and the strictest of confidence because, as we all know, ethics are a personal choice.

Unlike outsiders, who rarely face an ethical problem of any real size, Church leaders are regularly confronted with issues so enormous they would leave most of those outside the Church speechless. One example is the consideration of compensation to those vulnerable individuals, victims of the misguided personal behaviour of some members of the Church. The terms of these agreements are often made to provide certainty to the parties and attempt to bring an end to difficult, and indeed stressful, periods of litigation. When the Church offers compensation on the condition that there be no further action on — or in some cases, public mention of — these regrettable events, it magnanimously offers respite for those victims. But the ethical question over compensation must still be answered: i.e. How much?

Of course the biased media will love the timing of this issue as they savage the Catholic Church over paedophile priests. They are never interested in the good work carried out quietly by Christians. I was relieved to see News Limited journalist Piers Akerman show some sense, using facts instead of hearsay and rumour from so-called victims. Akerman referred to the work of US psychology professor Thomas Plante, an expert in the field of sexual abuse by Catholic priests. His findings cast serious doubt on the scale to which priests are interfering with minors.

Plante points out that just 4 per cent of priests during the past half century (and mostly in the 1960s and 1970s) have had a sexual experience with a person under the age of 18. That's just one in 25 — not bad, eh? Furthermore, "80 per cent of all priests who in fact abuse minors have sexually engaged with adolescent boys not prepubescent children." That's right, the majority of abusive priests aren't paedophiles at all — they are in fact "ephebophiles".

Also, have you noticed how many abuse claims have come from the deaf, mentally ill and orphans? While the media likes to seize on this as proof that the Church unethically abuses its trust to exploit the most vulnerable of people in the community, why not see it instead as proof that at least the church's paedophiles have enough ethical sense of civic duty to work with the disabled?

Of course where does all of this leave the innocent young godless pupils in NSW public schools? The NSW Federation of Parents and Citizens' Associations and the St James Ethics Centre apparently invited the Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen to meet to discuss the trial. Hopefully the Archbishop has ignored this and is instead seeking clarity from the Bible.

It saddens me that public school P and Cs in Sydney suburbs such as Darlinghurst, Surry Hills and Leichhardt (all renowned for championing alternative lifestyles) would push to have this non-religious curriculum introduced.

Another danger of a course like this one is that it will erode upstanding respectability in our communities. One scenario the course will ask children to consider is: "You have already accepted an invitation to a birthday party from a classmate when your best friend hands you an invitation to their party, to be held on the same day. What do you do?" Parties? Friends? I expect Fred Nile really hit the roof when he read that.

The crusade by St James Ethics Centre to bring a secular ethics course to children who choose to receive no religious instruction also crosses a line by inviting students participating in SRE classes. Make no mistake about it — this is a fight to stop primary school children being confronted with a syllabus without any guidance from religion. To put it in starker terms, imagine an entire education system without the influence of Christian institutions? I know, it is almost too frightening to contemplate.

Giving our kids the option of thinking about ethics instead of picking up litter is a very slippery slope the NSW Department of Education has decided to throw itself down. As if offering a choice to young people isn't detrimental enough, before we know it, they will be offering ethics courses to girls as well.

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David Grayling
Posted Tuesday, April 20, 2010 - 15:06

Great article, Bob. If you get turned into a pillar of salt tonight or get swallowed by a whale, just keep in your mind that you preferred reality and truth to myth and religious humbug!

Posted Tuesday, April 20, 2010 - 20:22

<quote><i>..why not see it instead as proof that at least the church’s paedophiles have enough ethical sense of civic duty to work with the disabled?</i></quote>

Superb. Stand out question in a stand out article.

Way back in the day when I was in school there was no defined alternative to RE. Wilful non participants were sent to a multi-denominational whitewash class. The only exception allowed was if the broad stroke indoctrination went against pre-established beliefs. I got around this by establishing my own church of the Holy Voodoo Radish, the tenets of which demanded exclusion from all heretic teachings. My demands to the establishment (principal) were that I could either spend the allotted time in the courtyard or the library.
The principal laughed me out of his office. He didn't laugh as hard when I turned up days later with some twenty-odd fellow adherents - all with a signed parental slip we'd drafted in art class.
We were subsequently allowed to spend our religious time in the library, reading evil and immoral books hand picked by a delighted (and delightful) librarian, who introduced me to a number of Greek authors of some antiquity whom I would otherwise not have been exposed to.

One can only hope that the church prevails, and satanic monsters such as I was at the time are forced toward the path of righteousness. There is only one book that counts, after all. A victory on this front can only energise the church to tackle the larger fight against the teaching of science, and the moral corruption it entails. Critical thought is the Devil's crochet hook, as we all know.

Posted Wednesday, April 21, 2010 - 10:43

Nice one Bob. Like all things there is good and bad in all things and that included the Churches. It's their insufferable self satisfaction and hypocrisy and resistance to any arguement that doesn't rely on some ancient text, which really depresses me. I enjoyed the humour in your article and hope you have hit a nerve.

Posted Wednesday, April 21, 2010 - 15:49

I've missed you Bob.

Posted Thursday, April 22, 2010 - 14:04

This is all a lot of fuss about absolutely nothing, by a lot of windbags who have no place in public schools anyway.

Take a trip to google, and tap in 'Buranda State School-Qld'.

This school has been using this same system, for years, and it still manages to survive, and the students are doing very well.

Ed Qld is very embarrassed by it, and keeps it very quiet.

The school principal who changed the school from a no-hopers dump bin, into a highly performing good natured school did not use RI people to do it (the Qld version of SRE) or school chaplains.

She used the exact same systen as St. James are using.

But the entire school runs this way.

Bullying down, academic results up.

All the rubbish Gillard and Rudd go on with with their non existent 'education revolution' was not required.

Jensen and Pells deadweights were not relied upon.

Unfortunately, this school, while winning awards for the school and the principal, as well as international accolades, is not really wanted by Ed Qld because it will show up the rest of their schools for the rubbish they are.

It seems to me that NSW could do with a few 'Buranda's' too... and far fewer SRE goons telling lies about how Noah got the dinosaur eggs onto the Ark.

Posted Friday, April 23, 2010 - 00:41

Perhaps students could discuss whether it is ethical for the head of a christian school to be owner and director of a company that re-opens under another name in order to avoid over $100K in outstanding monies owed to it's workers. I would prefer my daughter's education to cover real ethics rather than listening to preaching such as 'though shalt not steal' from a religious educator who has caused our family great distress.

Posted Sunday, April 25, 2010 - 14:04

Who needs religion when we've Got ethics?

Hey, Bob, it need not be the end of the world, just the end of a prejudiced world which is what religion encourages. Religions posit 'I am right, you are wrong' My God is the only God your god is wrong.' And while people are distracted by a diety, they hypocritically practice unethical behavior.

Why does the Catholic Church encourage confessional? If its followers practiced ethical behaviour they wouldn't need to confess.

Where in human history has war been fought over two groups practicing ethics?

Hey, Bob, where is your logic between being as you say 'godless' and 'immoral households'. Where is your logic between children not going to church and 'foraging among garbage'? Perhaps the two are connected anyway.

One doesn't have to be 'atheist' and non-spiritual to not choose to follow one religion or another. One can be spiritual, find meaning in the world and follow a moral code of behaviour. Try pantheism for instance - a reverence for Nature not a diety.

Where in a religion are children taught how do judge and deal with practical ethical issues? The ancient ten commandments are a bit simplistic for Gen Ys in a complex 21st Century world.

Few children finish primary school have any concept of the ethical concept of consequentialism, yet it is so important that teenagers early on recognise the consequences of their actions and have a mature understanding of the difference between doing what is right beyond just ensuring the right outcome. Where in the Bible is this critical personal development concept taught?

It may sadden you that a non-religious curriculum is being introduced in public schools such as Darlinghurst, Surry Hills and Leichhardt, because for the first time religion no longer has monopoly power to recruit children when they are vulnerable.

You warn of the "danger" of ethics teachings "will erode upstanding respectability in our communities." How so? How can the church warn of dangers when it is hardly the model of respectability in trusted educational institutions like Bathurst's St Stanislaus' College. The plethora of immorality by Catholic priests and the leadership turning a blind eye to pedophilia within its ranks, makes it the anathema of respectability.

That the word 'jihad' (holy war) even exists in the Islamic faith, undermines the respectability of that entire faith.

Buddhist precepts include refraining from eating from sunrise to noon (i.e no breakfast, and refraining from dancing and playing music, wearing jewelry and cosmetics, attending shows and other performances and using perfume, ointments, and from things that tend to beautify and adorn the person such as wearing gold and silver. I can't see that being helpful in an Australian society.

Why is 'guidance from religion' superior to guidance from ethics teachings?

Your warning that 'an entire education system without the influence of Christian institutions...it is almost too frightening to contemplate' is extreme fundamentalism and backward.

Posted Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - 15:44

Religions need young recruits to maintain their numbers.
However, how far religious schools brainwash youth is determined by parental influences.
Religious schools can be used as a relinquishment of parental moral (personal) and ethical (professional) education and responsibilities.
Education on morality and ethics begins in the home and is continued throughout the primary and secondary education years, but is not the same as religious studies.
Ethics education should not be limited to a pre-determined and restricted set of religious beliefs, but based on the history of all religions, including philosophy.
Education on ethics should be taught from a modern, Australian perspective, informed by religion and history, but not pre-determined by it.

Posted Thursday, May 6, 2010 - 17:12

No Religion = Start of a better world

Religion is an outdated way of explaining the unknown. Science should be our new "faith".

Posted Thursday, May 6, 2010 - 19:15

@JohnMarlowe: The fact that you believe that 'jihad' is a term for a "holy war" undermines the respectability of your entire argument.

@ndace1: Using science, can you explain to me why the big bang occured? good luck.

In the words of Australia's premier Jewish satirist, John Safran:

"I admit, there's some people smart enough to understand science and The Big Bang and all that stuff and therefore have enough insight and knowledge to be an Atheist. But let's face it, you're not one of them. Why? Because you're a humanities student with an arts degree.

Let's not play any games here. If I came over to your house right now and asked you to exactly explain why The Big Bang theory is more rational than Genesis, you wouldn't be able to stutter out a semblance of an answer. So where do you get off sniggering at Christians like they're stupid and you have some amazing insight.

Sure you bought a copy of Stephen Hawking's "Brief History of Time", but I think if you waddle over to your bookshelf, you'll see that the bookmark is exactly where you left it nine years ago... On page three! Face it, you're too stupid to be an Atheist"

Peter Gregory B...
Posted Tuesday, May 11, 2010 - 16:11

Peter Gregory Blaxland

When I read Archbishop Jensen's article, I nearly threw up.

For the church to take the moral high ground is arrogant. Why do they consider a "carrot and stick" approach to ethics is better than the uncluttered Ancient Greek ethos of honour and integrity for it's own sake?

There is more morality in the secular decision to be ethical for it's own sake, than to be a good person because of some unproven reward in a supernatural area, beyond the laws of physics and reason.