Queenslander Ron Williams, hitherto an unknown man in the street, is challenging the constitutionality of the federal government’s school chaplaincy program in state schools. What a hero.
The pernicious dissembling of both Access Ministries in Victoria and Scripture Union Queensland, key suppliers of chaplains, makes me want to vomit.
I hate religion. It is shameful but predictable that the Howard government should have initiated this "gobbledygook in schools" program, disgraceful that Labor has continued its funding.
There was no religion in my household, but I was sent to Sunday school to get respectability. Instead I got religion. The emotions of puberty were captured and channeled by Christian evangelists.
It didn’t help that Billy Graham, that charismatic crackpot with the tear-jerking entourage, jetted into Australia in May 1959, generating general hysteria and mass conversions around the country. I didn’t rid myself of the virus until my early 20s.
At university in the mid-1960s, the "sexy" Student Christian Movement raced past the stodgy Evangelical Union. A long tradition of sophisticated German theology was being translated for the masses by (in particular) Paul Tillich and John Robinson, the latter a previously obscure English cleric.
Here were the honest toilers confronting the inroads from science, philosophy and psychology into the ignorance on which the Church had flourished. Rudolf Bultmann’s 1934 cut-down Jesus and the Word was published in English in 1958. Tillich’s The Shaking of the Foundations (1949, republished by Penguin in 1962) and Robinson’s 1963 Honest to God were the modernist tracts for thinking Christians. Bultmann had claimed that the entire Christian miracle apparatus had to go — his term "demythologising" became the contemporary buzz word. Tillich had said (I think) that God is not "up there" or even "out there" but "in you".
Robinson agreed, adding that the entire Christian worship edifice (church-going, prayer) was misdirected. God is not in church but in our relationship with our fellow men — not God is love, but (unqualified and universal) love is God.
This development was about "intellectualising" faith. But wasn’t this foray innately contradictory, the argument essentially sophistry? It was an unwitting demonstration of the incompatibility of reason and belief. The dissenting theologians facilitated my exit from a hole into which I had been sucked by the hellfire and brimstone mob. And thank god for that.
Now we have the pro-chaplain crowd claiming that it is essentially a counselling program, crucial for troubled youth. Counsellors in schools are much needed, snake oil salesmen not at all. A Brisbane Courier Mail report on the Williams High Court challenge generated response from one commenter: "My eight-year-old daughter at a state school was told that because she didn’t believe in god, she didn’t believe in herself." Contemptible.
Religion and self-respect are antithetical, period. One might develop both an ethical framework and a spirituality via organised religion, but both are better rooted coming from outside religion. One may seek transcendence of self, in itself admirable, but in religion one finds self-flagellation.
Religion may have inspired creative works, but creativity does not need religion. Delightfully, the pantheon of composers of the most moving requiems houses a nest of non-believers: Mozart, Berlioz, Brahms, Verdi and Fauré.
Organised religion is an organised racket. Whatever the attractive elements emanating from Jesus as sage, they had been readily obliterated in the dog fights over dogma in the construction of the early church. From which was built the papacy, an edifice endemically corrupt from Day One.
Ah, complain the naysayers, humane Christianity replaced belief systems attracted to blood sacrifice. Witness for the contrary is the diabolical 13th century Albigensian crusade against pious Languedoc by an unholy coalition of the papacy and the French crown. The papacy then proceeded to weed out those who remained outside the Universal Church by unleashing the Holy Inquisition.
The most enduring achievement of the three monotheistic religions appears to have been the ongoing legitimation of the subjugation of women. Why women persist in legitimating these man-made outfits is beyond me.
Religion and education are antithetical, period. I was much impressed with de Tocqueville’s The Old Regime and the French Revolution. Here was erudition writ large, the author sympathetic to the Revolution although not to the Revolutionaries. But, lo and behold, here is de Tocqueville on the need for quackery in the restoration of post-revolutionary order:
"Trained in the hard school of successive revolutions, all the various classes of the French nation have gradually regained that feeling of respect for religious faith which once seemed lost forever. … Once the bourgeoisie woke to the fact that its seeming triumph was likely to prove fatal to it, it, too, developed leanings towards religion. Thus little by little religion regained its hold on all who had anything to lose in a social upheaval and unbelief died out, or anyhow hid its head the more these men became alive to the perils of revolution."
The pointy end of de Tocqueville’s dictum is well displayed in this excerpt from historian Robert Gildea’s 2008 book, Children of the Revolution:
"In the company town of Montceau-Les-Mines, near Le Creusot, the biggest employer, Léonce Chagot, was also the mayor, and he believed in disciplining his workforce by entrusting the local schools to the Marists and the nuns. In 1882, Chagot lost control of the town hall to a republican, but responded by tightening clerical control, obliging miners’ families to attend mass and sacking troublemaking miners who were denounced by the Marists and the nuns. The miners responded by celebrating the feast of the Assumption, 15 August 1882, by setting fire to the nuns’ school and chapel and blowing up a statue of the Virgin Mary."
Well might Father Karl have written: "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world … It is the opium of the people." But even Marx was here succumbing to his materialist outlook, marginalising the contribution of the strategic employment of doctrine for the purpose of class subjugation for wholly unreligious ends.
Vive la godless revolution! I’m with the French Republicans and their fervour for the principle of laicité, cemented in the 1905 law of the Separation of the Churches and the State.
In the enemy camp, we have the burgeoning god squad, whose Mecca lies in unreconstructed Dixie. The Southerner Wilbur Smith’s 1941 The Mind of the South provides the definitive exposition of the phenomenon:
"[After the Civil War,] more or less complete and open skepticism would become an increasingly common phenomenon. And everywhere north of the Potomac and Ohio rivers piety, remaining always a mighty force, would nevertheless grow steadily more gentle, more vague, and at the same time more rational.
"But in the South the movement was in the opposite quarter. [T]he level of education and information in the South fell tragically in these decades. Actual illiteracy increased among the millions. It fell out inevitably that the religion of the South was brought over to the twentieth century as simple, as completely supernatural and Apocalyptic, as it had been in the earliest decades of the nineteenth, and far more rigidly held, far more pugnacious and assertive, far more impervious to change."
And the Southern textile mill employers, again employing God in the service of Mammon, were in unanimous agreement that both the old slavery and the new wage slavery were ordained in heaven.
The religious is also the political, but the politics is filtered through mush. Exhibut A: The American Tea Party.
The secular school system is a sacred place. Let myth be taught as myth and not as gospel truth so that susceptible young minds are free to pursue their own enlightenment unhindered.
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