Wednesday, October 23, 2013
I hear that the Board of Trustees of one of our local schools last night voted to cease religious instruction as from the end of the year. Before a storm of protest breaks out among the local Christians, let me place on record that I am not greatly troubled. Indeed, as a conscientious objector to leading such classes myself for some 50 years, I am somewhat gratified.
I understand the Board voted primarily because they had a problem with the growing number of children whose parents asked them to be excused. It seems only one Trustee actually objected to the content and delivery though I understand the probability is that the local volunteer teachers were sitting very loosely to the official guidelines of the NZ Churches Christian Education Commission.
Nearly 60 schools in this country have relinquished religious instruction in the last couple of years. This is consistent with our 1877 Education Act which stated that education should be free, compulsory and secular. For one and a half centuries, enthusiasts have been finding ways around the secular clause and squeezing “Bible in Schools” and other such programmes into the school year.
Had this determined assault by well-meaning Christians produced a country of devout Christian citizens all this voluntary effort might have been justified. But the evidence is that NZ continues to lead the way in secularisation in the Western world. Attempting to “teach” the faith to children in the public school does not produce faith-full adults. Indeed, some suggest that it actually provides a barrier to serious reflection as an adult. Certainly my experience in dealing with people beyond the Church has been that I get a better hearing among those who don’t carry around a package of childhood knowledge of “Bible stories”, never mind threats of hellfire and damnation on sinners.