It emerged last fortnight that Queensland’s Department of Education wants to ban primary school students from talking about Jesus. Kate Jones, the relevant minister, hastily insisted that ‘no one is telling a child what they can and can’t say in the playground,’ and that current education policy remains as it has been ‘for more than 20 years’, but her department’s recent review of religious instruction in schools speaks for itself:
The Department expects schools to take appropriate action if aware that students participating in RI [Religious Instruction] are evangelising to students who do not participate in their RI class, given this could adversely affect the school’s ability to provide a safe, supportive and inclusive environment for all students.
In the report, an example of inappropriate evangelistic action is (get this) praying for your fellow students. According to the Australian, earlier reviews cite further examples like ‘sharing Christmas cards that refer to Jesus’s birth,’ and ‘creating Christmas tree decorations to give away’. God knows what ‘appropriate action’ is supposed to be handed down to students who pray irresponsibly. A firm talking to? Expulsion? If ‘inclusivity’ is the orthodoxy of the day, should we perhaps reinstate the old punishment for heresy and bring back burning?
There are several other disturbing passages in the March Religious Instruction report, which are deserving of scornful press coverage. Mentioning the racial divide (and Christian forgiveness) between blacks and whites in South Africa is forbidden in the schoolroom. Core tenets of Christian theology, like the cessation of animal and child sacrifice, are deemed ‘inappropriate’ for students.
Also off the table is any talk of Daniel’s vegetarian diet, because it ‘is inconsistent with the balanced and healthy eating promoted under the Department’s Smart Choices – Healthy Food and Drink Supply Strategy’. This means, absurdly, that the report is against discussion on the killing of animals, and also against discussion on the topic of vegetarianism. Go figure. The report gets even weirder when it recommends that biblical instructors refrain from mentioning anything too ‘violent’ that takes place in the Bible. This is an enormous ask. I don’t know if anybody writing the report has ever noticed, but Christians tend to wear these little gold ‘t’ shaped thingies on chains around their necks. If somebody from Queensland’s Department of Education and Training were to open a Bible, they might discover that the itty bitty aforementioned intersections of vertical and horizontal lines symbolically represent that time the Messiah was nailed to a cross until his lungs collapsed and he died. Violence is at the very heart of the Christian story. You may as well ask maths teachers to do their lessons without reference to numbers.
Queensland’s ALP government, the aforementioned minister and the premier herself included, are distancing themselves from this report. This is a political necessity; as atheistic as Australia has become, one still doesn’t want to be seen as the anti-Jesus candidate, especially in the especially Christian state of Queensland. Activists – both free-speechers and Churchies – are making a justifiable fuss over the department’s recommendations. The report into religious instruction demonstrates that, on a bureaucratic level at the very least, the Department of Education is hostile to Christians. It is inconceivable that similar recommendations might ever get handed down insisting that schools police, say, students who evangelised for Islam, or for queer rights. Those ideologies, unlike Christianity, are, instead, praised for fostering a much coveted ‘supportive and inclusive environment’.
Political elites and the broader Australian public do not agree on the purpose our primary schools should serve. In The Republic, Plato writes that an ideal republic requires ideal citizens. This much is uncontroversial. More difficult, however, is agreeing on what an ‘ideal citizen’ might be. The desire for compulsory education was born of the Reformation. Martin Luther argued that everybody should learn how to read, so that they could read the Bible, find God, and save their soul. For many Australians (admittedly a diminishing percentage), salvation is still the fundamental purpose of an education. The vast majority of Australians who enrol their children in primary schools expect and want the provision of a secular education. But punishing children who want to talk about God, or pray for their friends, or hand out Christmas cards, is not secularism. Demanding that Christians teach a state-censored version of their faith is not secularism. The report into Christian instruction in schools reeks of nasty, totalitarian atheism.
All that said, I do not wish to be mistaken as a defender of religious instruction classes. I remember what I thought of the Christians who tried to share the Good News with my primary school: ‘these are profoundly stupid people, and they don’t know what they’re talking about’. I distinctly remember having to watch dreadful plays, which relied on naff puns to make their point. ‘God’s presence is his present’ still stands out after several decades. There were guitars, and dances, and comedy skits, and, on the part of the students, much cringing. Most memorable, and most damning, was that every instructor was incapable of comprehensible answers to the rudimentary theological questions of a twelve year old.
Why is there suffering? Well, because God works in mysterious ways. If God created everything, who created God? Ah, that, ah, isn’t how it works. And why would an all-loving God send people to hell? That’s a good question, and there is an answer, and I’ll get back to you. One doesn’t expect the evangelicals to send Thomas Aquinas out to talk to Year 6s, but it would have been helpful to have had an instructor who had actually read the Bible. Religious instruction classes taught me to believe. Not to believe in Christ, but to believe that Christians were mentally deficient. To borrow a popular phrase in the Latin Mass community (which, by the grace of God, I stumbled into last year), bad religious instruction inoculates children against Christianity. Kids get taught just enough about God to make them atheists for life. It is no wonder our progressive elites are so vehemently opposed to Christians and religious instruction. It’s the Christian religious instruction wot done it!
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