It’s time for an inquiry into the contents of religious instruction in Qld schools

It’s time for an inquiry into the contents of # religious instruction in # Qld schools

The horrifying religious instruction classes planned for Qld schools – Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Brisbane Times 20 April 2016.

Following publication of this article, Youthworks has withdrawn the class on David and Goliath, as per Buzzfeed: This Christian School Program Was Teaching “Beheading Lessons”

The immediate withdrawal of the program highlights how obviously inappropriate it is. It also raises a red flag – how many other lessons are similarly barbaric, age inappropriate or overtly evangelical?

The Qld Department of Education and Training has advised “Principals can suspend program delivery until any issues are resolved”.

According to the Daily Mail Australia, A Department of Education and Training spokesman said:

‘If parents of participating students have concerns with the content or delivery of religious instructions (RI), they are encouraged to raise this with their school principal.

‘RI programs are provided by a religious denomination or society (known as a faith group), not the Department of Education and Training,’ the spokesperson said.

‘RI is only to be provided to students from Year 1 in state primary, secondary and special schools whose parents have nominated the faith group on enrolment, or to students whose parents have given written permission for their child to attend.

‘Parents can change their preference for their child to participate in RI or other instruction at any time by notifying the school in writing. Principals can suspend program delivery until any issues are resolved.’

This creates a new and impractical onus on each school principal to review religious instruction content. If this content is available for one hour per week, in all Queensland schools, then DET should be monitoring it. It’s part of our school education system.

Visit the Queensland Parents for Secular State Schools facebook page for more information.

The moral of the lesson is to teach students to 'recognise that it was God who defeated the Philistines through David' and 'appreciate that God saves his people in unexpected ways' (stock image)

(image courtesy Daily Mail Australia)

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The Church and its weakening grip over Telstra and taxes

The Church and its weakening grip over Telstra and taxes – ABC’s The Drum 14 April 2016

News that Telstra has apparently bowed to pressure from the Catholic Church and backed away from public support for marriage equality comes at a time many Australians are reconsidering the role of religion in our society.

Telstra and other corporations had lent their logos to a full page ad run by Marriage Equality Australia in May last year.

The Archdiocese of Sydney wrote to these corporations “with grave concern” about the marriage equality campaign, highlighting how the Catholic Church is “a significant user of goods and services from many corporations”.

Telstra quietly capitulated, saying it has “no further plans to figure prominently in the wider public debate”. According to the Australian, a “person familiar with the company’s decision” said Telstra did not want to “risk its commercial relationship with the church”.

Using its buying power to effectively threaten a boycott is a high handed and cynical move on the part of the Church. Perhaps this sort of behaviour helps us to understand why antipathy towards organised religion seems to be increasing in Australia.

Nearly two in three Australians think tax breaks for advancing religion should go, according to two recent surveys.

According to a new poll by Ipsos, 64 per cent of Australians favour scrapping tax free status for churches and basic religious groups. Less than 20 per cent said tax breaks should remain, and 16.5 per cent were unsure.

More than half (55.1 per cent) of those surveyed disagreed that advancing religion is of public benefit. Only 20.7 per cent said they agreed, with a further 24.2 per cent saying advancing religion may be of public benefit.

The results provide a stunning correlation with last week’s Essential Report, where 64 per cent of those surveyed disapprove of the tax free status of religious groups. Significantly, 39 per cent “strongly disapprove”. Disapproval was consistent across all major parties, with the Liberal/National Party voters recording 63 per cent, and those aged 55 years and over at 73 per cent.

If antipathy to religion and its special treatment continues to grow, the pressure on governments to respond accordingly will eventually become irresistible.

Public opinion has undergone a seismic shift. Rather than ask why remove tax free status, Australians are now asking, “Why not?” The thought that only one in five Australians think advancing religion is beneficial to the public must be deeply troubling for religious advocates.

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Queensland law should reflect public support for abortion

Queensland law should reflect public support for abortion – The Brisbane Times 07 April 2016

Abortion is legal in Victoria, ACT and Tasmania, but not Queensland.

(Photo courtesy The Brisbane Times 07 April 2016)

Nearly one in three women has an abortion at some time in their life. It’s hard to believe but terminating a pregnancy remains a criminal offence in Queensland. Consider some other way this glaring contradiction could be reconciled other than a smack down for 21st century women.

Let’s face it: if men bore children ending unwanted pregnancies would’ve been legal long ago, even if the sunny land of Sir Joh, don’t you worry about that.

Thankfully someone is doing something about it. The ex-ALP Independent Member for Cairns, Rob Pyne, has pledged to draft a private member’s Bill to legalise abortion.

Women’s rights have come a long way in a century.

In 1902, Australia was the first country to allow women to run for parliament.

In 1965, Queenslanders Merle Thornton and Rosalie Bognor chained themselves to the bar of Brisbane’s Regatta Hotel, and ended the ban on women entering public bars.

A hundred years ago women couldn’t vote, stand for parliament, drink in bars, enter the workforce, use “the pill”, or end unwanted pregnancies.

After a century of progress, the glaring anomaly is that Queensland women still cannot exercise control over their own body – a hangover from an era when women had virtually no rights.

Abortion is legal in Victoria, ACT and Tasmania.

Mr Pyne was originally motivated by the prosecution of a young Cairns local couple in 2010, for allegedly obtaining an abortion using the drug RU486.

“When that couple were on trial in Cairns, the injustice of it really touched a chord with me,” Mr Pyne said.

“Having an elderly male judge and prosecutors talking about the most intimate details involving a woman’s own body, that’s just wrong.”

Queensland doctors continue to risk criminal charges by providing about 700 procedures a year in the far north, relying on 30-year-old court ruling that ending the pregnancy is allowable when it poses a serious danger to a woman’s physical and mental health.

In an October 2015 Medical Journal of Australia editorial, Professor Caroline de Costa and Professor Heather Douglas argued that Queensland law must be updated to provide uniform access to legal and safe terminations for women in Australia.

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End The Safe Schools Hysteria, Start A Parliamentary Enquiry Into Religious Instruction

End The Safe Schools Hysteria, Start A Parliamentary Enquiry Into Religious Instruction

A life size Noah's Ark, built in the Netherlands and now operating as a tourist attraction. (IMAGE: bert knottenbeld, Flickr)

A life size Noah’s Ark, built in the Netherlands and now operating as a tourist attraction. (IMAGE: bert knottenbeld, Flickr, courtesy New Matilda)

 

Just over a month since the kids went back to school, and it’s the easily distracted adults having conniptions over the curriculum. Fact-resistant back of the class blowhards, such as George Christensen, demand a parliamentary enquiry into the Safe Schools anti-bullying program.

Outrage has been manufactured out of the program’s allegedly ideological agenda – that is, ideas and beliefs which are contested. The schoolyard is once again the battleground of our ongoing culture war.

Meanwhile religious instruction (RI) classes commenced again. These involve faith-based groups presenting the ideas and beliefs of their religion. That these involve contested ideas and beliefs is demonstrable by the large numbers of parents opting out their children.

If there’s a parliamentary enquiry into Safe Schools, by the same irrevocable logic, there must be one into religious instruction.

It’s undesirable to divide classes so that some receive RI and some do other non-curricular activities. Consider the absurdity of an “overcrowded” curriculum containing countless hours of squandered class time due to contested beliefs.

Given religious instruction isn’t acceptable to all, we should question what its benefits are.

According to the Queensland Government policy statement, RI encourages “students to develop as a whole person, in particular, in beliefs, values and attitudes”.

Notwithstanding the idiotic and discriminatory claim that we must entertain religious ideas to be “whole” persons, the very next statement is startlingly at odds with it: “State schools respect the background and beliefs of all students and staff by not promoting, or being perceived as promoting, any particular set of beliefs in preference to another”.

Well may we wonder what theological gymnastics are employed to help students develop beliefs, without promoting any beliefs.

How many parents know what their child is taught in RI? Despite the requirement to provide parents with detailed information, most schools leave parents in the dark.

Most are Christian classes using teaching materials developed by evangelical Christian groups, promoting a “sin and salvation” message.

The Year 6 “BIG QUESTIONS” program from the Connect Bible based curriculum advises instructors:

Many students will have no awareness that they stand guilty before God… They will probably have little understanding of just how seriously God takes sin and how greatly they, personally, have offended him.

I’ve no doubt many parents, Christians included, would have serious reservations about telling their children they’ve “personally” offended God.

It may be helpful to refer them to the story of Noah and how seriously God dealt with the sinfulness of the world then.

Students are encouraged to learn that the Bible is God’s word: that it is historically reliable and still relevant today.

Note the befuddling of beliefs and facts happening before our children’s eyes.

Is the preposterous story of Noah’s Ark “historically reliable”? Paraphrasing biologist Richard Dawkins: how did those marsupials hop from Mt. Ararat en masse, and settle exclusively in Australia leaving no trace anywhere else?

Read more here…

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Religious Instruction in Queensland schools is discriminatory

Religious Instruction in Queensland schools is discriminatoryBrisbane Times 14/03/16

When I found out my eight-year-old had been taught at school that there’s no God, I was shocked.

Well, actually, it’s the opposite: I’m an atheist and in Religious Instruction, my son was taught that God exists, and his saviour is Jesus.

Religious Instruction has no place in Queensland schools, argues Hugh Harris.
Religious Instruction has no place in Queensland schools, argues Hugh Harris. (photo: courtesy The Brisbane Times)

This admittedly contrived example illustrates why religious instruction is inherently discriminatory.

Considering we’d previously opted out our son from the program, I was appalled when he still attended the first class of the year. How vigilant must I be?

Read the rest here.

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John Howard’s Christian Right Feels Silenced, And They’re Telling Anyone Who’ll Listen

John Howard’s Christian Right Feels Silenced, And They’re Telling Anyone Who’ll Listen – New Matilda 03/01/2016

A screengrab of former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, appearing on Channel 9's 60 minutes program in 2012.

“People are too scared to speak”, claims ex-Prime Minister John Howard amidst a mood of growing resentment towards the Coalition’s Christian Right. Howard has called out a “minority fundamentalism” where progressives attempt to silence others. By example, he cites the branding of those who oppose gay marriage as homophobes, and the controversy over the Tasmanian anti-marriage equality booklet.

We see this phenomenon regularly – the pre-emptive branding of an opponent’s view by some type of slur. But this applies to all sides of politics. Cory Bernardi heckled Bill Shorten calling him “a fraud”. Shorten responded in kind, dubbing him a “homophobe”. But then, a doe-eyed Bernardi complained that “it’s disappointing someone seeking to be PM resorts to name calling”.

Tut-tut – glass houses and all that.

Read more…

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Slurs Are A Poor Counterfeit For Reason

Slurs Are A Poor Counterfeit For Reason – The Huffington Post 25/02/16

CORY BERNARDI

(image courtesy The Huffington Post Australia)

In the current charged atmosphere fuelled by cultural issues such as same-sex marriage, it’s unsurprising to see some erecting invisible force-fields around their beliefs. Senator Cory Bernardi claimed the Safe Schools anti-bullying campaign attempted “to indoctrinate kids with Marxist cultural relativism”.

Bill Shorten branded Bernardi a homophobe. Slurs are a poor counterfeit for reason, as are conspiracy theories. As we’ll see, relativism is a charge that likes it both ways.

Bernardi described Shortens jibe as “a really sad indictment on the modern character of political debate”. Whilst true, this is not coming from the saviour of reason.“Bestiality” and “Burqas” are words inversely associated with that comparison. When he joined the Coalition front bench as a comparative young man, some feared his star had risen too soon — he’d become an anachronism before his time.

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Can Australian Catholicism Save Itself From Its Ultra-Conservative Forces?

New Matilda 22 February 2016 – Can Australian Catholicism Save Itself From Its Ultra-Conservative Forces? (images courtesy New Matilda)

(IMAGE: paul bica, Flickr).

The leaked allegations of child abuse against Cardinal George Pell aren’t surprising, nor should they particularly diminish anyone’s opinion of him. Simply, there’s no room below rock-bottom. No need then for a new Tim Minchin song, or any reappraisal at all. Whether they have basis in fact remains to be seen.

The only certainty is that, regardless of the conclusion of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, or the outcome of police investigations, Pell will never face a punishment commensurate with his failures.

This is just the latest in a series of recent public relations disasters for the Catholic Church. The aftershocks will reverberate for some time. But amidst these ructions, Australian Catholicism might find a ray of hope in casting out some of its more vocal and acidulous conservative colleagues. A more progressive and non-partisan church leadership would be a good thing – and dare I say, one more in line with the Christian values espoused by Jesus.

Pell cited health grounds to avoid appearing in person for the hearings of the Royal Commission. Given the year-long investigation into multiple allegations of abuse against him by the Victoria Police SANO taskforce, many will conclude he had other reasons for refusing to come. Pell cannot be compelled to answer questions whilst he remains in Rome.

It’s not the first time allegations of sexual abuse have been levelled at Pell. In 2002, a church-inquiry found insufficient evidence to uphold the charge Pell molested a boy on a Phillip Island holiday camp in the early 1960’s. In contrast to Pell’s claim that he was “exonerated”, the Southwell inquiry concluded the testimony of both Pell and his accuser were credible, but there was insufficient cause to establish the allegation.

Having affixed his wagon to conservative forces, Pell’s own troubles exacerbate the steady worsening of community sentiment towards conservative Christianity. Read more here.

(IMAGE: Jody Claborn, Flickr)
(IMAGE: Jody Claborn, Flickr)

 

 

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Professor who said Christians and Muslims Worship the Same Imaginary Being resigns from Wheaton

Charges of firing politics Professor Dr Larycia Hawkins have been withdrawn. So says Wheaton College provost Stan Jones, although the “place of resolution and reconciliation” they’ve come to, has resulted in Dr Hawkins moving on.

This follows her controversial suspension for her posting on Facebook where, whilst wearing the Hijab, she claimed Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

I stand in solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.

Wheaton College suspended the professor because her comment doesn’t conform to their Statement of Faith. Wheaton’s response was described as “religious bigotry” by the Chicago Tribune, and as “anti-Muslim bigotry” by Theology professor at Yale, Miroslav Volf, whose book Allah: A Christian Response, makes the argument that Jews, Christian and Muslims all worship the same God.

Consider for a moment how facile this debate is. Grown men and women attempting to decipher whether their religion’s unseen thing is actually the same unseen thing worshipped by others.

This provides an interesting parallel to the religious project in general, in which competing sects insist with utter certainty their own version of the unknowable is true and that all others are certainly false. So much certainty aimed at what is always erstwhile admitted as unknowable.

Determined theologians make the Kierkegaardian leap into the unknowable, returning inexplicably with ultimate knowledge. The problem is that they proceed to inflict this dogma on everyone else, just as Wheaton and other evangelical colleges do.

As he was about to burned at the stake, Protestant reformer, Jan Hus exclaimed “Sanctus Simplicitus!” referring to an elderly woman who threw a comically small amount of brushwood onto his pyre.

Meaning “Holy simplicity”, this phrase has become synonymous with naivety, but in this context reminds us of how disputes over dogma have perennially stoked the fires of division and hatred.

We’re reminded of the aftermath of his execution when the Hussite Bohemians began to reject to teachings of the Papacy resulting in Pope Martin V’s Crusade against them.

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

Let’s consider some equally pointless questions.

Imagine hillbillies arguing about whether the correct name of the mythological hairy monster is Sasquatch or Bigfoot.

They are soon to be joined by a Himalayan who insists what they are really talking about is the Yeti. But his friend violently disagrees. It’s actually the abominable snowman on vacation.

Is the invisible fire-breathing dragon in my garage the same as Carl Sagan’s one?

Which brand of invisible new clothes does the Emperor wear?

Such questions are plainly absurd as they speak of undiscovered, abstract concepts.

Worship Gods of various names. They are defined by the various characteristics assigned by the religion and the mythology.

The claim that both religions worship the same one is nonsensical. An entity is defined by its nature, and simply cannot be regarded as the same entity as another entity which has different qualities.

Unless one wants to argue that God is protean and relativistic, and can simultaneously exist as whatever everyone wants him to be.

No-one knows if they’re worshiping the same God as another religion because there’s nothing to know. It’s a vapid, meaningless question.

Stan Jones apologized to Dr Hawkins for his “lack of wisdom and collegiality”. But even that’s a bit rich, considering that before wisdom one must first acquire common sense.

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Only The Ghosts Of Christmas Past Know Why Advancing Religion Is Still Tax-Free

The Huffington Post Australia has published my article originally published in New Matilda as No More Tax Loopholes: It’s Time for Faith Groups and Religions to Render under Caesar.

Only The Ghosts Of Christmas Past Know Why Advancing Religion Is Still Tax-Free – Huffington Post Australia – 07/01/16

And Jesus Answering Said Unto Them, Render To Caesar The Things That Are Caesar's, And To God The Things That Are God's. And They Marvelled At Him. After A Work By Bartolomeo Manfredi. From Les Artes Au Moyen Age, Published Paris 1873. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

And Jesus Answering Said Unto Them, Render To Caesar The Things That Are Caesar’s, And To God The Things That Are God’s. And They Marvelled At Him. After A Work By Bartolomeo Manfredi. From Les Artes Au Moyen Age, Published Paris 1873. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

Jesus was quite clear on the question of tax, famously advising the Jews to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. Fast forward to contemporary Australia and there’s precious little rendering going on. In fact, successive federal governments have seemed determined to render unto God the things rendered unto them by the voting public.

Nominating the purpose of “advancing religion” is one of the ways not-for-profits can gain tax-exempt status. In doing so, faith groups also avoid many state taxes, stamp duties and local government charges. Tax-free status is granted on the basis that advancing religion is unequivocally beneficial to the public.

We can trace the origins of this presumption to the 400-year-old Statute of Elizabeth. Evidently, the following four centuries of barbecuing heretics and warring over the finer points of doctrine haven’t quite dispelled this shibboleth.

The other charitable purposes covered by the Charities Act are directly beneficial to the public. No ambiguity pertains to purposes such as alleviating poverty, caring for the aged, and providing social welfare. Indeed, many faith-based service providers obtain tax-free status by nominating one of these genuinely charitable purposes. Thus, genuinely charitable faith groups would suffer no disadvantage from scrapping “advancing religion”.

Thousands of Australians are involved in endeavours such as helping children in need, providing food and shelter for the homeless, and Meals on Wheels for the aged. This work is laudable regardless of whether they’re faith-based or secular — even more so since many volunteers are unpaid.

Some would argue that “advancing religion” enables these charitable services. But since they’re already available as charitable purposes, “advancing religion” actually incentivises groups who don’t provide charitable services.

In days of yore, advancing religion was beneficial to the public because the public was universally religious. Everyone participated in it. But these days, despite the attempts of recent governments to reassert Christianity in schools, young people are becoming less and less religious.

Non-religion is the highest category for Australians below the age of 25. The more governments try to promote faith, the more public sentiment moves away from it — as if they are mutually repellent forces. Despite all the incentives, religion isn’t “advancing”, it’s retreating.

We commence 2016 a determinedly profane people. Perhaps it’s due to the perspective from our relatively prosperous and peaceful sandy haven in the south oceans. Even more glaring is the contradistinction between living conditions in our secular country, and those which are fervently religious.

An increasing number of Australians answer the Census as “No religion”. By 2017, non-belief will overtake Catholicism to become the largest demographic. Fewer than 8 percent of Australians attend church regularly. Only 15 percent of men and 22 percent of women observe the doctrines of their faith. 84 percent of Australians think religion should have no role in public affairs.

And yet we all subsidise its promotion. If there’s an exercise in futility, this is it. What’s the point in patronising empty churches? Why must all Australians chip in for activities that so few take part in? And it’s not just that so few Australians benefit from advancing religion, many faith groups act in ways contrary to the public interest and to the ideals of charity.

The prosperity gospel of Hillsong Church features pastors who make “bags of cash”, and demands its flock to give a 10th of their income to the church. Its leader, Brian Houston, even wrote a book called You Need More Money.

The fundamentalist Christian Exclusive Brethren, accused of splitting up families, were described by Kevin Rudd in 2007 as an “extremist cult”.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) now excommunicates same-sex couples and their children.

Scientology demands larger and larger payments from its disciples as they climb the rungs of its audit hierarchy. By the time they get to the upper levels, a substantial, life-altering investment has been made. Only then do they hear the science fiction-esque foundational story of galactic commander Xenu, alien spirits called Thetans, and the hydrogen bombs which were dropped into Earth’s volcanoes.

In opposing Scientology, Independent senator Nick Xenophon has proposed a public benefit test to assess the aims and activities of proposed charitable groups. Though similar to a scheme used in the UK, the Federal parliament voted this down in 2010.

The Catholic Church’s moral authority has been crippled by the child sexual abuse scandal. Despite the payouts to victims of sex abuse, the Catholic Church is still likely the wealthiest private institution in the world. Its treasure appears to be on earth rather than in heaven, but if it followed Jesus and sold all it has and gave it to the poor, we’d have an immediate end to extreme world poverty.

Faith groups avoid billions of dollars in tax. The Australian charity sector recorded a 2014 income of $104 billion, with 37.5 percent of groups nominating the purpose of advancing religion. Basic religious charities aren’t even required to submit financial reports. No exact figures exist, but according to the Secular Party of Australia, tax exemptions could cost taxpayers up to $31 billion per annum.

We should cease sponsoring the dogmas of faith, and use the billions of dollars saved on evidence-based policies. Reinvest the money in infrastructure, education, science, technology and healthcare. Consider easing the debt burden on University graduates or use the savings to fund tax cuts for ordinary Australians. Or give tax credits to charity’s unpaid volunteers.

It’s not as if we couldn’t use the money. Our country has a revenue problem, an ageing population and an economy requiring renewal through investment in innovation. Australia is face to face with the challenge of a tech-led global economy. No longer can we rely on simply gouging our wealth from the soil. Never before has the way we spend our tax dollars been more crucial.

Tax dollars must be allocated to programmes providing real and measurable benefits to all. We cannot afford the luxury of subsidising arcane and increasingly irrelevant belief systems which provide little tangible benefit.

The ghosts of Christmas past still haunt our tax policies, recalling a time when religiosity was universal, churches were unblemished by scandal and were still considered the exemplars of moral goodness. Not anymore. Not one of our set of competing religious ideologies has proven itself universally good. If any ideology could substantiate such a grand claim we would have all subscribed to it by now. As Jesus instructed, faith groups must now properly render unto Caesar.

Did Jesus provide atonement for the sins of mankind? Did he pay for our sins? If so, it’s doubtful that he wanted tax credits in return. As we move into a new year, we should consider removing the anachronism of tax-free status for advancing religion, reserving it for activities providing direct and unambiguous benefits to society.

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