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Religious Education in New Zealand

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[Update: There is now a part 2 to this post]

For some people heat is rising, as it does from time to time, about religious instruction in state/public primary schools in Aotearoa New Zealand. The law allows

class or classes at the [primary] school, or the school as a whole, may be closed at any time or times of the school day …for any class, for the purposes of religious instruction given by voluntary instructors approved by the school’s board and of religious observances conducted in a manner approved by the school’s board or for either of those purposes; and the school buildings may be used for those purposes or for either of them.

To be clear:

  • The law applies to primary state schools only. Secondary schools may choose to have religious education as part of their curriculum; some do, and there are nationally recognised assessment standards available for this alongside other subjects such as mathematics, history, and so on.
  • The law does not apply to integrated or independent schools which are often required by their establishment to provide religious education, and hence would have state inspectors checking whether they are living up to those requirements.
  • The school is technically closed, its buildings are being used for religious instruction and parents are entitled to not have their child attend such instruction.

Apparently about 40% of primary schools have religious instruction. Very few state secondary schools provide it.

In my opinion, the systematic study of religion is an essential component of education, and what is provided in New Zealand’s education system is generally sorely inadequate. Religious Education can help young people learn how to think carefully about religion and religious issues, to become aware of the influence of religion in culture and in their own lives, and to be in a better position for making informed decisions about faith and commitment. Students learn to understand and interpret many current events. They explore their own values and develop principles for life. They are encouraged to make connections with their other studies such as history, art, music, and drama.

The introduction to the discipline of intellectual examination of deeply held beliefs can also provide a non-judgmental environment in which the students can reflect and develop their own position on faith, spirituality, and morality. It recognises and explores the pluralism of society and the variety of beliefs and values that are available as commitment options, making the question of decision-making a crucial one for young people. Because “commitment by convention” has largely given way to “commitment by intention”, the skills of searching for relevant information, of critical evaluation, and of decision-making in relation to potential commitments can be provided for in Religious Education.

I endorse the points made in a joint statement on the importance of Religious Education signed by leaders of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh religions:

We believe that religious education develop pupils’ knowledge and understanding of Christianity, other principal religions, other religious traditions and other world views. It offers opportunities for personal reflection and spiritual development. It:

•          provokes challenging questions about the ultimate meaning and purpose of life, beliefs about God, the self, the nature of reality, issues of right and wrong and what it means to be human.

•          enhances pupils’ awareness of religions and beliefs, teachings, practices and forms of expression, as well as of the influence of religion on individuals, families, communities and cultures.

•          encourages pupils to learn from different religions, beliefs, values and traditions, while exploring their own beliefs and questions of meaning.

•          challenges pupils to reflect on, consider, analyse, interpret and evaluate issues of truth, belief, faith and ethics and to communicate their response.

•          encourages pupils to develop their sense of identity and belonging. It enables them to flourish individually within their communities and as citizens in a pluralistic society and global community.

•          has an important role in preparing pupils for adult life, employment and life-long learning.

•          enables pupils to develop respect for and sensitivity to others, in particular those whose faith and beliefs are different from their own. It promotes discernment and enables pupils to combat prejudice.

Together with the Department for Education and Skills, we endorse these principles as fundamentally important for all children and young people, for communities, and for the well-being of society.

We believe that schools with a religious designation should teach not only their own faith but also an awareness of the tenets of other faiths.

For further reflection: Dr Zain Ali, head of the Islamic studies research unit at the University of Auckland, argues Religious education in schools has an important role to play in a secular state, provided it’s done right.

Religious Education in New Zealand part 2

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45 Responses to Religious Education in New Zealand

  1. Yes. Teaching children religions AND atheism would indeed be beneficial to children to teach them tolerance and understanding.
    However in no way is this currently happening in our schools and in no way are children aged 5-6 intellectually equipped to understand these concepts.

    Perhaps intermediate age would be more appropriate and at the very least to be inclusive of multiple beliefs.

    • Thanks, Matt. Quality education always attempts to take into account the stage of a student’s development. I have post-graduate university education on the nature of numbers, but I won’t wait until people share my understanding before I teach them to count! I’m not sure what “Teaching children religions AND atheism” looks like – I would insert the word “about” after “teaching”. Some religions, of course, are “atheistic”; and agnosticism (of its different types) also needs a fair hearing. There is a parallel, of course, in the way we teach languages in our country. Blessings.

      • Bosco, the comment above, as to “Quality education” seems extremely patronizing, as if you do not appear to countenance the direct harm that comes from RI classes that instill religious belief, in a manner that stigmatizes atheism, disbelief, and agnosticism.
        The objection that the children, are 5-6 years old, centres not on their initial level of understanding but their vulnerability.
        Many current RI “classes” in NZ are not “quality education”, and far from teaching about religion, subject vulnerable children to direct indoctrination at the expense of teaching tolerance and understanding.
        The article is misleading, because it omits to mention that RI involves, instilling religious belief, and has been delivered in a number of cases, in a manner that stigmatizes non-belief, and thereby contravenes human rights legislation.

        School boards and principals are still responsible for the rights and well-being of students, regardless as to whether the school is “closed” for education purposes.
        The abject failure of NZ churches to address the appallingly bad practices that take place in NZ schools, or support the young victims of this religious abuse, speaks volumes about their true “morals”.

        • Can we leave sorely-subjective words like “patronizing” out of the discussion, please John.

          I stand by my understanding of quality education. We might then discuss whether quality education is actually happening. If there are the breaches you describe they should be dealt with.

          I continue to hold that including Religious Education in the NZ Curriculum the best way forward; and that for all ages, not just commencing at intermediate age, which was the point I was responding to.

    • I agree with everything Matt said. The Religious Instruction that is currently happening in our state primary schools is not working. It discourages tolerance by teaching a narrow view of religion. Also, it is important to remember that the largest religious group in NZ is the non-religious and their point of view also deserves mention.

      • So, Lisa, you do not think that those below intermediate age are capable of reflection on religion – I absolutely disagree with your underestimation of what younger children are capable of. I am also interested in your acknowledgement that the non-religious is a religious group. I think that is an important point, and certainly should be part of the discussion in Religious Education.

  2. Good points, Bosco. The debate in the media seems to be polarised by those who see the teaching of religion as proselytising (either positively or negatively).

    To teach for learning rather than indoctrination is essential if informed engagement with religion is ever to be achieved.

    • Bad propaganda Bosco, the objections to RI (Religious Instruction, not Religious Education) centre around the fact that the current classes are intended, by the act, to instill belief, rather than teach about religion.
      There is already scope to teach about in the curriculum, but this has been supplanted by classes that are directly intended to proselytize.
      If it was religious education, as opposed to proselytizing, they would not need to “close” the school, and the material would be able to be taught by all teachers.
      Besides, why on earth do you think that those who reject religion have not “engaged” as if they are ignorant?
      Many Atheists, Humanists, Agnostics, all fully “engage” with the subject, they just come to a different conclusion.

      • Religion is a part of our world and has been for all of recorded history. The idea that humans can understand themselves and the world around them without understanding religion, history, art or any other body of knowledge is curious (and possibly naive?). If our education system in NZ is to ignore this aspect of humanity, then it is a deprived model.

        I find labels being discussed here unhelpful. In some contexts, ‘Instruction’ and ‘Education’ are synonyms, or at least partially interchangeable. If they are being used as distinctions by some, then that is fine for them. But this does not reflect common usage.

        I am not aware of documented evidence of damage done to NZ children by people teaching to the CEC curriculum. There have been reports at times of individuals who have taught using material outside that jurisdiction, and that is a concern – as it is with any educator.

        The desire to provide quality teaching and learning about religion is worthy of pursuit. Rather than dismissing what is already there, it would be much better to work to expand and improve it so that it is a valued part of the core curriculum.

        • Mike, the harm comes from the fact that religion is presented in a way that stigmatizes non-belief.
          The CEC have no actual control of the behavior and disposition of the volunteers, who appear to be completely unable to validate the positive belief choices of children who come from non-religious backgrounds.

  3. A very interesting and thought-provoking piece.

    However, I would like to point out that the debate is not over whether there should be a broader religious studies program in the primary state school curriculum or not. It’s about whether schools should be allowed to ‘close’ their schools and bring unqualified volunteers in once a week to indoctrinate children as young as 5 or 6 in a single sectarian faith (most likely to be Christianity).

    Let’s not conflate the two very separate issues.

    These Bible in School classes are often marketed as ‘values’ courses, which further confuses parents as to the true nature and intent of the volunteers running the program.

    The Churches Education Commission (CEC) itself says that primary school children are an untapped ‘mission field’, although they also insist the aim is not to evangelise. Sorry if I don’t quite trust their own assessment of their motives. The ‘opt out’ nature of the programs already give me pause.

    Besides, the primary school curriculum already has a Values component in it. Students are already taught about good moral and ethical behaviour, just without a religious caveat attached.

    Let me leave you with this excellent article, which very plainly summarises what many parents are upset about and objecting to.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff-nation/assignments/share-your-news-and-views/9836817/School-religious-instruction-inappropriate

    To be honest, I, and many of my fellow parents are growing rather tired of having to repeatedly clarify and explain to those in the media what our very real concerns for our children are.

    Our point of view is frequently being trivialised, misunderstood and rebranded as being some sort of wholesale call for banning individual religious expression and broader comparative religious studies (from a historical/cultural perspective) in schools.

    That is not at what we’re debating about at all.

    Hopefully those who wish to join the discussion in a constructive way will eventually acknowledge that.

    • Thanks, Anne.

      I’m not sure I need to hold to your individual particular delineation of what the debate is over. You do not specify who the “we” is that you speak on behalf of, and also point out that your group’s point of view is frequently misunderstood.

      Religious Instruction, Religious Education, and Religious Studies are terms used by different people in different ways with different emphases. So I am not convinced that it works to take one definition in one context and then simply pull it across to another.

      Your assumption that values and morals can be deduced without religious foundations, I’m sure you are aware, is philosophically debatable. I believe students should be exposed to this debate in our education system.

      I hope you are aware that the New Zealand Curriculum does not generally include content in the manner that you seem to be seeking. I would be interested which religions you would include and which you would exclude from your list – and on what basis? Aotearoa New Zealand has a particular relationship with Christianity, and ignorance of the Christian tradition, I continue to hold, is tragic for a “well-educated” person in this land. I, therefore, would see learning about and learning from Christianity as having more weight than, say, Ayyavazhi in our own education system.

      There can be no “wholesale call for banning individual religious expression and broader comparative religious studies (from a historical/cultural perspective) in schools” – as I’ve pointed out clearly, that ban is already in place in state/public primary schools. If you “wish to join the discussion in a constructive way” it needs to be along the lines I’m suggesting: call for Religious Education to be a full part of the New Zealand Curriculum.

      Blessings

      • Dear patronizing Bosco, “Religious Instruction, Religious Education, and Religious Studies are terms used by different people in different ways with different emphases.”
        Really, Are you so unable to admit that Religious Instruction, as takes place in NZ schools, includes overt proselytizing, with the intention to instill religious belief, and is quite different to the religious education that you advocate in your post, as the “systematic study of religion” that you so advocate.
        The idea that Anne is trying to take one definition in one context and is simply pulling it across to another, comes across as simply smarmy and disingenuous.

    • “Our point of view is being trivialised, misunderstood and rebranded as being some sort of wholesale call for banning individual religious expression and broader comparative religious studies (from a historical/cultural perspective) in schools.”

      Precisely. Introducing the opposition to Religious Instruction (a bad thing) then switching mid-article to the benefits of Religious Education (a good thing) is deceptive.
      I’m Getting MORE than a little tired of “experts”, who should know better, using this tactic.

  4. Well written!
    I enjoyed reading your commentary.

    I believe encouraging children to think and explore is an essential part of education and learning at all ages. And enabling students to have an understanding of the beliefs that are inherent in our society is an important step towards tolerance and acceptance.

    I’d like to see steps towards an inclusive program of religion in education.

  5. Anne is indeed correct, the terms “religious instruction” and “religious education” are not interchangeable. Carelessly (some would say deliberately) using them as though they were has caused much frustration and miscommunication. The Human Rights Commission booklet Religion in New Zealand Schools: Questions and Concerns 2009, clearly defines the terms: “Religious instruction means teaching aspects of a faith in its own right. Religious instruction carries an implicit or explicit endorsement of a particular faith and/or encourages students to engage with and make decisions about accepting it on a personal level. An example is optional classes run by voluntary groups.
    • Religious education, also commonly called religious studies, refers to teaching about religion(s) as part of a broader context. An example is the role religion has played in politics, culture, art, history or literature. Religious education does not require students to engage with the religions being studied at a personal level or make choices about accepting those beliefs. Religious education can take place as part of the school curriculum.”
    If there is to be an honest dialogue with the wider community, conflating two very different terms is unhelpful. Acknowledge that, or you are knowingly obfuscating the issue to your own ends. You could at least tease out the two meanings in future articles and call them “religious ed type A” and “religious ed type B” if you want to, but at least you would then be honestly representing the debate.

    • Please take care, Tanya, in accusing me of knowingly obfuscating the issue to my own ends just because I think the distinctions you support are not as hermetically sealed from each other in the manner you assume. The definitions you provide are clearly not even discrete. Whilst the definition you hold to states “Religious education does not require students to engage with the religions being studied at a personal level or make choices about accepting those beliefs”, such an engagement or making of choices is not precluded, nor is it assured in the definition you uphold for Religious instruction.

      To reduce, then, the difference between your two terms solely to the presumed intention of the person leading the class would be an even greater clouding of the discussion.

      Furthermore the contention that “Religious education can take place as part of the school curriculum” is demonstrably false for state/public primary schools in this country. Please point to a single one that is comfortably doing that!

      I would much prefer to use terms of “evangelisation”, “catechesis”, and “religious education”. But I am not so naïve as to think these three forms are neatly separable, but rather are about an emphasis of approach.

      I suspect that we are actually in agreement about some of the problems, but my solution would be to press for Religious Education to be integral to our New Zealand Curriculum at all levels, so that the Human Rights Commission’s point becomes a reality and Religious education takes place as part of the school curriculum. Then the problems perceived with the current scheme, which arose to fill an obvious vacuum, would mostly disappear. Rather than fighting for a better vacuum.

      Blessings.

  6. While I agree fully with the premises presented in this article Bosco, I am disappointed by your failure to clearly differentiate between the religious instruction currently offered through bible in schools, which clearly aims to convert, rather than promote critical engagement, and a phenomenological approach to the study of religion as promoted in the NZ curriculum. Failure to differentiate between these things is exactly what is creating the heat in the current debate. The Secular Education Network and scholars such as yourself are in agreement that knowing about religions is important. The public perception that bible in schools offers genuine religious education is where the problem lies. You are in a position to help move the conversation forward productively, but lack of clarity simply serves to further polarise people.

    • Thanks, Susana. I would be interested in evidence beyond the anecdotal that the Church’s Education Commission’s clear aim is to convert. You speak of “a phenomenological approach to the study of religion as promoted in the NZ curriculum”. Could you please, Susana, provide the quote from the NZ Curriculum (with the URL of the source of your quote) where this phenomenological approach to the study of religion is promoted. If the Secular Education Network advocates for the implementation in state/public primary schools of this approach that you say is in the NZ Curriculum, I have already suggested that the problems you perceive would mostly evaporate. I am still awaiting an answer for a single state/public primary school in NZ to be pointed to with effective Religious Education as part of its curriculum. If you reread my post, and my responses to comments, I believe I have been as clear as possible within the confines of a blog thread, but I’m not sure whether it is the clarification that diminishes polarisation, or if there is fixed polarisation that disables the acceptance of the clarity presented. Blessings.

        • Thanks, Matt for pointing to that quote in a newsletter which speaks of schools as “mission fields”. Without wishing to exonerate the confusion that the director of the Churches Education Commission brings and then later in that article tries to clarify, the mission of Christians, of course, is not limited to attempting to convert but goes all the way through social concern, transforming to a just society, and a responsibility for the environment. I continue to think having Religious Education as part of the NZ Curriculum would lessen some of the clouding – but I suggest that even with that, the motivation of individual teachers would still be opaque. It is notable that the article to which you point has towards its conclusion:

          Ian Leckie, president of teachers’ union the NZEI, said there was no need to review the rules of religious instruction in public schools, as the system was working.
          “I dont think anybody intends this as a [religious] conversion; it’s more meeting a social need that’s being asked for by the community.”

  7. I found this article difficult to follow. From the heading I was not expecting a discussion on Religious Instruction, yet the article starts by discussing the current system of Religious Instruction. Then it switches to discussing Religious Education without any mention of the difference between the two terms. I hope this is not an attempt to confuse the public about the issues?

    • I’m sorry, Lisa, that you found this blog post difficult to follow. It is worth reading the comments that follow to help you. It is also worth reading the follow-up post. This post starts by outlining the legal situation in New Zealand (the Religious Instruction at the start of the post you mention), and then goes on to advocate for Religious Education incorporated into a revised NZ Curriculum as the solution I propose to some of the problems. I hope that helps clarify your difficulties. Blessings.

      • I am unfortunately far too aware of the legal situation in NZ and angry that as a parent I had to read the legislation in order to understand why my 5 yr old child was being evangelized in a state primary school. Religion is a natural part of Social Studies and History, as I recall it being taught when I was in school.

        • Thanks, Lisa.

          If you went to a state/public primary school in New Zealand (you mention the problems of making assumptions where people are coming from) then your teacher and school decided to incorporate some education about religions into your social studies and history studies. Learning about religions is not integral to the New Zealand Curriculum. Do let us know if your child is learning about religions in social studies and history currently as you did when at school – I would think most schools would shy away from this.

          If you went to a state/public primary school in New Zealand, the CEC programme was in place then, of course, just as it is now.

          My expectation would be that a young person could identify the different world religions in the picture at the top of my post, explain their differences, their relationship, and mention which other major world religions are missing, and how they are similar and different. It is clear to me from some comments that many are not able to do this. In our pluralist global village, I find this unacceptable.

          If your child is being intentionally evangelised in a state primary school in NZ you have steps that can be taken. Just as you would if you or your child was intentionally evangelised in a social studies or history or science or other context. Encouraging our strange law to change to have religious education as an integral part of our NZ Curriculum would be a positive step forward.

          Blessings.

          • Bosco, you are sorely mistaken as to your statement, “your teacher and school decided” it is the principal and the BOT. Non religious teachers have been stigmatized, bullied, and gagged, and have to endure the humiliation of watching untrained volunteers preach to children about “praying to jesus” while being unable to speak of their own beliefs and values.

            The intention of the current “strange system”, in law, is to permits children to be indoctrinated in to religious belief, and it is that aspect alone, that many now find repugnant, and unethical, particularly when it is presented under the euphemism, “education”.

            Many teachers know full well that the CEC has misrepresented the nature of the classes as providing “education” and “values”. There is real harm being done, not by the “curriculum”, but by the disposition of the zealots who use that curriculum to stigmatize disbelief.
            The resulting ostracizing and bullying, is there. That is why parents who are committed Catholics have, in the past, turned to our organization (NZARH) as the only group open to supporting them. Does it even dawn on you now hard it must have been for them? Does it begin to dawn on you how desperate they felt? When will it dawn on you that the current system is unethical, and harmful?

            Yes religion should be in the education system, and as part of that, other religions, non-belief, humanism, atheism all need to be treated as a valid, positive, and valuable, contribution. It cannot be in the curriculum if people such as yourself support the current system, and pretend that it is benign.

            President New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists (NZARH)

          • John, have you actually read my post to which you are responding? In it I am arguing in favour of religious education that includes world religions, non-belief, humanism, and atheism. It is SEN supporters who are not in agreement with advocating for such religious education or contend it already is in the curriculum.

          • What steps would you recommend a parent take if their child has been intentionally evangelised in a state primary school in NZ? (Assuming they have already raised the issue with the principal and BOT)

  8. As I know you know, Bosco, but I suspect many who have opposed you do not, when the Education Act of 1877 declared that publicly-funded education was to be of entirely a secular character, it was NOT a declaration that the official position of the government was that there is no God, nor that religious instruction was of no value. Instead, the declaration recognised that it is not the place of the government in a democratic society to adjudicate between the various denominational points of view as to what precisely should be the content of religious instruction. By implication, it also said that it is not the place of government to decide between people of religious faith and those who profess none.

    Interestingly and revealingly, the same Act also provided that “no child was to be compelled to be present at the teaching of history if his parents objected.” (See Ian and Alan Cumming, 1978, A History of State Education in New Zealand, Pitman Publishing, pages 102-103.) The government recognised there the same kind of dilemma: if history is taught not as a dull recital of events but in a way that tries to help students understand the dynamics behind the events, the teaching will inevitably be coloured by the personal views of the course-constructor. For instance, the history of conflicts between England and Ireland looked vastly different when taught in an Irish school rather than an English one. Therefore the Act exempted students from compulsory attendance at history classes, but that wasn’t a declaration that the events themselves never happened.

    Increasingly, though, secularists have seized upon the governmental abdication with regard to religious instruction as an explicit endorsement of the atheistic secularist position, as though the latter is the official norm and those with religious faith are eccentric outliers in our society. The atheistic secularists want an education system that de facto pushes children into the same way of thinking: atheism is our social norm and anything else is aberrant. Our society is to be organised so as to marginalise those who have religious faith.

    The ingenious “Nelson” system of closing the school while religious instruction takes place on the premises is a small but valuable counter to this push. Children can see religious instruction taking place in the same buildings where they also receive their secular education, and so can absorb the lesson that religious viewpoints and those who hold them are an accepted part of our society. Surely anyone – atheist or religious – who values a free, open and tolerant society should be campaigning to keep the religious instruction slots, not get rid of them.

    That is not to say that how those slots are used cannot be improved and the content broadened to alleviate the fears of the atheists and agnostics that the religious instruction is merely a way to proselytise to the Christian religion – or worse yet and God forbid, to the Anglican Church! However, I do not agree with you, Bosco, that it would be beneficial to transfer the religious education to within the official hours of school in other than schools of special character such as yours. Within an education system that is trying to be studiously neutral in a diverse society, values can only be taught as a smorgasbord. If something catches your eye and you like it, take it – make it your own, but if not, well that’s your choice and that’s OK. And, having picked something up from the smorgasbord, you can still choose to put back on the table if it later proves inconvenient. As an idealistic child or teenager, you picked up the value, “I will not steal,” but now in your adult life that is proving a hindrance to your desire to get filthy rich. “Oh well, I’ll sneak that commitment back onto the table while no one is looking.” If you have the right to choose, you also have the right to recant.

    A religious education class held outside the official school hours can and should press the eternal, transcendent dimension of the values it imparts. Even while it is being careful not to proselytise among those who are too immature to decide, it can still transmit the concept that there may be some values that are not a matter of personal preference. Someone who decides in a religious context that it is wrong to steal, will hear a much louder protest from his or her conscience if they decide to renege than if they merely picked up the ideal from a values clarification course.

    When the 1877 Education Act made it possible to opt out of history lessons, schools tried to prevent controversy by limiting the teaching of history to such a dull recital of facts that the classes lost any power they might have had to excite and educate their children. (See Cummings, 1978, p102). In a like manner, bringing religious education into the official secular curriculum would inevitably, I believe, vitiate its power to be a force for good.

    Warm regards.

    • Thanks, Trevor. That is a helpful context that some people may not be aware of in our nation which has the National Anthem and the daily prayer beginning our sitting in parliament to (the Christian) God. I can obviously see merit in your reasoning to your conclusion, but on balance if I could choose between the current system and integrating an enlarged programme into our curriculum, I would choose the latter. This, as I have been saying, would introduce students to the world’s great religions, ethics, and philosophy. It is in the philosophical aspect that we would explore the meaning of truth, and with that whether all choices are equally valid. That applies both to ethics and to religion. Part of that further discussion (and I have already hinted at that at least in one comment) is the tendency of our NZ Curriculum to eschew a canon (say in history – your example). Who decides what to study? Currently (in history) that is the particular school. Another issue in what I propose is finding qualified people to teach in this manner.

      • I would heartily support the inclusion in the curriculum of a course of the kind you outline, though I still think it would be best to keep something like the Bible-in-Schools programme in parallel. Our education system at present is rightly concerned with improving literacy and numeracy, but in newspaper columns, letters to the Editor and blog comments I frequently see it demonstrated that many of those who are literate have never learned the art and science of critical thought. Informal fallacies abound. Begging the question and the use of ad hominem arguments are the most common transgressions, but others are also seen from time to time. And the pity of it is that the perpetrators don’t even seem to know that these logical traps exist and so do not critically reflect on the opinions they hold.

        Beyond that, many who enter into complex metaphysical, ethical and historical arguments do so in abject ignorance of the scholarship that has been put into those fields.

        You don’t have to have been educated in New Zealand to fall into these traps. According to John Lennox, examples of the following logical fallacies can be found in some of Richard Dawkins’ arguments: category mistake; the assumption that necessary conditions are also sufficient conditions; and begging the question. (See John Lennox, 2009, God’s Undertaker, Lion, pages 45, 73, 90, 167 and 171). Similarly, philosopher and logician Alvin Plantinga of Notre Dame University asserts that upon critical logical analysis, the arguments that Dawkins puts forward in “The God Delusion” and “The Blind Watchmaker” give us “no reason whatever to think that current biological science is in conflict with Christian belief.”

        Lennox also points out that Stephen Hawking is guilty of logical incoherence in his argumentation in “The Grand Design” (Lennox, 2011, “God and Stephen Hawking”, Lion, Introduction).

        If our New Zealand educational system did a proper job of teaching critical thought, we could hope that fewer New Zealanders would be so gullibly indoctrinated by the apostles of atheism. There would be fewer voices calling for the shut-down of the Bible-in-Schools programmes, and fewer dissenting comments for you to deal with when you publish a blog on Religious Education in New Zealand, Bosco. That would be a positive result for the whole country!

        • Thanks, Trevor. I will again have to disagree with you. I really don’t see how the current “Bible-in-Schools programme” helps in the sort of agility you hope for “complex metaphysical, ethical and historical arguments”, rather my advocation of religious education, philosophy, and ethics, picking up such complexities into secondary schooling, can certainly effect this.

          NOTE: I really will not allow anyone to now take this thread into a discussion about Dawkins or Hawking [I have benefited from the scholarship of both of them]. There are plenty of other places to do that.

          • I apologise for alarming you. It wasn’t my intention to set the thread onto a Dawkins/Hawking path, though I see in hindsight that the threat was there.

  9. Hi all. I have been a volunteer teacher of CRE in my local primary school for the last 5 years. I have a theology degree, and would describe myself as a practising Christian. However, I teach CRE because I believe that it is important that the (predominantly pakeha) children know about the basics of Christianity, not least because it teaches them the importance of being kind and forgiving even to people who are intolerant and unkind to others. It also enables them to hear that Christians believe that each child is loved regardless of what they look like or the skills that they have.
    I would prefer that basic information about each of the major faiths was contained within the National Curriculum. But in the meantime, when CRE is done well, it is a lot better than nothing at all.

    • Joanna, are you aware that the primary school curriculum already has a comprehensive Values program? There is no ‘nothing at all’, in fact, there is an excellent program already in place.

      My six year old son, just this week earned a Deputy Principal’s badge for Respecting Property. He’s earned merit certificates in the past for treating others with kindness, solving problems with words, and keeping others safe.

      According to the Ministry of Education, students will be encouraged to value:

      Excellence, by aiming high and by persevering in the face of difficulties.

      Innovation, inquiry, and curiosity, by thinking critically, creatively, and reflectively.

      Diversity, as found in our different cultures, languages, and heritages.

      Equity, through fairness and social justice.

      Community and participation for the common good.

      Ecological sustainability, which includes care for the environment.

      Integrity, which involves being honest, responsible, and accountable and acting ethically.

      To respect themselves, others, and human rights.

      (source: http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/The-New-Zealand-Curriculum/Values)

      A personal belief in Christianity (or any other religion for that matter) is NOT required to learn and integrate important and beneficial moral values or ethics.

      Religious grooming classes which are extra-curricular are therefore not needed as some sort of moral stop-gap for NZ children. That ‘gap’ is already being filled *within* the curriculum.

      • What the NZ curriculum does lack, however, Anne, is a context where this is examined in the same manner that all other things can be.

        In the RE/philosophy/ethics integration into the NZ Curriculum that I have been advocating, students explore the foundations of the ethics that have been handed down from the Ministry-of-Education “above”. How do we arrive at our values? We discuss consequentialism, utilitarianism, natural law, virtue ethics, and so on. We examine the various arguments around the relationship between religion and whether or not it is required or helpful for establishing moral positions, and let the students themselves arrive at a conclusion like “A personal belief in Christianity (or any other religion for that matter) is NOT required to learn and integrate important and beneficial moral values or ethics” rather than dogmatically requiring students to believe that because mother or teacher or principal says so (yet another of my points that I am totally misrepresented about by a SEN member on its facebook group page).

  10. Bosco, does this mean that you are against the current system of religious instruction in state primary schools that teaches only bible lessons and would prefer to introduce a new system of religious education where the classroom teacher teaches about many religions.

    • So you are against tennis clubs then as that’s not physical education, Yvonne? It seems like you are putting words into my mouth, or only allowing a binary yes-no position, or is this actually intended to be some sort of question?

  11. Ok, so you would be happy with Muslim volunteers going into primary schools teaching the Quran as fact, teaching children that Jesus is just a prophet and not the son of God and having children face Mecca and praying to Allah.

    • You continue, Yvonne, to put words into my mouth. Please don’t.

      Please read both posts about this topic, and the discussion that follows each one. If after that you want to comment then tell us your own position, or ask me a question (concluding with a question mark) if there is still something that is unclear to you. In the lengthy discussions on the two posts, that would surprise me.

      To be clear, I am advocating a curriculum which would include educating New Zealanders about Islam, its history, beliefs, contributions, culture, and such things as understanding Sunnis and Shiites.

  12. I did ask a simple question and you didn’t answer it so I’m trying to work out from your reply what your answer is.
    Yes I am for tennis clubs in the same way I’m for churches. Would I like it if the only sport or exercise my kids school did was tennis ? No because it wouldn’t give variety or cater for kids that want to enjoy other sports.

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Rev. Bosco Peters Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.