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OPINION piece — Advertiser

Schools: The New Battleground for Christian Evangelists

Who cares about religion? It’s a frequent comment — but it’s also the voice of Australia’s complacency. We need to care, not necessarily for spirituality but to understand the trend to ‘new evangelism’, and its social agenda.

One concern is the growing gulf between public and private schools — 96% of which are religion-based. This will be compounded by Tony Abbott’s National Curriculum Review pressing for even more private schools.

One NCR panel member is openly touting for religious education in all government schools and the Australian Christian Lobby is urging the NRC to include “creation science” to balance the teaching of evolution.

The irony is that Christian belief fell from 89% in 1954 to 61%, in the ABS 2011 census, but a University of NSW study in 2011 found 58% of Australians still embrace creation. A solid 27% believe in “evolution by God’s hand”, and a staggering 31% in a literal interpretation of Genesis; that Noah’s ark is true and Earth is only 6000 years old.

Perpetuating such beliefs undermines science and Australia’s progressive social reforms. An expansion of religious schools will exacerbate that unfortunate trend. From 1963 numbers attending Christian schools has risen from a few hundred to almost 40% of Australia’s student population, according to Prof Marion Maddox, and that number is rising.

In USA , only 6% of all schools are private and religious, while in Sweden — one of the most secular countries in Europe — less than 1% are religious and private.  Australia is the highest user of religious schools in the Western bloc, and on federal funding alone, Christian schools soak up a cool $8.2 billion annually.

So, what’s the problem?

First, that more federal funding to create new religious schools will widen the public vs private school divide. The Abbott government’s philosophy is based on deregulation and privatisation. Expanding privatised religious education still further will simply mean public schools becoming “education welfare” for the less well off.

Second, religious instruction in public schools (in most states) is primarily provided by amateur enthusiasts from evangelical organisations. Publicity material has made clear their mission to “disciple” Aussie kids. Classes go unchecked but national reports show a growing number of parents worried that students are taught to worship God, that unbelievers go to Hell, and human evolution is a hoax, according to ABC’s Q&A.

In private schools it’s often worse. As one example, the 92 affiliates of the Australian Association of Christian Schools hold that “the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are God’s infallible and inerrant revelation to Man,” referring again to Marion Maddox.

There is no place in schools for tempting susceptible children to believe in ancient fables and a supernatural God. Religious education belongs at home and at church on weekends, not in classrooms.

Students must learn to think rationally and critically; it’s the very foundation of science and the scientific method — not taking information at face value, and asking for evidence.

The science community, media, and public at large need to be aware of the growing and detrimental influence of today’s fundamentalist Christianity. It is modelled directly on American evangelism, the doctrine that has driven the US Tea Party and strangled Congressional politics.

Australia was not founded on Christianity, made clear in Section 116 of the Constitution. Education today needs to be religion-free, as it was prior to 1963, before the government of Robert Menzies began funding religious schools.  (“Taking God to School“).

Christianity has no exclusivity to morality, truth, charity, hope or compassion, and the ‘Golden Rule’ pre-dates Jesus by 2000 years. Non-believers share all those humane values and more. They also understand that science provides valid answers to the wonders of the universe, to our evolutionary origins, and the beauty and diversity of our planet.

Education must seek to overcome ignorance, not to validate it.

Brian Morris, Director of Plain Reason,
promoting science, reason, logic and critical thought.