When I began kindergarten at Peats Ridge Public in 1966, our teacher, Miss Shoebridge, was very big on the three Rs of Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic, but at the behest of the state there was a fourth R included, which was Religion. For one hour a week we studied the Christian scriptures – learning, seriously, how a dead man came to life, how God made the world in six days and on the seventh he rested, and how there is an inherent evil in humans all because, to steal a line, ”a woman made out of one rib bone and a mound of dirt was tricked into eating fruit from a magical tree by a talking snake”.
Miss Shoebridge, to be fair, was a wonderful teacher, but looking back, it was outrageous that should have been a part of my public education, because it was not ”education” at all, but ”inculcation”.
As a five-year-old, learning about the capital cities of Australia, how to spell ”cat”, how to write my name, and how to add up, how could I possibly make the distinction between learning all those facts and real tools of learning … and learning the aforementioned transparent nonsense? The answer is, I could not, and I was at least 15 years old, reading the stuff of Bertrand Russell, before I could see my way clear to begin liberating myself.
As the American neuroscientist and author, Sam Harris, says, ”Theology is little more than a branch of human ignorance. Indeed, it is ignorance with wings.”
Sure, the Christians don’t agree with that assessment, still less doctors of theology. But plenty of us do. And the state? The state must, of course, take an entirely neutral view. Our whole system is predicated on separation of church and state, so why on earth should our state schools formally endorse or encourage the teaching of any religion?
Is it not obvious, when you truly think about it, that religion has no place as the fourth R in public schools and it is not fair to children to so present it? While parents must be free to put this stuff in their kids’ heads, if they must, it is indeed the parents’ role, and not that of the state.
Is this such a revolutionary view? Hardly. The country with the greatest number of Christian nutters per holy hectare is of course the United States of America, and yet within their public education system there is not a skerrick of religious classes because of their devotion to that notion above all else.
For all that, Dr Rosner, are you and I really so far apart? I can’t remember who I am misquoting here, but the point is valid: there have been 10,000 different gods worshipped since the dawn of time. You have rejected 9999 of them as arrant and obvious nonsense. I counted up, and I have rejected just one more than you.
Let the children make their up own mind as to just how many they will reject, but the state should have no part, one way or t’other.
Should there be a place for religion in schools?
This is an edited extract of an article first published in the Sydney Morning Herald.