This programme for religious education in New Zealand has come under controversy recently.  The programme works by allowing coached volunteers to teach Christian knowledge in schools.  It is not done by the school.  The teachers remove themselves from the class because the secular education system does not endorse being used for Christian education.  For some volunteers this is a ticket to chaos.  The programme has come under controversy because it has been revealed that some volunteers are doing it to convert children.  Shock! horror!

Opinion is divided between two missionary positions: the glazed-eyed ones who want to convert everyone to their particular religious opinion complete with burning heretics; and the glazed-eyed ones who who won’t be happy until they have purged society of every stain of religious inclinations and crushed it underfoot.  Once the debate is public on the internet and reaches the commentariat then recognition that opposing opinion are people too is forgotten.  It’s us versus them all over again.

It’s forgotten that religious education in this form has been available for a hundred years.  At its introduction the desire was to avoid introducing sectarian instruction into schools.  So they set up a system that avoided prayers before lessons and allowed some introduction of the children to story-telling from the Bible.  If parents wanted more than that then they could send their children to a church school.  And how private schools got into the position of sucking off public education, I don’t know.  I don’t even want to touch that one.

Today I understand it’s under the oversight of the Churches Education Commission.  My impression of them is that they represent a nice middle-class cardigan-wearing Christianity.  That could be wrong.  Soft Christianity is on the back foot in New Zealand currently.  My own feeling is that Bible in Schools has had very few converts.  My own feeling from my school days in the 1970s was that it was the same sort of story telling and role-playing as happened in Sunday School at church.  I came out of that religious background.  Sometimes it was the same people.  I doubt it wins many converts.  I had one adult tell me that his conclusion from Bible in Schools was that God in the Bible stories knew how to pull one over other.

The kids I have seen liked the stories and the flash card and the colouring activities.  I once worked in a school library where there were some children with permission to opt out: Jehovah’s Witness kids getting their own instruction, and some loud boys working on a project.  That’s the alternatives.  Meanwhile appreciation of how we got here, and who we were, quietly retreats.

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