The Bible does have a place in New Zealand schools but it must be in a context of criticism and ethical philosophy — not for the indoctrination of minds into a narrow, dogmatic and exclusive viewpoint.
A handful of correspondents to the NZ Herald on this issue have pointed out that religious instruction should cover a range of world religions — what they believe and how their faith is practiced. This is a good platform, and one that flushes the religious fundamentalists out from behind the bushes.
Under the guise of “values education”, Christians seeking to teach the Bible in schools are primarily concerned with bringing ‘sheep’ to Jesus. This is not values education and unnecessary to lead a good moral life. This does, however fall under the category of indoctrination and does not belong in public schools.
Ethical teaching — a good idea
The teaching of ethics is an absolutely fantastic idea. In fact, I would say philosophy generally is under taught in schools and reflection on the ideas of some of the greatest thinkers throughout the ages can only enrich the lives of students who study them.
Philosophy begins where religion ends, just as by analogy chemistry begins where alchemy runs out, and astronomy takes the place of astrology.
– Christopher Hitchens, “God is Not Great”
Moral thought existed before the Bible and was even more important after because then it was possible to reflect on whether its ideas had moral weight. This basic requirement of any ideas — that they be critically analysed — was met with resistance when applied to the Bible. Those daring to question religious ideas persecuted and outright murdered by those privileged by Christian beliefs (notably the Catholic Church).
morality is Not the unique domain of religion
…religion gives people bad reasons for acting morally, where good reasons are actually available. We don’t have to believe that a deity wrote one of our books, or that Jesus was born of a virgin, to be moved to help people in need. – Sam Harris, http://www.samharris.org/
Morality is not dictated from on high. Moral progress is possible because of critical reflection on behaviour and the consequences of our actions.
Secular morality is concerned with the suffering of sentient beings out of basic empathy and compassion, not because we are commanded to. This includes the experiences of non-human animals as well. This necessarily requires the understanding of the experiences of others (the basis of empathy) and therefore the acceptance of differences.
The Bible is not a reliable manual on morality because it does not teach understanding; instead it inspires the believer to be incredibly judgemental and conceited (hey, I’m only speaking on behalf of the creator of the universe here). The Bible contains many immoral acts — some by God, others commanded by him. The Bible doesn’t mind slavery, glorifies rape and incest in places and stresses ‘obedience or else’ threats from a supposedly ‘loving’ God.
Hence, the Bible is a ‘pick and choose’ book — the choosing done on the basis of personal opinion using an obvious external; standard of morality. This makes biblical morality a perfect example of the moral relativism that is often claimed of non-religious morality (also evidenced by the fact that different denominations cannot agree on basic doctrines and interpretations).
literature and philosophy are superior to holy books
We have had to ignore the Bible on so many fronts in order to progress passed our innate petty, fearful and xenophobic traits. The following is a short list of areas where we have sought moral and human rights progress only to be confronted by religious opposition:
- The abolition of slavery
- Women’s rights and equality
- Women’s health and sexuality (and therefore the alleviation of poverty and emancipation of women from being male property)
- Progress away from racism
- Gay and lesbian rights
- Environmental concerns and conservation
- The ethical treatment of animals
- Treatment of non-believers and rival religions…
Progress in these areas requires ignoring the pronouncements of holy books. Indeed, in the case of the Bible, the above items are either not addressed or it advocates diminishing the rights of others — thereby causing more harm in the process.
In religion there is no mechanism for internal improvement of moral codes. After all, how can you improve on God? The emphasis is on inflexible rule dictation with the presumption of truth not requiring external validation. These have shown to be impediments to scientific and positive social change.
Literature is far better at approaching moral conundrums and dilemmas while philosophy enriches our moral intuitions by questioning beliefs and assessing how actions impact individuals and societies in the real world.
Religion is optional and not necessary to teach people to be virtuous and so belongs in NZ public schools without privilege; requiring the same criticism we apply to all philosophical ideas.
Next post – the finer points of morality and why religions have utterly failed us in that respect.
- The Superiority of Secular Morality – Talk given by Matt Dillahunty of the Atheist Community of Austin
- An excellent series on morality YouTube by QualiaSoup
- Secular morality entry in Iron Chariots Wiki
- The Myth of Secular Moral Chaos – Sam Harris on the Council for Secular Humanism website