Why the Bible belongs in schools

Dear Mr Hines and Ms Jacob,

I see you are at it again. Taking on that half hour a week of religious education some Kiwi kids get in Primary School. I find it interesting, as a former religious kid (and now religious adult) that you’re basing the claim on bullying.

You even have 13 families coming forward to say their children were mistreated when they were withdrawn from religious education classes. It’s horrible that they were bullied. I know because I was bullied myself – and some of that centered around my faith.

At High School and university I can even remember stinging barbs from teachers or professors on the topic of religion. At one stage my education involved learning about how evil and culturally imperialistic missionaries were. My parents were missionaries.

That’s why I find your case strange. It is as if you are saying religious education is creating bullies, and therefore must be banned.

I can assure you, as can thousands of other religious kids who went through secular, public schools, that bullies exist in secular classes too.

But I’m not arguing that clause 77 of the 1964 Education Act, which requires teaching in Primary Schools to be secular, must be overturned.

I would argue instead that bullying needs to be addressed. I can’t see how that is not what you are arguing too. After all, we know how utterly damaging bullying can be, we know how it is related to mental health problems, and we know how it is even related to suicide.

And if we know that both secular and religious kids are bullies, and are being bullied, we can’t really blame each others’ worldview, can we?

Unless we have an ulterior motive. And I’m struggle to see, in your case, any other conclusion except that you are using victimised kids to push your own agenda.

I find that disturbing, and very, very sad.

But there is another important thing I would like you to know about my more youthful years, surrounded by role models and friends who didn’t think like me.

It gave me an advantage in life. It taught me how to get along with people. Lots of people. In fact, I count among my friends hard core communists, ardent Labour voters, ardent National voters, classical capitalists, old people, middle-aged people, young people, gay people, solo parents, traditional families, agnostics and atheists.

I had to learn to look for what we had in common, and what united us. That required learning to listen to others, and trying to understand where they were coming from, instead of just making assumptions that would further divide us.

Listening to others, in turn, challenged my own worldview and forced me to think very deeply about what I believed and why. It made me stronger, but made my belief in the dignity of all people stronger too.

I would not have learnt any of this without being surrounded by people who thought differently to me. That’s why I support the final, half-hour sliver of time during which our kids learn about New Zealand’s major religious worldview at school.

As I see it, exposure to a range of worldviews is critical for our society if we are to understand each other and get along. It is critical to peeling back our difference and exposing our common humanity.

Given all the intolerance and hatred already wearying the world, it seems a shame to want to take that opportunity away from our kids.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz

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