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Declining Biblical knowledge

July 12th, 2009

I was willing to believe a headline stating that Biblical knowledge is in decline, but after looking at the story, I think the decline must be located somewhere else. It starts off by observing that

Forty per cent did not know that the tradition of exchanging Christmas presents originated from the story of the Wise Men bringing gifts for the infant Jesus

I’ll confess to being among the 40 per cent before I read the story, and remaining among them afterwards. Let’s leave aside the observations that the custom of midwinter giftgiving almost certainly predates Christianity, and has nothing to do with Christianity in the religious sense of the term. Even in the fictional universe of what might be called folk Christianity I didn’t (and don’t) believe that this claim is canonical. There seem to be all sorts of stories to account for Chrissy presents – the one I would have offered unprompted relates to Saint Nicholas, a prototypical Father Christmas figure.

Then there’s the observation that only one in 20 can name all ten commandments. Maybe I’m wrong, but I suspect if you popped this question up to a bench of bishops with no notice, and required the commandments to be given promptly and in order, you’d get a fair few failures, though maybe not as amusing as this one

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  1. jquiggin
    July 13th, 2009 at 17:29 | #1

    Bertrand Russell said they should be treated like a university exam – no more than six to be attempted.

  2. fred
    July 13th, 2009 at 18:56 | #2

    There are actually 6 hundred and mumbly mumble commandments all told.
    Bishop Spong’s favourite [or favorite as he would write] is “Thou shall not seeth a kid in it’s mother’s milk.”
    No I’m not sure what it means either.

  3. Alice
    July 13th, 2009 at 19:35 | #3

    Andrew …ABOM? Where are you??
    Listen – all that extra money the rich have these days is just going to those malinvesting and very bloated and well… unwell banks…Im with ABOM (strange mix of Keynes and Austrianism). Andy – Ive never heard you even remotely thinking of anything that doesnt protect bank income = read free the income of the rich to keep feeding the financial system. Including…using the tax system to do so (and I cant elaborate now because JQ forbade it).

    Nonetheless – I passed the exam.

    I can remember six of the ten commandments. But if I drank what you and ABOM like drinking I would only have remembered four.

  4. July 13th, 2009 at 22:39 | #4

    You persist in forgetting several of my positions – I agree with you on the superannuation levy, I am opposed to any form of deposit insurance. I think that failing banks should be handled like any other failing company.I would suggest you revise Commandment 8 (in the Roman Catholic numbering) or 9 (in the Protestant, Jewish or Islamic).

  5. SJ
    July 13th, 2009 at 23:36 | #5

    AR is being flippant, but makes a valid point.

    The ten commandments aren’t numbered in the bible, and there’s no agreement about what they are. But further, there’s no reason to believe that there are ten. There could easily be 11 or 12.

    There’s a table in Wikipedia that tries to set out the differences in interpretation between some of the different faiths. It also points to another completely different set of commandments set out in Exodus. There’s also a much larger set of commandments in Leviticus.

  6. Jill Rush
    July 13th, 2009 at 23:45 | #6

    On the topic of lack of knowledge of Christian beliefs in conjunction with the increase in students going to religious schools:
    Could we have a league table of religious knowledge so this can be used as to determine effectiveness? As it stands, if the figures are correct, the government funding of the religious schools is being poorly spent if they are unable to teach their core curriculum. Perhaps we could demand our money back for failure to deliver the product.

    I think that many would have trouble with the ten commandments as they are confused with the seven deadly sins. However many of the commandments will be seen with nuances; “Thou shalt honour thy mother and father” is one which in the main deserves attention – however victims of child abuse may find this an odd commandment; “Thou shalt not kill” – but what happens in wartime? This was always inconsistent considering how many religious wars have been fought.

    The language of the King James Bible probably doesn’t help remembering or understanding much either. Perhaps it is up to Mel Gibson to make a Moses movie to help out.

  7. Martin
    July 14th, 2009 at 02:25 | #7

    @Jack Strocchi
    Not sure which sibboleth I have broken… I was asking questions, Jack, what makes you think what my answers would me?

  8. Alice
    July 14th, 2009 at 06:25 | #8

    “There’s also a much larger set of commandments in Leviticus.”

    Then Im doomed. Im invincibly ignorant as opposed to merely vincibly ignorant.

  9. Paul Norton
    July 14th, 2009 at 09:36 | #9

    I quite like this commandment:

    1] My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.
    [2] For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;
    [3] And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:
    [4] Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?
    [5] Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?
    [6] But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?
    [7] Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?
    [8] If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:
    [9] But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.

    And this one:

    21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. 22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.
    23 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.
    24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

    But I don’t care much for this one:

    16. Moreover the LORD saith, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet:

    17 Therefore the LORD will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the LORD will discover their secret parts.

    18 In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls, and their round tires like the moon, 19 The chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers, 20 The bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings, 21 The rings, and nose jewels, 22 The changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins, 23 The glasses, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the vails.

    24 And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet smell there shall be stink; and instead of a girdle a rent; and instead of well set hair baldness; and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth; and burning instead of beauty.

    25 Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war.

    26 And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground.

  10. SJ
    July 14th, 2009 at 11:37 | #10

    Tires, mufflers and bonnets? Why were they dressing in car parts in the first place?

  11. derrida derider
    July 14th, 2009 at 12:16 | #11

    Groan. Y’all need to learn the distinction between a normative and a positive proposition – you’ll never pass first-year Econ if you don’t.

    - that subsidies to public schools remain larger than those to private schools is irrelevant to my point.
    - that tastes may or may not be changing is irrelevant to my point.
    - whether more subsidies to private schools is good or bad policy is irrelevant to my point.

    All I’m saying is that, for whatever reason whether good or bad, and whether they are now too high or too low, government subsidies to private schools have substantially increased in recent decades. THEREFORE we would expect an increase in the proportion of students attending private schools.

    In elementary economese, the budget constraint has changed greatly so we we cannot attribute the change in output to a change in the underlying preference function.

  12. July 14th, 2009 at 13:26 | #12

    derrida derider says: July 14th, 2009 at 12:16 #11

    Groan. Y’all need to learn the distinction between a normative and a positive proposition – you’ll never pass first-year Econ if you don’t.

    I think you mean Phil 101 but I will let it past. You are wrong on both normative values and positive facts. But, like Sgt Joe Friday, I will “just stick to the facts, maam”.

    derrida derider says:

    government subsidies to private schools have substantially increased in recent decades. THEREFORE we would expect an increase in the proportion of students attending private schools.

    You are confusing cause with effect. Govt subsidies to N-G schools have recently increased because enrollments in N-G schools have skyrocketed over the past decade or so. Govt grants are tied to school enrollments. The govt subsidized N-G cart is just catching up to the parental horse.

    More over, typical school fees for N-G schools have gone up faster than the rate of inflation over the past decade or so. Somewhat faster than the rate of growth in govt subsidy, although I cannot find definitive stats on this.

    derrida derider says:

    In elementary economese, the budget constraint has changed greatly so we we cannot attribute the change in output to a change in the underlying preference function.

    Your “elementary economese” is in need of a valve job. The budget constraint facing parents preferring N-G schools has certainly shifted, but adversely. Assume income is fixed. Let pX be the price of private education and pY be the prices of all other goods. Assume a rise in pX relative to pY. The slope of the budget constraint will steepen. Assuming stable preferences we would expect a reduction in consumption of X.

    In fact we see a rise in consumption of X. Even allowing for the fact that X has changed in quality due to govt subsidy we still have much unexplained increase in the consumption of X.

    The obvious explanation is a change of parental preference. But secularists do not want to face this fact because that would mean having to put a patch on their precious progressive theory of history. Oh well, they will just have to be brave about that.

  13. SJ
    July 14th, 2009 at 21:38 | #13

    Just so there’s no misunderstandings, I should point out that Paul Norton’s third commandment, the one that he doesn’t like, isn’t actually in the christian bible.

  14. Alice
    July 14th, 2009 at 22:11 | #14

    @Jack Strocchi
    Oh Jack – of course parents follow the money and they follow it because public schools have been stripped. They wouldnt otherwise. Horse or cart jack? You are putting the cart before the horse. lots of parents wouldnt go private if they hadnt lost faith in public funding (underfunding – overcrowded clasrooms, poor facilities, leaking taps and roofs, no air con, no computers). What do you think?
    But they are running the other way since the GFC Jack. My local high school is turning away refugees from the private system. People are waking up and I presume the funding should go back to the public schools. If Howard hadnt run it down, people wouldnt have been running away from it. They want the best for their kids. thats not choice. Its desperation.

  15. Alice
    July 14th, 2009 at 22:19 | #15

    Foolish notions to fund private schools – one of the most ridiculous notions that came out of the Howard government but entirely expected, along with middle class welfare and upper class tax cuts. The generation of entitlement of wealthy families has become such that think because they pay tax they can get as much as a poor family back. Errr No…! We have a tax and welfare system that should be progressive because its good for the economy …not a cashback for people who dont need it. Rising inequality. Rising badly and not sustainable.
    Funding private schools from the public budget is vote buying exercise from a blue ribbon government and nothing more than that. Paltry political business cycle, nothing to do with real economics. Howard playing Santa to parents can afford Santa for their kids already. Put him in a red suit and take photos of him stealing from the poor.

  16. SJ
    July 14th, 2009 at 22:43 | #16

    Does anyone actually have any data about per student funding from the Feds and the States directed to students from state and private schools?

    Without such data, the argument goes nowhere.

  17. Alice
    July 14th, 2009 at 23:10 | #17

    Then and now SJ? If I get a moment I will look it up. Ive already posted current fed but its irrelevant without a then and now comparison. There has been a shift to private funding – this is reasonably recent – like in the past decade or so.

  18. July 14th, 2009 at 23:30 | #18

    … and in other news today it has been revealed that only ten angels can fit on the head of a pin.

  19. Jill Rush
    July 14th, 2009 at 23:56 | #19

    I think I will groan too DD. Just because people send their children to religious schools does not of itself mean that those students will have a better knowledge of the bible. I would be surprised if many students at the religious schools can discuss the parables, old testament stories or the ten commandments. Even in this blog there is confusion over the ten Commandments which Moses brought down from the mountain before he destroyed the golden calf (a possible nod to the Hindus); almost certainly there are a number of people educated at religious schools writing on this blog. I put the lack of knowledge down to fewer children attending Sunday School.

  20. Crocodile
    July 15th, 2009 at 12:50 | #20

    Alice :Foolish notions to fund private schools – one of the most ridiculous notions that came out of the Howard government but entirely expected

    Alice, I think you’ll find that private school funding goes way back, at least to the Whitlam government

  21. fred
    July 15th, 2009 at 14:10 | #21

    Alice at #14
    “My local high school is turning away refugees from the private system.”

    For several years in the past, pre GFC by lots, one of my roles in a poor socio -economic public school was to enrol students who arrived from other schools after the intial start of year intake.
    Every term there were several ‘refugees’, a most apt description incidentally thank you for that, from the nearby private schools, seeking to enhance their education needs.
    Interestingly they did not bring with them a pro rata payment of their state govt subsidsed school fees. We used to request such, officially, from all the schools that we received students from after initial intake, the public schools would forward the money, the private schools did not.
    And, of course, because teacher:student ratios were calculated on initial enolment our class numbers increased without a conserquent personnel increase.
    Particularly galling, in our context, was that we used to provide technical expertise to 2 of the private schools re managing their timetable for example, and also provided physical resources eg technical buildings which they did not have.
    For free.
    Very much a one way deal.

  22. Alice
    July 15th, 2009 at 17:02 | #22

    Croc – I know private school funding goes back in time and actually Whitlam increased the component of public school funding – perhaps i should be clearer – one of the most ridiculous notions to come out of the Howard Govt was to greately increase federal funding to the extent that non govt schools receive $5 for every $1 of federal funding on govt schools and as I mentioned above catholic schools are included in non govt schools and I do not consider these schools to be unreasonable in their fees in most cases and I doubt many would. The whole issue of funding is not easily tracked because of State funding and funding from other sources and not easily wade throughable data or data that is unavailable to the public. It is not at all transparent but the bias and extension of private funding under Howard was obvious and Fred raises an interesting point above – there is no transfer of a students pro rata subsidy transfer to a public school when they leave a private school to attend a public school.

    That is galling and it is an outright misappropriation of the govt subsidy.

  23. ABOM
    July 15th, 2009 at 18:18 | #23

    The govt has become a means to swindle. It always has been a means to swindle. If we hadn’t privitised childcare, ABC would not have existed and that idiot South African would have still been doing his milk run and dreaming of chicks and Ferraris. If Centrelink still ran placement, Rudd’s wife would not be a muli-millionaire. If the RBA didn’t coddle banks, Turnbull would have just been another arrogant barrister.

    You either need a philospher-king as ruler of a powerful government (rare) or minimal govt that is constitutionally constrained to focus on the provision of “true” public goods. There is a legitimate debate about what is and what is not a public good. But the function of govt has gone so far from its original purpose it’s become a place to grab as much loot as possible.


    Whether this is because of a general degeneration of morality, whether it is because of a lack of real money (gold) allowing the easy provision of govt loot to private interests, I don’t know.

    All I know is that we are doomed. And I yearn for you, Alice.

  24. fred
    July 15th, 2009 at 19:26 | #24

    What the hey.
    I’ll link to this maybe it’s new to someone and if not it’s worth a revisit.


    “Nothing good ever came out of Scotch College…….”

  25. thewetmale
    July 15th, 2009 at 23:39 | #25

    The last link for me didn’t work, however through the magic of google cache i have got the desired video for anyone also having problems.

  26. Alice
    July 16th, 2009 at 17:52 | #26

    ABOM. Funny ABOM. We are doomed. The biggest market in history is imploding with risk, delusion, madness and uncertainty. Goldman is back in the business of gambling and paying their employees an average of 700,000 each (and bigger bonuses than ever). No wonder they call it Goldman – Give us your gold man!.

    So when does the market depreciate the US dollar (or in other words, when is the next war? – nothing would surprise me anymore.)

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