Home > Life in General > Declining Biblical knowledge

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

Categories: Life in General Tags:
  1. silkworm
    July 12th, 2009 at 20:07 | #1

    Isn’t the last commandment about coveting your neighbour’s ass? Seriously, knowledge of the Bible is not important for society. Knowledge of the law is much more useful and beneficial for society. Modern laws owe more to the Magna Carta than they do to any precepts in the Bible.

    Sure most people are in ignorance of the Bible, but so what? Most people are in ignorance of the Koran, the Talmud, and the Hindu and Buddhist scriptures. I’d be more interested in having a survey of priests and pastors to find out what their level of understanding is on basic science, especially evolution and natural selection, and what their stand is on climate change.

  2. Leon
    July 12th, 2009 at 20:13 | #2

    Similarly, a few years ago some media ran a “story” about the Archbishop of Canterbury suggesting that elements of the nativity story found nowhere in the Bible (like the three wise men) were “legend”.

  3. robert
    July 12th, 2009 at 20:39 | #3

    I once attended a Catholic catechism class where one catechumen – a very respectable married lady with kids – opined that Lust was one of the seven sacraments. Hard to top that.

  4. fred
    July 12th, 2009 at 21:16 | #4

    Knowledge of the bible was considered dangerous for ordinary folk at various times in history. Being able to read it may put them at odds with official Church interpretations.

    Hence this sort of thing.

    The history of William Tyndale who was executed for heresy for translating the bible into the vernacular of England and therby making it available to the public.

  5. Alan
    July 12th, 2009 at 21:58 | #5

    There is still a glimmer of hope for me: I have never made a graven image.

  6. July 12th, 2009 at 22:00 | #6

    There was once an edition of the Bible known as the Adulterers’ Bible, because the word “not” was left out of one of the commandments (guess which one). And there was the Printers’ Bible, so called because instead of “put not thy faith in princes” it had “put not thy faith in printers”…

  7. Monkey’s Uncle
    July 12th, 2009 at 22:17 | #7

    “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”

    Congratulations to the 40% who did not “know” this to be the case.

    Christmas and Easter, and many other days on the Christian calendar besides, almost certainly began as pagan festivals and predate Christianity.

  8. SJ
    July 12th, 2009 at 22:35 | #8

    Snopes on the three wise men.

  9. Martin
    July 13th, 2009 at 02:10 | #9

    Dorothy Parker reputedly called her budgie Onan ‘because he spilt his seed on the ground’ [Gen 38:9]. Now how many people get it today? (And how many of them get all offended?) Or why is Peter the patron saint of condom users? [Luke 4:4]

  10. July 13th, 2009 at 06:15 | #10

    Christmas presents were invented by God in the 13th Century during a severe economic recession. The idea was that all the extra retail demand would stimulate the economy (Kevin Rudd hadn’t been invented back then so God had to do all the work). However despite earlier decrees the naughty humans had failed to build sufficient department stores and so the stimulus ultimately failed. God felt like a bit of a failure (even though it wasn’t her fault) and has been in retreat ever since. However like eating too much at Christmas and drinking too much at Christmas giving away too many electrical appliances at Christmas quickly became a tradition. Soon entire industries were born but still nobody recognised this as the mysterious work of God. ;-)

  11. Chris Warren
    July 13th, 2009 at 06:18 | #11

    I once went to a church service where I got a free sip of wine.

    Apparently you can do this every week. Its free but there is a long wait.

  12. Alice
    July 13th, 2009 at 07:29 | #12

    Terje…very funny!.
    Chris…there is the problem of swine flu transmission with the holy wine. Thats why Mel Gibson hasnt been drinking much lately.

  13. July 13th, 2009 at 09:24 | #13

    Actually the important thing about the ten commandments is not naming them in order, it’s just being able to name them in the first place.

  14. Paul Norton
    July 13th, 2009 at 09:25 | #14

    THen there is the question of how to reconcile a belief in God’s omnipotence with the notion that the lack of gluten in the communion bread might constitute an impediment to proper transubstantiation.


  15. smiths
    July 13th, 2009 at 11:16 | #15

    “Most people are in ignorance of the Koran, the Talmud, and the Hindu and Buddhist scriptures.”
    this is completely inaccurate,
    muslim knowledge of the qur’an is thorough and extensive, in muslim countires children are required to learn it by heart,
    the last time i was in morocco and went out to the desert near a town called zagora we ended up sitting round with our guides having a sing along,
    the ‘westerners’ including me were an embarrassment, we knew almost no music we could sing to,
    they, on the other hand, sang beautifully together for hours, and the vast majority of it was verses from the qur’an,
    i suspect most jews would know a hell of a lot more of the talmud than christians do of the bible,
    its made even worse for catholics who have a central authority that decides what will be read each and every week across the world and always manages to cut out the most profound and interesting bits to keep the masses on track

  16. smiths
    July 13th, 2009 at 11:24 | #16

    anyway, this story is the sort of crap beat up you would normally avoid john,

    knowledge of all kinds is in decline in western cultures apart form obscure specialised job knowledge,
    good use of language is in decline, knowledge of the world around you is in decline,
    the only kind of knowledge that is not in decline is knowledge of whether brad and angelina had an argument and which dude made the best meal on master chef,
    to use a biblical style if i may,
    the cultural fields are barren and lacking in sustenance, the fruits that grow of them are weak and wilting,
    growing minds, relationships, communal institutions,
    to the degree that these things turn out well they do so against the odds

  17. Aquinas
    July 13th, 2009 at 11:37 | #17

    Knowledge of The Bible might not be necessary for day to day life, but in order to be properly educated, especially in history and the humanities, knowledge of The Bible is absolutely necessary

  18. Chris Warren
    July 13th, 2009 at 12:45 | #18

    Dear Aquinas

    The knowledge of the Bible is absolutely NOT necessary.

    And in fact for most of its history, and at the peak of God worship, the Church explicitly refused to allow people to obtain a copy of the Bible in English.

    The Church and King Henry actually murdered anyone who tried to distribute English language bibles in England.

    Finally, and after religious tortures, mass murders and terrorism, the Lollard movement was expunged. When the masses were allowed to find out what was actually in the Bible, the Christian religion was exposed as a bunch of silly fables selected and edited from a range of prehistoric myths.

    It seems to me that the various knowledges of the Koran, Bible, or whatever has done far more damage to human civilisation than any other cause.

    I wish people would forget about them.

  19. July 13th, 2009 at 12:49 | #19

    Pr Q says:

    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.

    Not in Australia. Enrollments in Non-Government (primarily religious) schools continues to easily out-strip the stagnating (secular) Government school sector. The N-G schools usually run well-attended Religious Education subjects where knowledge of the Bible is assiduously propagated. The Age (2009) reports:

    MANY parents are abandoning public education, with the number of students enrolling in private schools continuing to outstrip enrolments in government schools.

    Secondary school enrolments grew by 13,569 between August 2007 and August last year, but most of those students — almost 12,000 — opted for independent or Catholic schools instead of the public system, according to data released yesterday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

    The data represents a trend in education over the past decade: the government school system has grown by 1 per cent since 1998 while the non-government sector has grown by 21.9 per cent.

    Its possible that this long term trend away from secular schools may be a proxy measure of “white flight“. This seems to be becoming a bigger problem nowadays, going by the constant nervous injunctions of our leaders, especially cash-strapped education authorities, to not be so racist.

    But more likely it represents a much nicer, more positive societal trend towards more traditional moral values with a strong disciplinary basis. In short, exactly the kind of education the Bible preaches. The SMH (2003) special reports:

    The stampede of non-believers into the religious-based education sector has turned schools into the new churches, writes Kelly Burke.

    Their parents deserted the institutionalised churches in droves. But now the 30-something generation is paying thousands of dollars a year to get their sons and daughters out of the state education system and into the arms of Christian educators.

    For this group, they offer the perfect combination of private education and old-fashioned values. Like the churches of yore, these schools are the focus of community life where strict ethical codes, morality and discipline carry equal or even greater weight than the ability to deliver the perfect HSC result.

    This religious education trend is perfectly consistent with, and depends on, a more inclusive attitude towards minorities (women, coloreds and even gays). So long as the end product is a nice Christian gentleman or lady. Very often with an Asian appearance.

    This is in sharp contrast to the sad decline of modern British secondary education alluded to in the ABC article, of which Bible ignorance is just one indice. The ignorant philistines who failed to inculcate a foundational document of our civilization have also produced a generation of lads and ladettes who now plague the streets with their vomiting, vandalism and vulgarity. Theodore Dalrymple charts the decline of the British schoolboy:

    The Economist freely admits that British youth is the worst behaved and most antisocial in Europe. It is worse educated, drinks more alcohol, takes more drugs, commits more crime, and has more children out of wedlock than any of its continental counterparts. You might think that there is not much room for consolation there.

    Apparently the Economists thinks that the burgeoning of British lumpen-prole feed is a good thing because it is cross-class, signifying a break-down in class barriers. Something for the secularist to console themselves the next time they gaze with a mixture of horror and incomprehension at the latest extrusions and effusions from Serrano, Damien Hurst or anything on show at the Saatchi gallery.

  20. derrida derider
    July 13th, 2009 at 12:53 | #20

    Christmas was a created by Constantine because he wasn’t game to take away the people’s winter solstice pissup. Like Saturnalia, the devout are expected to celebrate a god’s birthday by exchanging garish presents, overeating, getting drunk and squabbling with the relatives. It says a lot about what sort of god both cults are celebrating. The Christmas tree stuff was (much later) pinched from the Nordic barbarians – Ygdrassil and all that.

    Easter, of course, draws heavily on the Eleusian mysteries (the god eaten by his followers, dying and rising again after 3 days). It’s their spring festival complete with fertility symbols (eggs, rabbits, etc) – quite unlike Passover to which it is nominally tied.

  21. Alice
    July 13th, 2009 at 13:01 | #21

    I cant say anything here because I was trying to remember the ten commandments and could only come up with six (I think I broke the other four and erased them from memory banks).

  22. derrida derider
    July 13th, 2009 at 13:10 | #22

    Oh, and Jack – there’s a far simpler explanation for the “flight” to private (not just religious, let alone Xtian) schools. They’re far more heavily subsidised by government and so you get far more bang for your buck from your fees than in the past. If all the extra public funds had been put into public schools instead I reckon the flight would be in the other direction.

    Note this is not necessarily an argument against those subsidies. Some people (not me) will argue that we get more value overall from these subsidies than from direct expenditure on government schools. But it does mean that you can’t claim that the movement to private schools is just a shift in tastes or values.

  23. July 13th, 2009 at 13:11 | #23

    “Declining Biblical knowledge”? Possibly, and welcome if true. But unfortunately that doesn’t equate to declining religion. In fact there may almost be a positive correlation – my impression is that the evangelicals of today (like the catholics of yesterday, as several have pointed out) don’t actually approve of biblical knowledge or thought or analysis, but rely totally on those appalling American-style preachers to tell them what’s what and what to think about what’s what. And evangelicals seem to be growing in numbers – yet another sign of the dumbing down of society.

  24. jquiggin
    July 13th, 2009 at 13:38 | #24

    What DD said

  25. Phyllis P.
    July 13th, 2009 at 14:04 | #25

    Except private school students are nowhere near as heavily subsidised as government school students. In fact, over the past decade, public schools received the greatest boost in funding in Australian history. Meanwhile, the average private school student is funded at less than 50% of the public school student, with a cap of 70%, and many as low as 20%.

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

    Aquinas :
    Knowledge of The Bible might not be necessary for day to day life, but in order to be properly educated, especially in history and the humanities, knowledge of The Bible is absolutely necessary

    Probably true for Europe in the middle ages through to 1800 or so, especially art, but hardly required for Asian studies or modern history.

    Chris Warren :
    The knowledge of the Bible is absolutely NOT necessary…

    Can we all please leave off repeating the same old arguments that we have read 1000 times each in previous internet discussions. It seems that any discussion of religion on the net consists of two sides shouting the same things at each other and not listening to each other at all.

    @Jack Strocchi
    But what is this ‘religious knowledge’ that the students are being taught? a long string of ‘texts’ removed from their context? A few proof texts followed by a large amount of propaganda allegedly based on the Bible (eg a ‘proof’ of America’s ‘manifest destiny’ or other countries’ equivalents)? A study of the religious history of the Eastern Mediterranean during the Roman Empire and the resulting texts, including Gnostic, Manichaean and other non-proto-orthodox-Christian texts?

  27. July 13th, 2009 at 14:23 | #27

    derrida derider says: July 13th, 2009 at 13:10 #22

    Derrida Derider says:

    it does mean that you can’t claim that the movement to private schools is just a shift in tastes or values.

    But of course there has been “a shift in tastes or values”. Societies, as they get more affluent, tend to prefer education to be more customised to suit the customers preferences. Education is a superior good with significantly exclusive (ie chargeable) characteristics. This leads to a shift towards private schools.

    More over the broader cultural conservative shift from Keating-Hewson to Howard-Rudd is unmistakeable. Parents with humungous mortgages and 1.6 trophy children are not going to risk all for the sake of trendy progressive educational fads.

    Derrida Derider says:

    Jack – there’s a far simpler explanation for the “flight” to private (not just religious, let alone Xtian) schools. They’re far more heavily subsidised by government and so you get far more bang for your buck from your fees than in the past. If all the extra public funds had been put into public schools instead I reckon the flight would be in the other direction.

    No, you are factually wrong. Private school fees have been rising faster than state subsidies to private schools.

    Govt schools receive almost twice as much public funding per student as do non-Govt schools. The non-Govt schools more than make up the difference by charging school fees and other sources of income (fetes, working bees and the like).

    Secularists should thank their lucky stars that a large number of parents are prepared to put their hands in their pockets to pay for the private education of their kids. It improves education, the economy and civil society. Keven Donnelly in the Age provides the hard facts:

    In 2008 the Productivity Commission reported that state and federal governments provide only 57.1 per cent of the money needed to run Catholic and independent schools. The 2005-06 figures show that, while governments outlay $11,243 to educate a state school student, on average, non-government school students receive $6268.

    Without this massive support from the private sector our education system would have to be funded by much higher levels of taxes.

    With about 33 per cent of Australian students in non-government schools, this saves taxpayers the cost of providing places in state schools — at least $5 billion a year, according to the Association of Independent Schools of Victoria.

    And its not just saving money. It leads to better education:

    OECD-funded research by Ludger Woessmann reinforces that non-government schools, measured by results in international maths and science tests, are best at raising academic standards.

    After analysing stronger performing education systems, Woessmann concludes that a key indicator is a well-resourced and autonomous non-government sector. He states: “Students perform substantially better where private school operation creates choice and competition.”

    The evidence also shows that non-Government schools tend to generate more, not less, stocks of social capital.

    US research, cited in Mark Harrison’s book Education Matters, also concludes that non-government schools promote social stability and social capital. Australian education commentator Andrew Norton’s analysis of the 2005 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes (which measures indicators like accepting diversity, tolerance and community involvement) found those who had attended non-government schools rated higher than those from government schools.

    This is, when you think about it, not such a counter-intuitive idea. THe Churches have been in the “making nice” business for almost two millenia. Constant injunctions to “love one another” and so on eventually get through to the thickest of schoolkid heads. The path is more arduous for some secular intellectuals, though.

  28. smiths
    July 13th, 2009 at 15:05 | #28

    it really warms my heart to think of all those anonymous philanthropists,
    helping out the tax payer by sending their children to private schools,
    by th sounds of things those private schools are getting robbed compared to the public schools,
    thank the lord for a two tiered system of education and all of the benifits it provides to the ordinary taxpayer

  29. July 13th, 2009 at 15:06 | #29

    Martin July 13th, 2009 at 14:14 #26

    @Jack Strocchi
    But what is this ‘religious knowledge’ that the students are being taught? a long string of ‘texts’ removed from their context? A few proof texts followed by a large amount of propaganda allegedly based on the Bible (eg a ‘proof’ of America’s ‘manifest destiny’ or other countries’ equivalents)? A study of the religious history of the Eastern Mediterranean during the Roman Empire and the resulting texts, including Gnostic, Manichaean and other non-proto-orthodox-Christian texts?

    Dont be such a philistine. Here is a quote showing how ignorance of the Bible sets up a once-proud culture for decline into drunken stupour:

    Youngsters were particularly disillusioned, telling researchers that the Bible was “old-fashioned”, “irrelevant” and for “Dot Cottons” – a reference to the church-going EastEnders’ character, the National Biblical Literacy Survey 2009 showed.

    That is the seed bed for the lads and ladettes who now flood the airwaves of Britain and swarm the hostels of former colonies.

    I would have thought that a knowledge of the civilization of Occidental antiquity is something worthwhile. Since that was the fundamental precursor to the civilization of Enlightenment modernity.

    More generally, Christianity was a dialectical synthesis of the Semitic litugical, Italic legal and Hellenic logical traditions. Neatly packaged in the Bible and associated texts. Perhaps we can still learn from these old-fashioned gits?

    Never mind values or supernatural beliefs. Think how our language has been exalted by being radiated through the Biblical prism. Try to imagine great speeches (by Lincoln, Churchill and King) without the Bible as a guide to cadence and reference.

    The poverty of contemporary imaginative literature is obviously related to secular ignorance of Biblical language. Compare it to the sermons of black preachers whose rhetoric still has the capacity to move.

    British literature used to be the best in the world, in significant part due to its writers being cosmopolitan with an excellent grounding in the study of antiquities. Think Lawrence, Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Powell, William Golding, Anthony Burgess, Kingsley Amis, V. S. Naipaul, Graham Greene et al. Its impossible to imagine these writers without some foundation in Biblical knowledge.

    But nowadays British literature is only a shadow of its former self.

  30. ABOM
    July 13th, 2009 at 15:06 | #30

    Lord have mercy on my soul, I have sinned (again) against our overlord bankers.

    Alice, check out this heated debate between Andrew and ABOM on his website:


    I have to admit I’m just showing off to impress you. Do you like my peacock feathers? Are you impressed enough to elope with me?

  31. Alice
    July 13th, 2009 at 15:10 | #31

    I dunno how any of you can come up with the idea that private schools need so much subsidising from the public purse

    “In the 2007 federal budget, funding to private schools was set to increase by 29% to $7 billion, while funding to public schools increased only 9.6% to $3.4 billion”

    Rudd kept it going. I dont suppose you stop to consider that there was a white flight from public schools precisely because of underfunding and since the GFC the white flight has reversed. There isnt more choice or competition and fees just keep rising in private schools. Ill exclude catholic schools from this view because they dont charge that much and they have been around a long time – as for the rest of the privates – why should they need that much of a subsidy?. 70% of children go to public schools and many public schools are desperate for funding for simple repairs like broken toilets or taps and leaking roofs.

    The argument that it “private school public funding” helps the “public school public funding” budget is a superb piece of wonderland logic.
    Public school funding helps more parents (have more money in their pocket to spend on goods and services instead of some already wealthy schools financial investments or never finished building fund) and children.

  32. Alice
    July 13th, 2009 at 15:11 | #32

    ABOM – Ive been missing you badly…!!

  33. ABOM
    July 13th, 2009 at 15:16 | #33

    Alice – I miss you too! There’s hours of fun on Andrew’s website so if you miss me, just click on some of the links. That will keep you entertained until I arrive.

    I imagine you as an Ozzie Rapunzel, stuck in the mad debt-based monetary Hell of this banker-controlled economy, waiting for your knight to arrive.

    I have already been cut so many times by the zombie-banker oligarchy there’s not much of me left, and I’m not much of a knight, but whatever’s left of me is yours my precious gold-bug princess!

  34. July 13th, 2009 at 15:18 | #34

    Federal funding is not most of the school budget – most of it comes from the State governments. To look at the funding arrangements as if the State spending does not exist is just plain wrong.

  35. Phyllis P.
    July 13th, 2009 at 15:19 | #35


    Are you being serious or disingenuous? Why have you omitted the states funding? Also, the funding follows the students. If students flee the public system, which they have, then of course money going to the private system will increase.

    But I am curious why you have deliberately avoided the states funding. I am sure you know only too well, that is where the public school funding comes from. Or are you an AEU flunkie continuing the habit of spreading misinformation?

  36. Alice
    July 13th, 2009 at 15:38 | #36

    ABOM – yes ypour peacock feathers are gorgeous (oh youve done a bad thing insulting the bankers – oh yes, Lord have mercy..)but those normal distributions and whatever else they use…Q.4 2008 ha ha ha. Its a bit like this piece I found by a group of very very eminent economists discussing the period of high inflation in the 1970s. This is priceless..

    “In searching for an explanation for this inflation, this paper can be likened to an investigative report following a railroad or airline crash. The news of the disaster – in this case, the failure to forecast inflation accurately – was reported long ago and by now is well known. But what can we say beyond the fact that the disaster occurred? ”

    replace the word “inflation” with… Q4. 2008 Ha Ha Ha!

  37. Alice
    July 13th, 2009 at 15:46 | #37


    Try to stay polite. I presume you have had a private school education. You really should know better. The public system is grossly underfunded and in disarray..welcome to the class divide where Sinclair and Amanda argue for more public funding for their precious children, Henrietta and Sebastian.

    Tell Sinclair to pay more income tax Phyllis.

  38. smiths
    July 13th, 2009 at 16:13 | #38

    as i am sure you are aware alice, my post at #28 was deeply sarcastic

    That is the seed bed for the lads and ladettes
    jack, the seed bed for poor quality behavior is a dishonest and sickly culture,

    why should any kid below the age of twenty care about society’s norms,
    the parents of gen y and those younger have bankrupted public institutions, created an increasingly unstable geoplotical world, and ruined the planets environment,
    being well adjusted in a sick society is a problem, not something commendable

    the rational response too these times is large amounts of drugs and plenty of multinational shop smashing as the casseurs well know

  39. Peter Evans
    July 13th, 2009 at 16:32 | #39

    @Jack Strocchi

    Hi Jack – you’ve got the affluence thing arse about. As societies get more affluent, more and more students get educated at state schools, and that’s certainly been the story in Australian secondary education. It wasn’t until the 1960s that Australia finally had truly universal secondary public education (it varied from state to state, and leaving aside indigenous people). Sure, there once was a time that to get a good education you had to go to a fee-paying school (some state funded secondary grammar schools date to the 1860s, but it was far from universal), but that’s not the case now, and it’s due to Australia becoming a wealthier and better country. Very similar story overseas in Europe and North America.

    Anecdotally, I reckon you can judge a person’s attitude to private education by finding out if their family (or half of it) was fully middle class by about 1925 or so. If they were, they’ll have a few generations of private schooling and all the hoopla they inherit from that about status and social positioning (it simply isn’t rational to ascribe some of your social worth to where your parents sent you to school, but a lot of people do), and they’ll think it’s vitally important.

  40. July 13th, 2009 at 16:53 | #40

    Compare the funding to the public system in WA on a per student basis to the level that Latham identified as the level at which a private school becomes too expensive and they are nearly identical – at around $12,000 per student.
    The public system is not underfunded on a per student basis. The funds are just being poorly spent.

  41. July 13th, 2009 at 16:58 | #41

    July 13th, 2009 at 16:13 #38

    jack, the seed bed for poor quality behavior is a dishonest and sickly culture

    I could not agree more. But the causes of cultural decay are at issue here, not the symptoms.

    I liked the old-fashioned traditional British culture. It was like a gigantic attic filled with amazing treasures from by-gone age. Now it seems to have been flushed down a memory hole, partially re-trieved by Merchant Ivory, I know. But thats a little kitch for me.

    The collapse of British civility has been noticed by numerous commentators accross the ideological board. Its one of the tragedies of (post-)modern life.

    Not so long ago (mid-eighties for me) one could go to Britain and actually see British people exemplifying these virtues in the course of their day-to-day life. Upstairs & Downstairs, Callan & Lonely, Steptoe & Sons et al were all based on archetypal British characters. Nowadays one has to make do with an episode of Antique Roadshow if one wants a glimpse of Britain as it was before the Fall.

    The British ruling class, for all its faults, had a lot of, well, class. And it rubbed off on the aspiring middle classes through the great cultural engines of the public schools. Which led to a great spreading of civilization throughout the British Isles and thence on to the Empire.

    British civility is a complex phenomenon made up of disparate cultural traditions. But British Christianity – encompassing both Established High Church, Evangelical Low Church and Non-Conformist Chapel – was absolutely foundational in spreading civil values up and down the class structure.

    One reason for the astounding growth of Empire through the 19thC was the muscular brand of Christianity practised by British officers, missionaries and traders. This did an enormous amount of good in bucking up the morale and stregthening moral fibre, particularly in the working classes who had a marked tendency to gin-soaked Hogarthian debauchery.

    This had an obvious good personal effect but also a good political effect. British socialism still bears the stamp of its Non-Conformist origins.

    But this cultural capital, accumulated over centuries, seemed to evaporate with stunning rapidity from the eighties on-wards. The ignorance of the Bible is only one manifestation.

    You can see it everywhere else, in the spread of downscale Estuary accents to the BBC, in the gruesome chumminess of British Bobbies, in the cringe-inducing political correctness of local government authorities, in the cut-backs mutilating the Black Watch.

    Britain has flushed its glorious history down a memory hole.

  42. Phyllis P.
    July 13th, 2009 at 17:01 | #42


    It is very difficult to remain polite when one suspects one is debating with somebody who is deliberately lying, and knows she is.

  43. smiths
    July 13th, 2009 at 17:02 | #43

    it may not be rational to ascribe social worth based on schooling,
    but the network you are admitted to when you attend the top level schools is very real in terms of maintaining social positioning,
    thats the whole point of private education,
    do you think all those girls who attend the best schools only to end with the overwhelming majority of them as trophy wives driving beautiful children in mercs and bmw’s really need an education, no way, they just need to be there,
    their access to the bankers and lawyers of the future is then guaranteed

  44. Alice
    July 13th, 2009 at 17:08 | #44

    Lol Smiths#38 – I agree. I dont know how it came about that the well enriched from our economy think they have a right to plunge their well manicured hands into public subsidies for their children, want to pay less tax than ever in history (if any at all), see the public income tax bucket as a defacto further tax cut to themselves, and indignantly think they have a god given right to it.

    (Lord forgive me my evil thoughts just now…)

    It should be a progressive tax system – not a cashback offer for elite and semi elite private schools. The parents should be damn thankful they get away with paying as little income tax as they do these days (and that works well – not)), so they can at least get their chequebooks out for Henrietta and Sebastian’s schooling and be happy with one less O’seas holiday a year.

    This attitude is highly obnoxious and half the reason the infrastructure is degraded and inequality higher than its been since the great wool boom enriched Australia’s wealthy graziers in 1950. These self righteous prigs whos’ collective sense of entitlement has overwhelmed themselves and underwhelmed the majority of us, may want to note, the graziers back then didnt come looking for cash handouts and paid 67% of the income tax bill that year.

    Lost their table manners totally.

  45. Alice
    July 13th, 2009 at 17:11 | #45

    Im not debating Phyllis – when attitudes like yours undermine the entire progressive principles and purpose of the income tax system. Its pathetic.

  46. jquiggin
    July 13th, 2009 at 17:18 | #46

    Phyllis, please read the comments policy. Any further personal attacks and you will be banned.

  47. jquiggin
    July 13th, 2009 at 17:19 | #47

    To all commenters, let’s put the thread back on track. Nothing more on school funding, please.

  48. July 13th, 2009 at 17:20 | #48

    If you look at systems where the private sector is effectively excluded from the provision of education all you get is rationing in another form – where an area is known to have a good school that land prices in a catchment area rise. What is the real difference if you pay for an improved education for your child through paying more for your house or through a chequebook?
    Personally, I would prefer to see a system where parental choice is the primary method of allocation of education spending and one where every child has a good chance to get into a good school.

  49. July 13th, 2009 at 17:21 | #49

    Sorry – PrQ. Did it again – just after your request.

  50. July 13th, 2009 at 17:24 | #50

    On topic, then – a difficulty with the ten commandments is that there is no real agreement on what, precisely, they are. What the Catholics and many Protestants count as the preamble Jews tend to count as the first of them. That said, not even knowing more than three or so is pretty embarrassing.

  51. jquiggin
    July 13th, 2009 at 17:29 | #51

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

  52. fred
    July 13th, 2009 at 18:56 | #52

    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.

  53. Alice
    July 13th, 2009 at 19:35 | #53

    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.

  54. July 13th, 2009 at 22:39 | #54

    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).

  55. SJ
    July 13th, 2009 at 23:36 | #55

    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.

  56. Jill Rush
    July 13th, 2009 at 23:45 | #56

    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.

  57. Martin
    July 14th, 2009 at 02:25 | #57

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

  58. Alice
    July 14th, 2009 at 06:25 | #58

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

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

  59. Paul Norton
    July 14th, 2009 at 09:36 | #59

    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.

  60. SJ
    July 14th, 2009 at 11:37 | #60

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

  61. derrida derider
    July 14th, 2009 at 12:16 | #61

    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.

  62. July 14th, 2009 at 13:26 | #62

    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.

  63. SJ
    July 14th, 2009 at 21:38 | #63

    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.

  64. Alice
    July 14th, 2009 at 22:11 | #64

    @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.

  65. Alice
    July 14th, 2009 at 22:19 | #65

    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.

  66. SJ
    July 14th, 2009 at 22:43 | #66

    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.

  67. Alice
    July 14th, 2009 at 23:10 | #67

    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.

  68. July 14th, 2009 at 23:30 | #68

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

  69. Jill Rush
    July 14th, 2009 at 23:56 | #69

    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.

  70. Crocodile
    July 15th, 2009 at 12:50 | #70

    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

  71. fred
    July 15th, 2009 at 14:10 | #71

    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.

  72. Alice
    July 15th, 2009 at 17:02 | #72

    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.

  73. ABOM
    July 15th, 2009 at 18:18 | #73

    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.

  74. fred
    July 15th, 2009 at 19:26 | #74

    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…….”

  75. thewetmale
    July 15th, 2009 at 23:39 | #75

    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.

  76. Alice
    July 16th, 2009 at 17:52 | #76

    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.)

Comments are closed.