Be careful what you wish for

So, Kevin Donnelly, newly installed as Pyne’s curriculum advisor wants more religion in Australian public schools. Donnelly bases his arguments on the claim that “Australia is a predominantly Christian country“. More generally, his argument is that we need to inculcate a commitment to the”institutions, values and way of life” of the Australian majority.

Before making arguments like this, Donnelly might want to take a look at the 2011 census data which shows that barely 50 per cent of those aged under 25 stated a Christian religious affiliation. In a dicussion of this last year, we found a combination of demographic effects and switching, which implied that Christians will probably be a minority of the population by the 2020s, as they already are in the UK.

Since around 30 per cent of young people attend private schools most of which state a Christian affilation, it’s a safe bet that the majority of public school students are non-Christian. Certainly, “no religion” is the biggest single denomination for the under 25 age group. So, if you accept Donnelly’s “majority rule” argument, there’s a strong case for saying there should be more explicit atheism in public schools.

More generally, Christians should think carefully before lining up for this kind of culture war. Australia has been mercifully free of the kind of “new atheism” represented by people like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. Atheists, agnostics and the religiously indifferent have been happy to live and let live, without feeling the need to engage in denunciation of religion. But if Christian activists like Abbott and Donnelly want to use their current bare majority to impose their religous views on the rest of us, they ought to expect the same when they become a minority, as is virtually inevitable.

Religion is currently favored in all sorts of ways in Australia, from tax deductions and exemptions to publicly funded chaplaincy programs. There hasn’t been much fuss about this, but if the right chooses to engage in a religious culture war, all that will change.

155 thoughts on “Be careful what you wish for

  1. If we spend all our energies emphasising Judeo-Christian (self-) belief in the importance thereof, will that mean that the great works of such brilliant Western minds, such as Bertrand Russell, will not be acceptable for study at high school? An atheist?

    Personally, I’d like to see philosophy, with ethics as part of it, taught at high school level. Even year 7 or equivalent would be able to handle some of the basics, surely. The benefits would be several-fold: A rich intellectual tradition from Ancient Greece, through the middle ages, Enlightenment, and then the entire western world, the subject of philosophy would enable much of the (non-religious) items on Donnelly’s list to be taught within the school system; furthermore, this approach ensures that logical thought, rational argument, observational prowess, and an ability to examine (an opposing) argument dispassionately, are all able to be taught to school children. Far better than teaching the bible as fact during school hours, one of the ideas that I’ve seen reported in the media (but I hope they are wrong about this).

  2. @alfred venison

    I didn’t follow it closely, but I remember seeing a great documentary about the case.

    What stuck with me was the crucial role of the librarian/researcher (?) who dug up the badly edited cut’n’paste evidence that references to “creationism” had been replaced with “intelligent design”. IIRC that was a crucial point in destroying the credibility of the defendant’s witnesses & case.

    Great from the point of view of a fan, not only of intellectual honesty but also, of a legal system functioning at its best thanks to good forthright litigators and an intelligent judge.

  3. I too think Philosophy would be great to teach at school (there is some at some schools), no kids are too young to like it, in fact the very young love it. As it predates all of the religions by many many centuries it is a good candidate for representing Western culture. However its study consistently produces Leftist adults so Conservatives wont go for it and will just try to crush it out of existence like they have tried to in the University system.

  4. @Mel

    It’s noteworthy that the big churches in Australia have opposed a bill of rights in the past, including a guarantee of freedom of religion. Mostly that’s because they believed they couple extract much greater concessions from government under our relatively loose separation of church and state, than they could from an explicitly secular state and freedom of religion. The Donnelly appointment is an example, but we shouldn’t forget the Gillard government’s continuance off the school chaplains program. Both are examples of religious pork barrelling. So, just quietly, was Latham’s decision to support Howard’s antigay amendments to the Marriage Act,

    It’s also worth noting that the Westborough Baptist Church’s revolting antics would not be legal in countries that have a modern bill of rights like Canada.

  5. @may deplores “an ideology that requires the indoctrination of children to maintain it’s political powers” and asks “(how many people do you know that have converted to various religions as an adult?)”

    A couple of Prime Ministers converted from Methodist to Anglican but I doubt it was spiritual awakenings or even a way to get a guilt-free beer/gin&tonic.

  6. Sort of sounds like the the Corporate Person myth the conservative US Supreme Court and the Tea Party are trying to shove down the necks of Americans.@Paul Norton

  7. No doubt here, if you want to understand Intelligent Design in context, Russell certainly does that in his book, History of Western Philiosophy, discussing Leibniz and Kant.@Donald Oats

  8. @sunshine

    “its study consistently produces Leftist adults”

    Sociological point: there is a higher proportion of conservatives among professional philosophers than among almost any other academic discipline (of course, economics has by far the highest proportion of conservatives).

    Here is the results of the largest survey of the profession: http://philpapers.org/surveys/results.pl

  9. @ChrisB

    You’ve nailed it for my money. But I still worry. When I was a teenager in the 70’s, Anzac day was on the nose. It was daggy, and fading in popularity. Now Anzac day is extremely popular again.

    So perhaps we need to be a bit careful that religion doesn’t make a comeback.

  10. hello@Megan
    i saw that doco, too, and i thought “its about time”, having hung out every day during the trial for the latest day’s transcript, which i’d then devour overnight. i had a palm pilot then with a backlight so i could read it in bed without disturbing my partner. i reckon that doco could do with yet another screening this year.

    i think the early incriminating draft was found in a box of supoeaned material. they neglected to destroy it; its doubtful they even knew it was in the box. i think it was discovered by eugenia scott and her team at the national center for science education (ncse) who were the liaison between the experts and the legal team and the plaintiffs.

    scott brought it to the attention of barbara forrest, who is a professor of philosophy at southeastern louisiana university, and a past expert on creationism & intelligent design. forrest had software to collate different appearances of key words in the five drafts of the book they recovered. forrest was the expert witness for the prosecution whose testimony exposed this subterfuge to the judge.

    the statements of the prosecution experts in this case taken together constitute a veritable crash course in the current state of knowledge in the various disciplines relevant to the rebuttal of intelligent design.

    anybody who wants to “bone up” on the philosophical, pedagogical, biological, palaeontological, theological and constitutional objections to intelligent design, written by experts in their fields, in english a judge can understand, should check out the center for science education (csce).

    the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses – that is to say the parents & teachers who brought the suit against the school board & county – are also worth having a look at, in so far as they give indication of just what it was about intelligent design on this occasion that so offended god fearing pennsylvania christians that they would risk ostracism from their community to get it resolved in court.

    so, if anyone is interested, fire up your browser & go to > ncse.com < then check out the quick links box & follow the link called "intelligent design on trial". its all there and oh what a trove – daily court transcripts, prosecution witnesses, prosecution experts statements, defence witnesses & defence expert statements and finally (if you read only one document) the summary of facts and judgment of judge john e. jones the third. i've read it, its good. its 139 pages but it is, at that, a succinct ordered summary of the evidence presented to the judge in court by both sides and his judgement on it and why. knowledge is power. -a.v.

  11. @alfred venison

    That’s it! Great doco, everyone should see it.

    Funny how the ‘righteous’ need so frequently to resort to lies, subterfuge and dishonesty in order to try to get their way.

    Lying scum.

  12. Graham said:

    In the usa there is a much higher percentage of people attending church yet the situation is so silly that a group of students can’t have a prayer meeting or Bible study at a school with any adult even if they initiate everything. We have a fairly similar section of the constitution to the usa whe[re] it talks about the relationship between religion and government yet historically Australia ha[s] had laws that are constitutional that would be considered highly unconstitutional in the usa because the separation between church and state has been taken to a ridiculous extreme.

    Despite the partial error at the end of the first sentence*, and the opinions expressed with which I strongly disagree, Graham’s summary of the constitutional situation is accurate. Jefferson’s “wall of separation between church and state” was built poorly in Australia. So, Prof. Quiggin, don’t mention the war, because it might already be lost. I explain the reasons for pessimism in the following (warning, pedantry ahead):

    Section 116 of the constitution sets forth church – state relations in Australia. There are 4 provisions, 3 of which are adapted from the US constitution. Briefly, these are 1) an anti-establishment, 2) a no compulsion, 3) a free exercise, and 4) a no religious test clause. The US constitution does not have a no compulsion clause (although this has been subsequently “read into” the constitution).

    The debate over religion in public schools turns on the anti-establishment clause in both constitutions and on how this provision has been interpreted over the years by the SCOTUS in the US, and by the HCA in Australia. Let me analyze the language in the two anti-establishment clauses.

    The 1st Amendment to the US constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Well aware of the US text, the Australian framers wrote instead: “The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion.” The casual reader might conclude that the two clauses say essentially the same thing, the Australian version with clumsy grammar (two “any”s in the same clause for Pete’s sake). This would be wrong. According to SCOTUS and HCA decisions on church – state disputes, the two anti-establishment clauses do have different meanings (the root of my pessimism).

    The SCOTUS interprets the anti-establishment clause in an absolute way — it means what it says. The wall of separation is maintained by a policy of “non-entanglement.” The Federal government will not interfere in religious affairs, and religion will not interfere in government matters. As a result the US provides no funding for religion-affiliated private schools (with small exceptions for secular items), has allowed no religious instruction in public schools since 1948, and has allowed no organized prayer in public schools since 1962 – even at school sporting events. [Nevertheless, individual students may still pray before algebra exams, as they always have, and always will do.]

    In contrast, the HCA finds an invisible, parenthetical (particular) after the second “any” in the anti-establishment clause.The justices read the anti-establishment clause in a relative, not absolute way: The Commonwealth may not advantage one religion over the others. However, the government may make laws that benefit religion in general. Consequently, Australia has government funding of religion-affiliated private schools (the 1982 DOGS challenge to government funding was turned down by the HCA), and since 2006, government funded school “chaplaincy” programs operated by religion-affiliated entities.

    If we look to Australia’s constitution to provide ammunition in Prof. Quiggin’s future culture war over religion in public schools, the pickings are pretty slim as I’ve described. One small glimmer of hope is that the Commonwealth has no power under the constitution to make make laws regarding education and therefore, curricula. Deployment of this slim reed would require a HCA challenge to any future legislation from the Abbott government inserting religion into curricula.

    Finally, if there’s little ammunition, perhaps the war can be won with a sufficiently large army. Secular Australia could seek an alliance with religious Australians who support separation of church and state in principle and would resist religious intrusion into public schools. After all, Jesus saw the wisdom of such separation when he reportedly said “Render unto Caesar etc…”

    Other than that, it’s up to voters in 2016.

    * In 1990, the SCOTUS ruled specifically that high school students may form clubs that meet during “non-instructional” time to pray, read religious texts or discuss religious topics if other student groups are allowed to meet.

  13. And here is is again on RN this morning whinging that people are being mean to him about his qualifications, or lack of. He thinks that the few few reviews and some tobacco funded program development he has done is a good track record.

    But apparently it’s not about having a culture war: it is about standards and we have falling standards.

    “Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s appointment of Kevin Donnelly and Ken Wiltshire to oversee a review of the country’s education systems has seen some make the claim that the ‘culture wars’ have been reignited.

    Suggestions that the education system is skewed to the left and that religion needs a more prominent place in the curriculum has created a predictable backlash on social media.

    The plans have also drawn the fire of supporters of the previous Labor Government’s national curriculum, who claim the review is motivated by ideology.

    But Dr Donnelly says that the review is necessary to improved Australia’s flagging standards in literacy and numeracy.”

    http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/education-review-about-improved-standards-not-ideology/5198658

  14. the proposal to teach religion in public schools has to come up sometime against the question of whose religion will get the leg up in public schools. the religion of the queen? the religion of rome? the religion of martin luther? the religion of john knox? the greek orthodox? the unitarians? the jews? hillsong?

    for a start there is no one religious program that would satisfy both the anglicans and the catholics. central to the catholics for example is veneration of the virgin mary. to the anglicans this is idolatry. i’m kidding about john knox, but there are important differences between the orthodox and the catholics that have differentiated them from each other for millenia. the orthodox churches will never subordinate themselves to the catholics. it would be unacceptable for catholics or anglicans or lutherans or orthodox to take their lead from hillsong nor for hillsong to toe the line of the established religions.

    there are indeed very good reasons for religious parents to want to keep religious instruction in the family and out of schools, for there is no guarantee it will be their religious beliefs that will be taught or that the religious teaching taught will be compatible with core beliefs of their faith. nor for example would progressive anglicans like they have in queenland be content to have their children taught a religious program approved by the reactionary jensen.

    i agree with JKUU that the push back against this will gain credibility by reaching out to and including religiously devout parents in making the case for secular education. -a.v.

  15. JKUU :
    Graham said:
    .
    .
    .

    The 1st Amendment to the US constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Well aware of the US text, the Australian framers wrote instead: “The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion.” The casual reader might conclude that the two clauses say essentially the same thing, the Australian version with clumsy grammar (two “any”s in the same clause for Pete’s sake). This would be wrong. According to SCOTUS and HCA decisions on church – state disputes, the two anti-establishment clauses do have different meanings (the root of my pessimism).
    The SCOTUS interprets the anti-establishment clause in an absolute way — it means what it says. The wall of separation is maintained by a policy of “non-entanglement.” The Federal government will not interfere in religious affairs, and religion will not interfere in government matters. As a result the US provides no funding for religion-affiliated private schools (with small exceptions for secular items), has allowed no religious instruction in public schools since 1948, and has allowed no organized prayer in public schools since 1962 – even at school sporting events. [Nevertheless, individual students may still pray before algebra exams, as they always have, and always will do.]
    In contrast, the HCA finds an invisible, parenthetical (particular) after the second “any” in the anti-establishment clause.The justices read the anti-establishment clause in a relative, not absolute way: The Commonwealth may not advantage one religion over the others. However, the government may make laws that benefit religion in general. Consequently, Australia has government funding of religion-affiliated private schools (the 1982 DOGS challenge to government funding was turned down by the HCA), and since 2006, government funded school “chaplaincy” programs operated by religion-affiliated entities.

    .
    .
    .

    The difference is greater than that. As Jerry Pournelle among others has pointed out, the U.S. wording was deliberately chosen to thwart any federal attempts at dis-establishing existing churches that were established at state level, of which there were originally quite a few (federal constitutional rules did not then extend to what states could do); it was a states rights pragmatic thing, since the various churches and those against all of them could not be reconciled in any logically consistent way. The Australian wording is in fact biassed against religion, in that it creates a ratchet that would entrench any disestablishing measure yet prevent any reversal of such measures.

  16. Have to once again give the right wing an A+ for duplicitous use of language. It’s “indoctrination” when the left does it, it’s “tradition” and “values” when the right does it. According to the same, this is justified because of the massive amount of “bias” in society, i.e., reality not conforming to their normative worldview. Outstanding use of framing the terms and language of the debate.

  17. @jack strocchi
    ” In reality liberal Christianity provided the anthropological basis for a very free and fair society, one that was the envy of the civilized world.”
    Humanism seems to have passed Strochi by. Also, I don’t think that by putting the words ‘liberal’ and ‘Christanity’ next to each other makes the phrase an historical fact. Actually the whole sentence looks like rubbish, what an ‘anthropological basis’ and where can I get one? And where were (are?) these envious bits of the (ahem) civilised world?

  18. I just object to the idea of conducting a review using two reviewers, one of whom has been a Liberal staffer in the past. I wouldn’t want a Labor equivalent involved in a review like this, either. It should be a panel of people whose combined expertise covers the necessary range to do the review in a thorough and appropriate manner, people who are not tied in to the party machines. I’d say neutral, but these days I have no idea how political bias is removed from the equation, beyond suggesting party hacks or people with such strong political associations not be on these review boards.

    Guess our new government thinks differently about command and control of the mug population (i.e. us) than it does about red-tape and business. Intensely irritating.

    On a different note, boy is it hot (but a cooling downturn is predicted…).

  19. Neil @108, thank you for that illuminating link.

    On the question of the relationship between one’s politics and what one studies at university, I tend to think that insofar as there is a causal connection it runs in the opposite direction to what Sunshine suggests (e.g. people study environmental science because they have a pre-existing concern about the environment, rather than being turned into greenies as a result of their studies).

  20. TerjeP :

    Bobalot :Our system of law doesn’t come from the Romans or Christian teachings.Our legal system is based on British Common Law.

    Bobalot — yes you right. However the pagan Romans did invent it first even if the Anglo Saxons reinvented it later. Of course law is everywhere like language but Roman law and English common law have some very commendable attributes.

    when billythabastard,sorry,William the Conker arrived he made a fairish to good attempt to incorporate local laws into the imposed regime.
    moots were the thing.
    local laws were all over the place,Danelaw being just one.

    the common law we have now can’t be said to originate from any one source.
    over the millenia,accretion has been sucked up,tried,and if useless,spat out in a way that no other system has been close in coming to replicate.

    incidentally ,in the ancient Greek democracy those who were allowed to cast a vote constituted about 6% (yes just 6) of the poputation.

    i get the feeling the low wage conservatives would be more than happy to have that sort of democracy.
    as long as they are the 6%.

  21. Some extracts from page 7 of the AFR Weekend :

    Catholic education executive Greg Whitby has blasted the Abbott government for unnecessarily reviewing the national curriculum and asking critics of Labor’s system to do the job.

    :the curriculum is not the main game,” said Mr Whitby, who is the executive director of the Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta in Sydney which includes 78 schools.

    In 2010, in a piece about including Muslim views in education, he [Donnelly] wrote: “some world views are preferable to others and some religious and cultural practices are un-Australian.”

    So perhaps the religious schools in favour of secular education in public schools will be onside.

  22. Paul Norton @ #20 said:

    Every tradition began as an innovation.

    True, so far as it goes. But it does not go far enough, not by a long shot.

    Every abortive, or even catastrophic, human idea begins in innovation. Bad new ideas vastly out-number good new ideas. Thats because new bad ideas are much easier to come up with than good new ideas. That is the notion behind “spanner in the works”.

    The argument was beautifully encapsulated by Stove in 1987:

    There might be good arguments for being anti-conservative in particular circumstances. But are there any good arguments for being anti-conservative in all circumstances? If there are, they would clearly have to be very general arguments: general enough to be philosophical, or at least to be of interest to philosophers. There has only ever been one very general argument for anti-conservatism, as far as I know, and it is not a good one. But it is one which has been so widely thought good that hardly anyone in the last 150 years, touched at all by education, have entirely escaped its influence. I call it the “They All laughed at Columbus’ Argument,” it goes as follows:

    “Throughout almost all of human history, proposed innovations, whether in belief or in behavior, have met with hostility. Death, or persecution, or prison, or at best neglect, has been the regular reward for their efforts. Yet whatever improvements have actually been made in human life, either in our opinions or in our practice, have depended, and must always depend, on some innovator in the first place. We ought, therefore, not merely to tolerate, but to welcome, innovators.”

    We need no books to teach us now how dangerous the Columbus argument is: we have as our teacher instead the far greater authority of experience –experiences nombreuses et fitnestes (as Laplace said in another connection). For “They all laughed at Christopher Columbus” led, by a transition both natural and reasonable, to “It’s an outrageous proposal, but we’ll certainly consider it.” That in turn led, naturally enough to “We must consider it because it’s an outrageous proposal.” And this in turn has brought us to the uncontrollable violence and irrationality of life in the free countries in 1987. People who have surrendered, in their own minds, the right to deride ideas however absurd, or to repress conduct however vicious, are (as the vulgar in Australia say) history.

    As to the weakness of the Columbus argument, it is perfectly glaring. No doubt it is true that, for any change for the better to have taken place, either in thought or in practice, someone first had to make a new departure. But it is equally true that someone first had to make a new departure in order for any change for the worse ever to have taken place. And there must have been at least as many proposed innovations which were, or would have been, for the worse as ones which were, or would have been, for the better. But if in the past bad innovations have been at least as common as good ones, then we have at least as much reason to conclude that we ought to discourage innovators in the future as to conclude that we ought to encourage them.

    …of course, innovators-for-the-worse have always been far more numerous than innovators-for-the-better: they always must be so. Consider the practical side first. Do you understand television sets well enough to be able to repair a non-functioning one or to improve a malfunctioning one? Probably not: very few do. And if you, being one of the great majority, nevertheless do set out to repair or improve a TV set, it is a million to one, because of the complexity of the thing, that you will make it worse if you change it at all.

    Now human societies, at least ones as large and rich as ours, are incomparably more complex than TV sets, and in fact no one understands them well enough to repair or improve them. Whatever some people may claim, there are no society repairmen, as there are TV repairmen. So if anyone gets to try out in practice his new idea for repairing or improving our society, it is something like billions to one that he will actually make things worse if he changes them at all. Of course it is possible that he will make things better, but that is trivially true: it is possible, after all, that a furious kick will repair your ailing TV set.

    The same holds for innovations in belief, at any rate in sciences like physics and chemistry; for those are intellectual structures of a size and richness comparable with our social structures. Even there, of course, it is always possible that a heretic or an amateur is right and the scientific establishment wrong. But then, possibility is cheap, as I have just pointed out: the thing is extremely improbable, that’s all, and you would be extremely irrational to believe it in any given case. Physicists and chemists rightly try, therefore, to maintain a professional organization and a screen designed to exclude the teeming would-be Columbuses whose letters begin, “I do not have a science degree, but ….”

    In less advanced sciences, of course, the situation is proportionately different. And by the time you come to the festering slums, such as sociology and anthropology have now become, the situation is quite reversed. There, almost any innovation would be for the better, and the rankest amateur, if he could get his foot in the door, would be sure to raise the tone of the place out of sight, morally of course but even intellectually.

  23. Some Christian churches now can be very reasonable. I am thinking of both some Protestant groupings and even the pronouncements of the current Pope. By “reasonable” I mean tolerant, inclusive and relatively undogmatic. I also refer to their (sometimes trenchant) criticism of capitalist ideology which I find “reasonable” because I agree with such criticism of capitalist ideology.

    However, we ought to remember where current Christian reasonableness comes from. In simple terms, it comes from being defeated intellectually by the scientific and philosophical Enlightenment. It comes from losing their exclusive power over Western minds. (Except perhaps in the US where this near exclusive power remains to some extent.)

    When Christians had total power they were very dangerous and very unreasonable. They burnt people at the stake as heretics and witches. Of course, this is not a Christian failing per se it is a human failing. Give any elite group of people total power, or allow them to take it, and they inevitably proceed down that path. The methods of killing change and the dehumanising labels change but the real outcome is always the same.

  24. @JKUU
    Re alleged error
    I was referring to student meetings involving adults

    If a group of students go to church with a teacher (as I did when I became Christian) or want to have a Bible study run by an older person they can’t. At least many young people I know who have tried this have found this out (in the south nonetheless). To be fair some teachers in the south are still leading classes in prayer. Therefore it is quite possible that bans on student adult Bible studies has nothing to do with courts though the courts is the reason schools tend to give.

    curious what you “strongly disagreed with”. No obligation to answer, but the only other opinions I gave was the claim that fundamentalist and religious right are not equivalent (though one may be both). I can understand you believing that to be incorrect but “strongly disagree” seems a surprisingly strong reaction :-k

  25. @Ikonoclast

    Absolutely. It’s truly ridiculous to argue that Christianity provided the basis for “a very free and fair society”, or to argue, as Donnelley does, that “[t]olerance, respect for others, equality before the law, individual liberty, honesty and truth-telling are values that define us as a nation and they can only be fully understood in the context of the Christian religion”, when these were values to which the Christian establishment was dragged, kicking and screaming, by outside forces.

    It’s important to note that the Catholic Church was railing against democracy and the rights of citizens (including a right to religious freedom), and arguing for theocracy through absolute monarchy, into the early 20th century, an embarrassingly poor showing, given that Enlightenment ideals had been in currency for so long that they had underpinned the founding of the United States 150 years earlier.

    In 50 years’ time, when Christians have moved on from homophobia, Jack Strocchi’s intellectual descendants will be arguing that Christian values of equality and tolerance provided the basis for gay rights.

  26. Labor are missing in action with respect to explaining why a review—assuming it is even warranted at this early stage—should not have such a small number of people running it, and secondly, why those people must not be holding a position on what they want the conclusions of the review to be, prior to even sitting to do the review in the first place. Review process is to analyse first, conclude later. Kevin Donnelly has put the cart before the horse in several recent interviews and/or news articles.

    And that’s even before discussing the issue of neutrality and objectivity of the reviewers. Or their previous work history. Christopher Pyne is rather precious about it all, methinks.

    We certainly have no shortage of unfolding political theatre to entertain us…

  27. @Luke Elford

    It’s important to note that the Catholic Church was railing against democracy and the rights of citizens (including a right to religious freedom), and arguing for theocracy through absolute monarchy, into the early 20th century, an embarrassingly poor showing, given that Enlightenment ideals had been in currency for so long that they had underpinned the founding of the United States 150 years earlier.

    Let’s not get into the black legend too enthusiastically. The Enlightenment ideals of the United States did not prevent them upholding slavery until the Emancipation Proclamation or maintaining a de facto system of apartheid in all of the southern states (including several border states that did not join the Confederacy) and some of the western states into the 1960s. Nor did the happy ideals of the Enlightenment prevent the US genocide against Native Americans. Even now the US treatment of minorities comes nowhere near international standards. (Neither do we, but that’s another story)

    By contrast the Papacy condemned at least some forms of slavery as early as 1537 although they had very limited success enforcing their teachings in the Catholic empires, or for that matter, in getting the Catholic hierarchy in the US to apply the teaching.

    I’m not defending everything that Catholics and other Christians have done in the last 2000 years, just saying the story is a lot more complex than evil church versus enlightened states. I think the Strocchi claim is just a variant of the customary rightwing claim that everything good that ever happened in the world was their doing.

    It’s also worth considering that religious persecution is by no means a Christian monopoly. The persecution of Buddhists in the second half of the Tang dynasty was every bit as revolting as anything that happened in Europe.

  28. @Paul Norton
    My first encounter with David Stove was his critique of the sillier permutations of Darwinism, which I thought was incisive and witty, and thoroughly revealed the intellectual incoherence underlying Richard Dawkins’ “selfish gene” and “meme” notions.

    Encouraged by that, I moved on to some of his other writings. only to be sadly disappointed. His critique of Popper, Kuhn and Feyerabend, while it had witty moments, ultimately relied on an untenable insistence that science proceeds by induction, and he focused on the linguistic failings of the writers without really tackling the substance of their arguments.

    Many of his essays on other topics came across to me as somewhat better written versions of the rantings of Piers Ackerman. The one on women you’ve linked to is a case in point.

    He had a nice turn of phrase, though.

  29. @Alan

    It’s also worth considering that religious persecution is by no means a Christian monopoly. The persecution of Buddhists in the second half of the Tang dynasty was every bit as revolting as anything that happened in Europe.

    Not to mention the persecution of Muslims by Buddhists taking place in Burma/Myanmar at present. Or the near eradication of the old Bon religion by Buddhists in Tibet. Just sayin’, cos too many people seem to think Buddhism is the “good” religion.

  30. In fairness to Jack Strocchi, it must be acknowledged – and will, I think, be acknowledged by all – that his contributions to online discussions over the past decade and more are an outstanding example of the establishment and maintenance of a tradition with no concessions to the impulse to innovate. 🙂

  31. @graham

    @JKUU
    Re alleged error
    I was referring to student meetings involving adults

    How about I try to clarify. The following is from a Seattle area publication. However, the 2nd and subsequent sentences are general across the US.

    “High schools usually require all clubs to have a faculty adviser to take responsibility for the group’s well-being, ensure that members follow school rules and supervise meetings. Along with a school’s specific policies, the 1984 Federal Equal Access Act also imposes national rules on the formation of high school clubs. The law states that if the school receives government funding, it must provide equal opportunity for meeting places and access to facilities for all religious or political clubs. Meetings should be student-run, refrain from any disruptive activities and have faculty advisers that act only as supervisors for religious clubs, not participants.”

    Thus religious clubs in high schools must have adult faculty advisors, but for meetings on school premises, outside adults with religious affiliations would likely be prohibited. Of course, students are always free to meet individually or in groups with clergy after school hours off site.

    I will decline to discuss the opinions in your post, let’s just say I have problems and move ahead.

  32. @Alan

    The Catholic Church was late to the party when it came to denouncing slavery, just as it was late to the party on democracy, but not as late. In 1866, just after the passing of the 1865 US constitutional amendment abolishing slavery, and thirty years after the passing of the UK’s 1833 Slavery Abolition Act, which abolished slavery in most of the British Empire, Pope Pius IX wrote: “slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law, and there can be several just titles of slavery and these are referred to by approved theologians and commentators of the sacred canons”. It was not until 1888 that the church’s message became one of anti-slavery.

    It’s true that the church condemned various specific acts of slavery, even earlier than 1537, in fact, but it sanctioned others and cannot seriously be said to be have been opposed to slavery—it just wanted slavery on its terms and for its benefit. According to the church, “just” slavery included a child being sold into slavery by their father, the enslavement of the child of a woman who was a slave, and the enslavement of “enemies of Christ”—in other words, anybody who resisted conversion to Christianity. The same pope, Pope Paul III, who in 1537 condemned the enslavement of indigenous people by colonialists in the Americas, in 1545 affirmed the rights of the inhabitants of Rome to own slaves and in 1548 sanctioned the ownership of Muslim slaves in the Papal States.

  33. @jack strocchi
    When I see somebody refer to the ‘uncontrollable violence and irrationality of life in the free countries in 1987’, I have two almost instantaneous reactions: one is to wonder ‘compared to what?’ and the other is to wonder whether I’m dealing with somebody with grumpy-old-man disease who just wants all the kids to get off his lawn.

    Of course that doesn’t demonstrate Stove is in error on the point at issue. But it is good grounds for suspicion.

    Examining Stove’s argument with a suspicious eye, it looks like an example of the fallacy of the slippery slope. Perhaps some people have progressed from the position (1) ‘all proposals for innovation should be considered on their merits, no matter how radical they are; innovativeness, in itself, should not be considered a demerit, and neither should radicalism’ to the position (2) ‘innovativeness in itself should be considered meritorious, and the more radical the greater the merit’; that might be considered, as Stove says, ‘natural’, in the sense that it’s easy to see how people might take that step from (1) to (2). But that doesn’t make the faults of (2) into arguments against (1).

  34. @Luke Elford

    You’re missing the point. You painted in broad strokes a church that endorsed slavery and a United States founded on the ideals of the Enlightenment. Sadly those ideals did not prevent the US engaging in genocide against Native Americans or operating the largest and harshest slave system system in the history of this planet.

    All I say is that the history of the Enlightenment and of the church are both considerably more complex than you seem to recognise.

  35. @Tim Macknay
    I don’t know what David Stove has to say about Richard Dawkins and the ‘selfish gene’, but it’s been my experience that a lot of people attack what they imagine Dawkins meant rather than what he actually wrote. If you’ve found Stove more glib than acute on other topics, as you seem to be suggesting, I suggest that’s good grounds to suspect that his criticism of Dawkins has less merit than it seemed to you on first appearance.

  36. @J-D
    On the second reading, it seemed to me that some aspects of Stove’s critique of runaway Darwinism were less compelling than on the first. But having read Dawkins myself, I thought there was substance to Stove’s criticism. It was based on a close reading of the text of both The Selfish Gene and The Extended Phenotype.

    I think Stove’s critique of ultra-Darwinism may have been more compelling than some of his other work in part because he wasn’t relying on his own prejudices to the same degree – Stove admitted that a number of his friends had tried to dissuade him from publishing a critique of Darwinism as they regarded it as “off the reservation” and were concerned it would damage his reputation.

    Why not read it yourself – you may agree with me, or you may not. The work is titled Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity and other Fables of Evolution. Anyway, a discussion of Stove and/or Dawkins is off topic for this thread (my fault!) so we should probably bring it to an end at this juncture.

  37. ‘uncontrollable violence and irrationality of life in the free countries in 1987?

    Even at the time it was written, this was a very silly statement.

  38. @Alan

    “You’re missing the point.”

    Clearly. I’ve no idea how the fact that the US was (and is) very far from a full embodiment of Enlightenment ideals—or, if you prefer, that Enlightenment ideals of 18th century America fall well short of modern concepts of human rights—undermines my point about the Catholic Church rejecting those ideals which *had* already gained widespread acceptance 150 years earlier. I mean, in the early 20th century women were starting to gain suffrage around the world and the church was still arguing against democracy!

  39. It smacks of the kind of statement about the inherent decadence and rottenness of Western capitalist societies that one normally associates with certain kinds of anti-capitalist radicalism.

  40. @P.M.Lawrence

    The difference is greater than that. As Jerry Pournelle among others has pointed out, the U.S. wording was deliberately chosen to thwart any federal attempts at dis-establishing existing churches that were established at state level, of which there were originally quite a few (federal constitutional rules did not then extend to what states could do); it was a states rights pragmatic thing, since the various churches and those against all of them could not be reconciled in any logically consistent way. The Australian wording is in fact biassed against religion, in that it creates a ratchet that would entrench any disestablishing measure yet prevent any reversal of such measures.

    You are historically accurate in the US case, but that is not germane to the church – state relationship faced today, particularly when it comes down to the issue of religion in public schools. Those relationships have been developed over the years from interpretations by the SCOTUS and the HCA of the religion – state provisions in the constitutions of the US and Australia, repectively. Let me summarize my earlier discussion: State – religion separation in the US is stringent. The state is required to be “neutral” toward religion. Congress (and now the states) cannot make laws that advantage or endorse either a particular religion or (*importantly*) religion in general. In Australia the state – religion provisions have been given a more restricted reading. The Commonwealth (but not necessarily the states) cannot make laws that advantage or endorse a particular religion, but *may* make laws to the advantage of religion in general. This is why, among other things, there is no (or very little) government funding of religious schools in the US, and why there is in Australia.

    I hope this is clear. Bear in mind I’m not a constitutional law expert. If you want a second opinion from an expert, google: Denise Meyerson “Religion – state relations in Australia”. She is a law professor at Macquarie University, and her brief article neatly describes the similarities and differences between the approaches to church – state relations in Australia and the US. She even offers an opinion as to which of the two systems is preferable. I won’t spoil things by revealing her choice, you’ll have to read the article.

    P.S. Thanks for the discussion. I’m a fan of Jerry Pournelle’s science fiction.

  41. @JKUU
    Meetings should be student-run… and have faculty advisers that act only as supervisors for religious clubs, not participants.”

    right so in other words I wasn’t in error…good to know

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