Kylie Orr Blog - Part One

I've been participating this week in one of the Age online blogs. Kylie Orr wrote an article questioning whether specific religion should be taught in public schools. As one might anticipate, the twin emotive topics of the education of our children plus religion lead to an explosion on the comments thread. For the most part, respondents were civil and a robust and healthy dialogue broke forth into cyberspace.

I have found myself feeling quite sympathetic to many of the “anti CRE camp”, in that (in NSW at least) there appears to be no accredited curriculum and it seems that anyone of any faith can teach children anything for half an hour a week. It seems to me if you’re going to teach about religion in schools I’d prefer it not done at all than that it be done badly. That is not meant to be critical of the many CRE volunteers doing wonderful creative teaching, but because I was made aware there are horror stories out there emerging from an unregulated system.

However, I’d like to make an argument that good quality accredited religious education has a legitimate place in schools (voluntarily out of respect both of conscience and of diverse family cultural backgrounds).

Even the most hardened skeptic might pause for thought about the benefits to human well-being that religious faith provides. There is a growing body of evidence that there are significant mental and even physical benefits to faith practice, and particularly strong evidence that faith brings great comfort and strength to those who do find themselves chronically unwell. I quote from this study:

“A great multitude of psychological, psychiatric, medical, public health, sociological and epidemiological studies conducted during the past two decades proved the beneficial and protective effects of religious involvement (the term “religious involvement” will be used interchangeably with other terms such as “religious engagement” and “religiousness” in this review, and this will be elaborated in the part on method later in this paper) on people’s mental and physical health as well as on their longevity. These studies also showed religion is an important aspect of human life. Evidence supporting these findings emerges from both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies, as well as from studies based on both clinical and community samples (George et al., 2002; Plante & Sherman, 2001). This empirical evidence apparently contrasts with the skeptical and hostile attitudes towards religion of Freud and earlier mental health scholars, which were largely formed and based on their negative experiences with religion and their encounters with the psychiatric patients (Meissner, 1984; Zilboorg, 1958; Koenig, 2001).

Over the past two decades, a lot of studies have uncovered a strong positive association between religiousness and mental health. This association has extended across various populations, including samples of the young, adults, older people, general community residents, immigrants and refugees, college students, the sick, addicts, homosexuals, persons of parenthood, individuals with mental health problems and personality disorders (Alvarado, et al., 1995; Baline & Croker, 1995; Braam et al., 2004; Chang et al, 1998; Donahue & Benson,1995; Idler & Kasl, 1997; Jahangir et al., 1998; Kendler et al., 1996; Koenig, George & Titus, 2004; Levin & Taylor, 1998; Mickley et al., 1995; Miller et al., 1997; Pardini et al. 2001; Plante et al. 1995, 2001; Richards et al. 1997; Selway et al., 1998; Thearle et al., 1995; Woods et al, 1999).”

(Any of you readers who are REALLY square can Google/try out Science Direct to look at all the studies cited here.)

I would also note a study that indicates children seem to be born with belief in God “hard-wired” into their brains. Giving language to this intuitive sense of a Creator, and giving children the spiritual resources of prayer and meditation, to me appears to be an entirely healthy thing.

Now this does not mean I am militant over teaching about faith... I hold the words of Romans 12:18 in my heart: "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." Some battles aren't worth picking for the sake of peace. But it is a pity that the benefits of faith are so little known, while toxic examples of faith communities (spiritual abuse, sexual abuse, cults etc.) are so strongly highlighted.


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Shifty1 said…
While I would agree with your sentiments regarding concern over WHAT is being taught in schools, as far as "religion" goes, I don't agree that the fight over teaching religion AT ALL in schools isn't worth having.

You quote Paul, from his letter to the Romans, as commending peace as an over-riding virtue. However, Paul's life and ministry argues for believers to take a STRONG stand for the Gospel, not shy away from fighting for it's presentation....just to maitain the "peace"! Paul was steadfast in his exhortations to believers to do all they can do to spread the gospel, in every situation.

Additionally, Jesus himself might have a different take on adults who do not fight for the opportunity of presenting the Gospel to children....

"“But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,it would be better for him to have a huge millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the open sea." Matthew 18:6
Shifty1 said…
Oh and any new thoughts on the whole ClimateGate thing, now that you've had a couple of weeks to digest the implications?
Janet Woodlock said…
Hi Shifty, nice to hear from you... I haven't been online much lately. I remain cautious over the "climategate" emails... see links below:

My position is that if you're going to teach religious education in public schools (which, unlike the US, is a right in every Australian state) you may as well do it well. I tend toward the view you lead "little ones to stumble" more if you mislead them than if leave them ignorant.
Janet Woodlock said…
I don't know how to get rid of this stupid spam! Any blogger users know how to get rid of selected comments? I've added word verification to help get rid of it though. Grrr.
Shifty1 said…
Fortunately, I've not had to deal yet with the spammers. Or maybe that's unfortunate.....maybe my blog isn't of interest even to spammers! Ah the joys of being boring!
So follow your beliefs and fight to make sure that religious education is done well! That was my point; that rather than throw in the towel, fearing shoddy teaching, you should fight to ensure the truth is accurately presented! I think that's worth a battle or two.
Must be nice not to have to live under a mis-interpretation of "seperation of church and state". Interestingly enough, you'll not find those words in the actual matter what the leftists would have you believe!
Pop on over to my site, and check out the video of Lord Monkton interviewing a Green Peace lady. I'll warn you up front....I don't think very highly of her, mostly because she's too lazy to do any research herself, what with having a life and job and all. She's content relying on Green Peace (and sources provided to her by Green Peace) to base her decision to support action! now!! to combat the crisis!!! of AGW...damn the consequences! But the interview is illuminating.....
(forgive the shamelss plug for my blog....a boy's gotta drum up traffic some way!)
Quiet said…
Janet, I'm a new reader. Not sure how I got here. You are Australian and that appealed.

You can delete spammy comments by the way and eliminate them altogether by choosing to moderate all comments.

I'm curious to know what you mean by 'religion'. Education about comparative religions might be OK and fun too if it was done well.

Education about ethics would be interesting. I'm not sure how this would be done in primary school but I'm sure it would be possible in the right hands, preferably those of a trained teacher. Some schools already run programs around mutual respect as part of their curriculum and these are seen as preventative in terms of family violence and violence generally.

I think that many kids would value and benefit from simple programs to do with 'how to live' kind of topics as they don't always get this stuff at home in example and practice.
Quiet said…
I found your blog by simply checking out like blogs at There seem to be few Australian blogs of the kind which interest me but I will keep looking!

I work in health promotion and social policy which explains my interest in preventative type programs. If kids can grow up with a sense of self, some practical living skills and a network of supportive others they have a better chance of happiness.
espanola said…
Hi Janet,

Happy new year...

re religious education. Some worthwhile comments made already, and the value of teaching ethics (and maybe combining it with practical workshops on bullying) is a good idea.

The thing that I find hard about trying to get a christian or moral viewpoint out there in the secular world, is the way we seem to have to resort to pragmatics. Like, we are selling a product and we have to present it with a view to meeting the needs of the client. So, for CRE for example, we would need to show how it benefits the student and the family and the school (good for controlling students?)... ie how it's relevant to them in some way.

The trouble with pragmatics is that our deep passion is seen as a 'product' in the marketplace and then gets compared with other contenders for the limited resources in question. If you are competing for class time in a school, there are other fine and attested uses of that time, and others will raise those and champion their claims.

Also it reduces the debate about the Christian faith to whether it's useful or not, rather than whether it's true, the best 'fit' for explaining the plight of humanity, and its lifechanging nature.

Or should we just take any opportunity at all to 'promote' Christ...?

Muchas gracias, hasta luego.
Janet Woodlock said…
Great reflection Espanola. One of the reasons one discusses pragmatics though is that it's not possible to prove whether God exists, whether Christianity is true, whether the bible is reliable... now I believe there is evidence for these things, but they are not in the realm of proof. Which has led to some interesting comments on the Kylie Orr blog, which is still "live", believe it or not!

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