Yes, SSM is about more than just marriage

Australians have been told again and again that the marriage debate is only about love and equality for marriage. Fairfax columnist, Aubrey Perry, has today argued that “it’s about much more”. Perry admits that changing the Marriage Act is about removing all influence of Judeo-Christianity in Australian political and public life:

“This survey offers us a conscious opportunity to make a firm stand in support of a secular government and to reject discrimination or favouritism based on religion. It’s our opportunity to say that religion has no part in the shaping of our laws. A vote against same-sex marriage is a vote for religious bias and discrimination in our legislation, our public schools, our healthcare, and ultimately, in the foundation of our social structure.”

 

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Inadvertently, Aubrey Perry has just torn a sizeable hole in the ‘yes’ campaign for same-sex. Readers who share her fears about Christianity will no doubt be elated, but other Australians are left wondering, so this whole debate is really about religion? And it is about education, politics, and even abortion? As though mediating Roz Ward, who has insisted that she authored the Safe Schools curriculum to program children toward socialism, Perry presents marriage as the front line fight against Christianity in this country.

Unfortunately though, Perry’s presentation of Christianity often looks more like a cartoon than it does authentic Christianity, and in doing so she makes a series of factual errors.

For example, contra Perry, Christianity cannot be defined as right wing politics. There are many Christians who feel comfortable across the political spectrum. Is Perry whitewashing the Christian convictions of members of the Australian Labor Party? Christian theism is neither defined by left or right politics but by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This good news from God cannot be squeezed into the small and narrow reaches of any political party, for it counters all such human categories and gives us a greater and more stunning alternative.

Also, in a fantastic revision of history, Perry alleges that, “Religious intolerance has kept the possibility of same-sex marriage an impossibility for decades”. Well, no. Until recent years no one, anywhere, in the world would have believed marriage was anything other than between a man and a woman. It didn’t matter whether one believed in God or not, same sex marriage was a non starter. It remains the case today, that many religious and non religious people simply don’t believe that same sex marriage is logical or good for society.

Finally, it needs pointing out that true secularism is not the absence of religious thought, but the freedom to speak regardless of ones religious affiliation, or lack thereof. Perry’s argument for a secular state is not true secularism, it’s imposed atheism. It is anti-pluralism. If the only permitted discourse is void of language deferring to God and religion, then what we will have is exclusive and intolerant atheism.

Anti-religious world views have had a shot at taking charge of nations, and they have produced for the world Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot,  and North Korea. I’m fairly sure that this is not the kind of country most Australians are wanting to become.

The reality is, it is a Judeo-Christian framework that enshrined into law how no single religion would control public policy, but instead the people should persuade and argue their case. Is this so bad? According to Aubrey Perry it is worse than bad, and we must use the marriage survey as a demonstration that we will no longer tolerate religious views in the public square.

Perry has done Australians a great service though, in being honest enough to show Australians that same sex marriage is not really about marriage, but is about removing the religious and social foundations that have given this country the freedoms, prosperity, and security that we today enjoy. I hope Australians will read her article and consider their decision in light of these confessions.

Christmas is optional, Jesus is not

Should Christians defend Christmas?

In recent days Federal Government Ministers, Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison, have come out to bat for Christmas, arguing that political correctness has gone too far in curtailing the religious significance of this national holiday.

When a listener called into 2GB and shared how his children’s school had blacklisted Christmas Carols, Mr Dutton responded,

“You make my blood boil with these stories… “It is political correctness gone mad and I think people have just had enough of it.”

“Many of the people, regardless of their religious belief, would be there happy to sing along with Christmas carols, happy to enjoy the fact that we celebrate Christmas as a Christian society and it’s beyond my comprehension.”

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They have a valid point, there is a movement of Grinches emerging across the country, seeking to control and even remove Christian vestiges from the season’s festivities. References to the Magi, Shepherds, and Jesus Christ are harder to find, which is perhaps why we are pleasantly surprised when we hear an entertainer at Myer Music Bowl Carols or see a shopping mall nativity scene redirect us to that wondrous night in Bethlehem.

Christmas remains a national public holiday, and is almost certainly the most enjoyed day of the year for the majority of Australia’s 24 million people. For many there is no religious sentiment attached to Christmas, and yet people happily gorge themselves with many of Christmas’ associations. It is also true that Christ-less Christmases have become the norm for many families. One friend conducted a straw poll on Facebook last week; some friends admitted that their children didn’t associate Jesus with Christmas, and one child had never heard of Jesus Christ.

While previous generations may have connected Christmas with Christ, this is disappearing, partly due to Australia reconfiguring into a multi-faith society, partly because of secularism, and even our exuberant consumerism blinds us to what lays behind the tinsel, turkey, and toys.

The diminishment of Jesus in Australian Christmas celebrations grieves me, not because December 25th matters, but because it indicates how our culture is shifting further away from the greatest and most beautiful news we can ever behold.

I’m not suggesting that the Australia of my childhood was somehow more Christian than today. It was okay to sing about Jesus in 1980 and Church attendance was more common, but it is quite possible for a culture to be deeply embedded with Christian themes and festivals, and yet be utterly impervious to their significance.

How much should Christians defend Christmas?

First of all, celebrating Christmas is not a requirement for Christians, let alone for anyone else.

Nowhere in the Bible are Christians told to celebrate a day called Christmas. Indeed, Christians are warned against legislating special days, as they can mislead and manoeuvre  people into a form of self-righteousness that opposes the Gospel of grace. Under the Old Covenant Israelites were given special days for observance. These days were tied to events with theological and historical significance to that nation, but once the new covenant was instituted by Jesus Christ, such festivals became unnecessary. There was freedom to observe or not.

This may sound anathema to some Christians, but it doesn’t matter whether we celebrate Christmas or not. Christmas is a religious and national holiday, one we can choose to celebrate or not, eat Turkey or not, sing carols or not, give presents or not. We have freedom to skip over December 25, although your kids might be a little miffed on Christmas morning. 

Don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting that we dump Christmas from the national or ecclesiastical calendars.

I’m no Puritan when it comes to Christmas. I love Christmas. The Campbell house in December is bouncing with Carols and the aroma of pine, we’re eating up pre-Christmas Christmas food, and my kids are exclaiming, ‘Dad, not another Christmas movie’. But celebrating Christmas is a cultural advent, not a Biblical mandate.

Second, are we trying to introduce people to Christmas or to Christ? The answer is not necessarily either/or. For example, Christmas is an opportunity to remind our mates that the Christ has come. It is an easy route for inviting friends to Church and to swing conversations around to the Gospel. However, while we may bemoan secularism taking Christmas hostage to its truculent ideals, are we better off investing our efforts in proclaiming the Gospel of Christ? In advocating Christmas are we sending mixed messages about Christianity?

My question is, are we about promoting Christmas the event or Christ the person? I sense that some of us are leaning heavily toward the former.

Perhaps we should exert less concern about protecting the day called Christmas, and make more effort to live and speak the reality of the good news that entered the world that dark and unfriendly night in Bethlehem.

Leaving aside the word ‘Christmas’ and the day December 25th, in uncovering the birth of the Christ child we discover truth that is too good to ignore, too wonderful to brush off. In the bleak mid-minter God came down and took on flesh. God the Son lay aside his glory in heaven in order to suffer and die on a cross for people who have ditched God.

If we’re intent on waving a ‘save Christmas’ placard, we must avoid communicating that we’re trying to revive a celebration for the remnant of conservative and traditional Australia. I want my secular friends and my religious friends to fall in love not with Christmas, but with Jesus. In a year where refugees have once again dominated the news, where transgender issues have made news, and where hurting families make headlines, let’s make effort to show people Christ.

In the bleak mid-winter 

Frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron,

Water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow,

Snow on snow,

In the bleak mid-winter

Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him

Nor earth sustain;

Heaven and earth shall flee away

When He comes to reign:

In the bleak mid-winter

A stable-place sufficed

The Lord God Almighty,

Jesus Christ.

(Christina Georgina Rossetti, 1872)

Super Bowl Doritos Advert turns people off corn!

I ate a packet of Doritos last week, and enjoyed it. Cheese Supreme and Cool Ranch are my two preferred flavours, although with a rich tomato relish dip, plain is always better. Today, I discovered that is there is more to my Doritos than I realised.

Of the big headlines coming out of today’s Super Bowl, is not the Broncos winning or the game itself, nor is it the half time performance by Coldplay et al, or even Lady Gaga’s pretty sensational singing of the American national anthem; it is the Doritos ad.

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What kind of controversy could a corn chip possibly incite? Obesity? Cholesterol? Close…well, not near close. Pro-abortionists are up in arms because the ad, “ humanises foetuses”. That’s right. They are offended because the advertisement shows an unborn child in the womb, in such a way that suggests that it is human.

Here is the exact tweet sent by NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League):

“#NotBuyingIt – that @Doritos ad using #antichoice tactic of humanizing fetuses & sexist tropes of dads as clueless & moms as uptight. #SB50”

First of all, when one sees an ultrasound of a pregnant woman, one is in fact seeing a human being in the womb. He or she is not an inanimate object, nor plant life or four-legged creature; the fetus is a human being.

Leaving that simple fact aside for a moment, there are no religious connotations in the advert, and there is no subversive social engineering occurring, to my knowledge. As far as I can tell,  there is no intent, whether deliberate or subconscious, to promote a pro-life agenda.

This is a simple and humorous promotion of a corn chip.

In fact, if NARAL hadn’t begun this surge of twitter outrage, I doubt if I would have thought about a connection between Doritos and abortion. Now, everyone does, and we all seeing how wonderfully made an unborn child is, even if CGI has helped out a little.

This irrational and over-the-top response by NARAL exemplifies however, a growing trend in western societies. ‘Freedom of Speech’ is fast becoming a phrase devoid of its intended meaning. Dissenting views are tolerable so long as they keep quiet. Diversity is society’s clarion call, unless of course you are a Christian who trying to present a view in the public realm (or a chip company).

In case you think that this Doritos’ advertisement is a one off example:

Before Christmas an advertisement featuring the Lord’s Prayer, was produced for the Church of England, and was quickly banned from British cinemas.

Here in Australia, in August last year, a paid advertisement by the Marriage Alliance was banned by several radio stations and by Channels 7 and 10, despite the fact that the ad did nothing more than affirm the current law in Australia regarding marriage.

This is the bizarre world in which we now live, and we shouldn’t be surprised to find this happening more and more.

What is a Christian response? I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4, words we need to take to heart as we prepare for an increasingly hostile culture in Victoria, Australia and beyond.

“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”

 

Finally, back to this non-religious pro-corn chip eating ad. I need to be transparent and make a confession, it is true, I am biased toward this ad, and it’s not because of baby – apparently the creator is an Australian filmmaker! So naturally, I think it’s greatest advert of all for SuperBowl 2016.

Christmas Carols in Schools: the directive given to Principals

UPDATE as of 8pm December 22nd

Later this afternoon Education Minister, Mr James Merlino, issued a statement via The Australian newspaper, seeking to douse once for all the questions and confusion over whether schools will or will not be allowed to reference God and Jesus Christ in Christmas singing, as of 2016.

I am not interested in the politics being played out between the Government and opposition MPs, but I am concerned about Government overstepping the mark over freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

In his statement, Mr Merlino has reiterated (he made a comment on his website a few days ago) that there is no ban on carols in schools, and he has now specified that songs such as Away in a Manger and O Come all ye faithful, can be sung.  This is most encouraging to hear. I am not sure why it took several days for this clarification to come, but nonetheless, many people will be relieved to hear the news.

This statement is an improvement on and somewhat different to what he said a week earlier, “As with other curriculum decisions, schools will make the decision as to which Christmas carols feature as part of classroom activities.”

Does this mean the end of the matter? Unfortunately no, because  Mr Merlino’s statement is at odds with the Departmental directive sent to school principals. In light of this,  I am requesting that the Minister revise this messy piece of policy, and clarify in writing to schools so that there can be no ambiguity. Better still, why not drop the whole issue and allow schools to return to a practice that has work well for many decades

As I have earlier said, the directive is at best confusing, and a natural reading leaves people sensing that Christian carols are probably not permitted, except for within the very strict parameters of SRI and perhaps the General Religion classes.

The contention now is whether schools will follow Mr Merlino’s comments or will they adhere to the Education Department’s directive.

below is the post I wrote on December 17 with details concerning the directive sent to Principals

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I would prefer to spend this time enjoying the lead up to Christmas, not defending the freedom of children to celebrate Christmas, but unfortunately this is a sign of the times in which we live.

Following on from yesterday’s developments regarding Christmas songs in our schools, I have read a copy of the Government’s directive given to school principals. Below is a screenshot of the most relevant section. The left side describes what is permissible only in a SRI class, and the right hand side outlines what is acceptable as non-SRI activity.

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Logically, these two lists clash. The directive is clear, songs that praise God or some other deity are strictly prohibited outside SRI. The only exception to this rule are songs considered ‘societally recognised’, but even they are limited to General Religious Instruction. However, the right side column says that Christmas carols are permitted. Which is it?

A generous reading of the directive could conclude that children can keep singing ‘Away in a Manger’ and other songs about Jesus’ birth, but in my view that is not the natural reading of the document.

Education Minister, Mr James Merlino, yesterday commented that Christmas carols can still be sung in our schools, which was I was pleased to hear, but his own Department’s notice to school principals puts this in doubt. Unless of course, his meaning of Christmas Carols is limited to those non-religious festive favourites such as ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’.

I’m curious, what will happen to classic songs like John Lennon’s, ‘Imagine’ ,which is often sung at Christmas time. Are anti-God lyrics ok for our children to sing?

One thing is clear from the directive, members of the community can no longer be invited to help schools in their Christmas celebrations, which is sad given how most people appreciate these ties with community groups.

At best this policy is ambiguous (perhaps deliberately so), and that is evident from the disparate interpretations being proffered by various MPs and even schools.

For me, reading the directive raises more questions:

  1. Is a ‘societally recognised’ song permitted to be sung at a Christmas celebration outside of General Religious classes?
  2. By Christmas Carols, are songs about Jesus, the Bible, and God permitted in school celebrations? For example, ‘Joy to the World’ and ‘Silent Night’.

If the answer to these questions is yes, and many Victorians will be encouraged to hear this, I would then ask Mr Merlino and the Education Department to clarify the confusion for schools, in writing. Better still, I recommend that the directive be revised to support these important clarifications.

What do others think?

The end of secular education?

The Age has published an article that every Australian ought to read, for the implications of what has been written could forever change the face of Australian education and society.

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Photo: Nick Moir. Taken from The Age

 

 

Anthony Bergin and Clare Murphy from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, have argued that we must give away the idea that we are a secular nation and have secular education, in order to introduce a program into schools that teaches students about religions. Berlin and Murphy have recognised that some young Muslims in our country are being ‘radcalised’, and key to prevention they believe is teaching religions in our schools.

“Our future is as a multi-faith nation. It is better to speak of Australia not as a secular society, but rather a civil society where there’s freedom of religion and separation of religion and state.

Education ministries speak about secular education because of the mantra “free, secular and compulsory”. But it’s time to change the discourse; why call it “secular instruction” when teaching about the histories, beliefs and practices of the major world religions, as well as the role and function of religion in society, is simply “educational” and should be seen as a normal part of the curriculum.”

I want to affirm Anthony Bergin and Clare Murphy’s aim to prevent future attacks. I agree that there is a threat being realised with young Muslims becoming ‘radicalised’, and we need to find ways to avert this evil pathway. But I am  concerned by the answer they offer.

First, is it the role of Government to teach religion?

This is one of the reasons why Church groups were invited into schools to teach SRI. Society had acknowledged the role of Christianity and thus believed in giving students opportunity to understand its basic beliefs and practices, but these half hour lessons were optional and not taught by teachers.

Is it really wise for the Government to step-in to the role of teaching religion? Do we want that?

The state school that my children attend have a set of values. These values are taught and encouraged, and they do so effectively without need for a curriculum on world religions.

Secondly, there is no neutral theological ground. This is one of grave misnomers that secularists pontificate; they see themselves as religiously neutral and therefore objective, but that is no more true than there being fairies living in my back garden. The worldview one holds inevitably informs and skews the way we understand alternative worldviews. Anthony Bergin and Clare Murphy offer a clear example of this failure:

“Teaching about the role of religion in society and in the creation of social unity might help students distinguish between religion and ideology.”

Outlining the difference between Islam as a faith and Islamism as a political ideology could help young people make sense of the way fundamentalist and literalist interpretations of religions become political movements, some of which turn violent. Teaching about religion could also assist in countering right-wing extremism by reducing the fear of difference.”

The reality is by far more complex. There are Muslims who would accept the above statement, but many would not and with warrant. Separating theology from ideology fails to grasp the very nature of Islam, and ignores the teaching of the Koran and the Hadiths (see this piece in The Atlantic). What Bergin and Murphy have done is erroneously imposed onto Islam, a view of religion that derives from Enlightenment and Kantian constructs.

Bergin and Murphy also include this strange paragraph, which further evidences their failure to understand religion, and so provides another reason why we must be  careful about introducing any religious course into schools.

“In Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews has ordered special religious instruction classes to be held outside school time from next year, and replaced in school hours with content on world histories, cultures, faith and ethics. We don’t know what’s  taught in the religious classes of Muslim schools, just as we don’t know what’s  taught in the Rudolf Steiner, evangelical Christian and Brethren schools.” 

I am not sure whether Bergin and Murphy are attempting a moment of political correctness or whether they genuinely believe that the SRI program and Christian schools are also dangerous. Either way, mentioning them in this context is poor form; there is simply no parallel between what is happening amongst some young Muslims and with Christians teaching students the Bible.

Bergin and Murphy’s own ideological agenda comes into the open when the say,

‘Providing students with the basic principles of major world religions in their formative years would provide a safe space for students to raise questions about religion that may be uncomfortable, but which require answers from a responsible and open mentor, and are better addressed sooner rather than later. It would assist them to engage meaningfully in a conversation about religious identity and celebrate religious diversity.’

To what extent should our children be taught to ‘celebrate religious diversity’? This is hardly a theologically neutral statement. There is a sense in which we want our children to recognise the reality of religious diversity, and to respect people who hold different views (Christians will take it further and say we should love them), but celebrate? Certainly, we should be thankful that we live in a society where freedom of religion exists, and we can celebrate that, but the word is loaded and can assume that all religions have the same merit or veracity. In other words, any course that teaches the sameness of religions fails theology 101 and insults the people who hold to their faith.

Thirdly, on a practical note, my understanding is that where students are being ‘radicalised’ in schools, it is in Islamic schools and not the State system. In other words, the course  is made redundant because it won’t reach the people it is designed to influence.

I don’t want to see the end of secular education in this country.  Indeed, it is my Christian theology that convinces me about the separation of church and state, not its absence.

Bergin and Murphy’s proposal is rash and it will remove one of the fundamental building blocks of Australian society, namely the separation of church and state. They have admitted that this so, but they believe the cost is worth it. My sense though is that they are falling into the fear trap that ISIL is setting around the world; they want us to change our ways, they want us to turn on each other and to restrict freedoms.

It is not the role of Government to teach religion. I recognise that the issues are incredibly complex and we must do something but this proposal is thwart with problems. Are we really willing to sacrifice secular education? I pray not.

A Christian response to Paris & the problem of religion

Australians (and the West at large)  don’t know what to do with religion. We don’t want to say that one religion is better or worse than another, but how do we deal with aspects of religion that are unacceptable? While ISIL are not supported by most Muslims, adherents are nonetheless practicing a devotion to Islam that finds support in the Koran. However because their ideology does not conform to the accepted pluralist world-view that all religions are valid, we hear political and religious leaders being forced to explain them away.

I don’t claim to speak for everyone and I don’t want to suggest that what I’ve written isn’t without bias. What I have written is a list of criteria that I try to practice when I’m talking with people about my Christian beliefs.

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1. Show grace. Pride is not a Christian virtue. The very nature of Christian faith is that knowing God is a gift from God through Jesus Christ. Therefore, as we engage in conversation with people from different religions we avoid arrogance and pride, both in what we say and in the manner we speak.

2. Be gentle and respectful. When we talk to men and women we are speaking with people who are God’s image-bearers. That imago Dei, like in ourselves, is broken, but we maintain that they have value and ought to be treated with dignity. Therefore we don’t support graffiti on Mosques or other buildings, and we don’t support verbal or physical abuse toward people of other religions

3. Be honest about differences, and recognise that some contrarieties really do matter. One of the great weaknesses in current religious discourse is the unwillingness to call a spade a spade. Where there is commonality and agreement it should be recognised, but the pretend game of sameness is intellectually dishonest and shows disrespect to the many who hold to those points of difference.

There is no value in diminishing, ignoring or lying about differences in theology, ethics, or politics. For example, Christians and Muslims must not pretend that they share the same view of Jesus: Muslims do not believe that Jesus is fully and eternally God, Christians do. Muslims do not believe that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross, Christians do. Muslims do not accept that the Bible is God’s authoritative, sufficient and final word, Christians do. In the same way Christians don’t accept the Koran as a holy book, whereas Muslims do.

There exists an epistemological crisis in the world right now. The current crisis is not merely  a moral one, but it is about how we understand truth. September 11 2001 shocked the world, not only because of the scale of evil perpetrated, but because it exposed the foolishness of our deference to the philosophical liberalism in the West; we were reminded that not every world-view is equally good or valid. Despite the warning, 14 years have now past and most of us in the West continue to walk the line of relativism. Will the recent and appalling rise of ISIL rouse us from the age of the post-critical conscience or will we keep popping our everyone-is-right pills?

4. Don’t excuse or protect the sins of your family. Sin is sin, whether it is perpetrated by someone else or by me. Christians can be guilty of wrongdoing: sometimes they break the law, other times they act lawfully but in ways that are unloving and therefore spurious. In the name of Christ, men and women have committed acts of cruelty and hate, not because of the Christian Bible but because they have abused the Bible in the pursuit of personal agendas. Where and when we are wrong we need to confess and repent, and repentance includes accepting the cost of restitution.

5. Aim to persuade. Coercion, threats, insults, violence – such things don’t help anyone. Beating someone down with a string of rapid rhetorical assaults does little more than create more distance between people, making genuine communication even more difficult. Persuasion, however, is healthy because it gives due weight to the subject at hand and it shows respect for the person with whom you are dialoguing. Persuasion says that people matter and the topic of dispute is too important for flippant dismissal or violent suppression. Persuasion includes using considered argument, showing coherence in your reasoning and providing evidence, using story and testimony, appealing to peoples hopes and desires, pointing out the weaknesses and untruths in alternative beliefs, and speaking with clarity and conviction.

6. Don’t caricature people or their beliefs. Not all atheists are like Richard Dawkins. Not all Muslims support ISIL. Not all Arabs are Muslim. Not all politicians are self-seeking egomaniacs. Not all Baptists are tee-totalling anti-fun facebook club members!

7. Seek to understand. Too often we assume what other people  think and believe. Let’s not ignore the power of attentive listening, and of asking questions and taking time to research what other religions believe, teach and practice.

8. Live what you believe. Christianity doesn’t begin or end on the blog or at the public meeting, it continues through every encounter in all of life. If what Christians believe is true and good then it will influence every aspect of our interactions, both private and public.

When was the last time we smiled at and said hello to someone who was Muslim or Hindu? When was the last time we invited into our home for a meal someone who practices another religion? When was the last time we shared the good news of Jesus with someone from another religion? Why not put these things on our agenda?

9. The State and not the Church has the role to exercise civil and military authority. Unlike Muslim Scriptures, the Christian Bible recognises a distinction between the Church and the State. Throughout history not everyone has properly practiced this, but that has been due to a rejection of the Bible’s teaching, not adherence. However, in Islam there is no such distinction between religious and civil law and Government, hence Saudi Arabia and some of nations, as well as the theology underpinning ISIL. Having said that, other Muslim majority nations such as Turkey, have managed to move away from this orthodox Islamic worldview. (This article in The Atlantic about “What ISIL Really Wants” is worth reading)

“For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.” (Romans 13:3-5)

My point here, is that  Governments have responsibility to protect its citizens and to punish those who harm its people. It is not wrong for the French people to desire justice, and we must recognise that issues surrounding a response are complex. Doing nothing is hardly going to stop ISIL and engaging militarily seems to play into their agenda. Recognising them as a legitimate state is out of the question, given their propensity to abuse and kill thousands under their the control, and they are clearly not content to limit their borders at their current places. What we can do is pray for our Governments.

Below is a diagram that represents various approaches to viewing difference:

 the way we view difference
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This article has been adapted from a piece I published last year at Engaging with Religions

New evidence suggests that the closure of SRI was a mistake

It appears as though Daniel Andrews and the Victorian Government have unnecessarily pulled the plug on Religious Instruction in schools (SRI).

In August this year Education Minister, James Merlino, announced that religious instruction classes would be removed from Victorian schools from 2016. It should be mentioned that religious groups may be permitted outside class time, however the parameters for running these lunch-time groups remains unclear and uncertain.

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Why am I suggesting that the Government has made a mistake? In the last 24 hours the ABC has published two articles that warrant a re-examination of SRI’s closure.

First of all, it has been demonstrated that the policy shift derives from a faulty understanding of secularism (see Michael Bird’s piece on ABC Religion and Ethics). Dr Bird refers to the ‘New Atheists’ who have redefined secularism, “no longer as the freedom of the individual in religion, but as the scrubbing of religion from all public spheres.” It is this fallacious thinking that has been pushed by groups such as FIRIS, and would seem has also been adopted by the Andrews’ Government.

One of the adverse effects of this view of secularism is that we are creating a new wave of sectarianism, where thousands of families are now faced with the dilemma of either keeping their children in a State school environment where religious toleration is dissipating, or moving their children to independent schools. Far from creating more inclusive schools, we are in danger of returning to the ugly days of sectarian divides, except this time it is not Protestant/Catholic, but religious/non-religious.

As a parent who has three children attending a State school, I value the education they receive; the teachers are excellent and the pastoral care is first rate. It is worrying though, that faulty Government policy may unnecessarily drive a wedge in many school communities, where none has existed previously.

Secondly, Michael Jensen has written a piece overviewing findings from recent academic studies, that demonstrate the positive benefits of our children learning about God and engaging with ideas found in religion.

He says,

“Here’s the bottom line. There’s been a lot of alarmist stuff written recently about the potential detrimental effects of religious teaching on young people. What the hard data says is otherwise: an active religious faith is much to be desired in young people, and the benefits of such a faith persist into old age.”

Dr John Dickson has also helpfully summarised the findings  from one set of research that has been published in The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Health (Oxford University Press, 2012):

* ‘Well-being’: 78% of over 300 studies report a significant positive relationship between religion/spirituality and well-being.

* ‘Hope’: 73% of 40 studies find that religion/spirituality is related to greater hope.

* ‘Optimism’: 81% of 32 studies indicate that optimism is more common among those who are religious/spiritual.

* ‘Meaning and purpose’: 93% of 45 studies find that religion/spirituality is related to greater purpose and meaning.

* ‘Social support’: 82% of 74 studies report significant links between religion/spirituality and a person’s social support.

* ‘Self-esteem’: 61% of 69 studies report a positive link between religion/spirituality and self-esteem.

* ‘Depression’: 61% of 413 studies found lower rates of depression or faster recovery from depression in individuals who are more religious.

* ‘Suicide’: 75% of 141 studies found that greater religiosity/spirituality is associated with less suicidal ideation, fewer suicidal attempts, or fewer completed suicides.

* ‘Social capital’ (i.e., an individual’s community participation, volunteerism, social trust, involvement in civic life): 79% of 14 studies report significantly positive associations between religious involvement and social capital.

While I would add certain caveats and qualifications about these findings, they nonetheless communicate that there are significantly positive social and mental benefits that derive from belief in God.

It is interesting to note that the Victorian Department of Education understand that ‘Health and wellbeing are essential for quality of life and are fundamental preconditions for learning and development’. One of the identified aspects of wellbeing is what they refer to as ‘spiritual wellbeing’. And yet the Government is truncating this very principle by taking away from students the freedom and opportunity to engage with these very things.

Dr Bird and Dr Jensen are not saying anything new, but they offer timely refutations to the popular memes about religion, children and education. Given the weight of their arguments, I believe it is reasonable for Mr Merlino and Mr Andrews to reconsider their decision about SRI in 2016.