Thursday 20 April 2006

Ethics, Scripture and teaching religions

An important debate is unfolding about teaching Scripture in schools. In a pluralist society such as Australia, what place does religion have in public education? Most people agree it has to have some place, since understanding religion is surely a key to being a properly educated citizen. We've gotten over the modernist/materialist insanity that would ban religion (haven't we?).

My hope is that this debate will serve to distinguish Christian teaching from ethics. Jesus taught some great ethical principles, and Christians do believe (in various ways) that the world reflects the reality of God and we should live in accordance with it. But I think Christians so easily slip into teaching morality and civil niceties rather than theology that this is the kind of shake-up we need.
I like the theory behind Emily Maguire's suggestion that all faiths get their 15 minutes of chalk. Although, I boggle at the utopian politics of trying to pull off such a situation. John Dickson has given it a good go in his Spectator's Guide to World Religions (also a CASE course!), which the educational powers would do well to look at.

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Figuring atheism

At a recent lecture I gave at James Cook University in Townsville, I suggested that atheism is on the decline. It is being replaced by a new kind of spirituality which emphasises ethics but poo-poos dogma. I defended dogma while also praising the turn away from naturalism and materialism (in the Marxist sense) towards a more soulful understanding of life, then I used the Da Vinci Code to suggest we had to be careful to combine spiritual interest with solid thinking. But some in the audience were not happy, hearing me to say that an atheist could not be spiritual.
I got my thesis on atheism's decline from Alister McGrath's recent history of ideas and from the forthcoming Cambridge Companion, some of which is online. The stats are intriguing, showing a worldwide decline in atheism but with some strong pockets of resistance. It's hard to discern a pattern. Russia has a high percentage of atheists, but China doesn't. There doesn't seem to be a strong correlation between poverty and theism, or wealth and atheism. Among a few conclusions, the author suggests one strong correlation: the more atheistic nations also report a higher sense of individual and social security. Evidence against God?

True self

Discussion of 'the self' might be the ultimate in navel-gazing. It can be so circumspect, so convoluted and awkward that it leaves you cold. However, it is an important theme in postmodern thought, and very valuable for distinguishing Christiantity from other ways of understanding the place of the human being in the world. This article starts by asking what is missing from Charles Taylor's significant study of the topic. It then explains how the Christian understanding of who Jesus is solves so many identity problems as to be well worth considering by all but the most recalcitrant pomos.

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