Zambezi Kiwi

Living in Zimbabwe

Why the Bible belongs in schools

May 6, 2017

Dear Mr Hines and Ms Jacob,

I see you are at it again. Taking on that half hour a week of religious education some Kiwi kids get in Primary School. I find it interesting, as a former religious kid (and now religious adult) that you’re basing the claim on bullying.

You even have 13 families coming forward to say their children were mistreated when they were withdrawn from religious education classes. It’s horrible that they were bullied. I know because I was bullied myself – and some of that centered around my faith.

At High School and university I can even remember stinging barbs from teachers or professors on the topic of religion. At one stage my education involved learning about how evil and culturally imperialistic missionaries were. My parents were missionaries.

That’s why I find your case strange. It is as if you are saying religious education is creating bullies, and therefore must be banned.

I can assure you, as can thousands of other religious kids who went through secular, public schools, that bullies exist in secular classes too.

But I’m not arguing that clause 77 of the 1964 Education Act, which requires teaching in Primary Schools to be secular, must be overturned.

I would argue instead that bullying needs to be addressed. I can’t see how that is not what you are arguing too. After all, we know how utterly damaging bullying can be, we know how it is related to mental health problems, and we know how it is even related to suicide.

And if we know that both secular and religious kids are bullies, and are being bullied, we can’t really blame each others’ worldview, can we?

Unless we have an ulterior motive. And I’m struggle to see, in your case, any other conclusion except that you are using victimised kids to push your own agenda.

I find that disturbing, and very, very sad.

But there is another important thing I would like you to know about my more youthful years, surrounded by role models and friends who didn’t think like me.

It gave me an advantage in life. It taught me how to get along with people. Lots of people. In fact, I count among my friends hard core communists, ardent Labour voters, ardent National voters, classical capitalists, old people, middle-aged people, young people, gay people, solo parents, traditional families, agnostics and atheists.

I had to learn to look for what we had in common, and what united us. That required learning to listen to others, and trying to understand where they were coming from, instead of just making assumptions that would further divide us.

Listening to others, in turn, challenged my own worldview and forced me to think very deeply about what I believed and why. It made me stronger, but made my belief in the dignity of all people stronger too.

I would not have learnt any of this without being surrounded by people who thought differently to me. That’s why I support the final, half-hour sliver of time during which our kids learn about New Zealand’s major religious worldview at school.

As I see it, exposure to a range of worldviews is critical for our society if we are to understand each other and get along. It is critical to peeling back our difference and exposing our common humanity.

Given all the intolerance and hatred already wearying the world, it seems a shame to want to take that opportunity away from our kids.

This article was first published on

8 thoughts on “Why the Bible belongs in schools

  1. Dave Smyth says:

    The reason that the case mentions bullying is because there are many cases of it and sadly, much of it is coming from bible teachers, staff and the school community. The Human Rights Commission hear several cases every year. For a case to be heard it must first be proven that there was harm caused, That doesn’t mean that other forms of bulling are not bad too.

    Plenty of stories about bullying here:

    Religious instruction in a secular state school is blatant religious discrimination. It’s some evangelical Christians pushing my daughter out of her own classroom so that they can preach their religion. She has to leave because it’s the only way that she can avoid religious faith teaching. They are bullying children from non-Christian families into their faith or alternatively into removing themselves from their friends and classroom and risk being stigmatized.

    Why should any religious group be allowed access to promote their faith to children in a secular school because Christians want their beliefs taught? That is what church is for. The choice and opportunity to take your children to church is available to everyone. Don’t push your religious faith into secular schools. It is divisive and intolerant of other world views.

    If you really cared about educating children about religion, you would want bible classes to be removed in favour of a class that teaches about all religious views, not just yours. That is what the Secular Education Network are suggesting.


    1. Hey Dave, thanks for your comment.

      As you point out, there is bullying in all communities – which is abhorrent. Any Bible In Schools teacher doing this, and any staff member, ought to be dealt with accordingly. But as you point out, because bullying occurs everywhere, we can’t assume it is the result of religious instruction – it is simply the result of the bad side of human nature. Getting rid of Bible In Schools therefore won’t stop bullying, which both you and I believe is the problem here. The leap of logic I understand you to be making (and please correct me if I am wrong) is that because some bullying comes from religious instruction teachers, getting rid of religious instruction teachers in schools will solve the problem. As I point out in my article I was bullied for having a faith, a common occurrence for many religious children in state schools. So getting rid of religious instruction teachers will not, in fact, solve the problem. Kids with my beliefs will still be bullied. So, if we want to deal with bullying, we must deal with bullying. Religious instruction in schools must be dealt with as a different topic. The next point you make relates to this.

      You say your daughter is being bullied and discriminated against by being pushed out of her classroom by religious instruction. Of course, there are many religious children whose parents remove them from certain classes, or who remove themselves from certain units at school, because the secular perspective being taught is fundamentally opposed to their worldview. Sex education is a great example of this. So we are, again, both in the same boat. That means we are both being discriminated against, and bullied out of classrooms – you by religious instructors, me by secular ones. That means removing religious instruction teachers from schools will not solve the problem of discrimination or bullying. It will still remain for the religious.

      What is the solution? I believe in tolerating this difference, as it will happen in a diverse society. You get some secular classes, I get an optional, religious one already taught outside of school hours only in schools with principals who approve (which isn’t exactly proportionate representation when you look at the number of religious and non-religious members of society).

      That brings us to your next point, why any particular religious group ought to be able to access schools for instruction – well, it is quite simple. Why ought people beholden to a secular syllabus be able to teach religious instruction, but those who actually practice that faith may not? In my vast experience of having my faith talked about by “neutral” or “secular” teachers, and university professors, it has been misrepresented, misquoted, or blatantly mocked and derided. In many cases, the attitude of the authority figure in the room created a permissive attitude in the children towards mocking and deriding religion. Even if it has not been misrepresented, the values that secularism teaches (as in the case of sex ed), have not been neutral, or values/morals-free. They have simply been another set of values/morals, often blatantly and starkly opposed to those of my own worldview.

      So secularism, in my experience, is not neutral, as many assume. Secularism is a worldview all of its own, with values and morals of its own, that claims removing religion from public life removes problems like discrimination or bullying. As you can see from my answers above, I think this worldview has major problems in practice. That means the question we face boils down to why teachers beholden to a secular syllabus may teach religious studies, but those who are religious may not? Why ought your worldview be taught and accepted in schools while mine is not? What right have you to force your worldview on the entire school system? What right do I have to do so? Neither of us, in fact, have that right. That is why, as I said above, fairness demands us to accept the current compromise – where both of us are represented in our school system.

      If anyone else wants to teach another religion in schools that should be fairy considered too – I will be teaching my child about the other major religions so that he knows how to interact with a diverse range of people with respect. I hope that explains my perspective a little more. Thanks again for your comment, I really appreciate it.


      1. Dave Smyth says:

        I’m not involved in the court case, so I’m not sure exactly what the evidence is or how much individual examples of bullying are a part of it. No, that’s not the leap of logic it would at least lessen the religious division that it creates between students. However, I hope that isn’t the basis of the case as I think it’s a sideline issue. The main issue is that institutional promotion of religion in a secular school is in itself bullying.

        The difference with sex ed or evolution lessons are that they teach something factual… no, evolution is not just a theory. Parents might disagree with them but that doesn’t mean that children shouldn’t learn about them. You’re confusing religious instruction (faith teaching) with religious education (teaching about religions). A Sex education class teaches about this topic in the same way that an RE class does. It does not teach that condoms are more effective than abstinence. There’s no moral high ground. No one goes to hell.

        Tolerance is over-rated when one group is trying to convert other people’s children to their religious faith. I fail to see how that is at all tolerant?

        Religious has always been available outside of our “secular” education system… so there is your solution.

        Your answer about why groups should be able to access schools is again confusing religious instruction with religious education. Bible classes are religious instruction and the school is required to be closed to allow them. They are people of faith promoting faith. Religious education can be taught by anyone without closing the school. It generally does not happen in our secular state primary schools anyway.

        Regarding your comments about secular education… our state primary schools were created to be secular in 1877 at a time when over 90% of the population were Christians. They did this because they didn’t want difference denominations to be fighting over access to kids. Now that there’s less conflict within the Christian church, access kids is somehow ok because they’re not fighting? I don’t think so. Our education system has (or should have) no position on religion. That’s it. We already have values teaching as part of our official curriculum. You know, the values we keep getting told are “Christian values”.

        Religious people can teach about religion within subjects like history and social studies. They just can’t promote religious faith. The CEC repeatedly claim that they don’t evangelise but it’s nonsense. That is the entire purpose of their bible classes. They start by telling little kids that god exists.

        The last thing we need are other religions trying to access children in primary schools! Secular education is fair to people of all beliefs in our diverse society.

        By the way, I don’t believe that people do deserve respect for their beliefs by default. Their beliefs should stand on their own merit.


        1. Hey Dave,

          Let’s leave the side issue and focus on your main claims, that allowing religious instruction is in itself bullying, that secularism is morals-neutral, and that is it therefore fair.

          How, if allowing religious instruction in schools is bullying non-religious kids, is teaching a secular syllabus not bullying for religious kids? From what I can tell, you agree with me that all bullying is wrong and ought to be discouraged. In this case we can’t have either a secular syllabus or a religious one.

          How is a secular syllabus not teaching a moral highground? Let’s use the example of sex ed again. You say teaching about condoms is values-free, and teaches only facts. A Catholic would disagree. They would point out the very teaching of the fact that conception can be controlled and stopped by us is full to the brim with values or moral assumptions. I would argue that teaching the facts about sex itself presupposes the need to know about sex at a certain age, which presupposes engagement in sex is normal and healthy starting from that age. All the studies and facts and figures in the world cannot tell us what age is the right age to start engaging in and learning about sex, because what is right is a philosophical question. The point, of course, is that every fact we teach must be seen as valuable and worth knowing in order to be taught; that requires a values system. There is, then, a moral or value behind every fact being taught in our schools – even the secular ones.

          This all means secularism is not neutral, and so is not fair to people of all beliefs. It is fair to itself and its own values, and by implication is unfair to any value that differs.

          So, to a religious person, the argument about religious instruction in schools looks like the kettle calling the pot black. Why is religious instruction bad and secular instruction ok?

          Both boil down to values systems being foisted upon our innocent children – values systems born out of the way we choose to answer philosophical questions about right, wrong, and what is valuable in life.

          I absolutely agree with you that beliefs should stand on their own merit.

          That applies to my beliefs about religion, but it also applies to your beliefs about secularism and its place in schools. From my perspective, your three arguments about bullying, values or moral neutrality, and fairness simply do not stand when tested.

          I hope that helps explain why I hold the stance I do.


          1. Dave Smyth says:

            That’s a simple one to answer. Secular education doesn’t comment on the validity of religious faith. So there is no institutional bullying regarding religious beliefs if there is no position on them. In fact, secular education protects all people’s faith position in this way. If Islam were dominant in NZ, Christians would be crying out for secular education. WHY do you think that a bunch of Christians 140 years ago wanted a secular education system? It was to protect their own religions!

            As an ex-Catholic who attended a Catholic college, I am well versed in their idea of sex education. It consisted of a single one hour lesson in 5 years where two old ladies came and showed us a happy face and a sad face. The sad face used condoms, the happy one used the rhythm method. Keeping children ignorant of contraception options is reckless and irresponsible. Education does not presuppose activity. I read about world war two a bit but I’m not about to start one. The Catholic church is responsible for the crime of discouraging the use of condoms in Africa, where AIDs is rife. Apparently AIDs is bad but not as bad as condoms.

            Secular morality is the part of morality which does not require religion. The human values we all hold (that the evangelists claim as Christian) do not require any religious faith. If you can think of any aspect of morality that doesn’t involve religious faith that secular education can’t teach, then you might have an argument but I doubt you can. I don’t know enough about the sex ed curriculum to discuss it with any authority.

            “Why is religious instruction bad and secular instruction ok?” – As I already said, it is not “instruction”. A class that teaches about the facts of what various religions believe is not the same as one that says there IS a god, Jesus IS his son and the bible IS what you should read to learn about god.

            You’ll need to approve my comments for any of your responses to appear on your page.


            1. Haha! I can see what you are saying Dave – that you believe an entirely secular education would be fairest to all sides. And the fact you want fairness for everyone is really admirable. I also think fairness for everyone is a great idea.

              But I think we are mishearing each other. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t think the noble and good ideals introduced 140 years ago have worked in practice.

              Secularism – in my experience – is not fair to every religion. It is unfair to every religion, while being fair to itself.

              That is to say, in my experience, and that of countless other religious children (and you can see the hundreds upon hundreds of courtcases from around the western world online), our secular education system institutionally bullies all religious kids – but it doesn’t bully secular kids. The fact that it bullies the religious equally does not make the bullying right.

              Your story of Catholic sex ed sounds hilarious – a video of that would go viral! I think again you have misheard me though. I am not trying to argue about when, where, how or what we teach kids. My point is that you claim neutrality is possible – again in my experience, that is not only not true, but not possible.

              For example, my secular sex education involved being sat down in a classroom with a teacher who told us about his first sexual encounter, and then proceeded to tell us to experiment, figure out what we liked, and to “try before you buy”. There weren’t many facts. There were a lot of his morals.

              No doubt you would be disgusted by this. I fully acknowledge that it does not represent your ideal of a secular sex education. But it illustrates a very important point – even if there was such a thing as teaching neutral facts, the people doing it would not be neutral.

              The very next year I was in a classroom I think may represent the kind of thing you would like to see. We were taught body parts, function, contraceptive methods and that was that. The only problem in practice of course is that we placed all the knowledge of how sex works into the hands of emotionally immature kids, whose hormones played a larger part in their actions than did their minds. We gave them the instruction manuals without any guidance for its appropriate use. In other words, in the absence of explicit moral or values guidance, we inadvertently teach our children another set of morals or values “anything goes, it’s ok for you to be the judge of right and wrong”.

              This directly opposes the values system my parents taught me, and in being taught as true, also teaches that the values system passed on my parents is not true.

              That’s why I say that in my experience, a secular education is not neutral. Neither is a religious education. That is because I don’t believe neutrality is possible.

              And if neutrality is not possible, then the next best thing is to aim for balance. That is why I support the idea of people being able to openly and honestly represent their own beliefs in schools.

              From my perspective this has some real benefits. It means that each of us gets to challenge the ideas and blindspots of everyone else. The thing I really loved about my secular education was that my beliefs were constantly challenged, my blindspots constantly revealed. I was forced to think and read much more deeply than my secular peers about my worldview and theirs. In the end, I was left astonished at just how well my faith met the intellectual challenges it was thrown. I walked out of my secular high school more firmly convinced of the soundness of my faith.

              Ultimately, I think the silencing all worldviews but one leaves us in the very dangerous position of being left unaware of its blindspots and weaknesses. That’s what I love about the clashing of ideas.

              It’s why I support secular ideas being taught in schools, and also support Bible In Schools being in schools.

              I guess ultimately for me it boils down to “what have we got to be afraid of?” Challenging each other can only possibly lead us closer to the truth, and I think that’s a good thing.


              1. Dave Smyth says:

                What exactly is a secular kid? I think you have a religious bias towards the concept. All kids are born atheists. It takes indoctrination to make one religious.

                I don’t think teachers should be sharing personal stories in sex-ed. But I think it’s naive to enter into a marriage having no sexual experience and expecting it to just work out. So, some “try before you buy” is probably a good idea. As would including education about how to communicate, emotional impact etc.

                You touch on morality as if there is some absolute and objective list. Of course there isn’t. Morality evolves – this much is obvious, even from a religious viewpoint. So “anything goes” as long as you’re ready for the consequences, would be more accurate. There’s a photo circulating on facebook at the moment that demonstrates this rather well. It’s a book written by a “Reverend Jones” called “How to make a Negro Christian”. He was apparently a slave owner… not so moral now but condoned in the bible.

                I don’t disagree that religious views should be accessible in schools. But not to primary kids where they are taught as facts. That’s what we have now. We should teach children how to think before we teach them what to think.


                1. Oh dear Dave. I’m afraid you have disappointed me. I’ve challenged you several times on the central claim of your argument – neutrality – and you haven’t responded. Experience with this sort of debating informs me that some discussions are productive and wonderfully educational. It also informs me that when the central claims get ignored repeatedly my opponent has probably run out of ways to prove I’m wrong. I have given you several chances to address the problem of neutrality. I have stuck around when you have attempted distraction with claims about Africa, Catholics, Reverend Jones and all sorts of other things…and failed to address neutrality. And now, I’ve lost hope I shall ever hear your thoughts on the topic. So I’m afraid I’m out. The final word goes to you; you may say anything you like. You may prove neutrality to be absolutely possible, you may insult the silly sisters and their attempts at sex ed, you may rage against my stupidity or say religion is the most disgusting thing that ever polluted history. But here is what I shall choose to say with my final word; Thank you for engaging. It has been wonderful.


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