Like the river that bears his name, Fred Nile is ancient, salty, shallow, full of sediment, has dubious sources, causes conflicts between every country he passes through, and takes a very long time to reach a conclusion.
He also terminates in a large estuarine delta, was used as a means of transport by ancient kings, and is implicated in the drowning deaths of many thousands of Egyptians. But what he does in his downtime is none of our concern.
What he does in Australian schools definitely is.
And what he’s doing in New South Welsh schools – attempting to banish alternatives to Christian theological classes – is just one part of a deeply worrying trend of hardline Christian activists getting access to young children, and doing so on the government dollar.
In my home state, Access Ministries – an organisation more chock-full of nuts than a gay porn shoot in a Snickers factory – received $800,000 from Education Minister Martin Dixon to push deeper into Victorian schools. Dixon, surprise surprise, once held a high-up position at the Catholic Education Office Melbourne.
The Australian Christian Lobby, meanwhile, announced their annual conference, “again focussing on the best interests of children”, with its aim being “to influence public policy”.
Hey freakazoids. Get your fucking half-formed squid flippers off the children.
Yeah, I said it. But you can leave the high horse in the barn. See, any criticism of this agenda is met with the cover-all accusation of “Christian-bashing”, when these groups only represent a Christian fringe more ridiculous than anything in Saviour-rap music videos.
Not to mention that for over a century – 140 years in Victoria – the legislated charter of Australian schools has been to offer free, compulsory, and secular education. At 3.333 times shorter than the Ten Commandments, that list shouldn’t be so easy for good wholesome Christians to forget or disregard.
You’d struggle to write me off as a Christian-basher. I’ve studied theology, read my Bible, sung in a church choir for several years. I go to midnight Mass on a Christmas Eve, smash some carols, and feel calm and at ease. This isn’t because of the warm sticky love of God seeping out of me. It’s down to the power of mnemonic association, and the good folks at Mass filtering out all the batshit-insane parts that they could be reading out of that book instead.
Therein lies the problem. I might actually be comfortable participating in more rituals if people understood their role as metaphor, a structure for reflection and contemplation, not as a literal History of the World as Made and Unmade By Large and Angry (and It Is Popularly Assumed, Bearded) Male Divinities.
Instead my relationship with those true believers goes something like this:
“Cheese makes you fly!”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because there is cheese, and there is flying! Whee!”
“That doesn’t logically follow.”
“Cheese makes you fly.”
“You have no evidence for that.”
“The evidence is in the absence of evidence. That means it depends on belief, and believing is a precious and fragile and beautiful thing, like a crystal butterfly frozen in nitrogen!”
“You’re a fucking idiot.”
If you believe that a Magic Man made the world, then that’s your lookout. No, I haven’t formulated my own explanation. That doesn’t mean that your effort doesn’t suck a bucket of balls.
Of course people should be able to believe what they want. Christians don’t need my blessing. But for Biblical literalists, their faith’s requirements involve hassling others to join up. That’s where it starts to get tricky.
Our societal rule of thumb is that people can do what they like as long as it doesn’t impinge on the rights of others. Accordingly, there are clashes. You want to party, I want to sleep. My wish to masturbate in the cinema clashes with your wish to watch Apollo 13 without bringing a Chux cloth.
So we make rules one way or another, and try to favour whoever is disadvantaged more. Meaning in fact you shouldn’t be allowed to freely practice your religion, if that practice involves impressing your beliefs on children too young to have formed their own. Sorry. Take it out on the rosaries.
And for all that no-one wants to say it, converting kids is exactly what Access Ministries and their ilk aim to do.
Of course, people like CEO Evonne Paddison try to package their efforts otherwise. “”We instruct our people not to proselytise, we’re not there to convert children,” she said this year.
On legal grounds, I’ve been advised not to suggest that Evonne Paddison is a righteous, Jesus-praising liar. On a side note, some evangelist ministers believe you can find hidden Satanic messages in my articles by deleting the first ten words of each sentence.
AM’s website reads “Our vision is to reach every student in Victoria with the Gospel” (a pretty elementary evangelisation reference), and that Access “teachers and chaplains are sharing God’s love with over 200,000 young Victorians.”
Meaning students are told that God exists, not that Christians believe God exists.
But the real meat is in Paddison’s 2008 speech to an evangelical conference. “[M]uch of our thinking about ministry and schools has had the goal that our students will be contacted, converted, and discipled,” she says.
I’m not quote-picking. In a 50-minute address, Paddison makes at least 35 mentions (count ‘em) of making students into disciples, establishing student congregations, or of schools as a “mission field” from which to attract converts.
The closing paragraph is a cracker. “3.5 million [Australian students]. Our churches in the West are on a slow death march. We have the opportunity to create life. It may be uncomfortable but so what? What a commandment, make disciples. What a responsibility. What a privilege we have been given. Let’s go for it.”
Now might be a good time for Evonne Paddison to check her pants for any smoulder-related damage.
Her defence was that “her talk was not intended for a broad audience”. So if we weren’t going to know about it, then everything’s fine. Right. Good to know. As for “taken out of context” – get bent, Evonne. I’ve read all 7000 words. Show me how to misquote that.
Let’s also note that both Paddison and her chairman, Bishop Stephen Hale, are board members of Arrow Leadership, a training group whose proud slogan is “Helping tomorrow’s Christian leaders to lead more to Jesus.” Arrow is an adherent to the Lausanne Covenant, a self-described “movement that mobilizes evangelical leaders to collaborate for world evangelization.”
Essentially it comes down to one point. Anyone who believes in the literal truth of the Bible believes that the ship is going down and they’re in the lifeboat. They believe that you are wrong for not believing this. And whether it’s notch-on-the-pulpit stuff, or cynical brainwashing, or a genuine concern for the state of your eternal tan, they believe they need to convince you.
As for kids – well, who’s more suggestible? Sign them early and keep them for life. To throw again to the pithiness of Doug Stanhope, “You switch the threat of lumps of coal in your stocking with an eternity in a fiery burning hell, well – you still believe in Santa Claus too […] They jam that shit in there while your head is still soft, and then cake it up with a lifetime of guilt and shame and fear.”
Now, as I’ve said, I don’t hate Christians. I do hate Christians who try to make other people into Christians. Guys, it’s just fucking creepy. Like hanging out with someone who’s waiting for a chance to feel you up. Like The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where one by one everyone is turned part-vegetable by the pod people. Faith is like donkey porn – if you dig it, good for you. Just don’t post it on my Facebook.
The Lausanne Covenant “affirm[s] the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority of both Old and New Testament Scriptures in their entirety as the only written word of God, without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice.”
The question that cultural sensitivity smothers is how and why Biblical literalists are considered fair, sane, and reasonable people to take charge of impressionable children, or to teach anything at all. If I tell you that the Jews are lizards who are controlling the banks, you would keep me at the length of the longest arm available. If I tell you that the creator of the universe is a jealous tantrum-thrower who speaks to us through shrubbery, you nod graciously and respect my right to share this with your children.
Harold Camping led up to his Doomsday prediction in May saying that earthquakes would rend open all nations, and the dead would rise into the air, and beasts and famines would stalk the survivors for five months until the world was destroyed as God sent us all to our fates.
Various other Christian organisations said, “Oh, that guy is crazy! Oh, what a crank! I mean … … you can’t predict when all that’s going to happen. The book says it could happen any time. I mean, it’s right there on the page!”
Fire, brimstone, and an earthly meat-chandelier of levitating corpses ripped from the ground, and this guy’s crazy because he picked a date?
That this kind of superstitious, irrational literalism could be even tacitly approved by governmental education systems is beyond my vocabulary to condemn. It has no more place in schools than astrology or crystal healing or some sweaty dude in a tracksuit saying he has a hunch at the greyhounds.
None of which means that schools should teach anti-religion instead. A Godless school system is not the same as an atheist one. I don’t expect atheist views to be included in the curriculum any more than I think Fred Nile’s should be. I expect there to be an absence of any ‘teaching’ from any prick with an agenda.
That said, if Fred is allowed in after recess to spin his fairy tales in the name of secular education, then I demand the first class after lunch to shoot the fucker down.
If religion is to feature in the curriculum at all, it belongs in comparative classes covering all belief systems, run by staff with no conflict of interest. The fact that Access Ministries seek Christians as staff only further devalues their claims. Why would you need to be a Christian to teach about Christianity? It’s like doing a class on farm machinery run by the John Deere rep.
If you want those comparative classes, then yes, include atheism, whatever the school’s religion. If you’re so convinced you’re right, then your precious faith should be able to withstand a pretty rigorous cavity search. (Hell, if you truly believe that the one and only all-powerful creator of all existence is backing your side, you should be lubing up a Mag-Lite).
And please don’t bring in some bullshit qualification criteria to permit entry to the debate. No, I don’t have kids. But I was one, and I remember it well. Neither the younger me or the present me would stand for having a pile of meat-waste like Martin Dixon allowing his lobby groups and personal delusions decide what’s best for me. Get the fuck away from my fontanel.
Religious instruction has no place in schools. More than that, it has no place around children. Let kids make their own decisions in their own time. Otherwise you’re just taking advantage of their suggestible age to impress your own beliefs.
And if you truly believe that your path is the one, and your light is the brightest, and your truth is the truth of the universe, then I challenge you: have the courage of your convictions. Leave it alone, trust in its inherent rightness and strength, and let people find out for themselves. If an omnipotent God can’t get them there, then I fail to see how Fred Nile can carry them home.