Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Who chooses what's best for kids?

Welcome to Ponatahi Christian School. It's mission statement is this: "A school is for education. Hence the purpose of the school is to educate young people as well as possible, in the fear of the Lord".

If you think instilling fear in children falls somewhat short of best practice, you'll love the school's commitment to "teaching young people that they are born as lost sinners and can only be reconciled to God the Father by a supernatural work of regenerating grace".

Perhaps best of all, Ponatahi School teaches the 'science' of 'creation evolution'. Commenting on more orthodox theories of evolution, the school's website states, "It is clear that the Biblical model of a world wide flood producing layers of hydraulically separated sediment (which students can repeat overnight with dirt in a jar of water) is a more plausible explanation".

Something tells me that Ponatahi School is probably less than progressive in matters like sex education and supporting gay and lesbian students. In fact, it's hard to imagine this school turning out kids who are happy, rounded and well-adjusted.

This school is integrated, meaning it receives tax funding. Whether such a school should receive the blessing, or dollars, of the state is a very good question.

Another question is whether schools should be able to mislead children with this sort of bullshit at all. Where should we draw the line in allowing parents to choose what's best for their children?


anna c said...

I've just looked at the prospectus and everything about it makes me shudder - "students must refrain from speaking about television or rock music during school time" wft?. To be honest, though, I think the creationism is the lesser problem - much easier to instill scientific knowledge later in life than a sense of self worth.

It's a tough question though. Part of me wants to say that I'd like to see secular schools with a good mix of students only - I'd hate to be a queer (or even just a female) student dealing with that shit at home and at school. But on the other hand, I'm sure the parents do believe they're doing the best for their children, and had I the resources I would not hesitate to withdraw my (hypothetical) child from any school they weren't thriving and homeschool them. Obviously I believe there's a big difference, but where's the objective distinction?

anna c said...

"In Health, the students learn that our bodies are not our own, and we can not do with them as we wish".

I have absolutely no words to describe my reaction.

notafeminist said...

The queer aspect is so, so important when considering the validity of private religious schools. I am terrified by the thought of children being taught that there is anything inherently wrong in being attracted to the same gender. It just gets worse for transgender kids. We're seriously messing up our kids with this crap.

The worst part is that some parents are going to teach this stuff even if schools don't. And there is nothing we can do about that.

Won't someone think of the children?

matt said...

Hi Anna

While I do not agree with everything in the schools prospectus. Your post is actually rather chilling.

Three of the features you cite are actually part of mainstream orthodox Christianity. First the phrase, actually expresses orthodox Christianity whether Catholic Eastern Orthodox or Protestant. It’s known as the doctrine of original sin. Second, the phrase fear in “fear the lord” is usually understood by those who use it to mean reverence and respect something a little knowledge of the relevant subgroup would tell you its also a common biblical term for piety your suggesting then the simply citing a biblical term makes you some kind of crazy fanatic. Third, you complain that some people might be taught that extra martial sex or homosexual sex is wrong again a fairly orthodox position shared by orthodox Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Mormons, evangelicals, eastern orthodox and even some neo orthodox Christians.

Now if these three things are the basis for denying a parent the right to choose the education of their children, and or denying them tax payer funded schools ( while they are forced to fund secular schools with “progressive” sex ed programs ) then essentially you are suggesting that most Christian denominations should be persecuted by the state, moreover Islam is in most forms strong creationist and has the same views viz a viz piety and homosexuality, so presumably you think they should not be allowed to educate their children either. In fact your position suggests that only those who don’t teach respect for a deity deny the doctrine of original sin and have liberal views on sex should be allowed to educate their children.

Is that your position that only those who share your liberal views should be allowed to educate their children?

Anna said...

I think God gave people brains and consciences in anticipation that we would use them. No matter how many "Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Mormons, evangelicals, eastern orthodox and even some neo orthodox Christians" dislike homosexuality, it's a position that doesn't withstand ethical or logical scrutiny. And if it doesn't withstand scrutiny, I don't see why it should be taught in schools, particularly at the expense of the taxpayer.

Today I chatted to a workmate whose friend holds the sincere religious belief that black people are descended from Cain, and as such are inferior to white people. Sorry, but that's stupid. No matter how orthodox it is within the particular reform church this guy attends, it's still stupid.

If parents want to teach their children illogical and objectionable things, they can surely do it in their own time.

Hugh said...

If parents want to teach their children illogical and objectionable things, they can surely do it in their own time.

The counter-argument is that if they're teaching their children this in a private school and not asking for any money from the state for it, it is their own time.

Anna said...

Yes, it is. I'm torn. On one hand, I'd really rather prefer people didn't teach children objectionable things at home - but a prohibition on that would clearly be unenforceable, so isn't worth squandering too much thought on.

I'm unsure how I feel about private schooling, to be honest - it serves different purposes, some more laudable than others. And the opportunity cost of attending a private school is attending a state school. The child who is taught nutty things by his/her parents still gets to go to school alongside everyone else.

Anonymous said...

"Fear of the Lord" in this context means to be in wonder and awe. I know this because I went to biblical classes as a child, however, a religious education isn't synonymous with brainwashing (I have been atheist as long as I can remember but I do enjoy bible stories).

Anna said...

No, a religious education doesn't mean brainwashing - I had one, and was fairly discerning about what I took on board and what I didn't, even when I was quite young. I valued many aspects of my education - mostly the ethical stuff that was part of the school's character.

But the damage done to a queer or transgender kid school in a homophobic environment can be enormous, irrespective of whether they buy into the doctrine. I think it's unconscionable for the state to allow/encourage a school environment which will likely be detrimental to these kids.

And while kids at this school might well realise that the creation story isn't literally true, the opportunity cost of learning 'creation evolution' is a proper scientific education.

Hugh said...

Anna, is your only problem with the concept of people regulating what people teach their children in their own homes is that it would be unenforcable? You've spoken out very strongly against the state trying to tell mothers how to raise their children before. It seems to me this is a similar sort of thing.

Perhaps if we imagine the religious parent as a single mother and the state authority in question as a wealthy middle class man, it might help.

Hugh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anna said...

Not entirely true, Hugh - I feel quite comfortable with the state telling people what to do in many areas, including not hitting their kids, fencing their swimming pools, ensuring their kids are educated and so on. If what the state is telling people is warranted and withstands ethical and logical scrutiny, then I'm quite happy.

Hugh said...

So it would be fair to say that the issue here is less a matter of what areas it's appropriate for the state to interfere in than the direction in which it interferes?

notafeminist said...

Whether or not it is a mainstream idea of orthodox Christianity, telling kids that homosexuality is wrong is killing them. Sitting in a school, with a teacher telling you that what you feel is wrong, that an unchangeable part of yourself will always be wrong... well, it's chilling that anyone thinks that this is OK.

Can we put this shit to bed right now? You can't change your sexual/gender orientation. Nope. Can't be done. Don't even think it. Ain't gonna happen.

Telling children that straight is the only way? That's, well, telling a lie. A supremely dangerous lie. Which leads to depression and suicide. Parents should not be allowed to put their children in such a situation. And the state should not fund them.

(Sorry, I guess this is off-topic, but it's one area that I get worked up on. The common rebuttal is Matt's: it limits the freedom of the parents to pass on their views (and therefore persecutes religion), which to some people seems infinitely more important than the freedom of a child to live without crippling emotional damage.)

Alison said...

I'm surprised by the insistence from posters here that "fear" means to awe or revere in this context, because in my experience of fundamentalist Christianity, the focus has very much been on fear - one may be awestruck by the wonder of God only as long as one adheres to the behaviour deemed "Christian" by the particular church leader, but God is portrayed as vindictive, unforgiving and judgmental to those who stray off that path. I have seen friends pushed out of their churches for making life choices their pastors disapproved of, on the basis that God's punishment would encompass the church as well as the individuals, if they didn't take action to "cast the devil from their midst".

There is little room for conscience based decisions of one's own in that environment - the rules are clearly set out, according to the church's particular interpretation of the Bible, and fear of exclusion overwhelms any conscience decision for all but the most independent young personalities.

In terms of psychological development, there are many reasons not to teach children that the world is a black and white place, that religious authority is to be followed unquestioningly, and that they are not capable of making conscience-based decisions of their own. My greatest problem with schooling of this sort is nothing to do with the religion itself, but with the psychological effects on children of promoting a black and white, authoritarian POV of the world. However, it's unlikely school is the only place these children will receive that view of the world.

Generally, I support integration. As the product of an integrated Catholic primary school, I'm supremely grateful for the values instilled in me, which formed the basis for my social liberalism, at odds as it is with the official Catholic doctrine. We can't "de-integrate" schools like this one without also losing more mainstream christian schools, Waldorf and Steiner and Montessori schools, and disallowing homeschooling. By allowing these schools to exist in integrated rather than private forms, we can at least ensure that a certain standard of education is upheld, however much we disagree with the values.

Ultimately, what children learn at home and from their social context has more of an effect on their values system, and we can't control the choices parents make with regard to values (nor should we). I wouldn't send my child to a school like this. I also wouldn't send my child to some of the top private schools around, because I disagree with their competitive values, and it's unlikely I'd send them to a school which refuses to teach non-academic subjects, or fails to teach appropriate sex ed. Nevertheless, the parent of a child at the school in question would be horrified to hear that I wanted my child to receive comprehensive sex ed. Yes, I have screeds of psychological and sociological and educational research to back up my preference, but even ascribing authority to such research is a value judgment. Much as I loathe the worldview presented by this school, we have to make room for alternative values systems in this world, or we end up doing exactly what we're castigating them for.

Alison said...

Crossposting with notafeminist;

I see your point, but I also think it's important to realise that it's not just in school that children receive that particular message. It's in their churches, their homes, their peer groups, and it's condoned by the invisibility of positive role models in the mainstream. We can't fight it simply by banning its promotion in schools, it has to be fought on a much wider, social scale, through education, positive role models and wider acceptance.

Not all people who grow up in values systems like that align themselves with them in adulthood, or are permanently harmed by them. We have to hope and trust and work to make sure that there are other stronger, more positive examples out there that counter the intolerant view of homosexuality that pervades fundamentalist churches.

Eusebius said...

"Fear of the Lord" means that you made decisions about how you live your life based on what God thinks and feels about those decisions. It is taking into account "the elephant in the room (universe)".

When I was a toddler, I didn't cross the road because I knew my parents would get mad and punish me.

When I was older, understood that I was holding my parent's hand so that I didn't get run over by a car.

When I was still older I could cross the road alone. I understood that the earlier rules were because my parents loved me and wanted to protect me from getting hurt or killed.

A black-and-white world view is fine if it is kept at an age appropriate level. No one wants adult Christians to be running around with the religious understanding of a toddler--least of all, God.

Anonymous said...

notafeminist, I agree that those messages can be extremely damaging and those kids need to be protected and the messages need to change. However, what I disagree with in posts here is the assumption that change can only come from not having religious schools. Clearly the kids we are talking about here will still be part of a community that "officially" (officially because there is resistance in every community) holds a set of values so those kids are still stuck in the middle of that; it's the community that I would like to see change!

And as for NZ schools in general, I have a number of friends who are raising their children abroad and are really concerned by some of the values that can see being instilled in them which are important in the host culture, values such as obedience, conformity and respect for hierarchy which, within the context of a communal culture, are important in order to be successful but have negative connotations if you can't see the wider context. Western parents I know are pleased their kids are really learning to respect others (in a deeper way than kids do here) but are also concerned about how this will affect these kids if they want to be successful in Western society. The other side of that, of course, is when parents from Asian/communal countries come here and they see their kids being taught to be individualistic brats who immediately look to others to sort out problems. (katy)

muerk said...

There's more than one way to view homosexuality.

The current secular perspective sees homosexuality as an identity in and of itself. Something unchangeable and uncontrollable eg. "You can't choose who you love." It's something you are born with and it's part of what you are.

But Catholicism sees human sexuality in a different way. Sexual desire is supposed to be ordered towards one man and one woman in the Sacrament of marriage, an indissoluble bond (except for death), ordered towards procreation. However some people have a disordered sexual desire towards members of their own sex. This is not sinful.

However actions chosen by a person may be sinful. Choosing sexual activity outside of marriage is revealed by God through Scripture and Tradition (Tradition here means specifically the previous understanding and teaching of the Church, it isn't tradition in any general sense) to be sinful.

Catholicism separates the desire and the action into two very different spheres.

Now foregoing a sexual relationship because of a religion may seem utterly pointless, but from a believer's perspective it doesn't have to be. So, for example, if a believer has faith in an eternal afterlife of joy and happiness, abstaining from sinful sexual acts in this life has worth. Especially since mortal sin (an action chosen with full knowledge of it's sinfulness) separates us from God and Heaven.

Anna said...

That to me is the crux of the matter Muerk - most people don't experience their sexuality as a component of themselves which they can detach. That's not the same as saying we're not in control our sexual actions, but the idea that readily put aside a part of ourselves in that way doesn't square with most people's feelings about sexuality. When you belong to a marginalised sexual group, it seems to me, the link between your sexuality and identity is likely to be that much stronger - you don't have the luxury of taking that part of your life for granted as straight people do. Of course, people can and do forgo sex for a variety of reasons - but I think that if you expect someone to forgo consensual adult sexual relations (and the emotional intimacy which may be attached), you need to have a pretty good reason - otherwise it's simply cruel.

muerk said...

"I think that if you expect someone to forgo consensual adult sexual relations (and the emotional intimacy which may be attached), you need to have a pretty good reason - otherwise it's simply cruel."

Absolutely correct. The question then is, given the belief that sex outside of marriage (one man, one woman) is sinful, is it worth chastity to avoid committing a sin?

Now obviously if you aren't Catholic (or any other denomination or religion that has the same opinion on sexual behavior) then rebelling against God is a non-starter when it comes to good reasons.

But if you do believe in the God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac, then there are pretty compelling reasons for avoiding sin. The eternal state of your soul _is_ worth the sacrifice of a sexual relationship with another human. I say human because there is always the relationship with God.

So for example, celibate nuns forgo marriage, but are wedded to Christ. They would argue that their intimacy with the Trinity would outweigh the intimacy of marriage.

I think our culture has lost the understanding of spiritual intimacy, not just between God and man, but also between people. Yes, a sexual relationship can be intimate, but intimacy can blossom without sex. Likewise you can have sex without genuine intimacy.

The Catholic position is that this mortal life is a journey and that we are pilgrims here. We live in hope of resurrection and eternal joy face to face with God, and that helps us face the sufferings and sacrifices we make here in this life.

It's a pointless hope if you don't believe in Heaven and God and his grace. But if you do, then it's reasonable.

notafeminist said...

Muerk, that really, really doesn't make it any better. According to you, the Catholic church says "It's ok to be a homosexual, it's just not ok to be a homosexual."

Telling children that they have a disordered sexual orientation? Telling them the only way to salvation is to either live alone forever, or fake a marriage? You have given them the option of misery, or misery.

I can't imagine the kind of logic which says that this is fine, or that this is what Christianity professes. (BTW, you can't change your sexuality. Sux 4 da gayz lol)

(And somehow, it's a sin to have consensual sex with a person you love very very much, but it's a-ok to deceive someone you proclaim to love for your entire life.)

muerk said...


As I said above, Catholicism makes a distinction between desires and actions that the secular perspective does not.

"You have given them the option of misery, or misery."

Why is it that sexuality is the way out of misery? There are married heterosexual miserable people too.

In Catholicism, joy comes from God, as well as people. That's what I'm trying to say. From a faith perspective a fulfilled life can come from an intimate relationship with God.

People who aren't called to marriage can have spiritual intimacy, that can be just as fulfilling, if not more, than marriage. Obviously this only works with a faith of some kind.

" can't change your sexuality."

This has not been my personal sexual experience.

I suspect that many people float between the two poles of homo and hetero. If sexuality was completely fixed for everybody why do we have the stereotype of lesbians who end up marrying men?

Does this mean I think everyone is fluid in their sexuality? Nope. Some people seem very fixed. But not everyone is.

Have a look if you want at Courage...

"Courage, an apostolate of the Roman Catholic Church, ministers to those with same-sex attractions and their loved ones."

Anonymous said...

"but I think that if you expect someone to forgo consensual adult sexual relations (and the emotional intimacy which may be attached), you need to have a pretty good reason - otherwise it's simply cruel".

It seems that at Pontahi Christian School they take an equal opportunities approach to the forgoing of sexual relations.

Anonymous said...

"That to me is the crux of the matter Muerk - most people don't experience their sexuality as a component of themselves which they can detach. "

Any society has rules (legal, moral etc) around how we may express our sexual nature.

notafeminist said...

Re: fluidity of sexuality - absolutely, sexuality can change, but people are powerless to invoke this change, and so they should not feel pressured to do the impossible.

Re: misery - the issue is mostly that heterosexuals have some kind of arbitrary advantage (procreation is not applicable; fundamentalist Christianity has no vendetta against non-child bearing couples like they do with homosexuals) over homosexuals. It's like, you can sit here, but you can't sit there.

Interior chastity looks, according to that website, just a way of sugar coating the fact that heterosexuals are free to have a spiritual relationship with God and an intimate one with each other (regardless of whether they opt for children), but homosexuals are not granted that latter option.

An idea that is central to feminist thinking (and minority advancement thinking in general) from what I have gathered, is that traditionally non-dominant groups should have the choices that dominant groups have. Eg, some women love to work a low-paid job, and others do not; they point is that they should be equal in opportunity.

Saying that god made you a homosexual, so there are somethings in this world that you can simply never experience through no fault of your own, is a damaging, degrading thought. Not suitable for anyone, least of all children.

And that's what the topic of the post is about. To what extent will fundamentalist Christian values in schools damage our children? Interior chastity is a fantastic Catholic idea, I will take your word for that, but in reality it can just lead to depression, low self-esteem and suicide. It is possible that it will considerably hurt our children (even if the intentions are 100% not intended to be damagin).

Because of this possibility, we cannot condone it. A child can be told and encouraged to feel God in their heart, but if they don't, that will just make them miserable. The choice should not be up to parents to potentially destroy their children like this.

Call me ignorant but I've yet to see an airtight argument for non-progressive sex education. It seems that if it's not progressive, it's going to hurt those traditionally non-dominant groups. And of course, that's a price too high to pay.

(Additionally, while I really like a lot of Catholic ideas, I would hate to be in a Catholic school which supports a pope who has said what he recently has about homosexuals.)

Aroha mai. This is really long.

Anna said...

Meurk, notwithstanding the importance of the intimate relationship with God within Catholicism which you point out, there's still the fact that God's prohibition on homosexual relationships is, as far as I can see, pretty arbitrary - even by church standards. And since the notion of vocation is pretty important within the Church, it's a bit rough to tell gays that their vocation is actually heterosexuality, should they be willing to try to change, or an exclusive relationship with God. I know gay Catholics who feel no conflict between their relationship with God and having a same-sex relationship. So I don't think that it's fair to say that if you're gay and Catholic, your relationship with God will compensate for lack a sexual relationship or family.

muerk said...

Anna first:

When I speak about "Catholicism" I speak directly about the teaching of the Church, not individual Catholics' experiences or choices. There's plenty of contracepting Catholics, Catholics who have sex before marriage, etc.

I don't think the Church's teaching on homosexuality is arbitrary, I think it's directly from Scripture and Tradition. But that's a whole 'nother thread right there!


I agree that people should not be pressured to change re: sexuality. Some people feel free to try to change themselves, and I think that's their choice. Some parents try to force this kind of change on their teenage kids, I think that's both foolish and horrible.

And you're right, within Catholic teaching, people with same sex desire are given a tough cross to bear. But then to be fair, heterosexuals can have difficulty too. Catholicism teaches that IVF is sinful for example. You can imagine how painful that would be for a couple desperate to have children.

(IVF isn't licit because it causes the death of created unwanted embryos and because fertilization occurs outside the mother's body.)

"To what extent will fundamentalist Christian values in schools damage our children?"

I think this depends on the child. I also think it depends on the atmosphere of the school and church.

I can't speak for fundamentalist kids, but mine are in a Catholic primary school so I'll use that to speak from.

Pretty much sexuality isn't explored at primary. We personally have answered the boys questions re: human sexuality, eg. how are babies made? Why is daddy's penis hairy? Why does mummy have boobs?

We're a pretty relaxed family, so for the kids it's clothing optional at home and we sleep with just a t-shirt and we share showers and baths.

I have a strong belief that the body is good and I want my kids to be comfortable with their bodies. I'm not sure how fundamentalist Christians view the body, so I can't compare there. In the past there have been excesses where Catholics have been taught that the body is somehow bad, but John Paul II was very definite in the Theology of the Body that bodies were positive things.

Parents teach their children values, but as adults we have to choose our own paths. I can't _make_ my kids have faith as adults. They will have to find that themselves. But I do have the right to tell them what I believe and I have the right to expect certain behaviors in my home.

I think a Christian/Catholic education will only damage people if they become self hating through it. Students have two healthy choices, either genuinely agree with the values taught and live by them as best they can. Or choose to have a different opinion and walk a different path.

I think it's parents then that are the big issue. Have they helped their kids to become healthy adults that can make confident choices and be comfortable with them. And can parents accept their adult kids believing different things than them.

notafeminist said...

Muerk: It's true that you do have the right (and in a sense, a responsibility) to pass on the values which you believe are important. And for you, that seems to be a inoffensive approach to take.

I just don't think schools should be teaching us that one size fits all. This over-celebration (to the point of supremacy) of the same-race family with 2.3 children in which the father is the cornerstone of the family must stop.

"But then to be fair, heterosexuals can have difficulty too." - The IVF problem is a tragedy, but at least they have the ability to love one another and God. Their right to exist as who they are is not constantly questioned. And moreover, according to the procreation logic you mentioned earlier, couples in these situations should be confined to interior chastity, but they aren't.

"I think a Christian/Catholic education will only damage people if they become self hating through it." - And I have no idea about how to stop the self hating - but I'm pretty sure that saying "God despises the things you want, despite the fact he gave you these desires" is not particularly helpful.

"Students have two healthy choices" - unfortunately, these choices are not 50/50 for everyone; if they do not genuinely agree with the values they are taught, but are told that this is the only way to salvation, that is simply damaging. The context is the dangerous part by this - and I don't believe that schools are in a position to tell kids that living life as a homosexual is wrong. I can't imagine what some of my gay friends would be like had they been given this message - and they grew up in a rather supportive environment and still had trouble.

While they say anecdotal evidence is usually redundant, it's these individual cases that I'm concerned with - there are real kids with real homosexual emotions going to real schools where are are subjected to such 'values' - and it will seriously affect some real kids out there.. THAT is the problem.

muerk said...

"And moreover, according to the procreation logic you mentioned earlier, couples in these situations should be confined to interior chastity, but they aren't."

I'm not sure if you mean celibacy or chastity. Because all Catholics are called to chastity. I'm a Secular Discalced Carmelite.

Like a nun or friar it takes several years to become a member of the Order. After a period of several years, I took my Promises for a period of three years (nuns and friars take Vows). Eventually I hope to make my Promises permanently.

My three Promises were to poverty, chastity and obedience.

For me as a married woman, chastity means a number of things, principally no adultery, no contraception, no masturbation. A single person would be different, because for them there is no licit sexual act until they got married.

A nun or priest vows chastity, but for her/him it means lifelong celibacy - no sex. Once they make permanent Vows or are Ordained that is their state for life.

I'm not saying that people with homosexual desires have it easy - they don't. But that doesn't mean they can't live happy, healthy lives and follow Church teaching.

"I don't believe that schools are in a position to tell kids that living life as a homosexual is wrong."

I think religious schools should be allowed to teach their values to children whose parents have chosen to send them there.

Otherwise what you're saying is that Christian/Catholic schools have to moderate what parts of their faith they are allowed to teach.

notafeminist said...

The links are much appreciated, thanks. Also thanks for clearing up the celibacy/chastity thing - I guess I meant celibacy, but I fail to see how a couple incapable or unwilling to procreate should be allowed to a sexual relationship, if I'm following you correctly. Also, out of interest, does this mean that homosexuals are allowed to have life partners who are men, as long as they do not sleep together? Are they allowed to kiss, etc? What would constitute 'too close'?

"I think religious schools should be allowed to teach their values to children whose parents have chosen to send them there."

And sux for the children who come out feeling confused, shamed and depressed as a result? It's these messages that lead to suicides.

No schools should be able to teach these dangerous messages, whether they mean them with the best intentions or not. If these messages hurt kids, then they should not be taught.

My point is that messages that can hurt kids should not be taught, because there is no option for a kid to grow up free from them. Parents don't have a right to do that to their children, and neither do religions. When you grow older, believe what you want, but as a child, we must support young people. We want them to reach adulthood without feeling that they are failures in God's eyes, and taking their lives. It happens. And it needs to stop.

Andrew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anna said...

I have no problem at all with Catholic or other religious schools being forced to moderate the aspects of their faith which they teach. This is partly because I think some aspects of Catholicism (and other Christian denominations and other religions) are ethically and illogically indefensible, and also because the secular state is a very good thing. It's good for a variety of reasons, including offering protection to people with religious beliefs. Religious tolerance is a pretty difficult thing to achieve without the protection of a secular state - without it, religions have a tendency to try to put each other out of business. It's a paradox, but if we want the religious freedom the secular state gives us, we need to adhere to at least some secular, liberal values - and educating children in a way that isn't detrimental to those who are gay is one such value.

Also, I think that either genuinely accepting the church's or rejecting the church are not the only two options. I think there is a place for cranky people like myself who do, in their own way, have a quite deep and genuine belief, but don't seem to be on the same doctrinal page as everyone else. The church doesn't agree, but I think there's a place for lay debate/thought/leadership in the church.

One reason I believe this is that I've known gay people who've felt spiritually alienated when they've been rejected or disapproved of by their Christian churches. Plenty of people don't care about spirituality, but for some people it is important, and to alienate someone from their faith group is, to my way of thinking, a cruel thing to do.

muerk said...

"...does this mean that homosexuals are allowed to have life partners who are men, as long as they do not sleep together..."

Yup. There was a guy blogging who lived that way with his partner. I'm trying to find his blog but failing. :(

Eve Tushnet is one to read. She's a Catholic and a lesbian.

"No schools should be able to teach these dangerous messages..."

The problem is that our definition of dangerous differs. For me (as opposed to Anna who disagrees) homosexual sex, as well as any sex outside marriage is dangerous. It is against the Will of God.

To quote the speech that has people upset...

"If the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman, and demands that this order of creation be respected, this is not some antiquated metaphysics. What is involved here is faith in the Creator and a readiness to listen to the “language” of creation. To disregard this would be the self-destruction of man himself, and hence the destruction of God’s own work.

What is often expressed and understood by the term “gender” ultimately ends up being man’s attempt at self-emancipation from creation and the Creator. Man wants to be his own master, and alone – always and exclusively – to determine everything that concerns him. Yet in this way he lives in opposition to the truth, in opposition to the Creator Spirit."

From my perspective, to teach that homosexual sex is okay is a terrible, dangerous thing to do.

But I also accept that others believe differently, and I strongly believe in freedom of conscience. I don't ask secular schools to teach religious values, but likewise I ask that I can bring my children up in the teachings of our family's faith.


" alienate someone from their faith group is, to my way of thinking, a cruel thing to do."

I have no idea why there are people with homosexual desires. It's bloody unfair and it sucks. I'm also really pissed about earthquakes and cyclones that kill people. Famine, war, rape, disease, congenital disablities, etc, etc.

But humanity kicked itself out of Eden. We chose to disobey God and Creation has paid the price along with us. I'm betting the lamb is really looking forward to lying down with lion instead of being its breakfast.

But God offered us redemption through the sacrifice of Himself - Christ on the Cross. Christ took our sins on himself, suffering so that we could call God abba - dad.

To accept our redemption, we have to die to ourselves and live in Christ. Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium teach clearly, that sex outside of marriage is a sin, that it separates us from God and does violence to our soul.

Suppose someone saw another drinking sweet poison, would it be cruel to shout out stop even if the poison was slaking a thirst?

Anyway, I must get to bed or I'll croak! Night all.

Anonymous said...

I'd be interested to see some analysis/data around suicide in young gay and lesbians. Does anyone have any links? New Zealand of course has a very high youth suicide rate so the argument, "this will drive kids to suicide" seems to go both ways; given that education is predominantly secular, what are we currently doing wrong and is it any surprise that parents are looking for alternatives?

Andrew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anna said...

The logic follows entirely if you accept that gay relationships are a bad or dangerous thing, but the church has yet to convince me that they're either. Until it does, it's hard to ethically justify inflicting emotional harm on gay people 'for their own good'. There have been a great many harms inflicted on people 'for their own good'.

I don't think that putting homosexuality in the same basket as natural disasters, and implying that some unhappiness is inexplicable and has to be accepted, is fair - the unhappiness of queer kids in schools is entirely man-made. I think that the church's prohibitions need to withstand logical scrutiny - I can't imagine that God would give us the capacity for logic then ask us to accept arguments that are a bit thin.

The Pope's comments start from the premise that homosexuality is a form of self-destruction (from which our treatment of gays can presumably be justified), but doesn't explain the premise - this is the rhetorical tactic of a politician. He's taken the conclusion then worked backwards to construct the argument. (You can probably guess that I have some difficulties with Papal infallibility - more or less depending on the pope in question!)

Taking faith as your starting point is fine, but I can't understand why God wouldn't want us to apply logical scrutiny to it.

In some instances, we've adapted our beliefs to accept overwhelming evidence to the contrary - eg evolution. Why are we still clinging to the 'gays are bad' thing when there's no evidence supporting that either - only the harm we inflict as we pursue our beliefs?

muerk said...


I don't think you are being fair to the Holy Father. His comments came from a depth of knowledge of theology.

I don't think it's helpful to condemn Church teaching on homosexuality without looking at Church teaching on sexuality overall. Maybe this is something you have extensively looked at and still disagree with.

Have you read this book by John Paul II?

I too don't put being gay with natural disasters. I lay in bed last night thinking about how what I wrote was going to come across.

What I was meaning is that life isn't fair and some people get handed difficult circumstances to overcome. And that difficulties, concupiscence and pain are something that we brought into the world through original sin.

notafeminist said...

"And that difficulties, concupiscence and pain are something that we brought into the world through original sin."

Just as a side note, with a comment like that, it is very, very easy to realise why homosexuals tend to be predominantly non-Christian (in my experience, with the hundreds of homosexuals I've known). Because this reasoning blames homosexuals for being that way. "You're gay, it's your fault that man has caused this, and you must bear the consequences." I'm not going to sit around and treat people like that.

So while I've avoided commenting on logical scrutiny, that's basically where it comes down to. And we're just never going to agree on what withstands logical scrutiny.

Meanwhile, for the thousands of NZ kids who are going to grow up ashamed, afraid and depressed, I'll still be there saying that it's ok for them to be who they are. And there will still be people telling me that I'm going to burn in hell for it, and that I'm pushing some gay agenda, and that their kids ought to be ashamed of their feelings.

C'est la vie, I guess.

Anna said...

Thanks for the reference, M - I'll have a look at it. Despite my differences with JPII, I do respect his intellect. I can't claim to be well versed in the intellectual tradition of the church, but I feel personally alienated from the gender roles which were part of my own religious upbringing. I spoke yesterday to a mate of mine who had decided against being married in the church. He was put off by attending the nuptial Mass of friends of his - the priest had emphasised how the happy couple should make babies forthwith. That fits somewhere between absurd and dehumanising.

I see your point about life handing people seemingly unfair burdens (although I personally wouldn't phrase it in terms of original sin), but I tend to see that as a thing to be challenged - ie how do we as a collective meet our responsibility to people when shit happens?

Partly for this reason, I'm bemused that the church spends so much energy worrying about people's reproductive lives. In my ethical framework at least, these things just don't register against civilians being blown up in Palestine. The answer to this is, of course, that the immortal soul is most important - but that way of thinking is the luxury of those who aren't being attacked with missiles.

Sorry to digress!

Anna said...

Anon: re your query about research on gay and lesbian suicide - I'm pretty sure there's suicide prevention strategies and research on the Ministry of Health website (, but I can't load it to check.

Notafeminist - I don't think it's just a logical scrutiny matter, but also an ethical one. There's not much logic to be had in Christianity that believers and non-believers can agree on - it's based on the assumption that there's an invisible guy in the sky, after all.

But we should be able to agree on ethical stuff, I feel. Simply put, being gay doesn't do harm, but oppressing gays does a great deal of harm. I think that's a straightforward, humane, ethical position, and I'm buggered if I can see why it's not widely accepted (no pun intended).

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile, for the thousands of NZ kids who are going to grow up ashamed, afraid and depressed, I'll still be there saying that it's ok for them to be who they are. And there will still be people telling me that I'm going to burn in hell for it, and that I'm pushing some gay agenda, and that their kids ought to be ashamed of their feelings.

But this happens anyway! None of my friends who are queer had a religious education but all describe feeling marginalised on an almost daily basis, including as adults. This really seems to be a strawman (strawperson?) argument.

Anna said...

In what way a straw man argument, Anon? Do you mean that we're singling out religious schools unfairly, when queer kids are also marginalised at state schools?

notafeminist said...

Here are some stats that I pulled from a 2005 resource from*

22.9 % of non-heterosexual
students report having a
significant number of
depressive symptoms that
are considered to be serious
and in need of professional

About one-third
of non-heterosexual
reported that it
was unlikely, or
they were unsure
of their chances
of living to the
age of 25.

A 1999 national study of 821 students and 438
staff by Nairn and Smith (2003) on the safety of
queer students found that only 5 percent of the
student respondents and 8 percent of the staff
respondents thought that lesbian/gay/bisexual
students would feel safe at their school.

During the past year 30.4%
of non-heterosexual students
report that they have thought
of killing themselves …
… During the past year
15.3% of non-heterosexual
have attempted suicide.

Fourteen percent of 33
students reported that
they had missed
school once or more
than once because they
were afraid that
someone might hurt,
tease or bully them.

These are enough to convince me.


muerk said...


"...the priest had emphasised how the happy couple should make babies forthwith."

This is the teaching of the Church though. Indeed it isn't licit for a couple to choose to be childless.

This is from the Catechism:

2363 The spouses' union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple's spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family.

The conjugal love of man and woman thus stands under the twofold obligation of fidelity and fecundity.


Having babies speaks to us about God. Just as a man and a woman come together, mingling their bodies to become one flesh which out of their love creates a new third person. So too the Trinity. The Father and the Son's love is so great that it creates a third person - the Holy Spirit.

Marriage speaks of a truth of God. It's a relection of God's creative love.

But to be fair we've sailed waaay past the point of the post I think :)

Back to gay kids in school - let's face it, kids are brutal. Any difference is seized upon and mocked. I was nerdy and wore glasses, so blam, I got hassled.

Gayness is right up there for difference. It's about as different as you can get aside from having an extra head. I suspect that kids don't hassle gay teens because they are drawing on a well of theological arguments. It's because they're just being bullies.

How about we make schools responsible for teaching respect, love and kindness and for making schools bullying-free places? This is one thing Christian schools can really step up for because we have plenty of Gospel examples of this positive behavior.

Anna said...

Agree completely re the role of Catholic schools in teaching non-bullying. Both Catholic schools my daughter has attended did an admirable job of dealing with bullying. However, I don't think bullying necessarily follows from being different, and how we (grown ups) value particular differences is a factor. Kids never get bullied for showing unusual sporting prowess, for example.

(And yes, you're right about the having babies thing - that's exactly my unease around the gender roles prescribed by the church. Some of us weren't designed to breed!)

Anonymous said...

notafeminist, absolutely, those stats are awful. They don't seem to apply to kids who have had a religious education though; most of those kids will have been educated in secular schools.

Hugh said...
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Anna said...

It's not just a matter of who goes to what sort of school, though. I think that upholding homophobic ideas in any forum will have effects beyond that particular forum - it continues to give legitimacy to those ideas.

Anonymous said...

Yes, of course. I was objecting more to the claims that sending your kids religious schools = driving them to suicide. Like many non-Christian New Zealand families ours has been affected by youth suicide so I find it hard to argue that what we are doing is so great.

There is shit to make you miserable everywhere, like others have said it is being able to deal with the shit that is important, rather than the shit itself.

notafeminist said...

I am not saying that All Public Schools teach sex education better than All Private Schools, I'm advocating that All Schools teach progressive sex education. That's what I call dealing with the shit, so that in 30 years' time "Enough is Enough" will be a big black spot on our recent history.

As for "able to deal with the shit that is important"... I don't like the idea that there is some onus on homosexual students to get over it. That sounds scarily close to 'There wouldn't be trouble with homophobia if people just dealt with it better', which is pretty close to 'It's your fault you are damaged by this; it was your inability to get over it', and 'If you didn't want to get raped you should have said yes'. It's a common theme: Victim blaming.

Yes, there will be shitheads around all the time, but the solution of homophobia does not lie with altering the victims' behaviour, just like the solution to rape does not lie with changing the victims' behaviour. Progressive sex education, in all schools, is just a start.

Azlemed said...

I am anglican and went to a catholic high school for two years before the amount of bullying i was recieving became too much and I changed schools to an all girls school. I learnt nothing about sex at high school and by 5th form everyone at the girls school had already learnt about it so I actually missed out on anything.

Religious education is tricky, i was asked about religious education tonight for a roy morgan pole... and i actually said that I thought it had a place in schools. But they didnt specify if it was christianity or islam etc...

Would teaching some basic points on say 4 religions/faiths be a good thing? seems better than allowing for the lack of understanding that permeates nz.

As for what schools teach, I am unsure whether private schools are totally held to the national curriculum to the extent that state schools are.

The health syllabus has some good basic ideas that could be used more thoroughly if the teachers were more confident using them