OK, as I said a couple of days back, in this post, and possibly the next, I’m going to take a critical look at the Transforming Melbourne document entitled ‘The Vital Role of the Church and Christian Faith in Our Society’ by Rob Isaachsen. The pdf is long and rambling, so I’m just going to lift out the more egregious and offensive portions for examination. Just so you know that I’m not taking anything out of context, though, I urge you to read it for yourself.

I’ll start with the soft stuff:

Our City and Nation depend on the Church
The contribution of Christian faith to every level of our society, its history, laws, institutions, culture, values, community support, welfare services and overseas aid is far in excess of any other movement.

It may indeed be true that there is dependency on the Church for some things. But in my view, that’s exactly the kind of situation we should be addressing. To claim that the contribution of the Christian faith to our society is ‘far in excess of any other movement’ is an exaggeration and a straw man. The assertion conveniently excludes the greater umbrella of secular contribution to society, which is not a ‘movement’ as such, but is just the way we live. Indeed, it is an enhancement of this secular contribution that Humanists and atheists seek.

Church, Government and Society are largely ignorant of the vital place of the Church
It is only because society is ignorant of this, that society contemplates restricting Christian influence.

No, our society contemplates restriction of Christian influence because Christian ideals are in conflict with the ideals of our society. It is only Christians who think that the medieval morality of their Church is ‘vital’. Other people, like me, think it has an agenda that is overly influential. We are not in any way ignorant of what’s going on here – we know, and we object.

Correlation between Christian heritage and strong nationhood
“Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilisation. To this day we have no other options [to Christianity”.

Oh for Pete’s sake. Now the rhetoric starts. This, of course, is complete and utter bullshit. First of all it makes the conceited assumption that ‘Western civilization’ is better than any other way of living. What utter racist gall.1 This statement is demeaning to every culture on the planet that does not have a Christian heritage. As usual, Christians are putting themselves on the top of the pile, and somehow don’t find it hypocritical that they target atheists and others as ‘arrogant’.

In addition, I don’t think I need to point out to anyone with even a little bit of history and philosophy that Christians can hardly take the credit for ‘liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy’. They seem to have forgotten that the Ancient Greeks and Romans were doing pretty well on that score before Jesus came along. Not to mention that they conveniently ignore some of the appalling subjugation of those ideals by Christianity through the ages (God, according to his own Word, is certainly not too fussy about ANY of those things).

Individual Influence of Christian Faith
“If you are a church-goer you are more likely to take the opinions of other people seriously, more determined to make a contribution to society, more inclined to think that life is meaningful, less likely to violate property rights or to harm other people, cheat on your taxes, avoid paying train fares or to take sickies. (“The Religious Factor in Australian Life” by Melbourne sociologists, Beverly Dixon and Gary Bouma 1983)

I’d be inclined to laugh at this if I wasn’t so angry. The Dixon and Bouma conclusions (which I don’t even really need to point out are 30 years old) are taken from information accumulated by the 1983 Australian Values Study, a self-reported survey carried out by the Roy Morgan Research Centre.

What’s happening here is something with which you should be very familiar if you’re a regular reader of The Cow. It’s a common tactic of a people who are being dishonest about what they are telling you: opinions are being touted as facts. The Australian Values Study shows us data about what people say they do. This is manifestly not the same as what people actually do. Being ‘more determined’ to make a contribution to society is not the same as actually making a contribution. Just because Christians say that they are less likely to violate property rights, harm other people, cheat on their taxes or evade train fares is not evidence that they act that way. In fact, an equally valid explanation for the statistical over-representation of Christians as being ‘morally superior’ is that they lied more about these things than other people on the survey. Unless some kind of evidence is put forward, the Dixon/Bouma statement – presented quite clearly here as ‘fact’ – is merely conjecture based on biased opinion.

I’m going to skip a few paragraphs here2 and go on to something that really peeves me, before, in the next post, we look at the really offensive material.

Christian Schools
44% of secondary and 34% of all primary students in Victoria attend Catholic or independent (mainly Christian or Church-run) schools in Greater Melbourne (2006 Census). The percentage of students enrolling at state schools is falling and to independent (Christian) schools is rising – generally because parents see these schools give priority to Christian values or the style of education provided by them.

Wow – a fact! Yes, the enrollment rate in religious schools in Victoria is rising (indeed, VT & I send our own kids to a Christian school).3 But it’s not because ‘parents see these schools give priority to Christian values or the style of education provided by them’. It’s because the religious schools have better teachers. Why do they have better teachers? Because they are attracted by better wages than they can earn at a government school. Why can religious schools afford to pay teachers better? Because they have the triple benefit of their historically deep pockets, an ability to attract wealthier parents who will pay substantial fees,4 AND government support in the form of stipends and tax breaks! Why are there no atheist or Humanist private schools? Because they would not be eligible for any kind of government assistance!5

And why, Faithful Acowlytes, would they not be eligible for government assistance? Because they are not RELIGIONS. Keep that thought in mind, because in a little bit you will see how Mr Isaachsen’s rhetoric causes him to be hoist with his own petard…

  1. Rather shabby argument too, considering that as we will see in a bit, Christians pride themselves on their tolerance and lack of racism. []
  2. I can deflate most of the intervening rubbish as easily as I have done above, but it’s kind of tedious. []
  3. It is the least doctrinal of all the Melbourne religious schools, as far as I can tell. []
  4. This happens through a kind of bootstrapping effect – a little bit more operating money than governments schools -> better teachers -> better education -> parents wanting the best for their kids -> higher fees -> a little bit more operating money -> better teachers… Not hard to see how it works. I don’t like participating in that scheme, but I also want my kids to have the best chance they can. And it has to be said, their school is very good. But it has NOTHING to do with religion. []
  5. It is a sad state of affairs that government schooling in Australia does not get the kind of priority that it should. But it is a fact that private religious schools – which are money-making enterprises – have an effect on the budget that is allocated to government schools. Private religious schools, in my opinion, should be independent of government subsidy. The Christian church – for nearly all private schools in Australia are Christian – are REALLY afraid of this happening, because then they would need to survive on their assertion that ‘parents give priority to Christian values’ and would thus be prepared to pay an even greater premium for that privilege. Any sensible person knows how that scenario would play out. Indeed, if government schools could afford to pay better teachers – which might be possible if they had money that was being siphoned off by private schools – I think we could confidently predict a rapid decline in the enrollment numbers of private religious schools. []