SCHOOL TEXTBOOKS GLOSS OVER JIHAD AND UNDERMINE CHRISTIANITY
by Kevin Donnelly, a senior research fellow at the Australian Catholic University and co-chair of the Australian national curriculum review.
Joseph Ratzinger, better known as Pope Benedict XVI, in Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity and Islam, details the rising tide of secularism that seeks to banish Christianity from European history and the public square. While the situation in Australia appears nowhere near as dire, it is the case here that Christianity is often misrepresented and undermined. This happens especially in subjects such as history and in relation to what American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington terms the “clash of civilisations”. The expectation is that school textbooks present a balanced, objective and impartial view of ideas, beliefs and events.
Such is not the case with textbooks such as Jacaranda’s SOSE Alive 2 (2004), Oxford University Press’s Big Ideas Australian Curriculum History 8 (2012), and Learning From One Another: Bringing Muslim Perspectives into Australian Schools (2010), published by the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies at Melbourne University. Instead, these three textbooks, all available to Australian schools, display a jaundiced and superficial view of Christianity. When describing the role of the church in medieval times, the Jacaranda textbook, instead of acknowledging its beneficial impact, presents a bleak and negative picture.
The Catholic Church, supposedly, enforces its teachings by making people “terrified of going to hell”. One of the role plays students are asked to participate in involves imagining “that as a simple, God-fearing peasant, you have been told you were excommunicated”. In relation to how the church treated women, students are told, “mostly they did what the church told them to do — to be obedient wives, good mothers, and caretakers of the home”. Not only is such an interpretation of the church’s impact on women simplistic, it also judges social relations occurring in the far distant past according to contemporary ideas and beliefs.
The Jacaranda book describes those who attacked the World Trade Centre as terrorists, but asks students, “Might it also be fair to say that the Crusaders who attacked the Muslims of Jerusalem were also terrorists?” Equating 9/11 terrorists with the early Crusaders displays a misguided understanding of the historical circumstances surrounding the church’s desire to reclaim Jerusalem and the Holy land. The Oxford textbook (2012) represents an improvement on the Jacaranda book as it acknowledges the beneficial impact of the church on European civilisation. The statement is made that in medieval Europe the “church was a positive influence on societies across Europe — providing education, caring for the sick and supporting the community”.
Such a positive statement is undermined by the illustration accompanying the description that depicts “heretics being burned at the stake”. The observation that “Christian beliefs and values had many positive effects on daily life, architecture, the arts and the justice system”, while welcome, is also undermined by the qualification that Christian values and beliefs “also provided motivation for wars, and justifications for some people’s prejudices and fears”. The portrayal of Christianity and the Catholic Church is one where wrongdoers “were doomed to hell”, missionaries enforced “very strict and Catholic beliefs” and the medieval church worked against “new inventions, exploration and scientific discoveries”.
In relation to scientific discoveries and advances, those familiar with James Hannam’s book The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution, will appreciate how misleading the Oxford textbook is. The negative portrayal of Christianity is made worse as the same kind of close scrutiny is not applied to other religions, such as Islam. The description of Islam is matter-of-fact and ignores the often violent and destructive nature of jihad; the authors write, “caliphs, who succeeded Muhammad, continued to spread the Prophet’s teachings throughout a growing Islamic empire”.
The statement that, “The Ottoman Empire and Islamic faith spread from Asia into Africa and Europe, challenging the Christian belief system of medieval Europe”, implies the process was benign. No mention is made of practices such as dhimma, under which non-believers are denied the right to own property, are unfairly taxed and often live in fear of violence and expulsion from their communities and homes. The third textbook, Learning From One Another: Bringing Muslim Perspectives into Australian Schools, circulated to Australian schools continues to offer a misleading and one-sided view of Islam.
On asking students to explain what they associate with the word jihad, the textbook explains that it can refer to “spiritual struggle” as well as “armed fighting, often in self-defence”. An extract taken from The Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Islamic World, volume 2, claims the Crusades and the “modern war on terror” are motivated by “greed and scorn for Islam”. The book also says that the reason many Muslim nations are “socio-economically and educationally disadvantaged” is because of “former colonial powers”. Ignored is the counterargument that fundamentalist interpretations of the Muslim religion, especially sharia law, run counter to economic and scientific advancement and that the theocratic nature of Islam restricts change.
Similar to the Oxford textbook, the third textbook also presents the growth of Islam in a neutral way that ignores the violence, destruction and loss of freedom experienced by those living in the conquered lands. The impact of expansion is described as “many of the peoples of the newly conquered regions converted to Islam. Those who did not were allowed to live peacefully and practise their faith as long as they abided by the law of the land and paid the jizya, a tax imposed on non-Muslims.” Once again, there is no reference to the suffering, financial hardship and executions faced by those who wished to remain true to their religion.
Unlike secular critics who often attack Christian schools for teaching creationism and conservative views about reproduction and sexuality, the Learning From One Another textbook counsels tolerance and respect for Islamic beliefs on such matters. To point out the above textbooks present a biased and simplistic view of religion, in particular Christianity and Islam, is not to argue against a full, objective and, where justified, critique of religion. Rather, it is to argue that any such analysis should be fair and impartial. In arguing for a more inclusive and comprehensive treatment of religion, especially Christianity, it is also important to distinguish between proselytising and educating students about religions and beliefs systems in a broader sense.
SYDNEY ANGLICAN DOCTRINE COMMISSION ISSUES SAME-SEX MARRIAGE REPORT
The Doctrine commission of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney has issued its report on same-sex marriage. The report, Human Sexuality and the ‘Same Sex Marriage’ Debate, was commissioned by the then Archbishop Peter Jensen in 2012. Since then the eight members of the Doctrine Commission have grappled with a mountain of material. According to the commission chairman, Moore College principal the Rev Canon Dr Mark Thompson, the group sought to read the most substantial and influential material from both sides. “Nothing is to be gained in this debate by creating straw men or women – on either side – or simply by repeating tribal shibboleths,” Dr Thompson says in the report’s introduction.
“It was particularly important to each of us to read with generosity and sympathy the contributions of those, both inside and outside the circle of Christian faith and fellowship, who most seriously and strongly disagreed with us.” The report’s authors stress this is a document designed for Christians and not for the debate in the general public. A special printed edition of the report is available at www.cepstore.com.au for a cover price of $16.95. It will later be published as an eBook. Archbishop Glenn Davies is urging Sydney Anglicans to read the report and consider it carefully. “I want people to understand the biblical arguments for maintaining marriage as God created it. That’s the prime thing,” the Archbishop says.
He continued “This is a matter of honouring the God who created marriage and understanding why he created it and how we can best use it for which it was designed and for the betterment of our community. “Unless ordinary Christians become light and salt in their society, standards will slip and same-sex marriage will be adopted by society without thinking through the ramifications, the significance of marriage and the consequences.” Archdeacon Kara Hartley, a member of the Doctrine Commission, agrees. “There are those who have grown up having known homosexual behaviour is wrong, then there are those who have grown up in this era of change – particularly in the public perception – where there is now almost full acceptance,” she says.
“They are trying to work it out. Yes, they know from their Bible and statements from church leaders that homosexual practice is wrong in God’s sight, but they are told in the media ‘It’s just about people loving each other and what’s the problem with that?’ Trying to marry those two things is really hard when public opinion is now turned so dramatically and how to defend God – which is what people want to do – they are not sure how to do that.” “I think the report should help people be confident they can engage in the conversation and on this topic,” Archdeacon Hartley says. The report has chapters on the development of same sex marriage as a social issue, biblical views on marriage and a chapter on how Christians can engage in debate.
The Bishop of South Sydney Robert Forsyth, has explained the Christian position in countless media appearances, and observes that “The debate is like an iceberg, in which there’s a little tip and then big, deep assumptions underneath. It’s easy when speaking with people to find yourself in a situation where you are arguing with a whole lot of assumptions that the other person has taken which are not even acknowledged by them. The only way to move forward is to go deeper and work on what is beneath the surface.” “I’m not asking Christians to go on a crusade but at some point they’ll need to explain wisely and winsomely what it is about marriage and human sexuality that makes us say no, this is not the way a disciple of Christ should live.”
AUSTRALIANS ASKED TO JOIN IN A WEEK OF PRAYER FOR AMERICA
Australian Christians have been invited to join other nations in an International call to Pray for America for a seven day period between 30th April and 6th May inclusive. The 30th April is America’s National Day of Repentance and 7th May the 64th Annual National Day of Prayer. Close observers of the United States will be aware of the great spiritual battle that is being fought over the destiny of the USA right now, particularly over the issue of same-sex marriage and the infiltration of Islam into the society. The destiny of America hangs in the balance. Organisers are believing for people representing over 100 nations to join in the week of prayer and fasting.
Co-ordinator of the initiative Warwick Marsh said “30 April is the 226th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration as a devout Christian president and the 152nd anniversary of Lincoln’s Day of ‘Humiliation, Prayer and Fasting’ held during the devastating times of the Civil War. The theme for the USA National Day of Prayer on 7 May, 2015 ‘Lord Hear Our Cry’ is taken from 2 Kings 8:28: ‘Give attention to your servant’s prayer and his pleas for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day.’”
A Greens bid to have Victoria’s Law Reform Commission examine euthanasia has been delayed. Party leaders in the state’s upper house agreed to not to vote on the motion after it looked like it would fail. But the Greens say a vote will be held in May on whether the commission should report on euthanasia laws. Democratic Labour Party MP Rachel Carling-Jenkins claimed a win after speaking against the motion. “The Greens simply did not have the numbers, so they did not bring it to a vote,” Dr Carling-Jenkins said.
But the Greens say the vote will be held when Parliament returns for the budget. Ms Hartland said the Law Reform Commission needed to examine the issue because it wasn’t going away. “We actually need to allow people to decide how they will die because doctors are already doing this,” she said. Ms Hartland wants the commission to spend up to a year examining the issue and then see the government bring forward legislation based on that report.