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The Fundy Post: Issue 2

Issue 2 of The Fundy Post is here.

In this issue: Integrated Schools, Civil Unions Bill and Zombies.

You can also find the online version at http://www.nzarh.org.nz/thepost.htm, where you get links to everything.

The Fundy Post

A review of the strange world of the Religious Right

Issue Two: 11th May 2004

We Read This Crap So You Don't Have To

Here at the NZ Association of Rationalists and Humanists, we keep an eye on the outpourings of New Zealand's various religious fundamentalists. As a community service, we would like to share the highlights with you. Comments and contributions are welcome. Now read on.

Production of this week's Fundy Post has been greatly helped by a bottle of Drambuie, kindly sent to us by The Independent which published our letter about the Maxim Institute's mass-mailing antics and awarded it Letter of the Week. Thank you, Independent, for warming the cockles of our heart.

We don't need no Integration

The Maxim Institute's Real Issues Number 109 has a jubilant announcement that Trevor Mallard has abandoned the review of Integrated Schools his Ministry started last year: "after feeling the heat over school closures and with the threat of more parental action, the Minister of Education has backed away from axing the Integration Act".

For the uninitiated, Integrated Schools are state funded schools of "special character". They were created in 1974 by a dirty deal between the Government of the day and the Catholic Church, which allowed the Church's schools to be funded almost entirely by the tax-payer, while retaining their independence and continuing to charge fees. The existing Education Act was modified and a new Integration Act passed, with little consultation.

Most Integrated Schools are Catholic, although the other mainstream churches have climbed on the gravy train, along with Jewish, Muslim, Hare Krishna and other schools. The system has also allowed fundamentalist groups to establish schools of very dubious educational worth, where children can be indoctrinated with hillbilly values such as "Creation Science".

In short the system works like this: tax-payers fund schools to which the majority would not want to send their children and could not, because they cannot meet the religious entry requirements or afford the fees. Enthusiasts for the system defend it on the grounds of free choice, but it benefits only the minority of parents who are determined that their children should be educated in the ways of their particular sect.

Apart from being unfair, this system would not be a problem were it not for the fact that the Minister cannot close an Integrated School or merge it with any other school. With falling rolls the Ministry started a merger programme and then abandoned it in the face of public opposition, but some public schools are already destined for oblivion. The Integrated Schools were completely unaffected by the recent "Network Review", even though some are too small to be considered viable, were they normal public schools. If mergers must happen, fairness would suggest that those schools which are only prepared to accept students whose parents can pay fees and go to the right churches should be closed, rather than those that will educate all children, regardless of creed and wealth. Unless something is done, we could find ourselves with an education system where parents will have no choice but to send their children to schools which they cannot afford and which teach religious dogma they do not accept.

With all this and more in mind, the Ministry of Education published a discussion document on the future of Integrated Schools. The document carefully records all the facts about the current system and makes some recommendations for change, such as merging the Integration Act into the Education Act. This radical proposal would mean that our democratically elected Minister would be able to exercise some control over the money he spends on our behalf for these schools. For example, if there were more school places than students in a particular area, he could consider all the publicly-funded schools, rather than cutting back the public schools and being unable to do anything about the Integrated Schools, other than continue to hand out large amounts of cash.

So there were tense moments here when we read Maxim's announcement. "Could it be", we asked ourselves, "that for once Maxim knows something that no-one else does?" We called the Minister's office and in due course we received a statement from Mr Mallard: "I have seen a summary of the submissions. I expect to have further discussions and will make decisions later".

Thus reassured, we relaxed. However, while idly browsing the web we saw a statement from the Catholic Dioceses of Palmerston North and Wellington which suggested that a deal had been done. To quote parts of his statement with our comments:

"The Association of Proprietors of Integrated Schools [the people who own the schools we pay for] , for instance, noted 30 areas where they considered amendments were needed. None of them touched the fundamentals of the Act [not surprising: they would not want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs every term, would they?]

There were however some whose reading of the discussion document lead them to conclude that the Government was planning to roll back essential aspects of the Act [some being anyone who reads the document]

Such concerns have now been laid to rest. Brother Pat Lynch, CEO of the Catholic Education Office has received a letter from the Ministry of Education confirming that the only changes to be made as part of this review will be made by way of mutual agreement.

The next phase in the review process will take place during May in a series of six or so meetings where the Ministry will work through a list of possible amendments with the proprietors of integrated schools."

If we are reading this correctly, the Minister's "further discussions" will be with the beneficiaries of the current system and will clean up a few details. An opportunity for changing an unfair system will be lost. It is interesting to note that the Maxim Institute and the Catholic Education Office get to hear about these proposals before the public. Whither democracy, as it were.

We sent the text of this post to the Minister for comment and asked if Brother Lynch was right in feeling assured. We received this reply:

"The purpose of a discussion document is to prompt discussion - and this has happened and will continue. I will obviously take into account these discussions and submissions when making any future decisions."

According to the Catholic Church, which seems to know more about this issue than the rest of us, "there have been 560 submissions made in response to that document. While there was general agreement that amendments to a number of administrative details were needed, these submissions did not want the fundamentals of the integration act touched". The trouble is, not many got to hear about the discussion document before the deadline for submissions closed, us included. It looks as if there has been a concerted effort by those most likely to be affected by reform. We think there should be wider public debate on this issue, which should take into account the views of all interested parties, including representatives of the public education system.

At the end of April, Sancta Maria College in Botany was officially opened by that well-known Agnostic, the Prime Minister. This is part of an aggressive expansion of Catholic schools: Sancta Maria is the tenth school to open in nine years and an eleventh will open next year.

One reason for the expansion is that last year the rules for admission were changed. It used to be that a student's parents had to be Catholic and letter from a Priest was required for admission, but now only one Catholic grandparent is required. Clearly, the Church is running its Integrated Schools as a business and to make converts. Brother Lynch has admitted as such, having said on several occasions that his schools offer the benefits of a private education with considerably lower fees than real private schools, which largely have to support themselves.

Should you need any convincing, the next time you are in Remuera (try not to look too plebeian: it worries the locals) have a look at Baradene College of the Sacred Heart. With its sweeping lawns and rhododendron bushes, it looks like an expensive private school, but most of the funds for its schooling and upkeep come from tax-payers. Unless the Integration Act is reformed, the future of education will favour schools like Baradene, which will expand while public schools close, as the education budget is diverted from public education to the pious and the privileged.

If you need any convincing of the unfairness of Integration, take a look at the Minister's statement (which can be downloaded as a PDF)on the future of schools in Wairoa, Northern Hawkes Bay. Several schools are being merged, one is being closed. There has been opposition to the proposals from some of the schools affected, all of which are state funded public primary schools. Also state funded, primary but not public is St Joseph's School, an integrated Catholic school. St Joseph's was not part of the network review and will not be required to close or merge, because the Minister does not have the power to consider integrated schools in reviews and cannot merge or close them without the consent of the owners. So, the students, staff and parents of St Josephs gain an unfair advantage. Like every other Integrated School, they face no danger of closure or merger. The burden of the Network Review falls entirely on the public schools, which will result in communities losing their local schools, disruption of children's education and the possibility of job losses.

We think this is nothing less than discrimination, in favour of religious schools and against the general public. The Ministry of Education has come up with a solution, and the Minister should act upon it.

You can read more about Integrated Schools in the current edition of our journal, The Open Society. Contact us if you need a copy. We can also send you a PDF of the Ministry of Education discussion document.

Inherit The Wind

Let's start with a quiz.

For ten points, who was the individual most responsible for the Civil Unions Bill? Select from the following choices:

a) Tim Barnett b) Chris Carter c) Helen Clark d) Charles Darwin

Wrong! It was Charles Darwin. Which is surprising, for a happily-married man whose chief interest was earth-worms and who probably never went to a gay mardi gras in his life.

However, The Society for the Promotion of Community Standards knows better and has spoken out against the Civil Unions Bill and its cause, the Theory of Evolution. Obviously there is nothing worth banning at the cinema this week.

In a press release, the Society's Vice-President Graham Fox, describes the Civil Unions Bill and its related Omnibus Bill as "yet another Labour-led strategy to undermine the divinely created order of marriage". He goes on (the society does not know the meaning of the word terse), "this strategy is driven by a secular humanist religious ideology where Human Rights are seen as being paramount. A secular humanist must reject the idea of a divinely created order and attempt to replace it with the doctrine that man has evolved and is ultimately master of his own destiny"

Yes, its all about Evolution: "most opponents of the Civil Union Bill hold the philosophical position that man is a created being and as such, is subject to the order established by the Creator. Marriage, instituted at the beginning of the human family, involving one male and one female, has been practised by all known cultures down through history".

"At the heart of the Civil Union Bill controversy is a debate over opposing worldviews - fundamental presuppositional belief systems that underpin explanations of the origin and nature of reality. They both have theories of origins that either encompass or reject the concept of a Creator".

So, there you are. The issue is cut and dried. Supporters of the CUB are communicant members of the secular humanist church; opponents are people who read the Book of Genesis and cannot recognise a metaphor when they see it.

Mr Fox goes on (and on) to give us a science lesson. "Advances in scientific knowledge, particularly rapid advances in fields like biochemistry and DNA research, have overwhelmingly shown that life was designed and could never have evolved. Consequently the Neo-Darwinist evolution theory on which secular humanists devaluation of marriage is based, should be rejected".

As the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy would say: this is, of course, bollocks.

Mr Fox prophesises "political fallout"

if the Bills proceed beyond their first reading. He believes most New Zealanders will want the Bills "decisively junked", which implies that he thinks most of us believe an ancient creation myth and junk science. He should get out more often. We find all this very puzzling. The Society for the Promotion of Christian Slasher Movies is notorious for the length of its documents, but usually they make some sort of sense. We suspect they have been infected with Loganella, the mystery virus (first diagnosed in Christchurch and Hillsborough) which is sweeping through the fundamentalist community. The obvious symptoms are a tendency to make vast rhetorical leaps beyond the known laws of logic, a propensity to draw strangely irrelevant conclusions from simple facts and an insatiable desire to sound clever, which leads to the use of phrases such as "fundamental presuppositional belief systems".

Incidentally, we understand that Mel Gibson's Pulp Gospel is popular with two audiences for which it was not intended: teenage horror fans and gay S&M enthusiasts.

Night of the Living God

Whilst we are at the movies, we learn from Challenge Christian Weekly that another Messiah Movie is on its way. The Gospel According to St Matthew will be a word-for word account of the New International Version of the Saint Matt's Gospel.

We must say we were disappointed with Mel Gibson's Kill Jesus Volume One for leaving out one incident in the original screenplay. If you saw the film, you will recall (if you were not too busy vomiting at the time) that after Christ's death, an earthquake hits Jerusalem and the Temple falls apart. This is as was written. But Mel neglects to show us what also happens at that moment:

27:52 The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 27:53 They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. That's right: zombies. We look forward to seeing this scene depicted.

More from Stephen D Taylor

In Issue One of the Fundy Post, we mentioned the Antics of Stephen D Taylor of Onehunga. It was he, you will recall, who wrote a letter to numerous papers (using Maxim's Letter Wizard) that suggested Tim Barnett MP should be "put down". The NZ Herald published it and then apologised.

He's back. In a contribution to Challenge Christian Weekly (3rd May 2004), Mr Taylor (who is calling himself Steve again) whines that he and his like were called gay-bashers by Claire Gummer in an article on the Civil Unions Bill. Mr Taylor demanded a right of reply on behalf of himself, the Roman Catholic Church, United Future and the Maxim Institute. He didn't get it, apparently because the Herald thought his views "were extreme".It is a pity that Herald Letters Editor Garth George did not share that view when he received Mr Taylor's threatening letter.

Mr Taylor sees double standards at work, but then goes on to prove that his views are, to say the least, extreme. Gays, it seems, " are a minority population who have rejected marriage outright". He continues,"they don't want the covenant, but they do want the ceremony; they don't want the commitment, but they do want the children; they don't want the lifestyle, but they do want the legislative advantages that the lifestyle brings".

Correct us if we are wrong, Mr Taylor, but haven't you got this completely arse about face? Surely, it is marriage that has rejected gays. They do want commitment and "lifestyle"; that is the point. Some might even want covenant, whatever that is. Mr Taylor also fails to mention, as opponents of Civil Unions invariably do, one simple point that is so bleeding obvious it needs to be put in capitals: THERE ARE THOUSANDS OF UNMARRIED HETEROSEXUAL COUPLES WHO WILL BENEFIT FROM THE CIVIL UNIONS BILL

The non sequiturs keep on coming: Mr Taylor berates Christian churches that have more humane attitudes to Gays for "ecumenical apostasy". He sneers at the "UN imposed" (seen any black helicopters lately?) Human Rights Act. He suggests that the logical consequence of stopping discrimination in legal relationships is to allow a paedophile to form a union with his victim, a father marrying his daughter and grandmother in a de facto relationship with her grand-daughter. These morbid fantasises cannot be doing Mr Taylor any good, but at least he has the assurance that there are fellow sufferers out there and all of them are writing to the papers at the moment.

There is a whole lot more from Mr Taylor but none of it makes much sense. He ends with a plea for tolerance, at which point our powers of commentary desert us. He may as well be writing in Aramaic.

Even more about Civil Unions

The same issue of Challenge also includes a piece on the CUB by Craig Heilmann, Director of Focus on the Family New Zealand, described as "a non-profit organisation dedicated to educating and nurturing families". It is the local wing of Dr James Dobson's Focus on the Family, a fundy organisation which provides much entertaining reading, particularly its advice to teenagers on what not to do with their hands.

Like everyone opposed to the CUB, Mr Heilmann is a victim of Loganella: "The natural teleology of the God-designed male-female asymmetry is marriage ".We think this means that men and women are different from each other for the purpose of marriage, but it is anyone's guess. Consequently, Civil Unions are bad for adults, as they are for children, although no evidence is produced for these assertions.

Discrimination is a good thing and Mr Heilmann has some clinching examples to show it: "for instance, we don't let 8-year-olds drive and only 15 people - not 4 million- run onto the field to represent the All Blacks". We would have thought these examples are more a matter of public safety and crowd control than social policy, but perhaps we are just being ornery.

You might think we are selecting this most extreme, ridiculous, incoherent and banal arguments against the Civil Unions Bill for special attention. but, honestly, they are all like this. We have yet to see one intelligent, well-written essay that makes a case against the CUB. It would be wrong to think there is such a thing as a debate going on about the issue, because that would require both proponents and opponents to speak the same language.

Damn Natives

James Dobson's Focus on the Family's provides many services to its readers, including a film review site which tells families what films to avoid. Here is an example: "Whale Rider is essentially about leadership and the fact that leadership presents itself in the form of a young girl," states its director, Niki Caro. Such feminist sentiments certainly inhabit the movie, but they are not forceful by any means... Still, care should be taken to compare and contrast the way the movie handles the role of women with that established in Scripture.

Still thirsting for reason in a sea of madness? Then read Issue One of the Fundy Post.


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