Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ethics Again

I already commented on the NSW Government proposals for a secular ethics class to be provided in schools as an alternative in the period devoted to religious education.

This week the SMH has reported on concerns by bishops that the program is a threat to teach ethics instead of religion rather than an alternative to it. That is, that this is the thin end of a wedge designed to see the secular ethics class replace religious education.

The correct response to that is "so what." If parents want to provide education in religion they have two options, choose a school run by a religion which we still absurdly subsidise (see especially the case the the Exclusive Brethren schools), or send their children to a "sunday school" or equivalent in their faith. I was always happier with what my kids learnt in Sunday School than anything that hapened in school scripture class. My own secondary school religious instruction (at a non-denominational private school) I found useful because we did study the Bible as a text rather than as a religion e.g. we had no prayers that I can recall). This was highly useful for other studies like history (helping to understand religious wars) and english. We also had a year where we did comparative religion - we each had to research and present the case for a religion - I did atheism!

Anyhow the complaint about the ethics classes is the topic today. Jim Wallace made the point raised by the Bishop's in the National Times last week.

However, with the pilot trial due to start next term in 10 public primary schools, it has emerged they are being pitched with the obvious aim to draw students away from Scripture classes, despite the Government's assurances they would not.

Wallace, however, repeats the delusion I referred to the other day that somehow or other our ethical system is inherently Christian. There is certainly plenty of causal effects that can be shown of how Judeo-Christian beliefs and values have informed our political system and ethical values. But there is no "correspondence."

His most outrageous claims revolve around what is sometimes called the Golden Rule.

He wrote;

The idea of loving one's neighbour as oneself – or do unto others as you would have them do unto you – is religious. More accurately, it is Christian.

In an earlier work I incorrectly labelled this as the principle of mutuality. It is better known as the principle of recipriocity. To just help all those Christians out there understand that the principle ethics of their religion exist not because God commanded them but because they work, here is a list of the principle of reciprocity as stated in eight leading religions. There is a poster that has the rule in 31 religions.

Christianity All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye so to them; for this is the law and the prophets. Matthew 7:1

Confucianism Do not do to others what you would not like yourself. Then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state. Analects 12:2

Buddhism Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. Udana-Varga 5,1

Hinduism This is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you. Mahabharata 5,1517

Islam No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself. Sunnah

Judaism What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary. Talmud, Shabbat 3id

Taoism Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss. Tai Shang Kan Yin P’ien

Zoroastrianism That nature alone is good which refrains from doing another whatsoever is not good for itself. Dadisten-I-dinik, 94,5

It is an interesting feature that all the versions state the exhortation as an absolute, devoid of any reference to the deity.

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