“To ethics … And all those prepared to stand up for them.”
When ethics classes started being offered several years ago in NSW schools for those children who did not enrol in religious education, I thought that was a significant step forward for our supposedly secular society. And the way in which they have grown has been fantastic to witness; it is true social progress. After all, surely assisting children to become more ethical adults can only be a great thing?
But here we are, again facing the rising influence of the conservative and religious right-wing of our political classes. So are ethics now to be regarded, again, as only of value to atheists, heretics and non-conformists? (I’ll proudly count myself into that broad bunch).
The recent move by the NSW government to remove the ethics option from public school enrolment forms is nothing short of a disgrace and an offence to democratic and inclusive principles across the board. It returns us to an approach where those of us who are not religious are deemed as outsiders, unacceptable to the mainstream, heretics no less.
Personally, I think religious education should be confined to homes and religious institutions. As much as I disagree with religion (of all varieties), being a libertarian I fully respect the rights of others to be religious and hold those beliefs.
But my issue from a societal perspective is that religion does not equate to real ethics. And this, perhaps, is at the heart of the political and religious loathing of them.
Ethics, in their genuine application, lead us to have consideration for others, as a general principle, regardless of who those others may be. The reality about any religion is that the adherents have only consideration of any real sort for their own. If they profess to have consideration for “others”, then it is always provisional consideration, it being on their terms. In other words, any “ethics” preached by religious groups are selective and conditional in their applicability. Not to mention the rampant hypocrisy in religions, but I'll save that for another day.
Further, those in power, whether governmental, religious, organizational or otherwise, tend to have a fundamental problem with real ethics because of the implications for them and their hold on power. In order to obtain and/or maintain power, expediency and corrupt decision making will almost always be the most efficient and effective strategy. For many people in power I would venture that this is also the most naturally comfortable approach for them as well. And so ethics will always end up being unpalatable. Lip service gets paid, sure, but that’s as far as it really goes.
Ethics classes should absolutely be available to our children, on an equal footing with any religious education. Sadly this won’t be likely under our religious right-wing rulers.
But perhaps the real problem for our politicians is this:
If we teach all our children to be ethical adults, then where the hell will the next generation of politicians come from?