This week the Sinner is again political – it’s easy to find a recipient in US politics – and the Saint award goes to Australia.

Giving an award to Australia is damn near impossible for any New Zealander, so make the most of it – it might never happen again! There are a lot of rivalries like ours around the world. The New Zealand vs Australia rivalry is mainly a sporting one. Often we’ll band together in the northern hemisphere, and of course there’s the great ANZAC spirit that’s important to both countries.

Some of the other rivalries are more serious – India and Pakistan for example. There’s also England and France, Germany and France, Spain and France (does anybody like the French?), USA and Canada, Japan and Korea, and let’s not even mention the Middle East. Perhaps you could remind me of some of the others in the comments?

Trump tweet journos

I would just like to point out here that I am not following Donald Trump on Twitter – I got this image from a Google search!


Journalists following Donald Trump

There are currently a whole lot of people wanting Donald Trump to be the Republican nominee for president. It’s a bizarre but understandable phenomenon. The problem I have is with all the journalists who are now thinking, despite their initial dismissal of his campaign, that he actually has a chance.

These journalists probably thought his campaign would fall over fairly quickly. Trump’s controversial rhetoric would have led to the average politician to lose votes, but so far that’s not happening with Trump. His followers are continuing to blindly follow him, forgiving him anything and everything. They are frankly star-struck. Political journalists should know better though.

Trump Alabama Aug 2015

Trump at his rally at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on 21 August in Mobile, Alabama, which attracted around 30,000 people. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)

Donald Trump has the money to finance his campaign for as long as he wants to. He has actually started to ask for money from donors as well, despite criticizing other candidates for doing that. He’s even said he will take money from big donors as long as they don’t expect anything in return. That’s actually what every candidate does – none would ever admit that they take money from donors in return for future favours, and presumably some even stick to that.

The statistical analysis and common sense make it clear that Trump cannot maintain his lead. There are 17 candidates in the race at the moment. Up to 30% are voting for Trump, but 70% aren’t. Gradually, those candidates will fall away. Jim Gilmore will probably be gone by the end of the month, and I’m not sure how much longer Bobby Jindal, George Pataki and Rick Perry can last either. What’s important is who their second, third and even fourth choices are, and for most of them, Trump doesn’t feature. Trump’s support will continue at the level it is for a while, but that of others will gradually increase as candidates drop out of the race and eventually surpass Trump. There is a question regularly asked of voters in the Quinnipiac University polls that makes this clear:

GOP Would Never Vote For 25Aug2015

Donald Trump is leading this poll by a long way, and has always led this poll. This means that as other candidates fall away, their voters will mostly be choosing someone other than Trump. The other factor is electability. As the primary goes on, GOP voters recognize that the most important thing is winning the presidential election, and that means choosing a candidate that is acceptable to more centrist voters. That simply isn’t Trump, which is shown from the results when all voters are questioned about Trump’s favourability:

All voters Trump Favourability 25Aug2015

Again, Trump is way ahead in this poll, especially amongst those demographics that the Republican party is going to have to improve its image with if it wants to win. This same Quinnipiac poll asked voters a “head to head” question of a range of Republican candidates (Trump, Bush, Rubio) vs a range of Democratic candidates (Clinton, Biden, Sanders). In every single case, the Democratic candidate won. If the Republicans want to win the 2016 election, which should be easier for them than it has been for some time, they’ve got to have someone more credible than Donald Trump representing their party.

It is clear that at some point, Trump will no longer be leading the polls, he will not get the GOP nomination, and even if by some miracle he did, he could not win the presidential election. The farce of his campaign will probably play out for a while yet – Trump has the money to finance it. But at the end of the day it’s just another reality TV show, and reality TV bears no resemblance to reality. Journalists will keep covering it, but in my opinion it’s just stupid to start predicting success for Trump.


FIRIS and the state government of Victoria, Australia

Note: There is a Jesus and Mo cartoon towards the end of this post, which some may find offensive.

For four years the group Fairness in Religion in Schools has been campaigning to have “Special Religious Instruction” (SRI) removed from schools in Victoria, Australia. This week they achieved their desire; the state government announced that the weekly half hour lessons in Christianity, that are taught by volunteers, will cease from 2016. Instead lessons that include content on world histories, cultures, faiths and ethics will be added to the curriculum, which will be taught by qualified teachers. The Age reports that “[c]lasses that address domestic violence and respectful relationships will also become compulsory for all prep to year 10 students from 2016.”

FIRISFIRIS states that the lessons were being used to proselytize to students, and those students that were removed from them by their parents were sometimes treated negatively by both teachers and their classmates.

The state government recognized that students were missing out on valuable learning time during the half hour per week given over to SRI. If the schools wish to continue the lessons in future, they must be held outside school hours, either before school or at lunchtime.

The Age says that the Australian Education Union is also opposed to SRI in schools, and approves of the government’s decision. The Victorian branch president “welcomed the announcement,” and said state schools “should be secular,” they reported.

Access Ministries teaches SRI in Victoria, and they are extremely unhappy with the decision. The Age again:

The decision to axe SRI from the curriculum has been met with fierce opposition by chaplaincy organisation Access Ministries, the main provider of religious instruction.

The organisation’s chief executive, Dawn Penney, said the government failed to consult SRI providers and nearly 30,000 Victorian parents about its decision.

Ms Penney was seeking “urgent discussions” with Education Minister James Merlino on Thursday about the changes, which could deter families from the program.

The political opposition is unhappy about the change too. They say that the state government has broken an election promise to retain SRI, which is true, but apart from that the best argument they can come up with for retaining the lessons according to The Age is:

“This decision by Daniel Andrews will create chaos for thousands of parents whose children will be forced to attend these classes out of school hours.” he said.

“Parents in schools across Victoria will face the prospect of juggling new and varied after-school hours pick-ups just to suit the ideological whims of Daniel Andrews.”

Faith education

Religious education.

That’s really not very convincing. How is anyone being forced to attend these classes? If parents are so keen for their children to have half an hour of Christian education once a week, and they can’t manage the new times at school, why don’t they take them to Sunday School? Or teach them themselves? Or just talk about Jesus at home on a regular basis?

Back in 2011, the policy for SRI changed from an “opt-out” one to an “opt-in” basis, and principals could decide to cancel the lessons altogether if they felt attendance was too low to warrant them continuing or they go against the culture of the school. Apparently that led to a 42% plunge in the number of enrollments. It seems SRI was not that popular even when it occurred during regular school hours and students who didn’t take part often sat around doing nothing – the parents preferred that to them attending SRI.

Secular Education

The New Zealand Secular Education Network has been trying to achieve the same result in New Zealand. (I’m a member of the Facebook group.) We still have SRI here, called RI (Religious Instruction). I still remember doing it when I was at primary school back in the 1970s, although it was called RE (Religious Education) then, and we did it for thirty minutes every Wednesday morning. One year our RE teacher announced she was giving prizes to the top three students, and I was so excited to recognize my RE book in her hands!


An example. Posts like this are made regularly on the NZ Secular Education Network Facebook page.

Religious Studies Professor Paul Morris appeared on Breakfast in June discussing some of the large quantity of evidence that shows that RI in schools is detrimental to children. (You can see the interview here.) The New Zealand Churches Education Commission (the main RI provider in New Zealand), for example, insists their programme is equally suitable for Christians and non-Christians. They say they’re just teaching values using Christian sources and are not evangelizing. Morris found that this was not the case; they’re encouraging prayer, the stories focus on miracles, and thanking God and Jesus for “blessings” is talked about. He states “My conclusion is unequivocally that the materials are not suitable for secular children, for Muslim children, for Sikh children … .”

As Morris points out, the New Zealand education curriculum has eight values. The RI programme, which is required to meet these, leaves out one of the values: diversity. “It’s a significant omission in terms of how they understand the values that they’re promoting,” says Morris.

The fight is ongoing in New Zealand. There are regular small successes, but there is a long way to go.