I’m conflicted about this whole School Chaplains thing. Yes I’m an atheist, but I am also the child of a School Chaplain. I know anecdata =/= data, and a sample of one isn’t representative but I think my Mum does an important job. Now she is pretty special, not only is she a Christian, she is also a retired school teacher so she knows the ins and outs of schools and dealing with kids. On top of that she has done lots of child protection courses, and updates those skills regularly because it is required as part of her school chaplaincy. Since she is my Mum I trust her when she says she’s not there to preach to the kids. She doesn’t preach to me either. She is one of those lovely people who is content in their own beliefs, happy to discuss them, but doesn’t bring them up out of nowhere either.

So I’m going to bust a few myths here about the School Chaplains scheme. (relevant for NSW at least)

1. They are not there to convert kids. If your school chaplain is doing this, they’re doin it rong and you should report them.
2. They don’t all get paid, some are volunteers.
3. If they do get paid (and it’s a token amount) then the Church they come from has to pay 50% of the cost.
4. Schools aren’t obliged to have them, most schools ask for them.
5. Chaplains don’t act as school counsellors, they aren’t replacing them, the money didn’t come from the budget that funds school counsellors.

Now I’m going to indulge in some anecdotes that she has shared with me. I should point out that she never mentions any names.

Anecdote 1: A student asked her why she was a school chaplain and she replied because she wanted to let people know that Jesus loved them. “He doesn’t love me” this child scoffed “nobody loves me”. She told him Jesus does. He was sceptical. She told him it was true. He said no one had ever said they loved him before. Then he said he still wasn’t going to become a Christian. She said that was all right Jesus loved him anyway. “Huh?!”, he said then walked away. So even if this kid still doesn’t believe, he knows that my Mum thinks he is worth loving. That’s got to be worth something.

Anecdote 2: A student told her that his father doesn’t believe in God and won’t let him learn about religion. She offered him some pamphlets to look at at school if he liked. She told him he didn’t have to take them home, because he was worried that his Dad would rip them up, and that she was always happy to talk to his Dad if he wanted to discuss what was happening with the school chaplaincy program. The student didn’t take the pamphlets, and she told him that was fine and that she was always around if he wanted to talk or ask questions. He often comes back and says “Dad said…” and they discuss that. She is always careful never to dismiss or criticise his Dad, just to give an alternate point of view.

My Mum just goes around the playground greeting the kids by name and asking them how their day is going. Sometimes when you are a teenager just having someone who doesn’t have to remember your name remember your name can make you feel special. She doesn’t try to counsel the students, she tells them to speak to the School Counsellor if they need help and she tells them that they aren’t going to bother people by asking for help. She is a friendly face, always happy to talk, who loves them for who they are. She is my Mum and she is fucking awesome.

Now if only we could ensure all school chaplains were like my Mum I think we’d be right. But I know that not all School Chaplains are like this. That’s why I’m conflicted.

Categories: education, Politics, religion


51 replies

  1. They are not there to convert kids. If your school chaplain is doing this, they’re doin it rong and you should report them. […]
    A student asked her why she was a school chaplain and she replied because she wanted to let people know that Jesus loved them.

    How do you reconcile these two statements? Insisting to students that “Jesus loves you” is preaching, and it has no place in the public schooling system. If my kid came home telling me about an encounter like this, I’d be in the principal’s office and contacting the Minister.

    My Mum just goes around the playground greeting the kids by name and asking them how their day is going.

    Does she know, by face, which kids have been opted out, or does she make contact with all of them regardless?

  2. She doesn’t demand that they believe her, she just tells them that she believes that, if you can see what I mean. So she was saying to the student that she (and Jesus) thinks he is worth loving. There was no requirement for belief on his part. Maybe I don’t see this as preaching because she’s my Mum.

  3. Mindy, your mother could still the job as a welfare worker. Which are also employed under the scheme.

    What is the problem.

  4. Most of this isn’t relevant for Victoria (just saying).
    And I too find it difficult to reconcile the ‘not out to convert the kids’ with ANY mention of her faith that she instigates.
    I get where you are coming from on this but I think you might be a little biased (which is understandable, she is your mum after all).

  5. She doesn’t demand that they believe her, she just tells them that she believes that, if you can see what I mean.

    Well, not the way you’ve written it there. Saying “Jesus loves you” is a bald statement of fact – Jesus exists, Jesus loves you. Do you think the community might have a little bit of a different reaction if there were chaplains going round on the playground saying “Allah loves you! Allah loves you!”
    Neither of these (nor any other statement about religious beliefs as Truth) is appropriate for a public school worker working in their role caring for children – and especially not unsolicited.
    Even in Anecdote 2, where it’s claimed that “learning about religion” was solicited by the child: what sort of pamphlets was she offering? There’s a school library that should have unbiased books about various religions, and there’s a public library also. Plenty of places to learn about all the religions in the world, without a chaplain handing out pamphlets (which, I’m guessing from your other content, were about Christianity or were Christianity-dominant.)
    I’m completely on board with trained, ethical secular welfare workers in schools, and I don’t give a rat’s what they believe in private, so long as they keep it to themselves on the job.

    • Yes I can just imagine it if someone mentioned something about them being a Satanist. Or even Pagan for that matter… When I worked as a school welfare officer I kept my paganism well and truly to myself around the kids.

  6. And another strong negative reaction to “Jesus loves you”. Hearing that reinforces my atheism if anything, it sounds like a platitude in response to a much deeper opening up by the kid. Back in alt.polyamory, we called stuff like that ‘Hare Krishna love’.
    In the second case, yeah, that’s what libraries etc are for. Also I’ve never encountered an atheist who wouldn’t allow their children to learn anything about religion. (How do you do that, anyway? Our culture is permeated by phrases, stories, analogies and values straight out of religion.) Again, it sounds like a much more complicated situation than needing a few pamphlets.

  7. So Mindy, obviously by putting up a post titled “Conflicted” you intended to preach?

  8. I agree with the above comments. As a (non-practising) jew and an atheist I would describe your mother’s actions as proselytising. I’m sure she’s really lovely about it but that’s what it is.

  9. Not sure what you mean kvd. How am I preaching? Like I say I am conflicted.
    I think my Mum does good work by being in the school – but as Catching Up says that work could be done as a welfare worker. The issue there is getting the volunteers – my Mum does it because she is Christian and she believes it is the right thing to do. Part of my problem is that school chaplains wouldn’t be there if they didn’t also have the religious aspect of the role. I think it is a shame that we can’t have people in schools who are there purely to be supportive of the students in a volunteer capacity. But then people would be questioning the motives of those who volunteered. At least chaplains have a ‘reason’ to be there.
    All discussions about religion are instigated by students approaching her and asking about religion, church etc. She doesn’t go around just telling random students. I suspect there may be some who do.
    Would the community get het up about someone telling students Allah loved them? Sure some of them would, others wouldn’t give a toss. I don’t think there is any restriction on other faiths sending their own chaplains, but then again I’m sure that doesn’t include paganism either. The system isn’t perfect.
    I would prefer that it was secular, and I can understand that people are uncomfortable that it is not. But what I wanted to say is that it isn’t as clear cut as it is often made out to be.
    I also stand by my belief that telling a kid that he is worth loving when he’s never been told that before important even if Jesus is mentioned. It would be better if Jesus wasn’t involved but I’d rather the kid hear he is loved than not at all.

  10. @Tamara – yes I agree hence the conflicted. I don’t think she ‘preaches’ as in actively tries to recruit. but certainly the invitation to join the church is there.

  11. I also think that telling kids that a specific religious figure loves them, and offering religious pamphlets to kids whose parents don’t want them to have them are not appropriate behaviour for a public school. Being a lovely person who means well is irrelevant.

  12. Sorry M@10. Should have ended with a /sarc flag. My comment was actually intended as supportive of your conflicted feelings; I envy anyone who sees such issues as clearly black and white.

  13. Well personally I reckon she sounds fine and dandy, Mindy, and I don’t have a problem with her even if she is proselytising 🙂

  14. Thanks for clarifying kvd.

  15. @Merryn – I think you have summed it up nicely.
    Thanks TimT she is a lovely lady. I’m very lucky.

  16. Mindy: If religious chaplains wouldn’t want this student support role if they were not allowed to mention religion – this tells me that they’re there primarily to preach, to proselytise, to convert (or to lay the seeds of conversion – which is not exactly a meaningful difference).
    For me, what this thread has done is made me more disgusted by Howard’s chaplaincy programme and the politicians who have continued it in this form since. I’m believe you that your mother is sweet and I can see that you love her; and at the same time I continue vigorously disagree that a religious chaplaincy programme should be allowed in our government schools. I feel absolutely no conflict about it just because some of the people are nice and are beloved.
    What would happen tomorrow if there was somehow a real, enforceable dictate that their religion must not be discussed by chaplains? Would these “good Christians” immediately pull out of their roles? Would it be a dealbreaker for them? That calls into pretty serious question that this is all about a commitment to doing good in the world and supporting students in trouble, doesn’t it?

  17. Is there any evaluation of whether the school chaplain program actually helps students or is causing any harm? Although they are much cheaper than counsellors they still cost money and there should be some evaluation on that basis given the money could be spent elsewhere.
    Although I’m agnostic I don’t really have any big problems with students being exposed to religious views of people at school, where religion is everything from Christianity to Islam to pagan beliefs. Better that children have some exposure at school in a fairly controlled environment rather than have their first exposure say at uni or in the street by themselves when they’re older. But then I have more of a “freedom of” religion (including no religion at all), rather than “freedom from” religion approach.
    btw what are the guidelines for teachers as to how much of their person ideology they are allowed to express to their students? When I was in high school a couple of the teachers were genuine communists (this was pre-berlin wall fall) and they managed to get a few converts each year talking to students who expressed an interest during lunch breaks. Is this meant to be banned too or only religious related topics?

  18. I’m not from this locale and have never heard of something such as a school chaplain (so far as I know, we don’t have them in Canada as a common practice in our secular schools), but I can totally understand the negative reactions to “Jesus loves you”. Although your mother may mean it as a unconditional statement, sadly the truth is that for most of us love is *not* expressed in unconditional ways and there’s no way of ensuring that a child who formally believed that no one loved him or her would not feel a pressure to reciprocate love on the basis of it being offered. So whether your mother means it or not, such a statement from a person of nominal authority (as most adults are to most youths, especially adults with an official position in the school, no matter how marginal) does contain implicit pressure, which is where the proselytization, however subtle, comes in.
    I can understand your conflict on one level. I am an atheist, but my mother is a devout, born again Christian. I think she practices and defines her faith in a way that is beautiful and loving (especially now that we’ve worked out her position on homosexuality) in no small part due to the fact that she is, whether Christian or not, a woman who already understood how to express love in a constructive, healthy, *loving* way! But even so if she were to work in a similar position to your mother, making similar statements, I would still challenge her if she claimed not to be proselytizing and ask her to consider the impact of such a loaded phrase as “Jesus loves you, even if you don’t love him back” on children who may have no framework for understanding true unconditional love, which is so rare to find.
    I have no doubt your mother does good work. I have worked with similar (secular) programming in schools here in Canada and there is so much need for additional social support in these schools that traditional teaching staff can’t hope to address while still getting through curriculum that generally another warm and competent body can’t help but help, but I seriously question the role of active and specific religiosity in this capacity and whether it actually brings anything or only detracts. I don’t know if Christianity played a similar poisonous role in colonization of indigenous people in Australia as in Canada (I suspect so, but I don’t want to assume), but that would definitely be a major issue here.

  19. @Lauredhel – I agree that the chaplaincy program is problematic and I have no idea how many of them would stay if they couldn’t talk about religion. I suspect it may not be many. I would prefer the pastoral care aspect to stay without the religion bit also.
    @Jadey – our Mum’s sound similar, although my Mum is not so much born again as perhaps more active in the church now than before. I would love to see secular programming that you describe in schools here, I think there is a definite need for it. There are some of the same issues re colonisation and religion but I can’t speak to those because it is not my history.
    I hadn’t considered how the students might feel compelled to reciprocate somehow. That is something to mull over.
    Absolutely my conflicted feelings come from it being my Mum and me knowing she is there out of the goodness of her heart wanting to share something that is meaningful for her. But yes, perhaps public schools are not the best place for that.

  20. I had a lovely school chaplain who was perfectly happy to engage with my lifelong atheism, was a source of support for my feminism, and was a wonderful person in general. She still didn’t belong there as a chaplain, and she still made statements like “Jesus loves you”, which is most definitely not neutral. I would love to see someone like her as a student welfare officer, or a student advocate, but the religious part was utterly unnecessary to her functions in the school and possibly actively harmful to the small number of Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist students who did not attend her classes (I attended because the other option was extra physical education!) – who advocates for them when the position is filled by an explicitly religious function?

  21. @lilacsigil I think the expectation is that the churches/temples/places of worship that those children or their families attend will supply their own chaplain. This of course ignores the reality that there may not be a church in their town/suburb/area who has such a person available. Or if they do, that person may not consider it reasonable to go into schools.

  22. @Mindy- Jadey’s ‘born again’ refers to a particular branch of evangelical Christianity (a term used by them to express a religious position of personalised renewal contra a ‘stagnant’ tradition in the established church). The popularity of this form of Christianity, and some ‘extreme’ behaviours that are associated with it (notably active proselytsing), are why this term has came into popular usage to mean ‘religious fervour’ after a life change (ie a born again non-smoker denotes an ex-smoker who forces hir opinion/choice on others). When it’s used by such Christians, in reference to their faith, it actually doesn’t necessarily hold the same implication of immediate ‘renewal’ (or even extreme enthusiasm) as they may have been ‘born again’ at a young age and practised their faith for their whole lives in relatively mundane ways.
    I think children should encounter religion in school, because the reality is that they will encounter it anyway – it’s just a case of whether it’s overt or not. So, when a teacher answers a question, not directly related to the curriculum, as they do hundreds of time each day, they will be giving an opinion informed by their background, beliefs and upbringing *even when they think they are being politically neutral*. I think that it’s better that students have a sense of what their teacher’s belief systems are and how that’s informing their take on the world, than encouraging them to believe that teachers are able to be ‘neutral’ and so their opinions are ‘safe’. I think ultimately this just breeds conservatism and reinforces the status quo, because, for whatever reason, it’s political to support gay marriage, but it’s not political to not talk about it; and it’s political to say that women are under-represented at the highest levels of business, but not to not mention this, etc etc – as if silence is somehow not a political act. Plus, ideally, it should teach students that there are a multiplicity of voices and experiences and we should be accepting of them, while also being entitled to a voice of our own.
    School chaplains are a bit more complicated, however. On the one hand, I think that pastoral care can serve a really important function in schools in providing a person whose job it is to just take time to talk to you and to listen to you. Yes, there are guidance counsellors, but their job is usually understood in terms of ‘fixing’ problems, not just being an ear to listen; for some children (and adults), pastoral care often allows people an opportunity to discuss complex ideas that they are thinking about, just for the joy of exploring ideas. What a wonderful opportunity for students, who don’t get this experience elsewhere. On the other hand, this is an explicitly religious role and one whose primary function does appear to be about ensuring the church has a place in school. It would seem more equitable if the chaplaincy programme made an explicit effort to find volunteers from different faiths (not necessarily all faiths, but ideally the prominent faiths in the area, and also accepting of any faith and non-faith where volunteers can be found to give their time) who rotated around the schools in the area, and to ensure that their role was more explicitly about being present and available to talk and not about preaching a particular faith (so answering questions about christianity, yes; handing out pamphlets and telling people Jesus loves them, no).

  23. I’m a little confused about the volunteer vs paid position bit. Wasn’t the Howard govt chaplaincy program a funded program and the positions PAID positions (or was that the welfare officer program?). In Victoria there are welfare officers and/or chaplains. Both are paid positions. People of various denominations can however apply to go into public schools and teach RE (as according to their denomination). These are voluntary positions and therefore unpaid. It is up to each school to decide if they are going to have a chaplain or a welfare officer (or both). The word chaplain is defined as “A member of the clergy attached to a private chapel, institution, ship, branch of the armed forces, etc.” which in my mind at least means they should be NO WHERE NEAR a public school. Chaplain = religion and religion doesn’t = secular/public school. There should be no chaplains and no denomination specific delivered RE in ANY public school, no matter how well meaning or wonderful the person involved is.

  24. I think ultimately this just breeds conservatism and reinforces the status quo, because, for whatever reason, it’s political to support gay marriage, but it’s not political to not talk about it; and it’s political to say that women are under-represented at the highest levels of business, but not to not mention this, etc etc – as if silence is somehow not a political act.

    This is a seriously flawed analogy in this context. What you’re talking about here is oppressed viewpoints finding a voice and an ear. Christianity, in Australia, is not remotely an oppressed viewpoint; it is an overwhelmingly dominant one*, and one whose dominance continues to do harm today to oppressed groups, like women seeking reproductive services.
    *Not because most Australians believe, nowadays, in a Christian God and all aspects of a creed, but because of the ethnicity and Christian “values” of the invaders and the ways in which that heritage continues to influence our society and politics.

    On the other hand, this is an explicitly religious role and one whose primary function does appear to be about ensuring the church has a place in school.

    Yes, which is why it needs to be dismantled from the ground up and replaced with a non-faith-based support system. The public school chaplaincy’s basis for existence is fatally flawed, as it’s about Christian churches having free access to students. Which is not remotely the same as me saying that religion should never be mentioned in school! My stance on that is the complete opposite. Religions – all religions – and their influences on society should be seriously, contextually, and very critically examined in Society & Environment classes, which is exactly where it belongs.

  25. Except that the point is because we’re not meant to talk about religion, culturally Christian viewpoints are never framed in that context. They are just given as ‘viewpoints’ or worse ‘facts’, as if they can be extrapolated out from that Christian context. And, this normalises them and makes them the status quo. Even seemingly benign things, like teaching children in science that there is ‘truth’ that can be empirically discovered is based on a monotheistic tradition. So instead of trying to pretend we can filter out the religion, we should be overt about it’s presence and we should tie the knowledges we teach to the traditions they emerge from. And, given that this is very subtle, I think that having teachers acknowledge their personal traditions makes this explicit.

  26. Thank you Feminist Avatar, my apologies Jadey for my misunderstanding of ‘born-again’.
    @Bri – the positions can be paid, it is up to the individual chaplain and their church. My Mum chooses to work as a volunteer. Other chaplains choose to take payment for their work. As mentioned in the post, 50% of the cost is met by the church and the rest by the Govt. There are probably also incidental costs met by the school.

  27. Two points I’d like to add:
    1) As someone who was abused by a Christian school administration and student body, while being told the usual things about the world from a Christian viewpoint, I will react poorly to being told that Jesus loves me. Not only would a chaplain harm me, I would endeavour to make sure that such a chaplain knew that I wanted nothing to do with them and would endeavour to be unpleasant enough that the chaplain wanted nothing to do with me. I honestly don’t care if someone in an explicitly religious role is nice, I wonder what actions they’re pretending aren’t harmful in their past and what actions they’ll pretend don’t harm me in the future. Kind of a Schrodinger’s Preacher situation, if you will.
    I wonder how many people aren’t quite so willing to risk social ostricisation as I am who put up with being injured and reinjured every day? Perhaps not many, but they’ll exist I’m relatively sure
    2) Chaplains are un-Christian. The Bible asserts that Christians should make a secret of their faith. Works done in the name of faith are their own reward, says Matthew (Chapter 6, if you’re wondering), implying that such people don’t get to heaven. This is the origin of the whole “do charity, but anonymously” bit.
    Now fine, you can’t actually follow the whole bible. It’s a self-contradictory document. But ignoring the chapter that contains the Lord’s Prayer? There aren’t many parts that are more important, I would have thought.
    And a complaint to Feminist Avatar (#26):

    Even seemingly benign things, like teaching children in science that there is ‘truth’ that can be empirically discovered is based on a monotheistic tradition.

    Science classes shouldn’t teach that there is one truth that can be empirically discovered. Truth can rarely be empirically discovered. Empiricism, though, is a danger to monotheistic thought. And while it might have arisen in a monotheistic past, it has no ties to monotheism particularly – a polytheistic society could have (and has!) given rise to empiricism as a school of philosophy. Please don’t mistake Western history as being the only possible way to get to the current level of knowledge and technological development worldwide.

  28. My point was more that I don’t believe that is there is any such thing as truth that can be empirically discovered. Truth is always created and contexual. The idea we can find ‘it’ or are aiming for ‘it’, if imperfectly, and rarely discover ‘it’ are all part of the same idea that ‘it’s’ out there somewhere. And, the idea that truth might not be out there is barely discussed outside of humanities faculties in universities, let alone in a high school science class. It isn’t even the case that science classes in schools generally begin by acknowledging that they have a method – empiricism – and why they use it, which would at least acknowledge that it’s a model for interpreting the world, as opposed to ‘just the way we do things’. At one of the previous uni’s I worked at, we did teach it to ugrad med students, but I’m not sure they every thought about it again after leaving the class! In the Western tradition, this searching for truth arose from monotheism. Empiricism is something slightly different and has been developed in many cultures, but I don’t think it’s necessarily challenging to monotheism – certainly I think the numerous Christians who currently work in science departments across academia suggest they have found ways to reconcile these seemingly competing systems.

  29. I’m not 100% sure you did misunderstand my use of the term! I’m having trouble following Feminist Avatar’s comment. But I can clarify – my mother describes herself as “born again” because although she had nominally been raised Anglican and attended Anglican churches, it was not until she had a mid-life crisis that she “re-” discovered her faith (or discovered it for the first time) and recommitted herself to her church. She does have Evangelical influences through the Pentacostal church as well, which she began to explore at this time in addition to returning to her Anglican roots, but she is not part of a specific “born again” movement, as has been the case for some in the US. Her specific position on proselytizing is actually something she spent a while coming to terms with – ultimately, she feels that while she has a duty to live her life in a way that leads by example and be knowledgeable and comfortable enough in her faith to be able to teach others when they come to her, that to go out and aggressively proselytize would be counter-productive and arrogant, trying to do God’s job for Him and probably alienating a lot of people from the faith. She has no regrets about the long and winding road it took for her to find her faith and considers that journey part of the overall experience that she wouldn’t want to take away from someone else. I think that probably is a different take than some other Evangelical Christians might have.

  30. Chaplains are un-Christian. The Bible asserts that Christians should make a secret of their faith.
    Um, Jesus instructs the apostles to spread the word, to ‘go into other lands’; he says ‘you are the light of the world’ and famously tells them ‘do not hide your light under a bushel’; he even says that he will deny those who deny him. The Christian approach to open profession of faith/keeping that same faith hidden is significantly more nuanced than you are implying.
    I must admit I am a bit puzzled as to the criticism of Mindy’s mum’s answer ‘because Jesus loves you’. Almost any Christian working at a school – be they a teacher or a secretary or a guest speaker or whatever – if pressed might have answered the same. It’s not as if Christian love has to be specifically focused on proselytising, anyway – a Christian might just as readily express that love through medical help, or counselling, or teaching.

  31. Tim, as a Jew considering our history of persecution by the dominant Western religion, I certainly do not find expressions of Christian love in any way neutral. I find them disturbing. One day Jesus’ followers love and accept everyone, another day we are deemed Christ-killers. I would prefer it if Christians kept their religious views on my worth to themselves.
    You yourself just said “he will deny those who deny him”.

  32. To clarify my last point, I assume that clause also applies to those who do not convert as well as those who do not speak out. I may be wrong about that.

  33. I interpret that saying as meaning “if you are a follower of me and then deny me when challenged, I will deny you”. I’m sure it has been given more opportunistic interpretations by some, but the more violent practices of some professed followers of Christ do contradict certain other teachings about turning the other cheek, all who live by the sword die by the etc.
    I googled the passage to look for context – the subheading in the NIV translation says it is part of what Christ says to his apostles when sending them out to convert.

  34. Tamara,32 please believe this is an honest question: if a kid confided in you, one on one, that he/she felt nobody loved him, what would your own response be?
    I’m not sure how I would answer, but I know I would try. And I think Mindy’s original post was an honest attempt to address the conflict involved in those sorts of situations, in the imperfect world we all inhabit.

  35. kvd, since Tamara has said she’s a Jew, and I myself am an atheist, you can be pretty sure we wouldn’t say “Jesus loves you”, and I’m not sure you understand the extent to which either of us can hear that as a threat (in different ways, I’m sure). Obviously a kid who believes no-one loves him deserves a hearing and support, but given this kid actually says he’s not interested in becoming Christian, I don’t think “Jesus loves you” is the best thing to say to him.
    I mean, I totally think teenagers benefit from having adults around who aren’t parents, teachers, or other authority figures, who they can chew over big life questions with and start to develop adult friendships with. And many kids may not have adults like that around in their out-of-school life, and it’s a nice idea schools can provide at least the possibility. But I think it should be secular, or more secular than it is.

  36. I remember the chaplain at my college when I was 17 and 18. I’m sure she was a nice lady, but I experienced her random intrusions into my hanging-out space in the common room, in my free time, as creepy, inappropriate and unwelcome.
    She would occasionally do the “wander around the grounds and say hello” thing, and while my friendship group was large and contained a happy mixture of pagan types, devoted Christians and Satanist-inclined people, it wasn’t as if the chaplain was coming into our space to talk to the students she knew to be of her own faith and had an existing relationship with. That would have been less intrusive. Instead she was trying to engage with everyone. (This was before there was any opt-out option that I ever knew about.)
    Her very presence in our space, as an authority figure and representative of a set of beliefs I do not subscribe to but feel pressure to conform to – that felt oppressive. I would change my behaviour when she did it, and that’s not okay. It’s not even that her visits were long, or that she did any form of preaching. In fact she only ever said hello, smiled and reminded us that we were always welcome to come and see her in her office. I can’t say anything against her conduct.
    It’s just all of the loaded weight of the belief system she represented came into the room with her, and for me that feels oppressive and frightening.

  37. Aqua,36 I was already pretty sure that Tamara would not have said “Jesus loves you”. I understood Tamara is Jewish, and I also accept your own stance. It was not a trick question. More – given those circumstances – what would Tamara/you have said?
    The thing is, matching ‘system-wide’ policy with the on-ground, personal one on one, is very difficult, and I’m sorry you seem to think my comment was an attack.

  38. I don’t see why it’s hard to say something caring or empathetic without bringing in a deity. I’m not a social worker or psychologist but surely there are many options.
    By the way, I am an atheist who is a jew by heritage and ethnicity so I object on two fronts! I would object if a rabbi did the same thing (not that one would since jews only preach to other jews).

  39. I’m a little uncomfortable with the challenge to come up with an alternative to “Jesus loves you”, and am experiencing it as a bit of an “If you can’t think of anything better, perhaps your argument is invalid”/or/”perhaps you shouldn’t be criticising”. (While acknowledging, kvd, that I’m pretty sure you’re not intending it that way.)
    As far as I know, no-one here is a trained youth worker, and I’m pretty sure people who are – and who are on the job at the time – have effective, inclusive ways of dealing with a “nobody loves me” situation. Isn’t that all we need to know? There is certainly no one-line answer; this situation is a complex, sit-down one that needs open-ended exploration and an individualised response, not one that can be addressed with any brief formulaic response.

  40. Indeed lauredhel. It actually reminded me of when religious people ask atheists where they get their morality from then, if not from a deity.

  41. Lauredhel, thanks for taking my query at simple face value. I’ve had that statement twice. Once from my rebellious 14 year old niece – to which I replied “well you’re very valuable to me, now can we just get on with the work”, then later from a friend’s 10 year old daughter, undergoing chemo. (At that point she’d been in Westmead longer than she’d had at school, and was bald as bald)
    I flunked out badly, but she’s now 12 and going ok. I’ve just always thought I failed her somehow. Anyway, I do accept your comments; just wish the answer was easier than the critique.

  42. Feminist Avatar, #29:

    My point was more that I don’t believe that is there is any such thing as truth that can be empirically discovered. Truth is always created and contexual.

    This is flat-out wrong. Truth is not the stories we tell ourselves, despite the fact that we might tell ourselves stories that we say are true. One Newton of force will accelerate one kilogram by one metre per second for every second that force is applied. There is no context that this is false in, nor is there a creation event in this truth’s past. There was a discovery event, but no creation.
    There are times where the truth cannot be known. These are the times you are referring to as contexual and created truth; this redefines truth to be nearly worthless to obtain, and it renders the definition nearly worthless as well. While such times of ‘created truth’ may be frequent, this does not mean that times of absolutes don’t exist; they are, in fact, very frequent too.

    And, the idea that truth might not be out there is barely discussed outside of humanities faculties in universities, let alone in a high school science class.

    This is because philosophy is regarded as too high-brow for high-school students. Which is also wrong. Teaching philosophy in science, though, is a recipe for the scientific illiteracy that the US is currently facing.

    …but I don’t think [empiricism is] necessarily challenging to monotheism…

    Empiricism is the denial of anything that cannot be directly observed by the physical senses. It’s challenging to any supernatural hypotheses that you can think of.
    TimT, #31:

    Um, Jesus instructs the apostles to spread the word… He says ‘you are the light of the world’ and famously tells them ‘do not hide your light under a bushel’

    Indeed it does, in Matthew, chapter 5! So, which chapter do you ignore, Tim? The one containing the Lord’s Prayer, or the one that asks you to put pressure on other people to conform to your religion? Please note, also, that while Matt5:16-22 never actually say that spreading Christianity will net you a spot in heaven (‘light of the world’/’bushel’ imply not to hide your personality and ability to help), Matt6:5-8 suggest you’ll go to hell for being publicly vocal about your faith…
    kvd, #35:

    Tamara,32 please believe this is an honest question: if a kid confided in you, one on one, that he/she felt nobody loved him, what would your own response be?

    Ahh, the gotcha question/trap. Unfortunately for you, I have the time and patience required to work free.
    A minor approaches me and expresses the idea that they feel that no-one loves them. My response is to ask why, first and foremost. Establish a presence or lack of abuse in their home environment, the possibility of social isolation from peers and that the minor is ignoring familial love, the possibility of social disability such as Asperger’s leading to isolation. There are many more questions that would help ascertain the problem, but, if at the end of it I were to find no obvious answers, I would express to the minor that most people who feel unloved are actually just poorly communicated to.
    I’d follow this up by attempting to talk to the parents/guardians of the minor. While this is another complicated situation, there are fairly obvious methods of getting the idea across that, without blame, I want the parents/guardians to be more supportive of the minor, given that teenage years are stressful and uncertain times. If I couldn’t get the “communicate feelings more” idea through their heads, I’d suggest family councelling. I would also make a note to check up on the minor relatively frequently in the wake of this situation.
    In doing so, I would create an opportunity for an actual remedy to happen rather than trying for an ephemeral band-aid over the emotional wound. Sufficient to your view? I assure you “Jesus loves you” is insufficient to my view.

  43. Aaand an hour late, I figure out I’m suffering SIWOTI syndrome. Religiosity around children enflames me more than most topics, for reasons I’ve outlined in my first post.
    Apologies for the long derail, assuming same makes it out of moderation.

  44. Sorry about the delay, just woke up. The spaminator seems to be getting a bit enthusiastic again for some reason.

  45. So, which chapter do you ignore, Tim?

  46. @Medivh, And when a scientist comes along and decides that Newton was wrong and that what we were observing was flawed by our method of observation (like when Galileo pointed out that despite our empirical observation the world was not the centre of the universe), what then? What is ‘true’ is determined by our system of measurement and observation, and those systems of measurement and observation change over history. And, for me as a historian and also as a feminist, it becomes problematic to decide that our method is superior to all other methods in history, and for that matter, those that are still to come. But, that is what a truth claim does. This doesn’t mean I don’t use such methods or that they are not useful to society; on the contrary, we need systems of meaning to make sense of our world and I prefer methods that promote greater equality, but I don’t think we should deny that we work within a system, or that the system we use has a heritage that informs how it works and is understood. Nor do I think we should claim that our systems are superior to others; indeed, as a social scientist, I think this is dangerous, because historically how new ideas emerge is through the encounter with ‘difference’ that challenges our preconceptions and forces us to rethink. How can this happen if we close down other ways of thinking about the world?
    Nor is my way of thinking about the world considered ‘unscientific’ or anti-intellectual given that those establishments of science – the universities – are full of people who think like this and who teach their ideas under the rubric of at least ‘ social science’ and occasionally ‘science’ too. It’s just as much a product of the scientific system as anything else – indeed, the reflexivity of science, the willingness of it to allow critique of itself, is one of its strengths and also why it will remain sustainable as a system, at least until someone a lot cleverer than me comes along!

  47. Feminist Avatar: I agree and disagree with you. It is precisely a strength of science that it can change in response to new data. But if that were all there was to it, why would anyone care about science more than, say, fashion? Newton has not been disproven so much as expanded upon, into the atomic scales and near light speed. But I assure you NASA and the other space agencies still use Newton’s equations to plan space missions to the other planets in our solar system. When things go wrong, it’s more likely a problem with converting between US Imperial and metric units! Maybe Newton’s Laws aren’t Truth, but they are incredibly powerful tools for their purpose and I think unlikely to be replaced by anything better in that context.
    kvd: the reason I didn’t answer you explicitly is that I also thought you were trolling. I’d respond to a teenager who said “Nobody loves me” with “I’m really sorry to hear that; what makes you think so?”. And listen. And try to get them more qualified help. If a kid feels like that (and I’ve been there, or at least somewhere vaguely similar, that I didn’t deserve what I had, so “Nobody loves the real me”) some abstract warm fuzzies from a guy who’s been dead 2000 years (if he even existed) is not going to cut it. I believe (some) Christians can do a great deal to show and share love (motivated by their Christianity), but sometimes they take the short cut and it’s not helpful to those of us outside that circle. It doesn’t have to be helpful to non-Christians, I guess, but then you shoud be clear on that.

  48. Aqua I’ve been sitting here all day stewing since Medivh’s slam, wondering if it was worthwhile responding. I googled ‘gotcha question’ and all I could find were vague, political references – most of which insinuated or assumed some level of ‘bad will’ or deviousness on the part of the questioner.
    I had a couple of specific reasons for asking for that advice, which I mentioned @42. I very rarely open up about ‘stuff’ which I’ve handled badly, but Mindy’s post – in particular the bit about her mum’s interaction with the kid who said ‘nobody loves me’ – struck a chord, so stupidly I posted my question.
    Anyway, your advice to ‘listen’: that I did. But that’s all I did, and I thought I should have done more.

  49. But I assure you NASA and the other space agencies still use Newton’s equations to plan space missions to the other planets in our solar system. When things go wrong, it’s more likely a problem with converting between US Imperial and metric units! Maybe Newton’s Laws aren’t Truth, but they are incredibly powerful tools for their purpose and I think unlikely to be replaced by anything better in that context.

    Given the speeds that spacecraft travel I’d be willing to bet NASA use Newton’s Laws only as a rough approximation. Even GPS satellites have to take into account relativistic effects or they quickly become very inaccurate (kilometres out).

  50. kvd, #49:
    The phrase that I posted, ‘Ahh, the gotcha question/trap’, is essentially me accusing you of asking a question in with assumptions tied up in it. Of priviledge unexamined, really. You tell me whether you tied those assumptions in with bad faith, or just naivete – I’m not going to tell you what you meant, only what I read from what you said.

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