This page written circa 1 February, 2012.
Merinda started at St Peter's school in Cambridge this week. Kay and I went to a dinner for parents of new students. It was held in the gymnasium, quite a large affair, as there looked to be about 300 new students. During the evening the staff were introduced, as well as the heads of the various houses, you get the idea. There was also an address from the Archbishop of New Zealand.
I went to a presbyterian school, though truth be told I think atheists outnumbered the Jews who outnumbered any other single sect. We went through a few chaplains in my time there. With one exception, they were jolly nice fellows. The exception had previously been the chaplain at Sydney's largest prison, so perhaps he was not disposed to smile upon his flock so much as to pitch religion as a way out of a failing life. I have reflected in The Producers that my friends and I subsequently learnt that we had been instrumental in one of those chaplains giving up god and the church. Our discussions---and I can see his face still---had been open and honest and in no way didactical or preachy. We sought understanding, we debated, it was about option not prescription.
This archbishop had brought a prop. It was an ornate, silver-and-wood crook, the oldest working crook in New Zealand, he claimed. He assembled the three-part crook as he talked about how the school-or-church did for its people what the shepherd once did for his flock. I found the address of the above-mentioned archbishop quite offensive. I have learnt a great deal about sheep, with our small flock here. Sheep are not stupid. They recognise each other's voices and calls and communicate more than most people imagine. However, they are not an animal that will ever win my respect. They are followers. They are happy to allow some shepherd to do their thinking for them. They are prey animal. We treat our pet sheep well, but we eat them.
In contrast, the Santa Rosa Charter School, to which our kids went when we lived there, had chosen the wolf as their mascot animal. Wolves are strong and independent, yet they are loyal and they look after their own. They are pack animals, fiercely devoted to their family. They are predators. While I don't fancy the like of this archbishop getting near my little wolves, I equally do not fancy his chances against their already-sharp minds and independent, American spirits.
In Australia, there is a significant push to offer ethics in place of theology in schools. Kaipaki offered, in accordance with curriculum, "scripture" classes, but when Kay asked if this might include Islam or some other non-christian comparative (let alone atheism) it was an idea so foreign they could not get their heads around it. I love this idea of ethics, even better. Churches, if not religion, do have a lot to offer, as social institutions, as skillful philosophical disseminators of ideas and strength. If you doubt this, look at the brilliant TED talk by Alain de Botton: Atheism version 2.0. He concludes that "churches are not fit to be abandoned to the religious". I am reminded of Sir Humphrey's horror in Yes Minister at the idea that someone who believes in god might assume the post of Archbishop of Canterbury.
The archbishop's attitude mirrors this country's malaise: The Queen's subjects here (Kingdom has been good enough to point out that they are subjects, not citizens) are not hungry enough, they are sheep, not wolves. I expressed at the end of The Producers the fear that Kiwis might not have the "know-what-you-want, get-it-done, produce-the-goods" attitude of Americans. The archbishop is failing his flock by treating them as such.