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Moral outrage selective

By Kevin Donnelly - posted Friday, 7 April 2006

The publication of the Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed was considered insulting by Muslims and, notwithstanding freedom of expression, the argument was put by many in the West that the cartoons were culturally offensive and should never have been published.

Witness the way nuns and priests are vilified and mocked in Sydney's gay and lesbian Mardi Gras and the offensive nature of so-called artworks such as Piss Christ and it quickly becomes apparent that moral outrage is sometimes selective.

As noted in George Weigel's The Cube and the Cathedral, it is not a good time to be a Christian. Secular humanism is in the ascendant, evidenced by the European Union constitution's refusal to mention Christianity in its preamble, and "European man has convinced himself that in order to be modern and free, he must be radically secular".


Further evidence of the way Christianity is either disparaged or ignored can be found in the way history is taught. Beginning with the national studies of society and the environment curriculum developed during the 1990s, the focus is very much on diversity and cultural relativism.

Learning is defined in terms of gender, multicultural, global, futures and indigenous perspectives, and you can search in vain for a substantial recognition and treatment of Australia's Anglo-Celtic tradition or this nation's Judeo-Christian heritage.

This year's Victorian history curriculum for prep to Year 10 continues in the same vein. Students are told that Australia has always been multicultural and that our history is one of multiple heritages, influences and connections. The focus is on various and diverse cultural groups without any recognition that the contributions of some should be more valued than others.

In line with a postmodern view of the world, one where there are no absolutes and where knowledge is subjective, students are also told that historical understanding is multiple, conflicting and partial as "there are many perspectives on events and that explanations are often incomplete and contested".

School textbooks such as the Jacaranda's SOSE Alive 2 and Humanities Alive 2 offer further evidence of the way Australia's mainstream cultural and religious beliefs and institutions are belittled.

As noted in Thomas E.Woods's How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilisation, a strong argument can be put, especially during the Middle Ages, that the church was critically important in promoting learning, scientific discovery and advances in agriculture and animal husbandry.


Not so, according to the writers of the Jacaranda textbooks. In the chapter "Medieval Life", the power of the church, instead of being based on the strength or truth of its teachings, is said to be based on controlling people by making them "terrified of going to hell" or facing "torture and death".

The references to monks and priests also present the church in a negative light. Students are told about "corrupt church men" who lie in order "to attract pilgrims to get money for their monastery" and who are more interested in "drinking and gambling".

In describing the Renaissance, with its emphasis on classical learning, the implication is that the church was interested only in controlling people in a heavy-handed, doctrinaire way. Ignored is the role of the monasteries in preserving Greek and Roman manuscripts and the church's involvement in establishing universities throughout Europe.

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First published in The Australian on March 8, 2006.

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About the Author

Dr Kevin Donnelly is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University and he recently co-chaired the review of the Australian national curriculum. He can be contacted at He is author of Australia’s Education Revolution: How Kevin Rudd Won and Lost the Education Wars available to purchase at

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