There has been a fair amount of publicity regarding the decision by a State School in Western Australia to discountinue use of the Lords Prayer as part of the school assembly. I was asked today about the matter, in connection with an article in the West Australian featuring a photo of Rabbi Frielich and a banner supporting the West Coast Eagles which was displayed at the Perth Hebrew Congregation.
I am someone who attended public school for twelve years and never missed a school assembly where the Lord’s prayer was recited. I also never felt uncomfortable or even remotely offended by this tradition. I was taught at an early age that whilst my own religious tradition does not follow the teaching of Jesus, the religoius tradition of my peers and friends did. As a Jew, and a minority representative, I learnt to respect that the religious ritual of my school differed to that of my own. Just because I was present during a prayer didn’t mean that I had to share its belief. I also came to understand that 90% of the content of the prayer was fully compatible with my own Jewish values. It was only the tag line at the end which refered to Jesus as a Deity that was not compatible with my own religious teaching. That is something that even at a young age I could easily understand, tolerate, and reconcile with my circumstance.
As I matured into the senior school I was on occasion given the option not to be present for the school prayer if I desired. I never exercised that option, but I do recall that I declined to lead the recitation of the prayer itself when I was once invited to.
The Lord’s prayer itself bears strong resemblance to Jewish prayer. In fact, some commentators have noted liguistic and thematic similarities between the “Kaddish” prayer recited in the Synagogue and the Lord’s Prayer as it appears in the Christian Bible.
I think it is deeply disturbing that the issue of prayers in school should succumb to the forces of political correctness. I can understand how many faithful Christians feel confronted by the removal of this prayer and the flow on impact, being the erosion of religious ideals that have since their inception stood as the foundation of the Australian education ethos, both public and private.
On another issue (pertaining to the references for calendar dates) Rabbi Frielich is quoted in this weeks Australian Jewish News as follows:
“I believe that it is a great pity that any references to religion are being taken out of society in general,” he said. “I know that the reference to BC or AD is of Christian origin, [but] it doesn’t really affect me as a Jew because I don’t really acknowledge that situation.
“I don’t mind for example Christians having their various Christmas decorations and symbols in our shops at Christmas time, even though as Jews we don’t observe that season because it’s good to see religion in society, as long as nobody is forcing their particular beliefs on to others who don’t share those beliefs.
“Godliness in society is a good thing, if it is the impetus for ‘goodliness’. To rob society of religion and religious references promotes pure secularism, which is a detrimental step to humanity.”
I think these words are also most appropriate to the issue surrounding the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. I believe it is appropriate to provide non-Christian people who do not want to participate in the recitation of this prayer the option not to be present. However I do not believe that the alternative religious sensitivites of a few should deny a majority culture the opportunity for their own traditions and religious expressions to be upheld.
At the end of the day, if people holiding to religious doctrine are that uptight and insecure within themselves that they cannot accomodate the mere presence of an alternative religious expression, then they have created far more problems than they have solved. Removing the religious expression of others because it does not reconcile with the religious expression of yourself is a very dangerous model of multiculturalism.