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School Rules

Most every school has rules that students are expected to obey. In days gone by such rules were very prescriptive. They gave guidance as to dress, manners, deportment, how to address ‘superiors’ and so on. Young minds needed strict instruction on how to conduct themselves. The rules were enforced by fear. Transgression resulted in corporal punishment and ultimately expulsion. Children were too naïve to know the reasons for such rules. All they had to do was obey them faithfully and they would earn the epithet of ‘good’ and mostly all little children want to be seen as ‘good’. Rules were manufactured by their betters and they should be the grateful recipients of such rules. It was not their lot, nor should it be their intention, to question such rules. They should just be grateful that someone more knowing than them should have provided them with a guide to being ‘good’ and if they were ‘good’ than everything would turn out alright.

This seems to be a model adopted from many religions, at least of the more fundamental kind. The British philosopher, A C Grayling has written, “It is the business of all religious doctrines to keep their votaries in a scare of intellectual infancy.”

There is much debate in recent times of Muslim populations wanting their societies to be regulated by Sharia law. In the sixteenth century, at the height of Muslim power, some of the devout decided it was necessary to go back to the life of Muhammad to try to understand how the Prophet had lived and record the details of his life so believers could try to emulate him. Muhammad was seen by believers to be the perfect man and they would profit by trying to live as he did. From this process a detailed prescription was derived about how to live properly under Islam.

The ex-Muslim who writes for his own protection under the assumed name of Ibn Warraq and the author of ‘Why I am not a Muslim’ doubts the fantastic claim that the Koran is the final and unalterable word of God as delivered to an illiterate merchant in seventh-century Arabia.

He relates how the Koran deals with a host of rules and regulations for the proper functioning of Muslim communities. These rules deal with:
• The position of women, marriage and divorce
• The institution of slavery
• The doctrine of Holy War
• The taboos concerning food and drink
• Social prescriptions regarding legal alms or the poor tax
• Usury, inheritance, prayers and pilgrimage and fasts
• Many moral precepts

He asserts that with respect to Sharia law “far from being the word of God , it contains many barbaric principles unworthy of a merciful God. Enough evidence has been provided to show that the Koran bears the fingerprints of Muhammad, whose moral values were imbued with the seventh century world-view that can no longer be accepted as valid.”

Of course the laying down of prescriptive rules to govern the detail of peoples’ lives is not exclusive to Islam. William Manchester, the American author and biographer, in his history of the Renaissance, ‘A World Lit Only by Fire’ records some of the diversions forbidden by John Calvin,

“feasting, dancing, singing, pictures, statues, relics, church bells, organs, altar candles, indecent or irreligious songs, staging or attending theatrical plays; wearing rouge, jewellery, lace or immodest dress; speaking disrespectfully of your betters; extravagant entertainment, swearing, gambling, playing cards, hunting, drunkenness; naming children after anyone but figures in the Old Testament; reading immoral or irreligious books.”

He records how miscreants were dealt with. A father who christened his son Claude, a name not found in the Old Testament spent four days in jail as did a woman whose hairdo reached an ‘immoral’ height.

Calvin formed the Geneva Consistory which was set up to enforce discipline in the early Protestant Church. Although Calvin championed the separation of Church and State, the Consistory had a role in punishing those who flouted the church’s rules and recommending to civil courts what penalties should be applied to transgressors. The Consistory beheaded a child who struck his parents. They drowned any single woman found pregnant.

The Puritans in America emulated Calvin. Roger Ludlow in 1650 wrote The Code of Connecticut which is the first codification of Connecticut’s laws. In his book, ‘What’s So Amazing About Grace’, Philip Yancey the best-selling American evangelical Christian writer, quotes from the code:

“No one shall run on the Sabbath Day, or walk in his garden, or elsewhere except reverently to and from meeting. No one shall travel, cook victuals, make beds, sweep house, cut hair, or shave on the Sabbath. If any man shall kiss his wife, or wife her husband on the Lord’s Day, the party in fault shall be punished at the discretion of the court of magistrates.”

Primo Levi, the Jewish-Italian chemist wrote ‘If This Be a Man’ which was an account of his experiences in Auschwitz. He wrote about those who tried to survive by being totally obedient to the rules the Germans set for their pathetic captives. The inmates called them ‘muselmans’. He related that these obedient souls were the least likely to survive in the longer term. Submitting our sense of self to be moulded by the rules of others when such rules cannot be challenged is self-denying and in the end self-annihilating. It is an offence to our humanity, our intelligence and our sense of worth to have to be slaves to prescriptive dictates imposed upon us as though we were children compelled to meet the arbitrarily imposed rules of our totalitarian schools. When fundamentalism compels such obedience we can infer that it has little substance to stand behind its dictates.

And of course, the other, issue of concern is should we feel compelled to do things because it is a dictate of our god knowing that disobedience will send us to eternal damnation or should we voluntarily behave in such a way because we understand the benefits of such behaviour to humankind? Anybody who has much to do with the conduct of humans would know that the latter position is most likely to deliver the best outcomes. It is far better to do the right thing because we understand the benefit of such action, than to slavishly follow some dictate because we feel we will be the beneficiary of such action.

But this is not the way of the fundamentalists of any persuasion. For them there is no questioning or no convincing needed, we just need to follow the dictates of the headmasters!

The argument is made by “the believers” that if the rules are set aside, if they don’t have their divine authority then people will behave as they will and morality will be disregarded. It is an unfortunate fact that the conventionally religious would prefer to ignore that morality is not the sole province of traditional believers. It is easy to list the sins of the traditionalists from the inquisition to the attack on the twin towers. There is no dispute that the same class of people have made great contributions to the support of the underprivileged and the oppressed. It is not hard however to make the case that those of a more secular point of view have contributed at least as much.

The logic of the fundamentalists is quite black and white. We either obey the rules to the letter or we are sinners. Modern ethics rarely sees things in such a black and white perspective. Using the terminology of modern science ethics belongs in the realm of “fuzzy logic”. Someone once said that it is a sign of psychological maturity to be able to hold two contradictory opinions in the mind at the same time!

Schopenhauer pointed out that monotheism is inherently intolerant. Monotheistic gods are by their nature jealous gods who cannot tolerate the dissenting viewpoints of their competitors. Thus for such gods the rules become even more important, and in particular the way they differentiate one religion from another.

Aldous Huxley, many years ago prescribed the “philosophia perennis” (The Perennial Philosophy – a term first coined by Leibniz) which outlined the common beliefs shared by all the major religions. Indeed these seemed to be the major underpinnings of all religions that have endured over reasonable periods of time. But this is not what religions emphasise – they highlight not the commonality but the differences between one set of beliefs and another.

The difficulty we have to confront is the fact that the God of the fundamentalists seems so more inclined to punish than reward. Can this be the God of Love? More and more it seems most feasible that the characteristics being ascribed to God are the characteristics of Man. It is difficult to believe that an almighty God of infinite love would at all be concerned for example with what we wear or what we eat. It is impossible to imagine that an all powerful God could take offence at the minor misdemeanours of human beings. The catechism of the Catholic Church published in 1994 asserts that, “there is no offence, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive.” Is God less forgiving than this?

It is hard to relate to a concept of God that is so prescriptive and dismissive of human reason. There seems to be no other interpretation (in line with the words of Ibn Warraq quoted above) that such petty attempts to regulate the everyday lives of believers are not guidelines from an all-knowing God but the egoic determinations of insecure men.

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  1. 14 Comment(s)

  2.   By a savage on Apr 7, 2010 | Reply

    To quote Bertrand Russell on Christian doctrine: ‘What a queer work the Bible is. Abraham (who is a pattern of all the virtues) twice over, when he is going abroad, says to his wife: ‘Sarah, my dear, you are a very good looking person, and the King is very likely to fall in love with you. If he thinks I an your husband, if will put me to death, so as to be able to marry you; so you shall travel as my sister, which you are, by the way.’ On each occasion the King does fall in love with her, takes her into his harem, and gets diseased in consequence, so he returns her to Abraham. Meanwhile Abraham has a child by a maidservant, whom Sarah dismisses into the wilderness with the new-born infant, without Abraham objecting. Rum tale. And God has talks with Abraham at intervals, giving shrewd worldly advice. Then later, when Moses begs to see God, God allows him to see his ‘hind parts’. There is a terrible fuss, thunder and whirlwind and all the paraphernalia, and then all God has to say is that he wants Jews to eat unleavened bread at the Passover – he says this over and over, like an old gentleman in his dotage. Queer book. Some texts are VERY funny. Deut. XXIV, 5: ‘When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken.’ I should never have guessed ‘cheer up’ was a Biblical expression. Here is another really inspiring text: ‘Cursed be he that lieth with his mother-in-law. And all the people shall say, Amen.’ St Paul on marriage: ‘I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain let then marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.’ This has remained the doctrine of the Church to this day. It is clear that the Divine purpose in the text ‘it is better to marry than to burn’ is to make us all feel how VERY dreadful the torments of hell must be.’ Truly hysterical stuff and an insight into how fear provokes an irrationality so ridiculous as to warrant lifetime institutionalisation…in church I guess!

  3.   By Greg Brown on Apr 7, 2010 | Reply

    Some quotes from some wise people I have worked with.

    “It is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission”

    “You must truly know and understand the rules so that you can break them properly when necessary”

    I know from experience that many people strongly oppose this idea of breaking the rules. The claim is usually that, “the rules are there for a reason”. They usually fall short of telling you what the reason is though. The rules I suggest like in religion are there to preserve the status quo. Change becomes more difficult as you get older and the rules can only be changed by the wise who in most situations are the senior (older) people in our society. A 30 year old Pope would be interesting 🙂 It is also worth noting that new and inervative organisations are almost always controlled by a single person who is relatively young. They often have not even realised what all the rules are yet.

  4.   By Ken Adsett on Apr 7, 2010 | Reply

    As I travel into middle age I enjoy reflecting on how things were when I was a small boy and reflecting on the beliefs and thought constructs in my family as we were back then. Sometimes we seemed so “primitive” and are now so “enlightened”. I hope and pray that my mental faculties in my final years will allow me to again reflect on our 2010 beliefs and once again believe that “in 2010 we were so primitive and are now so enlightened.”

    How slowly grinds the tooth of time…….

    Cheers….Ken

  5.   By Father Robin on Apr 7, 2010 | Reply

    Rules were made for the obedience of fools and for the guidance of the wise.

    Often quoted by my father.

    Author Unknown.

  6.   By Father Robin on Apr 7, 2010 | Reply

    Another lovely quote.

    “I’ve been thinking about all that philosophy stuff from last month, and realising that it all needs a bit of sillinest to make sense, to join it all together in a sort of theory of everything. Schopenhauer basically said that everything was silly.

    Montaigne basically said that people should accept that everything was silly. And the God of my father had been happy for humans to live in silly innocence frolicking in the Garden of Eden.

    Worth’s (the main character) unified theory of philosophy states: Life is silly, we are silly, God bless our silliness’

    ‘This age we’re living in’ David Wilson

    Highly reccommended.

  7.   By Father Robin on Apr 7, 2010 | Reply

    In retrospect, I never knew what the school rules were.

    Nobody spelled them out.

    Random dictates from others (superiors naturally).

    Do this. Don’t do that.

    Often conflicting.

    No wonder we’re all nuts.

    God help us all.

  8.   By Father Robin on Apr 8, 2010 | Reply

    “Well I’m back and I trust my readers had a great Easter break. This week’s blog makes some rather uncomplimentary remarks about the prescriptive nature of the “rules” prescribed by those with the more fundamental and illiberal belief systems. You might have preferred I stay on leave! ”

    Anything before or after this statement is bullshit.

    And I’m not too sure about the statement.

    Easter, IMHO ( of course) simply magnifies the statement.

    You sound more like a preacher.

    Father Robin

  9.   By Father Robin on Apr 8, 2010 | Reply

    What is your message?

    In 40 pages or fewer.

  10.   By Father Robin on Apr 8, 2010 | Reply

    This is a straight challenge.

    Don’t duck.

    I’m waiting.

  11.   By Ted Scott on Apr 8, 2010 | Reply

    Thank you all for your wonderful contributions. It is good to see such a robust reponse.

    Father Robin if I could offer anything, please stop baying!

    I have told you before, there is no message. As I have said in the past, I am not an evangelist. I am happy to put some of my thoughts before my readers. I do it as much for their benefit as I do for my own. I am not trying to convert anyone to my way of thinking. I just tell you about how I see the world, and if that helps I am pleased. If it doesn’t i won’t lose any sleep about it. I think I may have quoted Anthony De Mello to you before. (This is certainly a treatise that the blonde Buddhist would approve of.)

    He quoted an Arab proverb. This stated that (at least something like this)that the rain falls on the marshes and on the plains. When it falls on the marshes it grows thorns. When it falls on the plains it grows wheat, But the rain is just the same. All I can do is give you my rain. Do with it what you will.

    I tell you what I understand about the world. It helps me to come to my understanding through my discussions with those of you who are prepared to publish your thoughts. But I am not in any way trying to convince my audience to accept my point of view. That would be very impertinent because many of you have points of view that are at least just as legitimate as mine.

    So settle down Father Robin. Curl up with your hedgehog quills if you will. But don’t expect that I should try to justify any thoughts of mine as some exclusive wisdom that I would impose on anybody.

    If you can’t accept this then I will challenge you to a race around Callide Dam! And when we old Power Station Managers fall over each other in final acknowledgement of our irrelevancy, let us drink a bottle of red to celebrate our determination not to yield and not to take the world too seriously.

  12.   By Father Robin on Apr 8, 2010 | Reply

    That’s far better!

  13.   By Robin Edwards on Apr 11, 2010 | Reply

    Anne.

    I’m amazed that you didn’t quote from Genesis 3 !

    If you wanted the views of Yahveh you would not have found better material.

    God of Love?

    Gimme a break!

    Total psychopath.

  14.   By Father Robin on Apr 26, 2010 | Reply

    So called ‘communication’ via the internet is garbage compared to living in a village community.

  15.   By Summer on Jun 15, 2010 | Reply

    Another lovely quote.

    “I’ve been thinking about all that philosophy stuff from last month, and realising that it all needs a bit of sillinest to make sense, to join it all together in a sort of theory of everything. Schopenhauer basically said that everything was silly.

    Montaigne basically said that people should accept that everything was silly. And the God of my father had been happy for humans to live in silly innocence frolicking in the Garden of Eden.

    Worth’s (the main character) unified theory of philosophy states: Life is silly, we are silly, God bless our silliness’

    ‘This age we’re living in’ David Wilson

    Highly reccommended.

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