Ethics surely deserves higher place in curriculum

As a basis, ethics and social studies should represent the civic values bedrock of the national curriculum, which can further be enriched by religious doctrine according to parental and pupil choices

31 March 2017, 7:30am
The State remains responsible and obliged in ensuring the right to an education for anyone of schooling age
The State remains responsible and obliged in ensuring the right to an education for anyone of schooling age
I wholeheartedly embrace the spirit of the MaltaToday editorial (22 March, 2017) to place ethics at the centre of State schools’ national curriculum, over and above religious instruction.

To me, as a Briton whose two Maltese sons are educated separately at a Church school and a State school, I find such a view refreshing. On the one hand, my 12-year-old Church school-educated son seems to be limitedly interested in the religious instruction that takes place inside his school – although, admittedly I find the Catholic ethos is conducive to civic values which are positive and constructive.

On the other hand, my teenage State-educated son has been given the option to take up ethics, a subject which piques the interest of his younger brother. Both seem to agree that ethics represents a well-honed subject that fits in with their mind-set; none of them, thankfully, are scornful of religion, and both understand the importance of religion in the lives of the Maltese and how the Catholic pageantry is part and parcel of our lives over here.

Ultimately, the State remains responsible and obliged in ensuring the right to an education for anyone of schooling age, which is why it should be the government schools that readily oblige with providing Islamic instruction to Muslim children who are citizens of this country.

However, I also question why ethics should not be widely available to all our State-educated (and faith school, why not?) pupils. As a basis, ethics and social studies should represent the civic values bedrock of the national curriculum, which can further be enriched by religious doctrine according to parental and pupil choices.

Naturally, I would expect some form of opposition from faith schools, which are by their very nature Catholic, and perhaps even from those private schools who embrace the same religious ethos. Can we oblige such private establishments to provide a different form of religious education to their students? I doubt it. Should they embrace a secularised programme of ethical education – I think this is where the debate lies.

I understand that constitutionally, Malta recognised Roman Catholicism as its official religion and surely this must be something that is to be respected. But surely there is room for a debate on how to present Catholicism, Islam or any other comparative approach to religion, as an optional subject to compulsory Ethics, exists independently of religious beliefs, “and should ideally teach students to develop a mature, individual moral outlook and sensibility based on values which transcend individual religions” as your newspaper put it so succinctly.

I am afraid that Archbishop Charles Scicluna’s statements, while surely in the right place to call for more religious inclusivity in Church schools, may have provoked the wrong kind of furore among certain quarters. Maybe this debate will have to carried out in another five years’ time. One hopes for the best!

Martin H. Smith, Sliema

How Jesus became Christian

Hermann Reimarus, a professor of Oriental languages at the Hamburg Academy, left at his death in 1768 a 4,000-page manuscript on the origins of Christianity. He argued that Jesus, the Jewish reformer, had no intention of establishing a new religion. No one dared to publish the manuscript until Lessing, regarded by Goethe as “the father of the German Enlightenment”, published seven portions of it (Fragments from Reimarus).

In the seventh fragment, ‘On the aim of Jesus and his disciples’, Reimarus not only rejected the miracles and resurrection of Jesus but pictured him as a deluded young Jew who was faithful to Judaism to the end, and who accepted the belief of some Jews that the world was soon to be destroyed.

Albert Schweitzer observed that Reimarus was “the first to grasp the fact that the world of thought in which Jesus moved was essentially eschatological”, based on a theory of an imminent end of the world. After Jesus’s death, his Apostles transferred this promised kingdom on earth to a life after death. 

Geza Vermes, a translator of the Dead Sea Scrolls and author of several books on the Jewish background of Jesus, said in an interview in a newspaper in 2013: “If it is accepted that we can know something about Jesus, one realizes that we are dealing with a totally Jewish person with totally Jewish ideas, whose religion was totally Jewish, and whose culture, aims, and aspirations could be understood only in the framework of Judaism.”

The man who detached the early followers of Jesus from Judaism was Paul of Tarsus. The break continued in the Gospel attributed to the apostle John. Jesus was no longer presented as a Jew, living more or less under the Jewish law. He was made to address the Jews as “you” and to speak of their Law as “yours”. In this perspective, the Jewish life of Jesus could be put into the background.

In How Jesus Became Christian (2008), Barrie Wilson, a historian and philosopher of religion, argues that Paul – not Jesus – established Christianity. The author shows in detail how the religion that evolved from Jesus was different from what Jesus himself had taught and practised. The New Testament Gospels, particularly the Acts of the Apostles, are presented as early examples of sophisticated spin.

John Guillaumier, St Julian’s