Words and conspiracies

Monday 16 May 2011 7:09 AM

In a free, democratic and diverse society it's only to be expected that the place of religious belief in public life will be debated. This is as it should be. However in the interests of balanced and informed dialogue a bit of common wisdom in how the debate is conducted goes a long way. Respected organs of media should set the standard.

The basics of constructive debate include caution with hearsay, resisting conspiracy theories, attention to the meaning of language peculiar to certain groups, and great care when quoting phrases without a context. The present debate about Christian teaching in schools has too often lacked attention to such concerns, and it shows in some of the alarmist and polarised language now being used. This will serve none of us, our children included.

Like any organisation or professional circle, the Christian community uses peculiar sets of words, phrases, images and metaphors, some drawn from the Bible itself, others from a variety of contexts in Christian history. The world could not contain the conspiracy theories that might arise from a layman's hearing of language used in a medical conference, courtroom or mechanical workshop (among an endless list).

When words like "preacher" start to be applied to the religious education class at the local primary school, it's time we all asked questions.