On June 17, 2017 in a government bulletin were published new programs of religious studies for elementary and high school. Thus, by governmental decision, there was a dialogue between the Ministry of Education and the Church of Greece—a dialogue that was not published anywhere, and there have been no announcements from either the government or the Church as to whether any agreement had been reached.
The only thing that became known is the proposal, the presentation to the leaders of the Church of Greece’s commission consisting of three metropolitans who participated in the dialogue.
The publication in the official bulletin of new programs dispelled the illusion that the government is really interested in the Church’s position, inasmuch as the opinion expressed by the archbishop and metropolitans after the first publication of programs in September, after the beginning of the 2016–2017 school year, was completely ignored.
“What is all of this for?” was the question floating around the atmosphere. Was it just to send the former education minister into retirement, who felt he was right and therefore left, but the programs remained? This question will most likely be left unanswered.
We shall patiently compare the new programs with the old ones and record the following conclusions:
1. In the third and fourth grades of elementary school, the students will be taught the Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam). In the fifth and sixth grades of elementary school, elements of eastern religions will be added (Hinduism and Buddhism). Essentially, elementary school children will be taught the rudiments of five religions. We are talking about children aged eight to twelve. We do not know whether such opportunities for such a pluralistic education are provided for children from Muslim families in Thrace, or for Roman Catholic families in the Cyclades and other places. We suspect that we the Orthodox are the only ones who are so open to pluralism.
2. These classes require that all children be present at the lessons (without the possibility of release). According to unofficial information from instructors, excuse from lessons will no longer be permitted at the school level as it is presently, but only on the level of the Ministry [of Education]. Nevertheless, as enthusiasts of the new programs told us, those who want to get a release from this obligation will find it very hard to get it.
3. In the program of the fifth and sixth grades, the religious studies lesson will have one hour out of the week. Thus, each year there will be thirty hours at best dedicated to religious studies. Moreover the new programs are calculated at fifty-eight hours with the aim of acquiring religious education. The Ministry’s choice of a one-hour course essentially shows that neither it nor the authors of these programs knew what they wanted. The teacher will decide what is important and what is not. Therefore, the required religious education remains incomplete.
4. The question of how the teacher will learn theology and religious studies, especially in the provinces, remains unanswered. A “religious studies course” is lacking in the majority of pedagogical departments in the universities, and the Institute of educational policy is insufficiently prepared. Those teacher who decide to give lessons according to the new method (those who have retained their patriotism, because no one can control the situation if they for example teach English or math instead of religious studies), should teach themselves and decide for themselves which of the programs named above they would like to specialize in. Perhaps if the authors of the new programs want to be systematic, they should propose that the Ministry of Education conduct meetings with the theology teachers in the elementary schools?
5. In high school1 (gymnasium, lyceum) no difference exists between the old programs of September and the new programs of June, even formally. The programs remain speculative. The proposal to return to a historical approach (Old Testament, New Testament, Christianity, the world today) is essentially not being discussed. The teacher of religious studies in gymnasium as well as in the lyceum has to be a psychologist, sociologist, art historian, musician, journalist, orator, etc., and along with all of these specialties has to be competent as a theologian as well. If the teacher does not resolve to take up this work, the student will graduate from gymnasium with total chaos in his head, thinking that all religions are the same and equal. How he can get the feeling that as Orthodox and Greek he is distinguished religiously and ethnically from his peers in other countries, even from his classmates in that school who do not identify themselves as Orthodox and do not feel that they are Greeks? The doctrine of the new world order, that we should be a “population” and not a nation or people, is beginning to be applied in education with the religious studies courses. Most likely, history lessons will be next.
6. In the new programs, there is extremely little reliable information on the place of women in Islam. The understanding of jihad is completely lacking. Islam is presented in an idealized form. On the contrary, Christianity over the centuries, according to the program, has created a mechanism for the oppression and humiliation of women. Self-criticism is being forced upon us Christians, along with the search for truth about who we were and how we have conducted ourselves with women, but this search for the truth is not required for those practicing Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism. Representatives of other religions must not be offended. We know that the history of Christianity has its black pages, and we mustn’t be silent about them. But we are against double standards. Thus, on various websites on the Internet the Iranian film, “Persepolis” is being offered, which is scandalous from the point of view of those who created those programs. This film could describe to the students the real condition of women in a real Muslim society. If only we do not want to live in it.
7. In the lyceum programs of September and June there are no changes, including lexical changes. Because the children in the lyceum are older and much more mature than the gymnasium students, a conceptual approach is a good choice. The problem consists in the fact that when children who began their studies in the younger classes with confusing religious studies reach lyceum, none will know what their foundations are, and so further study can produce even greater confusion. In Greece, no evaluations were ever made of the former programs that have been replaced. This gives the authors of the new programs the assurance that the old programs were unsuccessful or relied upon outdated methods. But there are no data.
8. The institute of educational policy announced the release in September of vast supplementary materials for the teachers, which evoked a wave of reaction in certain places due to the absence of any explanation of how to unite the programs with these materials. It would be desirable for the final formulation of the programs to take into consideration suggestions and criticism. If we see that the programs themselves have not changed in any way, it means that the prognosis also for the supplementary materials are just as unconsoling. In the gymnasium and the lyceum, the personality of the teacher-theologian unquestionably has decisive significance, inasmuch as it can choose separate elements of the programs and build a concept of the lesson. We are changing over to a “happy anarchy” in which each person chooses what he wants, and teaches what he wants.
9. What is characteristic of the new programs is the absence of the term, “national identity”. Obviously, this is a conscious political choice not to use that term. In this manner, Orthodox Christian tradition is disjoined from its connection with the motherland. A Greek child will be a member of a multicultural society, a society of general humanitarianism, and its “yesterday” will disappear into the darkness. Our faith tells us about repentance over things in the past. Nevertheless, a Christian belongs to his motherland, his society, and his times. This is a historical subject. His historical context helps him understand where he is and what today for him are the criteria for a reliable choice. The authors of the new programs silently show that the government is no longer aiming to support “Hellenism”, but are striving to cultivate a modern internationalism with elements of Hellenism.
10. We understand this concept. However, it would be more honest if our people would know about it and consciously choose, just as parents choose for their children. The authors of the new program are serving this concept. If we do not sound the alarm, then over the course of the next few years, not only due to the religious studies courses but also to the concept of elementary school education in general, young people will grow up without any memory—people who will not know how we differ, as Christians and Greeks, from Muslims and Buddhists, or from other nations. If this serves Byzantine Christian universalism, let’s discuss it. Just the same, now we have to be cautious about this approach, because on the one hand there is a specific threat from immigrants, and on the other is a globalized culture with leveled-out distinctions.
11. The main argument of those who introduced this program and those who defend it, including those among the Church hierarchs, is the thought that we should be Christian missionaries in school. However, this completely contradicts the philosophy of the new programs, which reject any possibility of preaching during lessons. Trying to be realistic, their creators accept multiculturalism as the future of our society. There is a special section with its description in the lyceum program. We would be interested to know whether there could be a political party that would go to the elections and come to power by proclaiming the cancellation of Hellenism and the triumph of multiculturalism? Why should we accept without a fight an ideology that does not convince our nation of its necessity? We can and should apply an effort to preserve our national identity and traditions, not as intolerant fanatics or opponents of progress, but as patriots and Christians, who belong to our motherland and Church. That our motherland will disappear for us after our deaths2 does not mean that it doesn’t exist for us in this life. Let us protect, finally, our values, and let us be rid of the phobia of nationalism.
12. We are waiting with interest to hear what the hierarchs of the Greek Church will say. We hope that they will finally resolve to come out with criticism of this new world view, resolve also to be self-critical about our inaction to this day on the matters of catechesis, as well as for the absence of real communities, which should work consciously, and not only as amicable company for drinking coffee on Sundays or for some minor charity work.
Will we remain, or will we depart from religious studies? “Departing” is not the correct choice, in our view. We will remain, and we call upon the theologian, teacher, parent, and student to fight for the education of individuals, to form the child’s moral backbone, to protect him from false slickness in favor of the truth about the world and man, to explain that if he does not struggle against sin and evil, he will not find the path of love.
Traditions are no less important. This is the method that the Church can use to revive parish communities.
Essentially, “new religious studies” is an additional path to the de-Hellenization and de-Christianization of our society. This is the policy: to create people without religious convictions, without memory, without historicity. People who are able to grasp only the most primitive concepts.
Let us not say, however, that Christianity has not been made ideological.