Of Krauss, Clowns and Chaplaincy

On last night’s Q&A, theoretical physicist, cosmologist and advocate for secular education, Lawrence Krauss, quoted Ron Williams on chaplains:

Krauss - Meme


Professor Krauss picked up the analogy from an article I wrote for The Big Smoke.

Krauss - Tweet


It’s a brilliant analogy and my friend Ross Balch has made a meme of it which really deserves to go viral.

So, dear readers, Facebook it, Tweet it, blog it, send it to your Federal member and to Education Minister, Christopher Pyne (C.Pyne.MP@aph.gov.au),  or share it by whatever means you like.

Or maybe make your own meme – here’s one from my identical twin cousin, Doug Steley:


Clown Meme

I like this approach because it’s good humoured, poking gentle fun at a program which sends evangelical zealots into schools to teach the kids Christian values and see to their welfare, but tells them, “Don’t proselytise and don’t counsel” –  and hey, we’ll pay you quarter of a billion dollars (three-quarters of a billion since 2006) to go into schools and NOT do what we’re putting you there for (wink, wink, nudge nudge).

It does my head in, really!


Chrys Stevenson


Ron Williams is still seeking donations to help offset his considerable legal fees in fighting two High Court challenges against Federal funding for the National School Chaplaincy Program. You can donate here – http://www.highcourtchallenge.com



22 thoughts on “Of Krauss, Clowns and Chaplaincy

  1. Paul

    Unfortunately the likely outcome of all this is that they will face the fact and say “go ahead and proselytise, we’ll remove the restriction”.
    Most nominal christians (Majority in Aust?) don’t care, are happy for them to proselytise and even don’t mind out tax going to pay for it. ‘Born again christians’ love it.

    1. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain Post author

      Well, Paul, effectively that’s happening anyway. The guidelines are vague and proselytising and evangelising are narrowly defined. According to Hugh Wilson of the Australian Secular Lobby, they have grilled DEEWR over the inadequate definitions and DEEWR staff have told them privately they are aware they are inadequate to stop chaplains from crossing the line but their political masters will not agree to tightening up the rules. It’s a joke. Personally, I’d rather see them openly evangelising than doing it ‘covertly’ as they admit to doing now (see my Big Smoke article). Once open evangelising starts we’ll see how happy the parents are with the program, then.

  2. J

    This analogy seems to miss the mark – sending a clown into a school and asking them not to be funny ISN’T AT ALL like sending a chaplain into school and asking them not to proselytise. it is however like sending a chaplain into a school and asking them not to be loving. The clown equivalent of proselytising is not being funny, it is a clown who tells all children that they MUST grow up to be a clown.

    1. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain Post author

      Actually, no. The government has not paid (or committed) 3/4 billion dollars to put ‘loving’ people into schools. The qualification sought for chaplains is not that they prove they are ‘loving’ but, that they prove (by reference and by attestation) that they are religious. Religion is the qualifying factor. Chaplains must, by definition, accept Christ’s commission to evangelise – it is the basis on which they are employed – but then they are told that they must not evangelise or proselytise. Of course, we know that the government expects that they will and is in complicit in the guidelines being flouted.

      So, the analogy holds exactly. It is the nature of a follower of Christ to evangelise – that is what Christ commanded them to do. The (supposed) consequences of failing to save souls is to let those souls burn in hell for eternity. When faced with a choice between that and some vague, poorly monitored government guidelines, which do you think will prevail?

      And yes, I understand that some liberal Christians don’t feel the same compulsion towards proselytising but it is not liberal Christians who are being employed by the likes of Scripture Union, GenR8 Ministries and Access Ministries. These are evangelical organisations which seek to employ evangelical chaplains from denominations such as the Pentecostals and Baptists. They are happy clappers who believe in young earth creationism, demonic possession, exorcism, speaking in tongues and often eschew the very mental health interventions like psychology and psychiatry that at-risk children need. This is why the Australian Psychology Society has branded the scheme ‘dangerous’ and ‘appalling’ and why one psychologist I know said that an SUQ chaplain, persuading one of his young patients to stop therapy and ‘just accept Jesus’ into his life put the child’s recovery back two years.

      These well meaning people are doing great harm in schools. They are placing their own religious agenda to evangelise and proselytise above the real needs of the children.

      1. onemeremember

        I sometimes wonder when kids “go off the rails” whether it’s got something to do with the “belief” systems they have been taught. The twelve year old girls in this article held a “belief” in “Slenderman”. Now, if one sees Slenderman as God, then they could have claimed that God told them to ……. (place whatever you like in here)…… Once a person believes that they are being told to do something via a God-message (including Hodgson and his ilk) then all manner of excuses for doing the wrong thing, become okay in their eyes. It’s all so very odd. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/03/slenderman-stabbing_n_5439667.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular

    2. Vance

      J – There’s nothing ‘loving’ about the belief that young children are “members of a fallen race” (to quote from Scripture Union’s official beliefs). Genuine compassion doesn’t come with theological strings attached.

    3. palmboy

      Only trained professional counsellors, social & welfare workers, have the necessary skills to deal with the issues that may arise in the school ground.
      Beside that – the main issue is spending 3/4 of a Billion taxpayer dollars placing religious chaplains into state schools – all in a so-called secular society. The High Court has already ruled that this is unconstitutional. Wrong on all fronts.

  3. Christie

    And schools where a full-time actual counsellor-type person would be very welcome can’t afford it, and choose the happy-clappy relationship counsellor type instead.
    “Hey kids, you can all be friends with each other!”

  4. Liz Pash

    Agree with you generally, but take issue with the assertion that Baptists “are happy clappers who believe in young earth creationism, demonic possession, exorcism, speaking in tongues and often eschew the very mental health interventions like psychology and psychiatry that at-risk children need.” Pentecostals maybe, Baptists – no. There are a minority of Baptists, in my experience of 30 years in a Baptist church, who could be described this way, but the overwhelming majority are not so extreme.

      1. silkworm

        I would like to see an audit of which denominations exactly are being funded.

  5. Alex Stewart


    I note they banned religion in US schools and I would argue this resulted in churches in the US going all-out in the private sphere, behind closed doors. The consequence was that the religious became more extreme through the 80’s and 90’s resulting in a shift in the total social expression. For instance, in 1985, only 21% of Americans believed in a 10,000 year old earth with humans created “as is”. That figure is now 40%. By cutting the religious out of the public sphere, they get free reign to put forward crazy ideas without debate or constraint. It also means that kids are more strongly induced into the religion of their parents, because parents do not see it happening in schools.

    For these, and many other reasons, there are a good number of us atheists that do not follow the militant line of removing all religion from schools. Lets face it, religion is part of our society and you do need to give kids exposure to it at some stage. Exposure to religion is the only thing that creates “anti-bodies” to it. As a primitive expression of various themes, religion provides a good introduction to concepts like morality, mortality, social responsibility and existence, in the child-like way that religion provides. Later concepts in the secular and humanist world are far more complex, and not nearly as accessible to kids, as religion.

    I am disappointed that there is the continuing press to push out chaplaincy on the basis of a financial arrangements clause. It is just pushing the left, being our natural allies, closer in to the arms of religious people. It also has an effect on the public perceptions of our cause. That said, it is your side’s right to do so.

    I, on the other hand, have a strong belief that if you expose kids to religion in the public sphere, with all the information and knowledge which is available, then they will make up their own minds and more will become non-religious (even taking on more advanced concepts which they might not otherwise engage with except for their religious experience). If you force the religious into the private sphere, the results will be a much more aggressive and extreme religious sector in our society.

    1. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain Post author

      Alex, I’m not quite sure where you’re meeting these gun-toting ‘militant’ atheists who are demanding that religion be excised from schools. Perhaps they’re congregating in the Queen Street Mall on a Saturday night shouting at Christian street preachers? Frankly, I don’t know anyone who is advocating for religion to be a taboo subject in schools. I have said repeatedly that you cannot teach history, art, the history of science, geography, music or most other curriculum subjects without reference to the influence of religion. Further, I am quite happy to see children taught about the basic tenets of the world’s major religions – although, whether that is done in a ‘comparative religion’ class, or integrated into the general curriculum is a matter for education experts, not me. The more children know about religion, the better, I say and I don’t think you’ll find many of my readers who will disagree with this.

      But chaplaincy is not about ‘religion’ and it’s certainly not about teaching. Chaplaincy was not implemented to help children. It was implemented to further an ideological agenda and to win conservative Christian votes in marginal electorates. It exploits children. What is worse, it exploits children at a cost to their welfare and mental health – possibly even their lives. If chaplains were a benign presence, I might agree that it’s not worth fighting. But they are not benign. They do harm. They prey on vulnerable kids from dysfunctional families and lure them into a ‘relationship’ with fundamentalist churches. This can set these already socially disadvantaged kids up to be disadvantaged for life because tithing is a big part of these denominations.

      A friend was telling me yesterday that one of his friends belongs to a mega-church at Mt Gravatt and is tithing $50,000 per year to the church – and this is not a wealthy person. He suggests this man and his family are probably getting by on around $20,000 a year while they give the majority of their income to the church.

      And what does the church do with that money? They are certainly not giving it to charity! It goes into political lobbying and fighting against other people’s rights on issues such as equal marriage, women’s reproductive choices, and voluntary euthanasia.

      What is going on in our schools is a dominionist recruiting drive. They need children to provide income for the church for the future. They need to get the young, get them involved in fundamentalist cults, and then mentor the smart ones into positions of power.

      Need a direct connection? Have a look at this – http://www.gpbwa.org/media/01-speaker

      At the Sunshine Coast, money for chaplaincy is being raised via a speaking event with businessman, David Hodgson, founder and CEO of the Paladin Group of Companies which controls over $50 million worth of business acquisitions and property development. According to the blurb, “Dave has spent the last seven years funding strategic areas of the Kingdom of God, activating others to do the same, and counselling the believers to impact the marketplace.”

      David is also involved in the Compass program which mentors young Christians into positions of influence. This is directly from the 7 Mountains of Influence dominionist strategy playbook.

      Chaplains are not benign. Many chaplains don’t refer kids to mental health professionals because they don’t believe in psychology and psychiatry. They believe that all kids need is Jesus. A friend, a psychologist, had a patient who was lured into going to a Scripture Union camp and came back saying he didn’t need to continue therapy because now he had Jesus in his life. It was a disaster, with the child’s progress being set back years. Some chaplains from fundamentalists cults believe mental health issues are caused by demon possession. We know, for example, that girls referred to Mercy Ministries, run by Hillsong Church, were subjected to exorcisms. No wonder the Australian Psychology Society calls chaplaincy ‘dangerous’ and ‘appalling’!

      Alex, Ron and Hugh and I keep a very close eye on what is going on with chaplaincy. We hear from teachers, parents and students about their experiences – not always stories we can publicise.

      I’d be interested to hear the views of my readers on this. Do you think, like Alex, that ‘militant atheists’ are trying to silence all mention of religion in schools (and where’s the evidence for that?) or, do you think, as Ron Williams has said, our concern is simply to clear out the infestation of fundamentalist evangelists who are not benign, but actively working against the best interests of vulnerable and impressionable kids?

      1. Vance

        I reckon that anyone who supports the school chaplaincy program because he thinks that exposing other people’s children to religion acts as some form of inoculation against it has questionable ethics.

      2. silkworm

        Certainly there should be no mention of religion in primary schools. Comparative religion, if that is what you mean by religion, should only be taught in high schools, and then as an optional subject. However, there is no place for religious indoctrination in any high school or primary school.

      3. Alex Stewart


        As you will appreciate, I use militant in the adjectival sense. Not literally. I do not think this is inappropriate, it is merely a reference to the attempt to impose a particular (non)-religious view. Arguing in the public square is not a similar imposition of views. Thus, they are distinguishable. That said, every right to make such approaches to the court are available.

        In relation to the broader point, I don’t think study of religion is the same as instruction in it. I do not oppose instruction because, in the modern world, I think this would actually lead to many students coming to oppose religion. I do not think that Ignatius Layola was right in that respect when there are so many other sources of information available (though, perhaps, when the population was illiterate, then it would be correct).

        That said, I do not think Chaplains are really doing instruction, though some may be trying. For the most part, I think they are dealing with issues that young people often experience at school. I would suggest this is primarily bullying, family problems, etc. I don’t think the religious can do too much damage in that respect (though the mercy ministries episodes, performed off campus, is concerning), and having someone available may be better than nothing being available. It would be preferable for non-religious resources to be available, but I do not see it raising a great amount of value and I note that these positions are not well paid meaning that the religious (who are foolish enough to waste time on activity without due reward) are a cheap alternative.

        Finally, in relation to those that do get caught up in religion because of chaplains, I hold a different view. I would suggest that if someone is misled and cannot see through the lie of religion, then they deserve the result. This may seem harsh, but I do not feel some motivation to ensure the world is safe for everyone. People have an obligation to mitigate their own loss in that respect and a right to make their own decisions when something is offered, including religion.

        As I set out in the last comment, the great danger to actively engaging in stopping the chaplaincy program will be that the religious will retract into the private sphere and then become more extreme and controlling of their populations, eventually resulting in a situation like in the United States. In other words, my warning has been that openly attacking a christian program (by the non-religious) will ultimately play into the hands of domionists and their ilk. The better strategy will always be to forment our own culture, and hope that the population makes their own ‘right’ decisions.

  6. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain Post author

    Alex, again, your sketchy knowledge about this program which you like to pontificate upon at length shows through. The government provides $20,000 a year for 400 hours chaplaincy service – that’s $50 per hour. Of course, the poor chappies don’t get paid that much, because much is skimmed off by the middle-man funding recipients like Scripture Union and Access Ministries. The government can’t hire school chaplains directly or they may well run into problems with S116. But, the government could fund university qualified counsellors who, I imagine, would be pretty chuffed to get paid somewhere around $50 an hour.

    1. Alex Stewart

      I am aware of the pay rates (and the ad hom is not necessary). As you point out, there are administration overheads and the chaplains are getting significantly less, I hear at the minimum wage in many instances. I am just not aware of many people that would work for so little given the nature of the work. I note that administration overheads would come out of any arrangement, whether through private or public hands. So the $50 per hour mark would be reduced no matter the circumstance. Usually the State overhead is around 25%, so not quite the 40% that SU charge (accounting, administration, contracting, insurance, etc are all accounted for in this “brave new world” of State budgets). Is a part time job at $30 an hour worth it? Would it tempt university-trained counsellors from full-time employment? On economic grounds alone, I think that you have not made out your case.

      1. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain Post author

        My argument would be that when it comes to children’s mental health and welfare, that cost should not be the deciding factor. The fact that we can get chaplains for 50 bucks an hour is not ‘value’ given they haven’t got a clue what they’re doing and, not only that, are probably doing more harm than good. If we can’t provide what the schools need for $50 an hour, then more money needs to be found. Of course, we don’t know what the schools need because no research has been done into this issue. It may be that there are other means of addressing childrens’ needs. Let’s have the conversation, ask the schools, ask the education and mental health experts and do the research. Currently, teachers unions, mental health and education experts and the peak body representing the parents of state school children are telling us they are absolutely against chaplaincy.

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  8. Vance

    “Finally, in relation to those that do get caught up in religion because of chaplains, I hold a different view. I would suggest that if someone is misled and cannot see through the lie of religion, then they deserve the result.”

    Children aren’t necessarily capable of seeing through the lies trusted adults might tell them. Chaplains are certainly promoted within schools as being trustworthy. Role models, even.

    http://ppr.det.qld.gov.au/education/learning/Pages/Chaplaincy-Services-in-Queensland-State-Schools.aspx …. [Chaplaincy services provide an additional adult role model in schools.]

    “In other words, my warning has been that openly attacking a christian program (by the non-religious) will ultimately play into the hands of domionists and their ilk.”

    And allowing fundamentalist Christians to use public schools as recruiting grounds doesn’t play into their hands?

  9. Parent

    I can relate to this because our school area chaplaincy is dominated by both Evangelical Pentecostal churches C3 and ACC and the Baptists. The board looks like an ACL meeting. We now have chaplains in most of our schools and chaplains and supporters on several of our School Associations. They run the breakfast clubs, student leadership programs, provide community mentors trained by a group called Transformation Ministries and a driving mentor program. They also promote programs and church events.

    My opposition is that I see state schools as inclusive for all families of all faiths and none. I believe that all families should be able to make informed decisions so there should be no surprises. There have been some surprises! I want to know that all of the programs offered to students in our schools have been independently reviewed for their education merit and for all principals to know what is being provided in their schools.

    There will always be a place for religion and studies of all world faiths but not evangelism.


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