The wedge drives even deeper as the school chaplaincy debate continues.
This morning’s Eureka Street article and the array of comments is illustrative.
There was a time when “religious” and “secular” were complimentary terms, rather than opposed. Some of the rub off of this was seen in a letter in this morning’s West where an opponent to the National School Chaplaincy program opined that even if chaplains did not overtly express their faith their nice and kind character would, nonetheless, unduly influence vulnerable children! Heaven forbid! Perhaps we better screen teachers in state schools whose Christian faith expressed through a “nice and kind” character have the same unfortunate effect.
“Secular” never meant opposed to “religion”. The most succinct distinction I can grab at the moment is from Wikipedia:
Secular and secularity derive from the Latin word saecularis meaning of a generation, belonging to an age. The Christian doctrine that God exists outside time led medieval Western culture to use secular to indicate separation from specifically religious affairs and involvement in temporal ones. This meaning has been extended to mean separation from any religion, regardless of whether it has a similar doctrine.
This does not necessarily imply hostility to God or religion, though some use the term this way (see “secularism”, below); Martin Luther used to speak of “secular work” as a vocation from God for most Christians.
Using this distinction and given that a lot of the work of chaplaincy has to do with negotiating temporal affairs and the day-to-day challenges of their charges, their work can be described in a historical context as “secular” (confined to this era). Of course, because Christians cherish a perspective that transcends the temporal, this work is also “sacred” and therefore approached with the appropriate degree of reflection.
All this shifts the goalposts for the debate and the High Court challenge, however, so I don’t expect to see much public discussion on these finer points.