07 January 2009

Prayer in schools

I keep getting this highly annoying email forward that was supposedly written by Ben Stein. I've sent this reply to a number of people. So far, no one has replied. Ha. Big surprise.

Oh boy, not this one again. First of all, Ben Stein didn't write half of this. Someone else did. But... My reply:

My feeling is that the world isn't any worse than it used to be, in fact, statistically, it's better. It only seems worse because we are inundated with news 24 hours a day. We hear all the crappy stories of what is going on. Every time someone is killed or there's a hate crime, we hear it. It's not that this is a bad thing. It's that it puts it in our forethoughts, and makes the world seem scarier than ever before.

Also, things that used to be swept under the table, or ignored as "family problems" are out in the open - as they should be. We don't tolerate child abuse like we used to. We don't tolerate domestic violence like we used to. Women are free to work in the jobs they choose. The crime rate is dropping. People who aren't Christian generally aren't afraid to be open about that. We don't force others to believe the way we do any more. I think that's a good thing. I think we're supposed to "show them we are Christians with our love" not our coercion.

That being said, I do like religious displays. And like Stein, I want them to be inclusive. If there's a Christmas display, no problem. But if someone wants a Solstice display, that's got to be okay too. If someone wants a menorah, same deal. But I don't want religion taught in the public schools. I don't want the day to start with the Lord's Prayer unless tomorrow it starts with the prayer of another child's religion. Stein might not feel left out, but the Jewish girl in my daughter's class in Grade 3-5 sure did. I can't imagine how outcast she'd feel if it were directly taught that her religion is "wrong". I'm glad Stein isn't threatened by Christianity. But Christianity does have a long history of enveloping other religions, persecuting people of other religions and just being downright bullying. I can completely understand why people demand the right to say no to proselytizing in the public schools.

It says, "
Now we're asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don't know right from wrong, and why it doesn't bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves. Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with 'WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.'"

Whooooboy is this off. Are we really asking ourselves why our children have no conscience? I'm not. I don't buy the assumption behind this that kids really don't have a conscience. Most of them do. The vast majority don't kill strangers or classmates or themselves. And what about the kids who do? What made them that way? I honestly don't think it's because there's no religion taught in school. It's because of poverty, abuse, and/or mental illness. Those things aren't new in the last few years.

"Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn't spank our children when they misbehave because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr Spock's son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he's talking about. And we said OK."

Oh, fer cryin' out loud. What does this have to do with anything? We should scare our kids with violence if they don't do what we want? And what's the condescending bit about "their little personalities"? Honestly, I don't want my kid thinking if someone doesn't do what he wants them to do, he should hit them. And finally, Dr. Spock's son DID NOT commit suicide. http://www.snopes.com/medical/doctor/drspock.asp Both of his sons are alive and well.

And those commandments that it says we don't teach in school? Most of them we do, just not in those words. We teach social justice, morality and tolerance. Pretty much all of them, except the first 3 (or 4, depending on which tradition one follows). And as I recall, those don't have much to do with hurting other people.

I do very much agree that we reap what we sow, though. We are part of the society that allows people to live on subsistence wages, meaning that kids often grow up without any family around to show them what is right and wrong. We are part of the society that looks the other way when kids abuse other kids and often even when parents abuse kids. We are part of the society that treats mental illness as a personal failure, or ignores it entirely. Look at the homeless and tell me how many of them are mentally ill (for what it's worth, I consider addiction to be a mental illness). We allow this to go on, and have for time immemorial, and we wonder why there are people who kill. And worse, we blame it on the non-believers, because we cannot tolerate the idea that we have any blame in the matter. It's "othering" the problem.

And finally, the last paragraph: "But, if you discard this thought process, don't sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in."

Oh brother. It actually comes out and says that if we don't attribute all the world's problems to people who don't like to hear about God all the time, then we have no right to complain? So it's his way or nothing? Oh, I don't think so. There are always a multitude of reasons for complex problems. These aren't new problems, so why attribute them to a new phenomenon? In the 50s, the glorious mythical decade that so many conservatives hold up as a paragon of virtue, there were bullies. There was abuse. There were murders. There was suicide. There was addiction. Children hurt other children. Adults hurt children. Adults hurt other adults. And God was in the schools. God was in the government. God was at the dinner table. He still is if we acknowledge him. I don't think he "backs out" as Jane Clayson says. He's omnipresent, at least that's what I was taught in school.

If Christians lived as Jesus taught, the world would be a wonderful place, and non-Christians wouldn't resent us. But if we continue to say, "You must believe as we do or you're damned for all eternity", we will never get respect. We took over, and we took over with force. Is it any wonder that our empire eventually fell, when we ourselves didn't live the way we insisted others do? All we can do is live our lives to the best of our ability, love our fellow humans and pray for forgiveness. Because it's "us" who screwed this up. Not "them".