The omnipotent elephant in the classroom

It is no surprise, I am sure, that I say I am not religious. I would extend the old cliché that I am spiritual, but that is another story for another time. I do however have many friends and acquaintances that are deeply religious. These people are largely Christian. Lately I have been seeing many opinion pieces, and Facebook posts rallying the U.S. to “Put God back in the classroom”. After the tragedy of Newtown I was faced with a barrage of pictures, articles, blogs, and memes supporting this battle cry.

(The picture at the bottom was intended to be here. Do forgive my lack of tech know how)

This is just one example of many. And I am sorry, but it is flawed on many levels. I will not go into my thoughts on a God who is supposed to be omnipotent who cannot prevent a tragedy just because The Bible is not taught in public schools. That would simply take too long. It is not this that irritates me the most, however. What has truly gotten under my skin are the claims that removing God from the classroom has created monsters like Adam Lanza; That without the One God, children are sure to grow up devoid of morals, compassion, and human sympathy. What I cannot fathom is the complete audacity and lack of thought it takes to say something like “These children will grow more violent if we do not bring God back into the classroom.”

I will not start with the myriad other factors that go into a person’s development. Right now, let’s talk God and Christ in the classroom.

I am not entirely opposed to this idea, but I am sure my version of Christ in school is not quite in step with the agenda of those pushing most fervently for it.

Most people leave their general schooling largely ignorant about religion. I think they should offer religion courses in school, because ignorance of religion leads to disrespect of it and a small minded world view. Religion is one thing that all cultures have in common, and they are not all as different as many would like to think. Many of the moral themes are the same throughout the religions of the world, meaning there is more or less a concept of good and evil that we can all agree upon; Killing-bad, kindness-good, lying-bad, honesty-good, etc. The most basic building blocks of moral character are something that we all have in common. Even if not through religion many of these morals are societal norms. If kids were taught to relate different religions to the one they are familiar with, and really taught the substance of religions I believe that tolerance for other religions and cultures would improve. I believe this would better prepare kids to interact with the very large world they will one day have to make their way in.

The spiritual and philosophical aspects of religion are important too, but equally important is an understanding of religion in a historical and anthropological context. There are scholars that commit themselves to the purpose of scholarly Biblical research, and scholarly work in other religions. The fact that the work of these people is not utilized more than it is by religious communities is disheartening.  I think it is important for people to learn at a young age that there is more to religion than blind faith, and that when and if anyone challenges them about their faith they will be able to shut that person down with facts and intelligent arguments, but most of all be able to debate and make informed disagreements with respect and understanding.

I know that this is not what many mean when they say Christ should be in school, and that is what really bothers me. Why is it a perceived threat by so many to discuss faith intelligently? To elevate spiritual rhetoric from that of blind faith, to thoughtful faith would do wonders for the barriers that separate those of different beliefs. But again this is not the main concern. The concern is with beating school children with The Bible, until they develop good ol’ god fearing principals. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but bringing Christ into school in this context is blatant disregard of our Constitution. Our founding fathers were Christian, this cannot be disputed. But they were advocates for freedom of and from religion. This is why our country was founded. Our founding fathers were religious, but they were also men of logic and intellect. Somehow I just can’t picture Thomas Jefferson being too gung ho about teaching children that the world is only 4,600 years old, when there is a wealth of scientific evidence to prove otherwise. And that is what it comes down to. When I hear put God back in school, I do not perceive it as a simple plea to leave our Pledge of Allegiance intact, or to give teachers the freedom to refer to Christianity in a lesson without being written up. When I hear that, I think of people who want The Bible taught as a literal translation of God’s word and all aspects of lessons in the school to relate back to this. To think the ramifications of an education system like this would be nil pure ignorance. Do we really want a country of kids taught that the world is 4,000 years old? That people cohabitated with dinosaurs? That the “word” is all they will ever need to know to get by? Places like this already exist they are called North Africa, and the Middle East. I am sure if you’ve read the news in the past decade or two, you’d agree things aren’t going so swimmingly for them. The Arabs once had one of the world greatest civilizations, and Africa had Mali to tout. Both society’s valued learning and serious education; we have the Arabs to thank for much of the math we use today along with our number system, and many medical techniques. The downfall of this once great civilization owes much of its failure to radical and fundamental religion.

As for the blanket statement of good and successful children only coming from a life redeemed by Christ, quite honestly it is obviously a false statement. I have known great people from Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, Atheist, Agnostic, and Neo Pagan backgrounds. To say that without God it makes sense for kids to turn out psychopaths is one of the most insulting things I have ever heard. I am sure things like psychological and neurological disorders mean nothing; they are an invited punishment for deviance, right? Parenting of course has nothing to do with it. As long as parents turn their children over to God everything will be just fine. News flash, of all of the natural and social influences that create a functioning human being religion is not the supreme. The members of Westboro Baptist Church have been raised with religion, and they are a laughable farce of what human beings should be. Priests that have been accused of sexual assault went to Christian schools and still turned out monsters. These are extreme examples I will grant you, but the point stands religion does not necessarily make a person good. If someone is mentally ill religion can do little to change that. Good parenting, friends, education, and health are huge factors. Mental health is one of the biggest problems in our country today. This is under the umbrella of good parenting. If you notice something that worries you in your child’s behavior, have it checked out! There is a stigma attached to counseling, psychotherapy, and mental illness in our country. But I guarantee there is a larger stigma attached to being the parent of a mass murderer.

I am by no means saying religion is nothing. Religion can be a wonderful thing. Using religion to illustrate a moral you are trying to teach a child is great, provided you also teach the child the merits of the moral on its own and not simply because God says so. There are many great teachings in religions, but teaching any religious text as literal will lead to small mindedness. The biggest problem today that I have with many Christians is that they grow more and more judgmental every day. They have forgotten the love and compassion of Christ’s teachings and become more and more imposing with their religious views. No one is perfect but when so many do something that is explicitly warned against in their text, and cling instead to the vaguest parts of that text it does not inspire confidence. And even though I know some amazing Christians, the sad fact is that the behavior I have just stated is more the norm than those who actually walk the walk and talk the talk. And that is why I and many others can barely hold our tongue upon hearing “We need God in the classroom so that these children will grow up right.” I do not want my tax dollars funding the intellectual vacuum that would be a school run on God, which is why Christian Schools exist. If you don’t feel that a public school can teach your child what they need to know that is fine there are plenty of Christian schools with just the curriculum you are looking for. It is no one’s place but parents to decide to what degree they want religion instilled in their child.

Teaching religion in school as an academic subject would be beneficial, I think. But as far as the spiritual side of things goes it has no place inside an institution of learning. That is a personal aspect of religion that should be decided on one’s own, not taught.

I do not think that the fundamentalist are the majority, I just don’t think many people think of some of the implications of things before they say or post them. So the next time you think of posting or saying something to this effect think about what it says, what you draw from it, and what others may perceive from it. Because what you see in it may be drastically different from what others see.