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This morning was the fourth meeting of the Religion Policy Task Force. It was a continuation of the topic started last session, which is legal rights and restrictions with respect to religion in our public schools.
This session began with a summary by a local attorney, who did a nice job of covering the basics as well as expressing his own support for the separation of church and state, despite being a Catholic. He made it a point to mention that the words "separation of church and state" are not actually in the U.S. Constitution, and emphasized the First Amendment concepts regarding establishment of religion and free excercise ot if. He then went on to propose that the word 'neutrality' was a better fit with what we're after than either 'tolerance' or 'accommodation', both of which come across as somewhat negative. He suggested that there should never be special privelage for any one religion in the classroom.
This garnered a passionate response from a rabbi who, not for the first time during these sessions, eloquently described the inherent Christian bias present in our culture. The attorney didn't exactly dispute this, and may have even recognized it, but it was clear that he's a staunch Christian and didn't seem to understand this as only someone outside his broader faith group could.
Another member of the task force spoke up to say he thought there were two positives at play here--education and the nourishment of various faith traditions. He mentioned that he thought religious children often come to class with "baggage" that hinders their expressions of faith. This struck me, and I'll describe my thoughs on it later in this article.
An insightful member then expressed her suspicion that the unfairness percieved by the Christian community regarding, for example, expression of Christian tidings in December was primarily fostered by the parents of Christian children, and of the Christian community at large. There seemed to be recognition of this within the group, that misunderstanding and ignorance led to an overreaction to the move toward secularity in recent decades, and that fears about uttering the words "merry Christmas" were completely unfounded.
One woman, a Catholic who has a history with the Catholic education system in the community, expressed concern about the loss of religiosity in recent years. She said that she wished for a return to faithfulness, and that she thought that we needed to return to a strong "moral compass" through faith. As my the readers of this website might imagine, I bristled a bit at this. While I don't believe this person had intended to offend nonbelievers, the clear implication is that religion fosters morality. Most nonbelievers would beg to differ. As you'll read later, I did.
Near the ende of the 90-minute session I decided that I'd be remiss to not speak up about a few things, if only to remind the group that not all of us are religious. I hadn't really had the floor since the first meeting, when I attempted to express the goals and wishes of the freethought community and to dispel myths about our perceived hostility. After struggling to put thoughts together that were relevant to our broader aim, this is my recollection of what I said. I admit that I felt rather intimidated, being the only admitted atheist in the group of about 20. My memory is likely fuzzy.
I started off by saying that I have little or no respect for religious ritual or dogma, and I tried to define clearly what that meant as opposed to the discussion and study of religious practice, which I value highly. I went on to reinforce my concerns about the education system in the U.S., and how I think it's being hindered by the anxiety and ignorance surrounding the practice of religion in public schools. I said once again that I'm disappointed that we're falling behind the rest of the modern world, and that this was my primary aim for our group.
Somehow I then segued into a rebuttal to the "moral compass" argument I mentioned earlier. I firmly stated that I thought the idea of faith necessary for morality was rubbish, and that I was offended by the implication. To be honest, it was only the second time I'd felt somewhat insulted during this process, which is a testament to the civility and respect shown in the group.
I don't remember much more about what I said. I wandered a bit, mostly out of the anxiety I felt at going it alone. I'm not ashamed in the least to be atheist, but speaking up to 19 people who all profess dedication to supernatural beings is intimidating. I do remember that several people spoke up or approached me later to compliment me, and to express agreement on many points. I applaud my colleagues for their respect for others and the intentions of the writers of our founding documents.
At one point following my talk, the attorney I mentioned earlier said that he was offended by my use of the word "superstition". Frankly I didn't recall saying it, but I admit I was amused. I would have liked to ask him exactly what made his particular beliefs somehow not superstition. It's very interesting to me how people compartmentalize and rationalize in order to maintain beliefs that are largely unsupported by evidence.
After the meeting adjourned, two women told me how they themselves had gone through a period of "critical thinking", a skill I had indicated I valued highly for our children. One even went so far as to claim that her faith education culminated in a phase of critical thought that bolstered her belief and helped her apply it to her daily life. I don't deny that she's a better person for it, but I will suggest that critical thinking isn't what she thinks it is.
I left the meeting with a lingering frustration at some of the things that came up and weren't examined. They are the same things we debate with believers every day. I had to remind myself that changing peoples' minds about their faith wasn't the purpose of our task force. We have a nobler goal, which is to find common ground and make the education of our children as effective and satisfying as it can be. That's where my focus will remain.
My six-year-old came into the den the other day and fired up his pc. He had heard a website address he wanted to check out. It was pbskidsgo.org. He has played games on pbskids.org before, and this new area seemed geared toward his age group a little more.
After an hour or two of gaming over a few days, I noticed him watching a video called Bluefoot. It's about some young people trying to make a case for the existence of a bigfoot-like creature based on some pretty sketchy evidence. The story does a great job of explaining healthy skepticism, useful evidence, and simple belief. I was impressed.
To find it, visit http://pbskids.org/electriccompany/#/Videos, then click Episodes and Bluefoot.
We need our elected leaders to speak out about the importance of scientific knowledge and its contribution to the advancement of humanity, and send a signal that religious infiltration into our science classrooms will not be tolerated. That's why we're asking you to sign our petition urging President Obama to recognize Darwin Day.
Here's a site I haven't seen before. It looks like a good place to find information on dealing with fundamentalism.
Many of us were frustrated to see the Christian right control the conversation in this country, morally and politically. You may not agree with our politics… that’s ok. We have Democrats, Republicans, and Independents as part of this group. We welcome everyone (unless you are in the Tea Party – lol). We have seen gay rights left for “someone else” to work on. We have seen the separation of church and state be questioned. We have seen school textbooks be edited to uphold “Christian perspectives” of history. All of this in a country that was clearly founded with the intention of there not being any “law respecting an establishment of religion” – which has been violated and is at risk of being ignored by future fundamental generations.
They also have a good blog which can also be found on our Freethought Blogs page.
- Written by William Haider
They’re back, and scarier than ever! With the new 12 part DVD, Resisting the Green Dragon, the Christian right has renewed attacks on Humanism, science and global warming, exposing the “multifaceted environmental movement” for subtle undermining god’s message: “Environmentalism has become a new religion… Its policies are devastating to the world’s poor… It threatens the sanctity of life.”
The series was produced by the climate change denial group, The Cornwall Alliance, that that was formed to counter the burgeoning earth stewardship movement among evangelicals fostered by Rick Warren and others. More on this group at Think Progress