"It doesn’t matter who you call “God”; what matters is how you conduct yourself in this world."
In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, I’m seeing a lot of calls upon God and to return prayer to school.
This bothers me. A lot.
The call is coming from Christians (at least it is on my news feed).
Prayer does not have a place in the public school, at least not in our current climate. Prayer means different things to different people, and my question to you is this: your child is from a Christian family; however, the predominant religion in their classroom is Buddhism. What prayer should be said in the morning? The “Our Father” for the ONE Christian child, or should there be a Buddhist meditation session? The American principle of “majority rule”—after all, that is how we vote, and this is a public institution, paid for with public money and the budget determined by a POLITICAL body, so therefore, it is a political issue that should be determined by political rules—would dictate that the morning begin with a Buddhist meditation session: a little incense, a mantra repeated… What if the predominant religion in the classroom is Judaism? Islam?
Do you see the mess this creates?
I went to Catholic schools for my twelve years of basic schooling; every day started with a prayer and the God-included Pledge of Allegiance. My religion was dictated to me; I had religion classes every day. Five months after that education ended, my affiliation with the Church ended, at least in my mind. I took a couple of years to make it “official,” because I don’t believe in rash decisions about something so deep, but it ended because of a rational decision making process, a well-reasoned internaldebate, and the fact that it came down to one thing: to be a Catholic, you have to vote the party line. You have to play by ALL of the rules. There were too many things I did not believe, did not accept, and so, because while I have never accepted Jesus as a god-figure, I have always respected and followed him as a philosopher. The one group Jesus had no truck with was hypocrites. To call myself a “Catholic” and not play by the rules was to be a hypocrite and in direct violation of one (what I perceived to be) Jesus’s core values; ergo, I was no longer a Catholic.
Because I am an American, I had the option of other spiritualities and other faiths. I had access to lots of information and could research. I educated myself and made my choices. Because of the research, I also became acutely aware of the efforts of certain groups to influence public opinion. Because I am no longer a member of the mainstream, I became ACUTELY aware of the prejudices of EVERY group, my own umbrella group (and “Pagan” is a label that is an umbrella for a myriad of spiritualities) included.
“Prayer” is a very personal concept and the definition and execution thereof differs from person to person, never mind from tradition to tradition. In Catholic school, we stood and folded our hands and bent our heads. Muslims spread mats and prostrate themselves. Some Pagans light incense on an altar and meditate. There are as many ways to pray as there are people on this earth.
Do you see the problem?
There are two sides to kids: one side is the side we cherish: the lovely, happy, sweet darlings who are growing and developing and amaze us. The other is the side we despise: the bullying, judgemental, evil little gobshites who tease, harass, beat up and otherwise torture each other.
I was one of those kids who was bullied constantly, beat up, harassed, teased and made miserable by other kids. The principal and teachers did nothing to protect me or prevent it, despite the fact that I was in a Catholic school and what was being done to me was against the very principles of the philosophy of the school. I was different—I was the child of a single, divorced mother who lived in the Projects (at least for the first four years I was in elementary school), and most of the kids hurting me were from more affluent families.
Prayer in school—religion classes—didn’t make a damned bit of difference to their actions or behavior. For me, however, it did make a difference. I was far more thoughtful in my decision making, and how I treated others, especially as I got older. I obsess about ethics rather than morals because morals can find a way to excuse and defend any level of disgusting behavior done in the name of what the moralizer calls “moral.” Ethics, however, are exactly about conduct and right-action. My mother, as a parent, is quite possibly the most ethical human being I've ever known, and it was her example I followed. I can only imagine that those other kids were living out their parents examples, their parents who were good, Church-going Catholics, in good standing with the principal and pastor of the parish.
See what I'm getting at?
What we DO need isn’t about prayer or religion. What we need is personal responsibility and awareness. It doesn’t matter who you call “God”—be it the Christian God, the Judaic Yahweh, the Islamic Allah, or even Odin the All-Father—what matters is how you conduct yourself in this world. As adults, it means the example you set for your kids because, folks, your behavior is what they will emulate, and if you tell them one thing but behave in another, all the prayer in the world won’t make a damned bit of difference. They’re going to do as you do when it matters most, and think about that VERY carefully, my friends. VERY carefully. Do you want your kids kicking people when they’re down? Or offering them a hand up?
I may not have any children of my own, but I have quite a few of them in my life. As someone who’s been a teacher (and who’s heading back into that profession) and a mentor, I am acutely aware that what I say and how I behave make a difference. Words have power, but words backed with action have impact.
Make an impact, my friends. Live your words. And pray that you find the strength to be the best person you can be.