Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The teacher, William's wife, and the lesson.

Many people have voiced their opinions about the way I handled things with Possum's teacher. I want to address that issue. I handled it. I handled it with, what I consider to be, an appropriate level of concern. Some of you have said that I should've marched into the office and demanded that the teacher be reprimanded. Some of you have said that I allowed it to go unchecked...and that that would harm future generations of atheists.

*removed by request of one of the participants- now that this lead has become a local issue*

William's wife also offered a pretty big olive branch in her own e-mail. She apologized for her husband's behavior and asked if I would consider coming to speak at her women's group. I haven't decided, yet, if I want to do that...but, I am considering it. I don't know if I have the chops to take on something like that, but it is an awfully big gesture on her part.

The lesson... the lesson, for me, is that patience is a good thing. I need to remember that when I get frustrated with the world.

31 comments:

Martin Wagner said...

It sounds to me like you handled the teacher like a champ. If she really made that understanding of a response, perhaps you helped disabuse her of a lot of prejudices she's been told to have against atheists. That's awesome. Yes, there's a time and place for doing the "militant" atheist thing, but this was a chance to show that all the teacher's baby-eating-ogre preconceptions were wrong, and that really, we're just reg'ler folks, only we simply don't believe in invisible magic beings in the sky.

I also think the invite from William's wife is revealing and something you ought to consider taking her up on. The fact that William's hateful behavior and wild-eyed rants here were so egregious that, first, some of his congregation, and now, his wife have come to you and apologized says something rather profound (and rather unpleasant for William should he ever choose to contemplate it). Speaking to her women's group could be a wonderful opportunity to show people who have never met an unbeliever that living without religion isn't a first-class ticket to Evil-hood. Do it. And take cookies!

You rock,
Martin

Joe said...

Taking the high road can be a good thing. Not only did you gently educate the teacher and William's wife, but you taught the litte possums a valuable lesson. Good Job!

Oh, and I found your site from God is for Suckers, who had a post on your saga.

Atheist in a mini van. said...

Hey Martin! :) Nice to see you.

Yes. I was pleasantly surprised by both outcomes. The dialogue with William's wife (she does have a name, she just doesn't like to use it online) was very eye-opening. She is just as die-hard as William, but... I don't know, I just sense that she's a decent human being. She was really, really concerned that her husband had crossed a line and scared our family to the point of contacting authorities. It turns out that we have a friend in common. So, that broke some uncomfortably thick ice.

I just don't know how confident I am about going to talk with her womens' group. I guess the skeptic in me is thinking of it turning into an ambush. Also, I think I would need some parameters about what I *should* discuss. Like, what are the important issues that REALLY need discussing. And, how receptive are they really going to be? Obviously, I can't go into it hoping to "convert" them to atheism. Nor do I really want to. But, I would hope that I could get them thinking about atheists and maybe change some stereotypes. *shrugs* I need to think about it some more. Any advice you guys might have would be welcome.

Thanks for the support!

Martin Wagner said...

Well, I do suspect that you'd get a lot of "we'll pray for you" at the meeting and probably not a lot of intelligent questions. So in that regard it could be a waste of time. But if you're in the mood, it could be fun.

Aerik said...

"Closing lines of Possum #1's teacher's email says everything: "I had no ideas that atheists and agnostics thought about religion at all. I thought they didn't believe in God because they'd never opened themselves to God. I was wrong. I didn't know I knew atheists because I guess I never looked for them." Lesson learned, everybody."

Refreshingly honest. She never looked for atheists, and you can't see what you're not looking for. *whistle* Nice. Lesson learned, everybody.

Still, I wonder if it really got through to her just how jarring her comments really were. This is a subject that was recently discussed at another major atheist blog... Normally people can ask a question about why somebody has chosen their profession. They ask, "Why did you decide to become a teacher?" And they're genuinely interested in the answer - they actually listen. The same often goes between people of different faiths. "So how come you moved to Baptism?" or "What made you decide to convert so you can marry your wife?" and listening actually happens.

But 99.9999% of the time, an atheist gets asked, "So why are you an atheist?" but the religionists just can't wait to interrupt, giddy to explain to us why we are lying to everybody and lying to ourselves about why we are atheists, and correct us about why we are misunderstanding of our own simple decision and tell us what's really going on in our heads.

That's what this teacher has been doing when she jut assumes "they'd never opened themselves to God." She was raised to think that way, and it truly has never occurred to her just how low and dismissive that really is.

I'm just curious as to know, if she now understands just how hurtful her assumptions have been, how heavily that weighs on her conscience. From her honest and straight-forward statement "I was wrong," I think she has a lot of potential for growth as a person and as a teacher.

Radix2 said...

Why don't you take the Mrs Pastor up on her kind offer. You are right that you should set some parameters (basically a talk outline).

Things that you could talk about would be:
o Your upbringing;
o How, when and why you became an Atheist;
o discussion of the "Golden Rule" aka the Ethics of Reciprocity (link here btw http://www.religioustolerance.org/reciproc.htm )
o Your experience with people who know of your Atheism. Extend to any feelings you have about how your are treated (assumptions about religious alignment, distrust, or whatever has been your personal experience)

Make it clear that out of bounds are discussions of Science (particularly evolution) except if that was an input to your atheism in the first place). Also stress that you are not fodder for proselytizing, but are there so that they can understand that we Atheists are just people like them, but without beliefs in *any* god. And nor do you hate them.


Just keep it to talking about your own experiences. You are an expert on that :-)

null said...

Hi Aiamv,

I agree with Martin, it sounds like you've managed to achieve one of the hardest tasks atheists face: opening someone's mind to that there are alternative ideas about 'stuff'. Perhaps you might have the same positive effect with William's wife's group.

I, for one, applaud how you handled it.

Oh, and I was absolutely thrilled by Possum#1's original essay - you and she should both be justifiably proud: she of her essay, and you of having such a considerate and delightful daughter.

Andy Cunningham said...

I think the way that you handled this is fantastic. Of course, when you don't feel that you're an instrument of god's will, it's a lot easier to approach things calmly and rationally.

Atheist in a mini van. said...

Still, I wonder if it really got through to her just how jarring her comments really were.

I'm not exactly sure that she has really discovered that her statements were that jarring. She has acknowledged that it was irresponsible to make them. But, I'm hoping that her invitation to sit down and talk is genuine. I think once the teacher/parent relationship is gone, we can both speak more frankly. Right now, it has to stay professional (for her) and I could tell that she had harder questions to ask, and I had harsher criticisms to give, but I was trying to "pick my battles." I think it's safe to say that she's more aware of how deeply her words can cut, but... we'll explore just exactly how deep later.


But 99.9999% of the time, an atheist gets asked, "So why are you an atheist?" but the religionists just can't wait to interrupt, giddy to explain to us why we are lying to everybody and lying to ourselves about why we are atheists, and correct us about why we are misunderstanding of our own simple decision and tell us what's really going on in our heads.
YES!! That's a nice summation of my experience, thus far. :/ The other thing I hate is when someone says, "Why did you become an atheist?" and then they immediately brush off all of your comments with, "oh... well, I don't worry about that stuff." The apathetic believer is almost worse, to me, than the zealot!!

Radix2, those are great talking points. Thank you!

elianara said...

Congrats, you did a wonderful job with the teacher, and she learned something new.

And if you take up on Mrs. Williams offer and speak to her women's group, I would suggest one more point to Radix2's list. You are speaking to women and mothers, so why not speak about your daily life with your husband and children, and how you handle teaching the kids right from wrong (without the burden of God's wrath and danger of hell). Show that you are regular people just like they are, and a good mother, no, a great mother.

Paul said...

ambush. That was the first thing I thought, too. If I were you I would politely decline the invitation. I agree 100% with the way you dealt with the teacher. Aside from the fact that you engaged her in a thoughtful discussion that may have educated her to your position, you also avoided making an enemy of a person your daughter will have to continue dealing with on a day to day basis for the next several months, which is the most important point.

Virginia aka Ginny said...

Well done Possummomma. I think it could be a huge opportunity for educational outreach if you go speak to the woman's group, but I certainly understand your apprehension about it.

If it's an "ambush", I think it's a risk worth taking. Even if you only reach one woman in that group and she sees you as a good person and starts to think about things more, than it would be worth it in my opinion.

I'd do it if it were me, but then again I've got lots of time under my belt as an atheist and am no stranger to this sort of thing. And the talking points given to you so far are great.

You've got my support whatever you decide to do. :)

MikeMac said...

Possummomma, I have been following this with great interest for the past week or two and wanted to extend my congratulations to you on an excellent outcome. You handled yourself admirably in the face of withering bigotry (although you did have a couple of highly vitriolic attacks on William I disagree with, I strongly support the debate with him that went on).

In the atheist's struggle for recognition, like any other (Woman's Suffrage, Civil Rights, Gay Rights), there will always be people like William so fervently against us that they would deny us the basic human right to live as we like and believe as we like. Fortunately, the turnaround time for such struggles are usually fairly quick. Bigotry usually only lives in the pre-struggle generation, and we are now beginning to see the emergence of a generation in favor of gay rights. Hopefully, with yours and all atheist's efforts, the next generation will be at least understanding of like-minded people.

That said, for your and your family's safety, I would suggest you have a friend give you a ride to the woman's group, just in case. I also recommend you ask Mrs. William if you may bring some other atheist friends to the meeting as a sort of 'cultural exchange'. It may help them to see that you are not alone.

Lux sit!

Kazim said...

Should you take Mrs. William up on the invitation? If it were offered to me, I would jump on it and beg for more time. :) But that's just me -- only you can judge your own personal comfort level.

The thing to keep in mind if you're going to talk to a church group is that you should assume that you won't be convincing anyone that there is no God. So what's the point of going, you might ask? I would consider your role to be that of a diplomat. There are a lot of misconceptions out there about atheists, like your daughter's teacher or William have -- that loving someone is a non-atheistic quality; or that atheism is a personal problem on par with being a rapist. If you decide to go, you will be going to present yourself as a genuinely non-scary atheist.

With that in mind, I wouldn't suggest that you demand to set an agenda before the meeting, although you might discuss with Mrs. William what she wants you there for. I would, however, make a conscious effort to steer clear of prolonged arguments about the existence of Godoor the correctness of evolution. Sure, state your reasons and answer the questions, but try to focus more on issues you face as a normal person. Find some common ground. Get them to understand WHY it might matter to your daughter, for example, that her teacher assumed that she celebrates Christmas and she decided not to just be quiet and play along. Or paint an analogy of what it would be like for Christian women to live in a country where Christianity is frowned on.

Be friendly and polite -- while we tend to be ruder and rowdier when we're playing to an audience of mostly atheists looking for humor, I wouldn't act that way as a guest in someone's church.

I think you'll find that they won't be overtly hostile to you, but they may lean instead towards being perplexed that (a) anyone intelligent could seriously entertain the idea that there is no God, and (b) that such a person DOESN'T act like a rapist. Help them figure out both of those things.

Stan said...

Bravo! You deserve both ears and the tail.

Tom Foss said...

I would recommend, in my somewhat uninformed opinion, that if you do accept the invitation to speak, you bring some sort of support along (ideally a like-minded friend with similar beliefs). Having someone there to back you up would be a great buffer against the potential screaming matches, witnessing, and ambushes that could occur.

Atheist in a mini van. said...

Stan,
Is that a Pinochio reference? If so, what's the implication?

AlisonM said...

I think you handled it exactly as it should have been done. Bravo. It never accomplishes anything to make an enemy of a teacher, and making friends with them is very good for your children.

I'd go to the church group to talk - at least it sounds like they're open to listen, but be prepared to exercise even more diplomacy than you did with the teacher - the questions might push a few buttons!

Ears and tail are rewards given to matadors if they've done well in a bullfight, BTW.

Russ said...

Possummomma,

Let me share with you and your visitors, some cautionary tales, born of my own experience, concerning sharing the atheist experience.

One topic area that I'm frequently asked to speak on is what the religious and non-religious alike call spirituality. Personally, I dislike the word, primarily because "spirit," to almost everyone, insinuates supernaturalistic ideas. I see the entirety of the universe as 100 percent supernatural-free, and I have never been given any evidence to the contrary.

I mostly address atheist, humanist, rationalist, or objectivist groups, and universalist or other liberal churches, but, occasionally, I've been asked to speak to a small group from a very conservative, even a so-called, Bible believing, congregation - Baptists, Free Methodists, Pentecostals, and the like.

For these groups, I never address a full congregation, and almost never will any young people be permitted to attend. They really are afraid of non-believers: remember, their God, including Jesus, commands them to kill non-believers. Any seed of doubt, is perceived as a very real threat, so, most often, only those who have other reasons for "keeping the faith" - money, power, and unquestioned authority come to mind - are permitted to witness my well-reasoned expression of disbelief. You see, just as they use their Bible to justify belief, I, in part, use their Bible to justify non-belief. The attitudes of these groups exactly parallel the sentiments expressed by my now-long-estranged father who is himself a fundamentalist hell-fire and brimstone preacher(self-ordained).

The cordiality of the invitation is no indicator of what kind of reception awaits me. Once after a pleasantly worded letter and a cheery follow-up phone call, I was pelted by maybe twenty people from childhood to middle age with those pocket-sized New Testaments as I walked from my car toward the church. I left.

One time I was locked in a bathroom at a Christian fraternity, while the brothers took turns yelling Bible verses at me through the door that would justify their murdering me in the name of God and mindlessly repeating the phrase, "Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior, now?" I was released only after I opened the tiny window, and yelled for some passersby to call the police. The surrealism continued when their chat with the police seemed rehearsed, eerily like they done it the same way before.

Sometimes the experience was not dangerous to me, personally, but I could tell that the people I was supposed to talk to were pretty much goners. In the one fundamentalist youth group I was asked to have a discussion with, I introduced myself, told them what I had planned to discuss with them, and, like you might see in a documentary on cult mind control methods, every one of the dozen or so, teenaged kids clutched their Bibles to their chests, stared straight ahead, and rocked back and forth in their chairs, like Muslim madrasa students, chanting Bible verses but only by chapter and verse, not the actual text - John 3:16, Romans 1:1, Mark 25:13, ... I let it continue for a few minutes and left. They didn't stop. They didn't make eye contact. To this day, twenty years later, it still disturbs me to think about it.

There were others that were peculiar - being shouted down, people screaming Bible verses, being called a rotten F'er by a minister in front of a filled church, having songs written just for the occasion - a makeshift Bible study choir singing "Why Do You Hate God?" is unpleasant at so many levels - but none quite as as bizarre as those above.

To be fair, though, in a couple hundred engagements, only a few were really bad. My experience tells me that most Christians are as nice as most atheists, on a personal level, if we discount, "I'll pray for you." Almost all of my pre-arranged engagements have turned out fine.

But, Possummomma, there are many women who are every bit as religiously-crazed as William. I urge you to make sure of as many of the details as possible before agreeing to go. Be certain that you will have the opportunity to say something. I've been in hour-long Q & A sessions where I spoke for perhaps five minutes because the spirit moved some inquirers to read long, long passages of Biblical text before asking their unrelated question. A sort of Biblical filibuster. Be prepared to be blind-sided by William the Conjuror.

There is a natural cruelty about many religious people which they can't see since it's part of how the social group functions. For instance, you might encounter one of them who will pummel you with tidbits like "Your MALADY is God's punishment for your non-belief." Like AIDS for gays. They say it amongst themselves about themselves all the time, so it is natural for them to apply it to everyone.

Rarely does anyone deviate from the religion of their parents, and, if one is not religious by adulthood, they very rarely adopt a religion, so, it's quite likely that you would be amongst religious lifers. Also, it is rare for a religious lifer to have ever considered a non-religious existence. It's conceivable you would be the only atheist person some of them were aware of having ever met. Atheists are everywhere, it's just that many religious people are not aware of any of them.

Taking a friend is a good idea, as is asking if you can record the encounter, both of which help to attenuate group virulence.

Best of luck wrestling with the decision.

Atheist in a mini van. said...

Ears and tail are rewards given to matadors if they've done well in a bullfight, BTW.

AHAAAA!! I was sitting here trying to figure out what "ears and tails" might reference. LOL I think the fact that I immediately thought of Pinochio "Island of Lost Boys" is interesting. I need to stop watching movies with my kids. LOL

Atheist in a mini van. said...

Russ, you've given me a lot to think about. Thanks.

I'll let you guys know what I decide. There's some health issues I need to consider before undertaking this task, as well. Until I can make sure that my health won't be harmed, I won't even consider going.

Carlie said...

Do you have an atheist network where you live? It might be easier on you to decline that invitation, but invite the women's group to an informal atheist discussion group/forum. That way you'd be on your own turf, and running the show, and have a lot of backup.

I'm a former fundamentalist, and I'm still very good friends with a lot of them (I'm still a closeted atheist in meatworld, to my shame), so I can tell you that the only way to change their minds on the demonization of atheists is for them to meet some nice, friendly, normal ones and see for themselves how unSatanlike you are. That said, I don't think you should feel that you have to make yourself a sacrifical lamb for the cause. If you're hesitant about the meeting, decline or suggest that they come to your world on neutral turf, like having a lunch in the private room at a local restaurant to talk with a panel of low-key atheists.

Chris said...

Possumomma, I think you have a unique opportunity looking at you in the form of this invitation, and I think that you would be wise to strongly consider it. The main idea is not to convert anyone... the main idea is to stimulate conversation. Obviously no amount of sit-down dialogue will convince you in a day that God exists, nor will it change the long standing convictions of William's Wife and her girlfriends.

What can be accomplished, instead, is to break some boundaries of conversation and thoughtful insight that these people have previously not allowed themselves to approach. If you take the Richard Dawkins approach and defiantly assert and argue that God cannot rationally exist, you will get nowhere. Instead, I would adapt more of a Sam Harris-esque type argument which is this - "take a look around. We MUST start discussing this."

If William's wife is a well-intentioned, decent person who simply has convictions that contrast your own, then she and her fellow faithful should be able to respect the following conversational premise - "I am not here to convert you, and you will not convert me. However, in spirit of human decency, community relations, and global awareness, there are some issues that we should discuss in a civilized and mutually respectful way."

Normally, religious fundamentalists will will be wary of such a premise (and living in Virginia, there is no shortage of fundamentalists to back up such an observation). But given that the invitation has come from them, there is a chance that such a dialogue can occur.

There is also a good chance that an "ambush" or other form of intervention is her motivation. My point, however, is that this is a chance you should take. Your children have a unique opportunity in an increasingly informative global environment to live in a world, and on a smaller scale a community, where their peers and neighbors are much more accepting and welcoming of their ideas and lifestyle choices. If it does turn out to be an intervention-type invitation, there are 2 simple solutions - 1. politely thank them for their concern and leave, or 2. politely listen to their dogmatic barrage and chalk up a lost hour or two to bettering community relations.

Unfortunately I am single, not with family, (still a bit young for that) and am not very involved in my community, therefore I have not had the opportunity of such an invitation. But it would be one that I would readily accept.

been reading your blog for a few weeks now, and thoroughly enjoy the insight.

Your friend in VA,
Chris

R Nicolas said...

For what it's worth, I think you handled the situation well.

Storming into the school and portraying yourself as an irrational ball of emotions would have done nothing positive for your daughter or the situation as a whole. The way you, and your daughter, handled things, I believe, goes a long way toward changeing some of the prevailing negative views held by many people about atheists, and other so-called non-believers.

Kudos.

Deoridhe said...

I'm glad things turned out better than was hoped for. Hopefully things with your daughter's teacher will improve when you can have a more informal relationship.

Anonymous said...

Hi Possummomma, I found your blog through Pharyngula and finally read through the recent William saga. Your blog is excellent and I plan to read more of your old posts. The comments are also interesting, and they allowed me to find other interesting sites like the Non Prophets, etc. Keep up the good work!

Greg

slavdude said...

Possummomma:

Like many others, I have come to your blog from Pharyngula, and I must applaud you and your daughter on the way you have handled the "Christians" who have tried to use fear to get you to submit to their particular world-view. You mention that you and William's wife have a mutual friend or acquaintance. Might I suggest that you use this person as an intermediary if you do decide to speak before William's wife's group? He/she as a neutral party might be able to forestall any possible ambush that might be waiting for you.

Anonymous said...

I must say this is all well and fine but I think the possum ought to skip the teacher, the principal and the whole blessed world. Religion, or lack thereof, is for the person's soul or inner being. As with sex, some like to be promiscous practitioners, some like to be exhibitionists about it (as if they are trying convince everyone that they are indeed practitioners), some like to stay in the corner and share it with themselves only, others are still in the closet about it, but most of us simply hold it close to ourselves and share it with the people we love.

And if that opinion offends anyone, skip you too.

run4chocolate.wordpress.com

recklessmind said...

Maybe some of these women have been following the recent developments of this blog - if so, then they've already been exposed to new ideas, and probably to a depth you wont be able to match in a personal interrogation... conversion… I mean... conversation session.

Russ said...

Possummomma,

I'd like to introduce you to another genre of Christianity, if I may, the genre of Christian atheists. There are a few million of them out there, attending church for social reasons, while disregarding the supernatural. One of my favorite Christian atheists is Reverend Harry T. Cook. He has a web site and each week he publishes a timely essay and his sermon. Harry is an Episcopalian minister, he's around seventy, he's been clergy for several decades, he's a serious well-respected Biblical scholar, he's a secular humanist, and he does not believe in God, original sin, Satan, the divinity of Jesus, miracles, heaven, hell or any of the other supernatural fabrications paraded about by the more than 23000 distinct Christian denominations worldwide.

His site is

http://www.harrytcook.com

and this weeks essay(for Jan. 28, 2007) entitled

"If This Be Christianity, They Can Have It"

is at

http://www.harrytcook.com/essay.html



If you elect to visit with the church ladies, perhaps you could slide Harry into the conversation, say in the broader context of how one might go about selecting which kind of Christian to become.

Envision the scenario. Out of the tens of thousands of religions in current practice today, you have chosen to become some variety of Christian. Faced with the impossibility of assessing the claims of the staggering number of religions, you concoct your own deeply personal reason for choosing Christianity as your religion. Let's see, you had an epiphany, a revelation of sorts. You were doodling with the word Christian; you sorted the nine letters getting A-C-H-I-I-N-R-S-T; you discovered that the letter "I" is both the most frequent as well as the center letter - clearly, you are center, the focus; you recall having heard "achiinrst" come out of Jerry Garcia at a Grateful Dead concert - an obvious endorsement by those you greatly esteem; you once rolled a Yahtzee - some kind of minor miracle, duh; and, on finding that you could juggle letters from "Christian" to form "chains," "anarchist," and "antichrist" - like some kinda Da Vinci Code thing - you shouted out loud, "Yes, YEs, YES, gotta have it, can't live without it, it's mine, mine, mine."

Leaping to your computer, mashing the ON button, agonizing second upon torturous second in religious fervor while it booted - yet, through your pain, you realize you are humming the tune for Final Jeopardy - snapping out of it, you will up the browser, the search engine and you, as if by thought alone, fill the search box: "how do I become a Christian?" and, hit ENTER. Tens of millions of results. Tens of millions? You wanted to be "a" Christian. You figure it will sort itself out. You pick one. Maybe whichversionofchristianbestsuitsme.com. The home page has a survey to match you up with the version of Christianity which best fits your needs. You wonder what "version" and "fits your needs" are supposed to mean as you click on the icon.

The pleasant design makes you think a lot of work went into this.

Question 1 is "Do you want to believe in God?" Supplied options are "yes", "no" and "HELP."

Thinking you maybe hit on a gag site, you choose HELP. The HELP screen, too, seems quite well-done, but the text raises questions and, apparently, there is so much to know. It explains that there are Christians who believe in God and there are Christians who do not believe in God. The authors say they chose it as question one since it largely determines the remaining course of inquiry. To facilitate you making your yes/no decision, you see that the authors make available encyclopedic knowledge. Easily hundreds of pages of information about Christian variants of God - send you to hell/don't send you to hell, loving father-type/irascible ogre-type, that sort of thing - gods in general, emotional appeals, Pascals Wager, Occam's Razor, philosophical treatises, miracle claims, testimonials, Biblical excerpts, Biblical scholarship and criticism, thousands of links to other sites. The site is amazing, but it is more than you bargained for, information overload. You wonder to yourself, "With all this information to sort out, how does anyone ever decide to be Christian? How is it that small children become Christian? How DO kids sort all this out? It's worse than the cereal aisle at the supermarket, and this is only the first question."

You skim through a few pages, but not really wanting to analyze the arguments pro and con, you seize on some phrase about the Christian God being loving, and decide that you want to believe in God. You exit HELP, get back to "Do you want to believe in God?" and click, "yes."

Question 2 is "Do you want to believe that God sends people to Hell?" The options are the same as for number one: yes, no and HELP. You stop and give this some thought. Hell has never been portrayed to you as a very pleasant place, so you wonder why anyone would choose option "yes." You ask yourself out loud, "If the choice exists to not believe in Hell, why would anyone, ever, under any circumstances, choose to believe in it? After all, wouldn't that mean their own children could end up there?"

Thinking that your notion of Hell might be naive, you, still reeling from the mountain of data supplied for God, hit the HELP button. You stare in disbelief at the sheer volume of supplied text, pictures, and links. If "God" was Mt. Everest, "Hell" was the rest of the Himalaya's with the Matterhorn thrown in for good measure. No, no, no. This isn't real, is it? You verify some of the links to books and authors on Amazon.com. Boy, it seems legit. But...Hell? "No," you say, "I'm not buying into that."

Back to the survey. No, to "Do you want to believe that God sends people to Hell?"

You labor through the next few questions.

Satan? No.

Angels? Okay, well guardian ones anyway.

Demonic possession? Like in "The Exorcist"? Icky, no.

Limbo? Now, wait a minute. The Catholic church just got rid of limbo, didn't they? But, if getting rid of limbo has been an option, doesn't that mean they simply made it up?

Evolution? WHAT!? Isn't that a question for the National Academy of Sciences, or something? I'm being asked if I "believe" in a well-supported branch of science to match me to a version of Christianity? What about gravity, atomic theory, germ theory of disease? Will they ask me if I want to "believe" in antibiotics, too?

Then, a new revelation dawns. Memory takes you back to similar decision-making as a child: this hair, that hair; this dress, that dress; these shoes, those shoes. Coming at Christianity from this direction, that is, choosing one from scratch, you're simply outfitting a dress-up doll named Christianity. The choices YOU make give it a first name like Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian or, more independently-minded, with punk hairstyle, tattoo, clogs, and lederhosen you can even name it as you choose, say, The Christian Church of the Blue-Painted Puppies.

You close the survey, and, sit completely stunned by the broader implications of your new enlightenment. Religious adults consciously choose not to look at the big picture. That mountain of data in the survey's HELP, doesn't exist for them: they've never seen it. They never chose anything. For them the die was cast in their infancy and childhood. But, what about their own children? It seems religious freedom does not exist for them. Forced into the die cast by the adults around them, the children are never allowed to know that options exist, never made aware that opting out is their choice, never allowed to choose what their doll will wear.

You put on a fresh pot of coffee. You pour a cup from the early strong brew. You grab your journal. A thought is welling and you know you want to get it down. You jot down a few lines from your internet findings, what you thought, what you felt. And, then, a thought so clear, so true, settles in, comforting you, like a reassuring hand on your shoulder. You write it down to satisfy the journal, but the irony is so twisted that you know you'll never forget it. You're aware that you've actually known it all along. You read the words aloud to yourself.

"Freedom of religion exists only for those whose options have not been eliminated by religion. That is, true freedom of religion exists only outside religion."

You wonder if Jefferson might have seen it this way. You set aside abandoning freedom of religion by becoming Christian, and you admit that while Garcia may have looked the part of guru, you can't actually be sure that he said, "achiinrst" at that concert.

erin said...

I think you handled the issue with the teacher quite well. It's important to remember that teachers are humans and do and say dumb things. The difference is that most people can get away with it a lot easier.;) By approaching her rationally, you have probably made it so she will stop and think about what she says and does in the future. It's really easy to make a mistake by assuming that everyone sees life the way you do, when that's often not the case. I know I did the same last year when I showed The Simpsons' version of "The Monkey's Paw." I didn't realize that it'd be offensive to anyone and although it unfortunately wasn't *calmly* brought to my attention, it did enable me to stop and think about what I do or don't do in the future. I hope you've done the same for Possum #1's teacher.