Friday, July 04, 2008
Prayer-v-Moment of Silence
I had a nice chat with Matt Dillahunty this evening. He's a busy man: host of a podcast called the Non-Prophets, a host of the Atheist Experience (a public access show), and a member of the Atheist Community of Austin. On top of this, he's become a good friend.
I'm going to be intentionally vague on some of the details because I don't want to violate his privacy (with regard to health issues). I will call him/her "Teacher Doe".
Anyway, a while back, I told him about an incident that happened at the school of two very cool little people (P1 and P2). Here's the scenario - a teacher at a junior high (for the foreign readers, this would be the American 6-8 grades, with kids 11-14) had to take an extended leave of absence after it was discovered he/she had cancer. A few weeks after starting treatment, Teacher Doe was told that the cancer was more aggressive than they had initially thought and, therefore, would be out for the rest of the school year. Both of my kids have had Teacher Doe and Teacher Doe's spouse. One of my kids was in Teacher Doe's class.
After it was discovered that the cancer was going to mean more downtime, the school delivered a message via the public address systems/intercoms in the classes. The message contained, but wasn't limited to, the following statement; "...if you'd like to help, we will take a moment of silence at the end of this announcement to pray for Teacher Doe's recovery." P2 remembered it a little differently and thinks the message was; "If you would like to help, we will take a moment at the end of the announcements to pray for his family or have a moment of silence."
Is this appropriate?
Is P2's version more appropriate than P1's or are they both unacceptable?
I can understand needing to make some sort of statement because it *is* a loss. The students lost a good teacher for the year. The family is a member of the community, too,...so, they're more than just teachers at the schools, they're also neighbors. Still...I have always had a problem with adults who suggest children pray for the recovery of people they love. It gives the child a sense that they have power to influence a situation when they have none. For example; when the Sago Mine collapsed last Christmas, there were parents telling kids to pray for the miners. When the false report came in that all the miners were alive, there was a clip of a grandmother holding a child (whose father was in the mine) and saying, "See! Your prayers worked! Your dad is alive because of your prayers." Of course, when the correction came out saying all of the miners, save one, were dead,...the miracle claims stopped and they showed this child again. Only, this time, he looked completely devastated. My heart broke for him. Not just because his father died, but also because he'd been treated as if his prayers were the reason his dad lived...what does it, then, say when your dad dies? I have to imagine that the child might think, in child logic, something like this...
"If I pray well, my dad will survive. He is dead, so I must not have prayed well."
In reality, his prayers did nothing one way or the other. But, I wonder if he'll carry that scar.
So, back to our situation,...I don't think the school was right in having the student body pray as if they had any power to change the situation. Would it not have been a better, and more powerful message, to *do* something for the family? What about organizing a car wash or bake sale? What about taking up donations to offset the expenses of Teacher Doe's care? What about collecting books or other stuff that the teacher could use while in recovery? Or, heck...what about having every student write a letter of support? Prayer just seems like a wasted effort, to me. Advocating it in a public school is hinky. What do you guys think?
Posted by Atheist in a mini van. at 12:17 AM