Donald Andrew Henson II

Posts Tagged ‘Separation of Church and State’

Why Children Shouldn’t Pray

In American Society, Religion and Education on January 22, 2017 at 12:56 pm

prayer

After many years behind the Great Firewall of China, I’ve finally decided to move elsewhere. It’s been so frustrating to try and get a blog going when everything is blocked! I’m not sure where I’ll land, but at the moment I’m writing from Bangkok, Thailand. I’m re-posting one of the last articles I was able to publish, just to get things rolling again. More to come.

I have dear Christian friends and family members whom I try hard not to offend when I post on social media – the main reason I created the American Secularist Facebook page is so that I could share ideas and posts with like-minded individuals without worry that I’d alienate someone I care about. Since I’m not trying to force my opinions upon anyone, I guess I should expect that there would be quite a few people I’m connected to who may not know that I’ve become one of the ‘unconverted’ over the years, becoming much more comfortable with an agnostic worldview and very uncomfortable with the suggestion that we need more God in our government. That means that most days I’ll see a post somewhere that looks like this one:

Dear Atheist, if you do not believe that God exists, why do you care if I pray to him?

Most of the time, these don’t bother me much – I put them in the same category as those invitations to play Candy Crush or whatever the latest game is. If I start getting a half-dozen a day from the same person, I just ‘hide’ their posts for a few days until they calm down about whatever it is that’s got them wound up. There are probably a couple of people who are so far to the right that I need to block them until election season is over. But basically no harm done as those who agree ‘like’ the post and others can just keep moving down the page.

But this particular one hit a few hot buttons – and I think it requires a response.

Let’s first dispel the common misconception this photo promotes – that it is illegal for anyone to pray in an American school. This is simply untrue, no matter how many preachers or Fox News commentators say otherwise. No one has ever ‘taken prayer out of our schools’ at any time. Students can pray in school whenever they like, so long as such activity isn’t disruptive in nature. Teachers and administrators can pray as well, although it must be clear that they are exercising their personal beliefs and that the school is not endorsing any religion or requiring that anyone participate.

Basically, no teacher or administrator can prohibit a student from the free exercise of his or her beliefs – they just can’t lead students in prayer as was often done in the past. The Lemon Test doesn’t say people can’t pray, it only says that the state should not be promoting prayer. The Supreme Court ruled that school activities – and indeed government activities of any kind – should have a secular purpose.

Don’t forget too that almost everyone in favor of school prayer is in favor of their own particular brand of prayer. I don’t think the people passing this photo around would be happy if everyone got to pray they way they wanted to pray – young Sufis whirling around in circles or Japanese Shintos running through the hallways with huge penises held high in the air.

In fact, the legislation that stopped teacher-led prayer in school didn’t come about because some atheist was annoyed by it – it started because a Jewish man didn’t like seeing his son saying Christian prayers. Going back to the way things were in the 1950s would only re-open the old debates about whether a Catholic or Jew (and we’d have to add Muslim today) should be included in Protestant prayers – or should the prayer be watered down to be so general as to be meaningless. Few are satisfied with universalist prayers.

I think what I find particularly annoying about this photo is that it is presented as an honest question from a child – scrawled innocently on a notepad, out of the mouth of babes, as it were. Finished off with a rather smug-looking smiley face for good measure. Of course, this is a misrepresentation.  It is clearly the opinion of an adult who wants to force kids to pray to his god. He wouldn’t phrase it that way, I’m sure, but that’s what the outcome would be.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like to hear children being referred to as “Christian children”, “Jewish children”, or any other religious designation. Children do not choose their religious affiliation. No parent tells a child about Jesus, Mohammed, Rama, and Buddha, then leaves it up to that child to decide which one they want to believe in. Instead, children are indoctrinated. At an age and developmental stage in which fantasy and reality are hard to separate, children are presented only one set of religious myths, told to them as truth.

This is why keeping religion out of the schools is so important. Schools have the huge task of educating our children, dispelling ignorance, and creating and nurturing inquisitive minds. Propping up tired old ideas based on the 2000-year-old writings of mostly unlearned men should not be on the agenda. Teachers who encourage children to ask a magic man in the sky for personal favors instead of showing them the math and science behind how the universe works should not be employed by public schools. Education is about learning that which can be proven.

Why do I care? Even though children are legally allowed to pray in school, I’m not sure that they should. I think it’s dangerous to encourage children to believe in fantasy and fatalism, to teach as real that which has no proof. A lot of what’s wrong in America today is caused by believing there’s something out there that will magically solve all of our ills. God will come back before we destroy ourselves through wars or environmental destruction. Cut taxes for rich people and the economic woes will somehow right themselves. Carpet-bombing and drone attacks are somehow going to reduce terrorism around the world.

Perhaps our children should be learning that only they, themselves, can change the world for the better.  Arguing about which imaginary friend we should be allowed to talk to is a serious waste of time.

Please comment – do you think I’ve gone too far when I say children shouldn’t be taught to pray?

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Why Kids Shouldn’t Pray

In American Society, Religion and Education on June 22, 2015 at 10:57 pm

prayer

I have dear Christian friends and family members whom I try hard not to offend when I post on social media – the main reason I created the American Secularist Facebook page is so that I could share ideas and posts with like-minded individuals without worry that I’d alienate someone I care about. Since I’m not trying to force my opinions upon anyone, I guess I should expect that there would be quite a few people I’m connected to who may not know that I’ve become one of the ‘unconverted’ over the years, becoming much more comfortable with an agnostic worldview and very uncomfortable with the suggestion that we need more God in our government. That means that most days I’ll see a post somewhere that looks like this one:

Dear Atheist, if you do not believe that God exists, why do you care if I pray to him?

Most of the time, these don’t bother me much – I put them in the same category as those invitations to play Candy Crush or whatever the latest game is. If I start getting a half-dozen a day from the same person, I just ‘hide’ their posts for a few days until they calm down about whatever it is that’s got them wound up. There are probably a couple of people who are so far to the right that I need to block them until election season is over. But basically no harm done as those who agree ‘like’ the post and others can just keep moving down the page.

But this particular one hit a few hot buttons – and I think it requires a response.

Let’s first dispel the common misconception this photo promotes – that it is illegal for anyone to pray in an American school. This is simply untrue, no matter how many preachers or Fox News commentators say otherwise. No one has ever ‘taken prayer out of our schools’ at any time. Students can pray in school whenever they like, so long as such activity isn’t disruptive in nature. Teachers and administrators can pray as well, although it must be clear that they are exercising their personal beliefs and that the school is not endorsing any religion or requiring that anyone participate.

Basically, no teacher or administrator can prohibit a student from the free exercise of his or her beliefs – they just can’t lead students in prayer as was often done in the past. The Lemon Test doesn’t say people can’t pray, it only says that the state should not be promoting prayer. The Supreme Court ruled that school activities – and indeed government activities of any kind – should have a secular purpose.

Don’t forget too that almost everyone in favor of school prayer is in favor of their own particular brand of prayer. I don’t think the people passing this photo around would be happy if everyone got to pray they way they wanted to pray – young Sufis whirling around in circles or Japanese Shintos running through the hallways with huge penises held high in the air.

In fact, the legislation that stopped teacher-led prayer in school didn’t come about because some atheist was annoyed by it – it started because a Jewish man didn’t like seeing his son saying Christian prayers. Going back to the way things were in the 1950s would only re-open the old debates about whether a Catholic or Jew (and we’d have to add Muslim today) should be included in Protestant prayers – or should the prayer be watered down to be so general as to be meaningless. Few are satisfied with universalist prayers.

I think what I find particularly annoying about this photo is that it is presented as an honest question from a child – scrawled innocently on a notepad, out of the mouth of babes, as it were. Finished off with a rather smug-looking smiley face for good measure. Of course, this is a misrepresentation.  It is clearly the opinion of an adult who wants to force kids to pray to his god. He wouldn’t phrase it that way, I’m sure, but that’s what the outcome would be.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like to hear children being referred to as “Christian children”, “Jewish children”, or any other religious designation. Children do not choose their religious affiliation. No parent tells a child about Jesus, Mohammed, Rama, and Buddha, then leaves it up to that child to decide which one they want to believe in. Instead, children are indoctrinated. At an age and developmental stage in which fantasy and reality are hard to separate, children are presented only one set of religious myths, told to them as truth.

This is why keeping religion out of the schools is so important. Schools have the huge task of educating our children, dispelling ignorance, and creating and nurturing inquisitive minds. Propping up tired old ideas based on the 2000-year-old writings of mostly unlearned men should not be on the agenda. Teachers who encourage children to ask a magic man in the sky for personal favors instead of showing them the math and science behind how the universe works should not be employed by public schools. Education is about learning that which can be proven.

Why do I care? Even though children are legally allowed to pray in school, I’m not sure that they should. I think it’s dangerous to encourage children to believe in fantasy and fatalism, to teach as real things which have no proof. A lot of what’s wrong in America today is caused by believing there’s something out there that will magically solve all of our ills. God will come back before we destroy ourselves through wars or environmental destruction. Cut taxes for rich people and the economic woes will somehow right themselves. Carpet-bombing and drone attacks are somehow going to reduce terrorism around the world.

Perhaps our children should be learning that only they, themselves, can change the world for the better.  Arguing about which imaginary friend we should be allowed to talk to is a serious waste of time.

Buddha for President

In American Enlightenment, American Society, Religion and Government on April 8, 2013 at 12:00 am

Wat Po 2009

I am unequivocally opposed to an established religion in a democracy. Furthermore, I do not believe that democracy is a product of religious belief; more specifically I do not believe that the American Constitution is based on Biblical precepts. Anyone who reads the document and has any understanding of history knows that it is a product of the Enlightenment. If the God of the Bible had been the true inspiration behind it, it would have a lot more to say about eating pork, cleansing oneself from blood contamination, and not spilling one’s seed on the ground.

It goes without saying that, in my opinion, the ills of this country are not due to the fact that we have strayed from God. Getting ‘more God’ into our government would make things worse, not better. If you are not convinced, let me remind you of some examples of pious societies – Oliver Cromwell’s England, Puritan New England, Spain of the Inquisition, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, present-day Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, David Koresh‘s Waco, Texas, and Jim Jones’s Jonestown, Guyana. If it’s God-and-guns you want, immigrate to the dozen or so countries across the globe that consistently make the ‘don’t travel here for any reason’ list, and leave this country alone. I’m sure you think that running things according to your religion would be kinder and gentler than my examples – so did the Kool-Aid sipping acolytes at Jonestown.

Are there countries that have no interest whatsoever in making their societies ‘more godly’? Yes, there are. They consist of the 20-odd countries that usually outrank the US in ‘happiest places’ and ‘best places to live’ polls that haunt the Internet. These countries, with much lower crime and poverty rates than our own, decided long, long ago that religion had no role to play in government, and their peoples are happier and healthier because of it.

Seriously, no one in the religious mainstream – measured at it’s broadest swath, from Fred Phelps to any lesbian Episcopalian pastor – is truly interested in having the government involved in our personal religious beliefs – no matter what they say to the contrary. Freedom of religion is what allows you to be as loony as you like; once you start trying to legislate morality, you get a religious practice that looks a lot more like the Church of England, and no American is interested in that, not now, not two centuries ago.

So tell your Congressman to give it up already. We all know that the vote to close down the one and only abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi sprung not from any moral conviction, but from the desire to squeeze every last vote out of the uneducated crowd, from Honey Boo-Boos’s inbred cousins to the cast of Swamp People.

However, if I were forced to choose a religion that I think would work well with our American system, I’d have to go with the teachings of the Buddha. Now, I know what you’re thinking – Westerners who get involved in Eastern mysticism are about the flakiest individuals you will ever meet. It’s hard not to think of the words ‘Buddhist’ and ‘Hippie Narcissist’ together. And the Dalai Lama is charming enough in a ten-minute interview, but I don’t think his outlook would be particularly reassuring to Wall Street. But hear me out.

First of all, Buddhism isn’t technically a religion, as it eschews the belief in a deity.This is probably why it never displaced Hinduism in India, its birthplace. In the land of thirty-five thousand gods, they would have accepted the addition of another one, but never the subtraction of them all. In fact, the Buddha considered a belief in god one of the ‘attachments’ or illusions that bring us so much misery. If your life is going to hell and your god never steps in to help you out, you add an additional heartbreak added to the one you are already experiencing. It’s devastating to have your crops destroyed by a storm; to think that your god could have stepped in but didn’t, that you’ve angered him or her in some way, that some deficiency in your worship may have indeed caused it – this is even worse.

In America, whenever a tragedy occurs, a Hurricane Katrina or a stock market crash, we get the added pleasure of a Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell, high and dry and insulated by hedge funds, telling us that we ourselves are to blame for disappointing God in some way. Or that God is trying to teach you something through your cancer. Or that the richest 1% in America own 40% of the wealth because God has decided they are good stewards – and you are not.

Getting rid of the deity would remove so many roadblocks to becoming a more rational society in America. These problems that seem impossible to solve – global climate change, gun ownership, gay marriage, etc., would all become so much easier to solve when one side couldn’t claim to have the ‘mind of God’ on their side.

Secondly, Buddhism addresses directly the most negative aspect of capitalism – suffering. Market societies, efficient as they are, produce winner and losers. In past generations, almost everyone got to win a little bit, and the losers were few. Today, the winners win big, and everyone else gets the crumbs. A lot more people are left out in the cold. Buddhism doesn’t lay a guilt trip on you for being one of the losers – it makes you realize that even the so-called winners enjoy a temporary advantage at best. Since winning and losing is all about chance, there is always hope that the wheel will turn in your favor – but in the end, we will all suffer loss, all get sick, grow old, eventually die.

Finally, the life of the Buddha fits into that American motif of privileged Americans spending their lives helping move our society in a positive directions. Siddharta Gautama began life as a prince, but decided to live an ascetic life in hope of improving humanity. Everyone knows that the rags-to-riches stories are a relic from the American past, and, unless you become a basketball player or a reality TV star, such a thing will not happen to you. We’re not interested in what the little guy has to say – let me hear about how the world works from guys like Donald Trump and Warren Buffet.  The guy with nowhere to lay his head isn’t relevant to today’s America.  From Thomas Jefferson to Mitt Romney, American politics have always been a place for the privileged to give something back to those less fortunate.

And by the way, that last paragraph was meant to be sarcastic – in case the Mitt Romney reference didn’t tip you off.