Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Can I sue Jesus for custodial interference?

Religion is a difficult topic for me, to be honest, because so many people I respect and adore self-identify as Christians, and I do not. I'm an atheist, but I've not been particularly political about it; like, I don't start petitions to remove "In God We Trust" from the money or anything. In the same way that some people feel in their viscera that Someone is out there, my innards beg to differ, and that's really it. I don't believe in the supernatural--ghosts, chupacabra, astral projection, Ouija, omnipotent gods, whatever. It's not a choice I've made; I just don't feel it.

That's not to say that I don't find aspects of religion moving. I will visit Westminster Abbey again in two weeks and, like every other time I've been, I will get all verklempt at some point, because it's beautiful and solemn and emotional and cool. I know many people who derive immeasurable comfort and serenity from their faith--that's a fine thing. And you won't find anyone who loves the Christmas holiday more than I. I have had people ask me why I get so jazzed about Christmas if I'm not a Christian, and that is just a bizarre question. (Um, hello, presents? Pretty lights? Pies?) Seriously, do they really think that only Christians experience the joy of a time dedicated to family and good will? That because I'm not a Christian I'd rather just go to work on December 25th than spend the day laughing and exchanging gifts with the people I love most? I do have feelings, even though they might not all be the same as yours, you know?

Most of the time "to each his own" works for me, but here's where I get upset: when it involves my son. I mentioned a couple of days ago that the town where I live is aggressively Jesus-centric. In particular, there is one behemoth church that dominates. It's not a traditional church, either, like a Church of Christ or First Baptist; it's one of those upstart megachurch things. I swear every third person I meet in this town attends that church. It's downright creepy sometimes, it's so ubiquitous.

So right after we moved to town, before I knew what I know now, one of my (then six-year-old) son's soccer friends invited him to this church's "guest night." I, being a grownup person with (I tell myself) some measure of maturity, approached the child's mom and explained that my son would love to go to church with her son but that he had never been before. I asked if she would tell me something of what would happen during the event so I could provide some prep. I watched several emotions cross her face during this exchange, beginning with surprise and moving swiftly to what I later realized was calculation. With a bright laugh, she told me that my son would probably come away from this experience with the impression that church = carnival, which I appreciated as funny, and then breezed through a mention of "some videos."

I sensed her sudden twitchiness, but whatever. I assumed from the beginning that they would be dishing out your standard Sunday School "Jesus Loves Me" fare, and I had no problem with that. That's what happens at church, after all.

Can you guess what did happen?

My six-year-old came home and told me that after eating the snacks and playing in the bounce houses, all the kids watched a video about Jesus (except he couldn't remember Jesus's name when telling me this, so he said, "that guy? you know, God's son?" which was hilarious to me until he kept talking and the red haze crept over my vision) and then they stood in a line and all had to close their eyes and ask Jesus to come into their hearts. He filled me in on the benefits of this as well: If you do it you'll get to go see Jesus after you die. I managed to chirp something like, "Wow, that's nice" and sent him to bed before he could notice the tic in my eyelid.

What the FUCK are they doing saving my child without my permission? I cannot even express how furious I was. Six years old, utterly susceptible to the influence of adults, not a member of the church, unaccompanied by his parents--it's just so offensive in so many ways. I felt tricked, even betrayed. And for what? "That guy" may as well have been Santa Claus to my son. At six--hell, even now, at nine--he has no understanding of concepts like sacrifice and martyrdom or sin. How can he give informed consent? He can't. It's ridiculous.

Then there's the school. I was aghast last Thanksgiving when my son brought home a list of things he's thankful for, and the list included references to "God" and "God's blessings," language I know he did not hear at home. When I asked him about it, he revealed that his teacher "put some things on the board that they could copy if they wanted." WHAT? I know it's not like she's recruiting for the Manson family, OK? My son probably thought of nothing but copying her words so he would be done faster. But that's against the law what she did! Isn't it? What could I do, though? Start trouble at the school and make my kid a target? I'm already dreading the day some asshole tells him he's going to hell.

Listen, this furor the last few days over the painting of George Washington praying at Valley Forge is a waste of time. It's a piece of art. People have prayed, in history, and there's no reason to act like they haven't. (See how reasonable I am? I'm not some pagan Satanist whatever slavering green foam on priests.) You have my permission to inform my son at school that someone painted an image of George Washington praying, as long as you don't make a life's lesson out of it. You do NOT, however, have my permission to claim or even imply to my son at school that Christianity is the bees knees and everybody is doing it; in fact, in elementary school I don't want you even telling him what your personal religious beliefs are. Keep it to yourself, please; it's none of his business.

I quite like our new home in other ways, but the Jesus fervor unnerves me. Why not just live and let live? Why can't we all just get along? Oh--also? Stay away from my child!


At 3:23 PM, Blogger gad said...

Hey Shelley --

I don't know what to say, other than that I feel compelled to apologize. Wow. Any sentence that contains the combination of "stand in a line" and "had to" just can't be good.


At 3:27 PM, Blogger Shell said...

Don't you DARE apologize. Everyone knows most people aren't like that. It's just an odd place. And it's not like I think Vaughn was harmed somehow--and I made sure he never knew I was mad. I don't want him to have a negative impression of anyone, especially not one that comes from me, if that makes any sense. I think it mostly annoys me because I can't say anything without it becoming a huge deal that isn't worth it. I don't know.

At 6:23 PM, Blogger gad said...

Well, I can see how saying anything (outside of the blogosphere) could become more hassle than it's worth. That being said, I think it's important that situations like this are talked about.

For example, many of the folks who sit in my classrooms are folks likely to be (or already) leading or assisting with some version of "guest night." It's important that they hear stories like yours so that they can examine their faith and their actions critically and rhetorically. If you don't mind, I'll end up using your story in an attempt to provoke such reflection. And, even if you do mind, I'll probably just use it anyway. : )


At 9:05 PM, Blogger Shell said...

Ha! As long as you leave out the bad words.

I want to make clear that Vaughn did not feel threatened at all. He was 6, and whatever they told him gave him the impression that Jesus was really nice, so it was like, "Do you want to go hang with the nice Jesus after you die?" and why would he say no?

While I ranted to Mike about it afterward, I realized the irony of the fact that I was taking the being saved concept more seriously than they were. Mixed in with the "how dare they coerce my child, period" was also "how can a 6-year-old make a choice like that? He doesn't understand it well enough," a concern you wouldn't expect to find in your common atheist. :)

At 9:08 PM, Blogger Shell said...

Also, I wondered: Would they have done it if I'd told the mother that Vaughn was Jewish? And I'm sorry to say that, yes, I imagine they would.

At 9:45 AM, Blogger drdave said...

Preach it sister! As a pagan (but not into satan, a Christian creation) I find myself at odds with Christianity all the time. I even boycott our college graduations, where the Deans actually read prayers as part of the ceremony.

I for one do take issue with the picture of Washington praying. It's not an historical image; it's a painting someone created out of his imagination.

I can live in harmony with Christians and Muslims and everyone else, as long as they don't impose their understanding of god on me. I don't like the fact that the government is in bed with the church at all, though.

I'm so sorry some fool is using your son's school as a place for proselytizing. You are much more patient than I. I would have torn the teacher a new asshole.

At 11:00 AM, Blogger Shell said...

Dave said: "I for one do take issue with the picture of Washington praying. It's not an historical image; it's a painting someone created out of his imagination."

I should probably have done some research on this. Do you know the painting's origins? I assumed it was from the Revolutionary era, in which case I didn't mind it. I may hit google today. . .

As far as the school thing goes, Mike was ready to storm in and demand her head on a plate, but then what happens to Vaughn? She's a good teacher and he's doing very well in her class. What if she started taking our complaint out on him, even unconsciously? What if we ended up on the news and his friends and their parents identified him with the godless troublemaker family? I couldn't do that to him. It was HARD to swallow it and move on, but we decided that was our only option.

It's so ironic--we can't move him to a private school to avoid the god stuff. That's what the public schools are supposed to be for! It's frustrating.

At 1:51 PM, Blogger Shell said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 1:04 PM, Anonymous Jenny said...

Hey Shell! Hope you are having a good time in jolly ole England! I just had to post because the same exact thing happened to me when I was little. They all made us close our eyes and raise our hands if we were "saved" I personally didn't know what the hell that I didn't raise my hand. BIG MISTAKE! They then proceeded to lock me in a room with a holy man and his Bible and save me. They told me stuff that gave me nightmares and totally screwed me up!!! Like if I don't get saved and I die I'll burn in hell and so will my mom and dad if I don't save I went on a rampage trying to save everyone..even my dog! I am religious in my own way, but the way they force religion down people's throats down there is WAY out of line!


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