So many different things are pointing me in this direction lately, so I thought I would discuss it here, where I can toss the topic out and you all can help me bat it around for a while.
I just found Aerin’s other blog, No Coward’s Soul and I am looking forward to seeing the content she’ll put forth. I find Aerin’s thoughts on faith to be both thought provoking and intelligent... so, if you’re reading this, Aerin, you’ve got at least one avid reader before you’ve begun.
And then I read Sarah’s comment there, which got me thinking about something else. Most people who dislike religion, or were once religious and find it hypocritical have a story – usually one that starts with a person of position in their faith talking down to them or treating them as ‘less than’. I have one that equates:
I went to Catholic School growing up... grade school and high school. In fourth grade, right around Halloween, my teacher asked us to raise our hands if we believed in ghosts. Mine was the only hand in the air. I can still hear her response.
“Now, Merry,” her voice was sugary sweet, “we know there are no such things as real ghosts, don’t we?” Then, to the class, “Are there any such things as ghosts, class?”
“No Miss. Pain in the ass teacher” (okay, that wasn’t her name, but it might as well have been and they replied in the sing songy tone of a mass of children just given the golden opportunity to fillet one of their peers on the playground)
“But... Father, Son, and Holy Ghost...” I said in the high-pitched kid whisper you get when you’re sure you’re right, are bordering on tears, but know you’re going to get punished for responding and do it anyway.
By this time she was already turned toward the chalkboard, but she heard me. I could tell in the same way a kid can tell when their mother’s heard them swear – the silence is accusatory.
“That’s different,” she snapped, “That’s the Holy Spirit, not some made up ghost like Caspar”
But she didn’t ask about a made up ghost like Caspar, just about ghosts. I was not stupid enough to push her on it; I just lowered my head and tried to avoid any more attention. Looking back now I kind of wish I had argued with her – even as a fourth grader, I think I might’ve won that one... though, I wouldn’t have made it past fourth grade, but that’s another story.
A few months later and we were in the glorious month of December – every kid knows what December brings!!! There were snow forts and games of King of the Mountain. There were candy canes, and boots full of treats from St. Nick... We watched the advent wreath each week, thrilled to see another candle flicker to life... when we got to the pink one, the yearning was palpable... Oh yes, Christmas was a joyous time for a kid.
And then my fourth grade teacher asked another stupid question.
“Who believes in Santa?”
Anyone want to guess how I screwed this one up? I couldn’t help it really. I had two older brothers and I knew this little fact of life, well, for as long as I can remember... we used to make a game of hunting down our presents... the only time my mother out maneuvered us was the time she hid them in the neighbor’s garage... We still figured that out when we saw her going back and forth through the gangway late one night to wrap them... but we didn’t get to play with them ahead of time that year...
Again, I can still hear the tone in this teacher’s voice. It was the same tone you use when you think someone is beneath you. It’s the same tone you’d use to call someone stupid. Meanwhile, all I could think was, here’s a lady who goes to Church, is a practicing Catholic but doesn’t believe in ghosts... while still petitioning saints? And saying the line, “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost”... And she believes in Santa... oh, and she once corrected me for saying the television show “Family Ties” was not realistic... okay, I’m getting off track, but I still... still don’t like her.
I wonder if she knows that. I wonder if I was that kid in her class. The one she just didn’t care for? I most likely was because the feeling was absolutely palpable and I can still feel it at age 35.
The thing is, I had other teachers throughout my education that more than made up for her... okay, my second grade teacher wasn’t that great either – surly nuns rarely are. But for the most part, I’ve had other people to look to in my faith that helped me to form a more solid thought process on things – that encouraged questioning, that adored thought and reveled in respectful discussion and tolerance of all positions. Respect is the optimal word in this little essay.
Often when religion is discussed, respect is in short supply. But I think when a lot of things are discussed, the same can be said. I’ve been following Post Secret for some time now, and occasionally wander over to the message boards to read what’s said. There was a postcard today that said, “I love my wife but I don’t respect her, because she’s not very smart”
It’s someone’s secret and I’m not going to sit here and tear it apart, but I was astounded at the number of commenters who agreed or stated that they couldn’t respect someone who was less intelligent than them. If I got to impart one great truth to the masses, if I got to give the world one tenet of character which they’d all adopt, it’s this:
No human being is less than you, nor are they more. We are equal. Education does not make you superior. Nor intelligence, nor money, nor power. The illusion of superiority is the crutch of the petty man.
We each, every one of us, have gifts and talents that we’re born with – some are better with numbers or good with the turn of the phrase. Some are kind of heart, or responsible and just. Innate talent is a thing you’re born with, it makes you no better or worse than someone who wasn’t given the same gift. When you can hone these things to improve a life other than your own, then you’ve got something to feel proud of. When you feel the need to belittle others for any reason, you’ve lowered yourself in character.
Another religious themed thing that’s taken my attention these last few days is the sign placed in a government building in Washington. It’s an Atheist group who wanted a sign next to the Nativity scene. You guys can google it and find it pretty easy. I think Atheists have every right to have a sign – it is state property and if a religion is allowed their form of speech then it’s fair for every philosophy to have the same courtesy. What I find unsettling is the lack of respect for other peoples’ beliefs. The leader of this particular Atheist group claims the Nativity scene is hate speech toward any non Christian, which I think is a little ludicrous. The sign is purposely inflammatory. I will defend his right to post it, but I think the message belittles his character. Notice that I did not say it belittles all Atheists... I’m guessing all Atheists wouldn’t agree with him. Now they’re just playing tit for tat, like little kids caught fighting on the playground who point at each other screaming, “He started it.”
Doesn’t matter who started it, you earn respect by giving it. And you can’t take instances that a person or people acted in a negative fashion and blame the whole of their religious group. That’s just bigotry wrapped in justification.
Was this long enough for you guys? I’m on a nice long tear here, aren’t I?
Let me get to the end then... and here’s my message for the holiday season:
My kids had their Holiday Gift shop this week. Their class has an assigned time and all the kids file in and can buy presents for their family. I gave each of my kids a (fairly small) amount of money and they had a list of who to buy for but they had to budget themselves and buy their own Christmas gifts. They looked so forward to this.
The day of his class’ turn at the holiday shop, my oldest son asked me if it would be okay for him to buy himself a gift after he bought his presents... of course, I told him it was fine. He’s a great kid and he’s only 8, and I know it’s hard for a kid that age to be around so many toys and things and not get themselves anything.
After school the kids ran to the car with their bags, all excited about their day. We got in the car and I asked oldest son, “Well, did you get to buy yourself a gift?”
“Yes,” he said, “I bought myself a cup filled with candies... but I don’t have it anymore.”
“Why don’t you have it anymore?” I asked.
“When I was done shopping and bought all of my things, I went back by the door to stand in line, and my friend (we’ll call him Joe) didn’t have any bags and he looked really sad” he explained.
“Oh,” I said. Nothing else would come out. I felt terrible for little Joe. It’s a rough year this year and there are a lot of people in my community that are having a hard time.
“Anyway,” Oldest son continued, “I asked him why he was sad and Joe said his parents didn’t give him any money to shop... so I gave him the gift I bought for myself and it made him happy.”
“Oh.” Still all I could think of to say and I was trying really hard not to cry.
“It’s okay, though, mom, I didn’t need anymore candy and I still got to get presents for my family.”
Not one thing for himself, and my 8 year old was perfectly happy. Happier I think than he would have been with the candy... I don’t think I’d have been so astute at his age – with a bag full of brand new crap, I doubt I would have noticed another kid was sad...
For this Christmas, scratch that, from now on, I’m going to follow the example of the 8 year old. I don’t know why so many people spend so much time, money, and energy exerting their opinions over others. The world is full of opportunities to make another person smile, and I think we can each find a cup full of candy that we really don’t need to eat.
Tirade over... thoughts?