Saturday, February 17, 2018

On God, Guns, and Schools

I saw a picture of this t-shirt today shared in social media. To anyone claiming we would have less violence in public schools if we let religion to be taught thereviolence, I take it given recent events, like mass murder caused by mentally ill young men acquiring legal assault riflesI would respond that as a parent of a child in a public school I'm strongly opposed to the idea that my son should be encouraged to hold supernatural beliefs by that government institution, regardless of any positive effects there might eventually be. Actually and to the point, I feel most of the long term effects of such a change in federal law would be detrimental for our country.

To be clear, I'm not against the emotional comfort religious beliefs apparently bring some people. I respect your religion if it encourages you to be compassionate, kind, giving, and loving and if it helps you to feel comforted. Many kinds of belief systems can offer such benefits. I disagree with you, though, if you want to use supernatural beliefs to try to indoctrinate kids, who tend by nature to be very impressionable and will believe pretty much anything fanciful told to them—e.g. The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, God. Indeed, my wife and I don't tell our son (who is 7) those other three characters exist either, and neither do we tell him any of them don't exist. We simply do not tell him, "There is a Tooth Fairy." Being secular humanists, as my wife and I might be categorized, in addition to being parents isn't always easy, really, especially when someone unfamiliar with us asks our son what he's going to do with a lost tooth or asks what Santa brought him.

Our son has a children's book which we bought him on biological evolution and which he likes to read. It's titled Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story. Obviously we are okay with teaching him science at home and at school. I would add, however, that we are very careful to say to him that "evolution" is what most scientists think is happening on our planet so that all these life forms have existed. Will anyone who proselytizes to kids about religion ever similarly qualify their statement on a proposed existence of God or Creationism? Not likely. Religious proselytizers don't typically say to children, "Most priests think there is a God." Rather, they almost always couch their statements in parental and presupposing terms like "Jesus loves you".

While the notion of anyone saying "Jesus loves you" to my son makes me shudder, in fact my personal beliefs don't enter into this aspect of being his father at all. As a parent, my primary job as I see it is to protect my son from harm and let him be who he naturally is in his own way and in his own time. My wife and I are much more into staying out of his path in that regard and letting him play with ideas than telling him he should believe one cosmological thing and not another. We do talk basic science with him, because science deals with the observable and provides measurable results. Science is taught in schools for those reasonsfor its practical, everyday applicationsand therefore I support the continuation of its being taught. I do not support, though, any amount of eradication of the federal separation of church and state. To me, abolishing that separation would be anti-American, anti-enlightenment, essentially a retreat to the dark ages. I would even be relieved if the words "under God" were removed from the Pledge of Allegiance, because it was Cold War fear and anti-socialism propaganda that put them there in the first place.

In any case, we still have the problem of how to make American public schools safer, which in this context means asking how parents like my wife and me can stop dropping our son off at school and fearing today will be the day he is brutally gunned down by a culture that values its guns and religion more than its safety and science. I think I know one thing that would help. How about bucking the NRA and reversing the 22-year federal ban on gun violence research?