How (Not) to Fix Everything: School Prayer Edition.

How (Not) to Fix Everything: School Prayer Edition. November 13, 2016

While gathering material for the last post, I ran across this comment at John Pavlovitz’s blog. It’s a very common sentiment these days:

GUYS, GUYS, I KNOW WHAT TO DO
GUYS, GUYS, WAIT, HE KNOWS JUST WHAT TO DO! “A quick fix, [and lasting fix], would be to bring Prayer & Bible study back into Public Schools. The atmosphere would change in an instant. Put the 10 Commandments in front of the Classroom, and read them aloud every day.” And he sees no downsides at all to his grand idea.
Often we see Christians offer suggestions that don’t actually help the problems they see (which are not actually usually problems in the first place, except in their eyes). Those suggestions almost always center around giving them back the dominance they have lost and letting them try to recreate the Good Ole Days they think existed back before liberals and feminists wrecked everything. And they don’t usually understand that their suggestions not only demonstrably don’t work but also highlight endemic issues with their religion–and show exactly why it is failing now.

This common chirpy suggestion isn’t any different. Here are some of the problems with it:

First Off, It’s Illegal.

Unfortunately for this Christian, there’s still the law. The Wall of Separation was created specifically to prevent Christian zealots just like him from overriding other people’s rights, and it’s still doing its job centuries after being put in place–much to his chagrin, and entirely against his tribe’s wishes.

Many Christians bristle hard against this law, but it benefits them the same as it does everyone else. For a start, there are tens of thousands of Christian denominations–with differences dividing Christians even within a small town. If schools opened with a prayer, which prayer would it be? If the schools spent taxpayer money building a monument to Christianity, which of these denominations would it glorify? And how are students to react to a reading of a list of laws that have little to do with actual transgressions and that they can see their elders breaking constantly?

It’s ironic that Christians’ sanctimonious campaign for “religious liberty” is actually a smokescreen for their newest grab for religious dominance, but slowly the rest of us are picking up on that fact. Watchdog organizations like the Freedom from Religion Foundation and Americans United know that in this age of waning Christian dominance, we must be more vigilant than ever about protecting Americans’ rights against Christians.

It’s so weird that a group of people so focused on freedoms should care so little for other people’s freedoms.

It’s Also Culturally Irrelevant.

As a culture, we’ve moved further and further away from Christianity. Christians themselves know this; that is why, in the recent election, they flocked in such great numbers to a man promising to “Make America Hate White Great Again.” (In fact, more evangelicals as a percentage voted for Donald Trump than did for Mitt Romney!) The slogan was like a verbal Confederate Flag waved in front of their enraged, bedazzled eyes; it was a dogwhistle to disgruntled white Christians, especially the older, poorly-educated ones who get all their news from their pastors and Fox News. They’ve been pissed off for fifty years that people care less and less about what they want and are less and less inclined to give in to their demands.

Christians know perfectly well that the younger a person is nowadays, the less likely that person is to be Christian. At this point, only a third of people under the age of 29 attend church weekly, and only 51% are even certain that their particular version of “God” exists. Only 17% attend prayer groups weekly; similarly strikingly-small numbers of young people pray and do other Christian things.

These numbers speak to a growing conviction among our youngest citizens that religion–particularly Christianity–is irrelevant to their lives.

And It’s Coercive.

The suggestion “Paul” makes would be deeply coercive to every person in that classroom. It’d be forcing religion on people who may or may not actually share those religious views. And to Christians like him, that’s perfectly okay–because it’s his religion, after all, and not someone else’s religion.

Christians’ response to the overwhelmingly-bad numbers I’ve mentioned is generally to say that parents should forcibly indoctrinate their children, but that idea assumes that the parents are Christians–which is itself increasingly not the case, and it also assumes that Christian parents can always coerce their children to do the religious things they view as necessary, which is also apparently not the case (if I’m reading the comments to this post accurately).

Forcing religion on people does not tend to make them favorably inclined toward that religion, either–as a great many ex-Christians could attest. We know this because when kids forced to attend church and do Christian things against their will finally reach an age where they can walk away from it, they do so in staggering numbers. And they do not often have very fond memories of their experiences as prisoners of their parents’ religious zealotry and disrespect.

A few of them do make their way back to the religion after leaving it, and you can see in those links their testimonies about how they now say they are happy that their parents did this great injustice to them, but when you consider how many other kids never go back, and how many other testimonies one hears about kids who were damaged by this trampling of their rights and boundaries, these returned-Christians’ testimonies start sounding less and less like the norm and more and more like a studied attempt to put a good face on a terrible idea.

These testimonies accidentally show us something else: Christians know they have to literally force kids to pray in schools, because prayer will literally not happen without that force. They know that shows of religiosity are voluntary right now and that nothing stops children from studying the Bible or praying on their own time. But they also know that kids do not generally choose to spend their free time at school doing these things.

Instead of giving kids a reason to want to do this stuff, they’re trying to force those kids to do it whether they want to or not.

Where Christianity has no power to force compliance, it is losing people left and right. When people have a choice about praying or going to church, they express that choice by not doing it. That’s why only a vanishingly-few number of even committed, fervent Christians actually do any of the stuff their leaders say is vitally important. The only way, literally, for Christianity to recover its dominance is to be given the power to force people to at least unwillingly comply with their demands, because the more freedom people have to refuse their overreach, the more we do so.

And Christians are well aware of this truth. If they had any other way to persuade people of their ideas and gain compliance without force, they’d already be doing it. But they do not.

Oh, and Also It’s One-Sided.

Not only do they know that their religion’s overreach is required for their dominance to continue, they’re also completely aware of how one-sided their attitude is.

How would this commenter respond to Muslims demanding prayer five times a day? Or Hindus wanting to put up a statue of one of their gods on the lawn? Or Satanists wanting to distribute their tracts and pamphlets to students?

Well, we might not know that answer from “Paul’s” brief comment, but we certainly know exactly how his fellow Christians respond.

They freak out and get vicious, even violent, to try to grab their onetime control back. Suddenly they’re all “I believe I need to be the one teaching them [my children] what we believe instead of the school,” as one parent in that link said. But when it comes to forcing Christianity on other parents’ kids? Oh, yeah, they’re totally fine with that.

“Freedom for me, but not for thee” is the unofficial slogan of Christianity. Thankfully, we have laws limiting how much they can flex their power–and ever-growing numbers of people willing and able to speak up in the face of this hypocrisy.

This gorge is called "The Devil's Pulpit." (Ian....See, CC.)
This gorge is called “The Devil’s Pulpit.” (Ian….See, CC.)

But This Suggestion Shows Us What Christians’ Real Priorities Are.

For a while now, I’ve been distinguishing between forms of Christianity that are service-oriented and dominance-oriented.

Yesterday, my husband called a Christian family member of his. He asked, “Can you please tell me something your church is doing that helps people? Because I really need to know that you’re not all like the ones I heard talking at work today.”

And his family member told him about a charity project their church does where they send volunteers into fields to pick (“glean,” even!) crops that are donated to the hungry. Where it’d be impractical to donate the food directly, it’s sold at farmer’s markets and the money given directly to the poor. It’s a whole lot of food and rather a lot of money, but it doesn’t even get a mention in the newspapers. They don’t care. They’re not in it for the publicity. It’s a very small church, but it does some good in the world. (They are also affirming and have a female pastor–but consider themselves evangelical. As Facebook would put it, it’s complicated.)

Could this project have happened outside of a church context? Yes, of course it could have. One might even wonder privately how much more good it could accomplish without the busy-work of religiosity. But one might wonder the same things if it were My Little Pony fans doing it through their own club. Regardless, these Christians are the ones doing it, and they attach this charity in their minds to their religious feelings.

As long as they’re going to have those beliefs, then this sort of religion at least gives service-oriented people a way to express the humanitarian leanings they already had. If any of them leave that church, they’re still going to have those leanings–and will find plenty of secular groups to join that are helping people without the overhead of time and resources that a church requires. But until and unless they do leave, they’re not harming anybody’s civil rights and they’re trying to help those unfortunates that their less loving, dominance-oriented peers would ignore and vilify.

While Christians like “Paul” are busily fantasizing about what a wonderful country it’d be if they could force their religious opinions on others, my in-law’s church is picking fruit and milling flour for the hungry, and John Pavlovitz and other Christians like him are using their voices to try to raise their peers’ consciousness.

Christians’ priorities are usually painfully easy to discern like that. In the case of the Christian who made the comment I highlighted above, his priority is on forcing compliance and coercing people to perform the religious devotions he thinks they should. The many abuses that his ideas would inevitably provoke don’t even occur to him; he remembers only a happy wonderful Mayberry where religious sentiment was only a good thing and a positive force in people’s lives–because in his fantasy, it was his religion being forced on everyone. Every single bad thing he perceives in society, he has been taught, comes from his tribe’s loss of dominance. So the solution is obviously to give them back that dominance.

Theocracy, in other words, is great, as long as it’s “Paul’s” tribe that rules that theocracy.

We cannot let up in the fight against Christian overreach, nor can we falter in calling out Christian hypocrisy. Now, more than ever, our voices are needed.

When you hear these plaintive wishes for a return to school prayer, know them for what they are: a symptom of the problem Christianity suffers, and also a sign of its coming collapse.


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