Losing My Religion

Last night, I held my sweet baby Lulu close and she squeezed into my chest.  I breathed her in, tight, and as I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving, tears welled up in my eyes.  My two year old consoled me, It’s okay, Mommy, It’s okay.

Really, it was God telling me that everything would be okay.

God whispered into my ear that he forgave me.  You see, yesterday morning, our family was horrible to each other.  Everyone.  Screaming.  Not being patient.  Name calling.  Bitterness.  It was the worst morning we’ve ever had.  So bad, that I got an email from my Kindergartner’s teacher saying she had been so sad all morning that she ate lunch with her to try to cheer her up.  Gut check.  While we have often been a bit chaotic, I’ve always thought of our family as the most beautiful disaster.  But yesterday morning, we were just a disaster.

And as God whispered into my ear, I couldn’t help but think of all the other mothers out there, holding their babies, crying out for forgiveness, seeking out wisdom, praying prayers of protection.

Women in Saudi Arabia or Iran.  Afghanistan.  India or Nepal.  Thailand or Cambodia.  Pakistan.  Israel or Palestine.

It’s never been more clear:  No matter our God, we are all the same.  Because we are human.

Recently, in my state, the state I grew up (in public schools) in, began my teaching career in, am raising my children in, has been in the national media for concern over the teaching of Islam.  In Social Studies.  In a unit on the Middle East.  In a content on World Cultures.

Parents are outraged that their students have to learn about this  religion.  Have to fill out worksheets on this religion.  Talk about this religion.  Compare and contrast this religion.  

Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism are all taught in this unit, as well.  No one, to my knowledge, is questioning the teaching of these other religions.  {click here for more on this story}

Beyond the argument that the unit teaches that Allah is the same as God (imho:  not a totally inaccurate teaching & being totally taken out of context, twisted and used as propaganda), parents are concerned that this unit has no teachings on Christianity and is an unfair representation of World Religions.  They are requesting for an “opt out option” for all teachings that have to do with Islam and are calling for a rewriting of the Georgia Curriculum removing the teaching of Islam from our schools.

I cannot properly speak to the Middle School Social Studies Curriculum of the State of Georgia.  However, I taught Social Studies at the high school level for six years.  Four of those years my primary focus was World History.  And this I can tell you:

1.    There is a unit on just Christianity.  It’s talks about the Romans, the rise, influence, crucifixion of Jesus.  It puts the religion of Christianity in a historical perspective.  The unit goes into depth on the King James’ rewriting of the Bible, the lasting influence Christ has had on the world and it breaks down, very similar to the “Five Pillars” worksheet that is at the center of this controversy, the main teachings of Jesus and Christianity.  But I haven’t heard any Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim parents opting out of that unit.

2.    Islam (and Buddhism and Hinduism) are taught in comparison to Christianity.  This first unit may not focus specifically on the teachings of Christ (as that is coming later in the semester - it’s called pacing) but students are to use their own beliefs to center and structure their understanding and perspective of what they are learning about the other religions.

3.    Christianity is the foundation of everything in a public school.  Each morning we say a pledge that specifically states one nation under God.  I am sure these advocates know that this is the Christian God to whom we refer.  Each morning, by law, we have a moment of silence.  That is just a fancy word for prayer.  The dollars that are slipped into the vending machines are labeled with “In God We Trust”.  The perspective of the teachers is primarily Christian - try as they may, their personal beliefs are the lens from which they form their perspective, craft their lessons, therefore present the information to the students.  The texts that are taught have a Christian leaning.  In some English classes, direct stories from the Bible are taught (I've never, in 13 years, known of any of my colleagues teaching directly out of the Qur'an). No longer do our science teachers really delve into Evolution.  There are no less than seven clubs at my school directly related to the Christian religion - whose purpose is clearly and unequivocally to promote Christian ideals, beliefs and teachings.  These clubs start their meetings in prayer.  They hold prayer walks and rally around the flagpole and sing alongs.  There is no Jewish club.  Or Buddhist club.  Or Hindu Club.  Nor is there a Muslim club.  But none of those students complain that their religion is being tarnished.  To say that students are not getting a Christian perspective is a gross understatement of the daily workings of the American public school (and American society in general).

4.    If you choose to censor your children, that is your prerogative.  However, it is imperative that you understand that you are not protecting them.  You are not making them better Christians or more loyal to God or even giving them a leg up in the world.  By not allowing them to learn about the world that they live in you are crippling their perspective and thus, your child, by inhibiting their critical thinking skills.  

5.    Not all Muslims are terrorists.  By trying to draw that correlation you are essentially saying that all Christians are hypocritical adulterers, like Josh Duggar.  Yes, it’s a completely asinine argument.  According to the Christian Science Monitor, somewhere between 15-25% of Muslims are radical.  Certainly doesn’t feel like an all, every or even a majority.  It isn’t fair to judge an entire group of people on the teachings/beliefs/actions of a fraction of their following.  There certainly are some Christians I wouldn’t want to be judged by.

As I held my baby girl in my arms last night, I was reminded of my responsibility.  To teach her.  To help her grow.  To keep her safe.  To make sure she approaches this world with kindness and compassion and understanding.  That she listens and learns.  To ensure that her view is worldly.

I want her beliefs challenged.  So she can stand strong in them.  Defend them.  Root them.  I want her to know about other worlds and cultures and religions.  Because I don’t want her going through life thinking that everyone is the same as her.  To me, that is what is most offensive in the classroom - the students, teachers, parents who fail to see that the world exists beyond the brick and mortar of their existence.  And we all must somehow work, learn, play together.  With respect.

Respect only comes with understanding.

Understanding of perspective, background, tradition.  It doesn’t mean you have to believe exactly what others believe; in fact, the teaching of religion in public school is to do the opposite:  to strengthen perspective which strengthens critical thinking - to help facilitate individualism - which makes us all better.

And isn’t that what we all ultimately want - every mother, father, teacher - a better world for our babies?

My beliefs teach me that God wouldn't want me to judge someone else.  Fear someone else.  Hate someone else.  For any reason.  Least not his/her religion.  No.  My God asks that I love.  And he would not be offended if I learned about another's God's.  Because at night, when He wraps his arms around me and whispers into my ear through the voice of my child, His friends are doing the same.  Because my God teaches me that we all, ultimately, say the same thing - just in a different language.