Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Well the good news about all these f*ing snow days is that I have more time to contemplate my navel and then spew forth with my thoughts via this here blog thingie.

My wonderful niece, Heather, wrote a post today about religion. Like me, she is a non-believer, although unlike me, she feels a hole left where the comfort of believing in a higher power used to be. She also mentions, briefly, the challenge of answering when your child asks "Who is God?" This struck a chord with me because the weight of explaining religion to your child has been troubling me lately.

The truth is, I am one of those people who believes that children in public schools should not recite the Pledge of Allegience. I strongly feel that God has no place in our public schools. I would be one of those parents who openly protests our children saying the Pledge of Allegience except my mother would disown me and I like my mom, and also, I don't want my kid to be "the one whose mother is a devil worshipper." So she says the Pledge of Allegience every day, putting her hand over her heart and reciting "One nation, under God..." even though that makes approximately as much sense to her as it would if they said "One nation, under The Easter Bunny..."

Or, as she recently told a classmate as they discussed the upcoming Christmas holiday: "I don't believe in Santa and I don't believe in God either." Now, this wouldn't have been a problem except that that child went home and told her mother, who then contacted the school's before-school-program (where the conversation took place) and demanded that my child be told that she was not allowed to say that.

(insert a mental image here, if you will, of me with steam blowing out of my ears)

This made my blood boil because it hurt Anna's feelings. She is very, very sensitive and felt like she was in trouble for stating something that is no more controversial than mentioning that she had Cheerios for breakfast. Second, THIS IS A PUBLIC SCHOOL, paid for by the taxes of not just Christians but also atheists, agnostics, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Pagans and worshippers of the Flying Spagetti Monster.

I mustered as much self-restraint as is possible for me and I fired off an email to the teacher at the before-school-program, the person who "had words" with Anna. I made sure to explain that I trusted that she was simply appeasing the other parent, but reminded her that the very point of school is EDUCATION. Not indoctrination. Children attending public school are going to be exposed to ideas different than their own. I would have LOVED to been able to speak to the other parent, to remind her that Spokane is full of private Christian schools, and if her precious little angel is not to be exposed to "heathens" then perhaps she should fork over the money for a school where God will be presented as fact.

I later received a phone call from the director of the program and was assured that there would be a conversation with the children, reminding them that there are many, many different religions and beliefs and that ALL must be respected.

My struggle is this: we live in a predominantly Christian community; how can my daughter "fit in" with children who attend church and believe in God? Frankly, I'm surprised that they have these conversations amongst themselves in the second grade, but they do. Last night she told me that yesterday at school she was talking with some friends and when she mentioned something about evolution some of the other kids (although not all, I'm happy to report) got mad at her and and informed her that evolution was not true and that God created us.

What confuses and frustrates her (as the 8 year old that she is) is that she knows one thing (evolution) to be true and yet other people believe just as strongly that we were created by some dude with gray hair and long robes only a few thousand years ago?? She is a well-read kid; she is fascinated by science and she knows that people roamed the planet millions of years ago.

Now, before you get your unders in a bundle, you should know that I encourage her to learn as much as she can (and yes, I will help) about other beliefs so that a) she can have informed conversations and b) she may very well decide that something else makes more sense to her.

But as she said last night, as she recounted the conversation she'd had at school yesterday, "Why can't we all just believe ONE thing, like that humans just started falling out of the clouds?"

I thought that was a beautiful image. As long as no one got hurt, of course.

I wish, of course, that she could be shielded from these weighty issues for a few more years. I wish that we lived somewhere more progressive (Seattle, Portland...even Bend or Eugene) where my daughter, with her understanding of evolution, was the NORM rather than the minority.

I wish God would just tell me how to handle this.


robyn said...

First, "unders in a bundle" is being added to my repertoire immediately.

Second, I am not God (except for in my own mind) so you know what you can do with my grains of salt but if I may, I'd like to offer my opinion that you're already handling this well with Anna. Of course you're worried about her being hurt over learning the world doesn't think like her, but frankly I think that while the lessons can be a bit painful, with your guidance she can consider herself lucky to learn it so early. Many people don't - it took me entirely too long to figure it out. And it doesn't have to be a negative lesson - sure, there are extremes to be avoided, but think how boring (and uneducated) this world would be if we all thought the same things.

With that lesson in place, one can find peace and security in their beliefs (meaning - you can stop feeling outside pressure to change or question your beliefs, though you can question them for your own reasons all you want, because they're yours) while being able to respect those whose views on our origins and what will happen in the afterlife you happen to disagree with. And hopefully you will get respect back.

Personally, I don't think living in a different place would change this issue much. Sure, you might not get a phone call from an angry mom regarding Christianity, but there's always something. It's too intrinsic to human nature. And as a society, it certainly doesn't do us much good to only live amongst those who think like we do. Mixing things up is the only way progress is ever made, right?

In other news, I may as well ditch my blog, since I seem to be doing all my writing on other people's blogs these days.

jpogue said...

Your post made me think about how minorities must feel, such as blacks living in Boise, where they stand out simply by the color of their skin. At least you don't have some big letter "A" painted on your forehead making some people stare at you as you walk by and whisper "Did you see that big atheist we just passed?" Ok, things aren't that bad for blacks anymore thank God) but it sure makes you think about what they used to go through.

jpogue said...

Ya know, I just can't get past the picture of you "contemplating" your navel. Have you found anything interesting?

Anonymous said...

You know, the pledge of allegiance wasn't intended as a religious pledge--the phrase "under God" was only added early in the 20th century (the pledge itself was developed in the early 1890's). Just as "In God We Trust" wasn't added to our money until long after we had a single currency. People get so angry when anyone suggests removing either phrase, but few of them realize that the country existed for over a century without those--and yet people did not drop away from their religious belief like flies.
And Kate, take heart--I'm a person of pretty strong faith, but I also believe adamantly in separation of church and state... oh, yeah, and in evolution, too. And my kids (and their teachers) better exude respect for anyone who thinks differently! :)

kate said...

Robyn, thanks for your awesome and thoughtful response. I think I love you. You'd never heard "unders in a bundle"?? Maybe that's an Idaho/hillbilly thing. Glad I could expand your vocabulary. :) Also, don't you dare bag your blog. If I can't, you can't!!

Jod, I know, it's true. Luckily this "dilema" is self-induced so to speak, and not something so random as skin color or sexual preference. As for my navel, I think I found some sand in there from our visit to the beach in 2004.

Anonymous, (Sheri??) thank you for adding your thoughtful comments. It makes me feel better to know that I'm not alone, or crazy.

jpogue said...

No, anynomous isn't Sheri, she always signs her name. Evidently, just someone who wanted to comment.

Dee said...

I believe in evolution and God, and I have always wondered if "the world was created in seven days" wasn't actually seven million years. That would tie in both beliefs. Time in the Bible stories takes much longer than the time submitted in each Book.
As for what to tell Anna, I have no words of wisdom---I am so confused by the situation. But you have always discussed everything completely with her and I'm sure you are teaching her tolerance and the idea of accepting the beliefs of all others. I just wish they could do the same. I am saddened to think she is ostricized for her ( your ) opinions.
my love for you never wavers !

Sheri said...

It is a good comment and I wish I could take credit for it....but no, it's not me! I think that you need to teach your children as much about all religion and beliefs that you can, letting them know that this is how I believe but there are many more ideas out there....sounds like that is exactly what you are doing with Anna. Not teaching them anything is kind of like taking them to a restaurant for the first time when they are 18, not showing them a menu and expecting them to know how to order. That is kind of what I did with my boy's and have always regretted it. I got hung up on the idea of it being their choice when they got older...but how can they choose if I didn't expose them to any of it! My older and wiser self would have done it differently!

Maggie said...

Wow, the "talking to" pushed my buttons really badly and it wasn't even my child. If it was my son, I'm fairly confident my husband and I would have had to fight over who could get to the phone first and give that person a piece of their mind.

Where I grew up I was one of only two Christian kids in my grade - all others were Jewish. It gave me a really good feeling for what it's like to be in the minority which isn't a bad thing. My husband is a devout atheist and I'm not sure what I am these days, but we did make the choice to send our son to a school that has a pretty even mix of religious beliefs. I'm happy that we had that choice available to us so I could avoid tearing some school or after-care teacher a new one for events similar to those that happened to you. I mean, I know I can get a little crazy, but everyone else doesn't need to know it too right?

Maggie's Husband said...

When I took our Kindergartener to school and found out that they were saying the pledge in the cafeteria every morning I stood next to him and recited it very loudly, leaving out the two words added in 1954. I later asked him if he noticed that I left anything out, but didn't push it on him. I will let him say "under god" until he decides that he wants to question them.

kate said...

Hooray Maggie and Maggie's Husband! Thanks so much for de-lurking and offering your support and great comments. It's comforting to know that I'm not alone. I honestly believe (maybe it's just hope) that in the not-too-distant-future, our way of thinking will become more of a majority. Maybe THEN we can get God out of our schools and off our currency. Let's start a movement! Just don't tell my mom. :)

Mom, thank you for your unwavering love, even when you think I'm a nut job. I'm YOUR nut-job. hee

Also: I found out that "anonymous" was my friend Laura. She is a bleeding heart liberal AND a good Catholic. :) I heart her.

Dee said...

Yes, dear, you are MY nut job. Unfortunately, you aren't the only one in the family. ----- starting with me---how do you think you got that way !

David said...

Aren't fundamentalists of all faiths proof that evolution doesn't exist?

I know what do I know, I'm just an agnostic buddhist Jew-Boy :-)

kate said...

"Aren't fundamentalists of all faiths proof that evolution doesn't exist?"

Oh sweetie, you are SO the man for me.

Heidi said...

this is why i read your blog. thanks.

i used to teach in a christian school (i am an atheist, it's a long story) and i had to lead my class in the pledge. i did what maggie's husband did, just left out those two words, every morning. no one ever called me on it and it was a good enough compromise for me.

jpogue makes a very insightful point that as hard as it is to be different, it's much harder when you wear your differences for all to see. would make it harder (if not impossible?) to teach in a christian school with a big A on one's head.

Fancy Schmancy said...

I also would have been furious at having my child "talked to" for expressing their opinion, especially without talking to me first - and I send my kid to Catholic school!

Then again, I bought my kid a WTFWJD shirt with the only stipulation being not to wear it to school. I'm pretty open minded. I think you handled yourself extremely well. Good job.