Spiritual Illiteracy

I don’t think it’s appropriate, or legal, to teach or presume Christianity, or any religion, in school, or anywhere civic.  Every time the pendulum swings in that direction, I’m like “no no no!”  I could just be suffering from tunnel vision but it seems like the timeframe of my twenties and thirties, at least, were characterized by this roiling national tension about prayer in schools, teaching creation vs. evolution, etc.  I remember watching a documentary years ago about the evangelical Christian prayer camps they send young kids to.  The was a very fat woman with a dyke-y haircut who cannot possibly have been straight, ranting at the kids about how the Muslims fasted for a month at a time, for their god Allah; it wouldn’t hurt the kids to skip a meal  now and then, to develop some will power, to stand fast for their god.  

I was so confused on several levels.  

Haranguing kids over some shit they barely understand, and which won’t ever be clearly explained to them, because it can’t, is religion’s forte.  I think it’s during my lifetime that the wave of American homeschooling for religious reasons really gained strength.  Despite my bias against Christianity, which (I assume?) I’ll explore and unpack a little more as the blog goes on, I’ve never been able to react to this wave with anything but interested approval.  I think kids are supposed to be with their families, mostly, if possible, until they’re old enough that they initiate a steady stream of experiences external to the family.  I think public school has become, more than anything, daycare for parents who inherited an economy where luxuries are cheap and necessities are astronomical; that on top of the tsunami of parents raising kids alone.  

Whenever I hear people run down the pros and cons of homeschooling, I feel like they miss the most important factor: the simple, long-term presence and attention of a parent, period.  Period!  This parent could be categorically less skilled in delivering information than even the sorriest public school teacher, and have an aggressive set of evangelical beliefs on top of it, and I still think the situation would be preferable to the child being farmed out by default.  Children have the rest of their lives to be socialized, they don’t have to enter the fray as toddlers, in kindergarten, pre-school, Head Start.  Five years old, four years old, three years old and already farmed out.  For a nation, with a low-key national religion, that’s supposedly focused on the nuclear family, we sure do interfere with it a lot.

My dad retired from teaching, after an entire career of it, interrupted in the middle by thirteen years of oil field work, and he’s always said it’s obvious as neon, which kids have a remotely stable home life and which don’t.  Which kids go home to someone — a parent, a grandparent, a relative — who simply listens to them when they talk, at all, versus those who don’t.  So, that’s the issue with public schooling — it’s school, but it’s also daycare, and then increasingly it’s life skills 101, the basics about sex, the basics about the world, a basic calorically-dense lunch just in case they’re not getting food at home.  I grew up on the Rez, which might color my opinion of public school to some extent — it seemed like actual roulette, what necessities and even utilities might or might not be available in any given kid’s home, so the specter of school expanded, like a gas, to fill whatever space contained it.

My point is this: we can’t decide whether or not to teach anything about values, character, ethics, morals, prayer/meditation, etc. in school because we rightly regard that as the purview of the parents, but the parents are increasingly unavailable to mentor in that fashion.  But should we attempt to tackle this in school instead, we can’t agree on an agenda that adequately observes religious freedom and the separation of church and state (which is of utmost importance, in my mind), so we just keep pumping out more and more American kids who reach age 18, age 25, age 38, with no idea how to handle their own emotions, or an awareness that they even can.  These are the emotional dark ages.  

We, as a culture, are spiritually illiterate.  And it’s no one’s fault, that I can see — also, who cares, you start from where you start — but I think it’s important to start.  I totally get why Kanye is freaking out right now.  I freak out too, seeing kids being increasingly aborted, sexualized, or conversely — as toddlers — given a sign to hold, by their parents, that says “Fuck the police!”  I think Mormonism, for instance, is weird as shit, and it’s pretty clear to me that Joseph Smith et al. were raging pedophiles, misogynists, and compulsive liars — but some of the most excellent young people I’ve ever had the pleasure and privilege to meet are Mormons, because they’re raised in households and communities that do manage to advance and normalize basic principles of character and spiritual responsibility, under whatever bizarre cosmological umbrella.  

In stress, all people reach for the vocabulary of reflexes they’ve got, and since zero percent of most non-religious, mainstream people’s vocabulary of reflexes includes any impulse to pray, meditate, go within, surrender to a higher power of any kind, to recognize themselves being triggered as something pertinent to both their outer terrain and their inner terrain — well, we can clearly observe the outcome.  Everything has to be a crisis, everything has to be a power struggle, everything has to be an attempt to fill the void, because our entire haphazard indoctrination into society and adulthood is nothing but a series of arrows pointing out — out to relationships, out to jobs, out to money, out to appearance, out to sex, out to problems, out to facts, out to science, out to social justice, out to politics.  

Is the growing backlash of renewed interest in Christian values the answer?  To me it seems obvious that voters, whatever their values, will simply abandon crazy.  The crazy they abandoned in the last three decades was the Religious Right, getting itself *way* over-involved in everyone’s private, personal affairs, while itself being constantly busted sexting from the urinals of Congress, or naked in a hotel room with an underage male prostitute and a kilo of Columbian bam-bam.  That’s crazy, and they deserved to be abandoned.  

The crazy that voters are abandoning now (or we’ll see, in November) is, ah…[Hannah indicates the entire landscape of the country — peaceful smoke billowing from the peaceful protests, holding their peaceful hammer & sickle flags, plus Cuomo dictating that bars in NYC must serve sandwiches if they want to sell alcohol — no hot dogs, wings, or salad will suffice; plus kids as young as three forced to wear masks all day when their chances of being sex trafficked are like 60,000 times higher than their chances of dying from ‘rona].  That.  

If Christianity represents a spiritual ladder up for some people at this time, great, I certainly have no qualm with it.  I’ve historically been more concerned with political Christianity’s invasion of secular affairs, to be honest, but at this point I’m more worried that people won’t turn to the faith of least resistance, which is usually some flavor of Christianity.

The community which, in my opinion, has absolutely knocked it out of the park in terms of respectfully, and diversely, incorporating faith, higher power, and a spiritual path into their curriculum, in a way that is politically agnostic and never heavy handed, is Alcoholics Anonymous.  In fact I think it’s especially odd that, in this time of friction, division, ideological warfare, and social unrest, we already have a thriving, empirically effective, self-sustaining, life-changing, global, grassroots model of how to come together and lift each other up, and it’s called 12 Step.  As an increasingly religion-rejecting, science-worshipping nation, we regard AA’s adamant focus on, first and foremost, a surrender to some type of Higher Power, as just a weird addict thing; not suitable for people living normal dumpster fire lives.  But surrender to a higher power is not just for addicts; it’s for everyone.  And without threatening our laws, or our agendas, or our political aims, we could easily build in some blank space for that purpose, in our civic affairs, certainly in our schools.  

The results of meditation experiments in schools and prisons (Google it, too many articles to pick one) have been resoundingly positive, and just realize — those aren’t captive audiences to someone grandstanding about God,heaven, hell, heathens, sin, commandments, astral projection, probably realities, karma, transcendence, or anything of that nature.  It’s just that gentle, positive transformation happens when we create space for spirit, by any name.  That space can be and remain entirely individual, and private, and we never have to tell a single soul what that represents or feels like for us, but we can come together in groups and share it.  Meditation, or quiet time, is no issue for staunch atheists.  Atheists are some of the most actually moral people I know, because they reject the idea of religious brownie points and instead embrace doing good for the sake of doing good, in itself.  

In short, I think we could easily make space for spirit, if we decided to; if we wanted to.  

Additionally, is anyone teaching kids about character, sans a religious agenda?  It seems not.  I don’t think it is, or should be, controversial to say that good character is of benefit to the individual and the collective, and if we’re gonna funnel all kids through this scholastic sheep dip anyway, we might want to make some space for them to form ideas about their own characters, in the context of taking it as a given that that matters.  I was forced to watch a video, several years ago, about academic integrity, and it was a montage of students on campus responding to the question, “What does academic integrity mean to you?”  It was clear, from their answers, that they had no ability to be conversant on the subject of integrity, period, let alone integrity applied to academia.  I mean, they all were able to correctly infer that the desired answer was “don’t plagiarize”, but the video educated me on a scale far beyond its original intent.  

I think — I don’t know, and haven’t tested this — but I think that, if I were to take to the streets with my cell phone video camera and ask random passers by what they thought about concepts such as integrity, humility, fairness, compassion, forgiveness, ambition, kindness, honesty, respect, courage, etc., — I’m certain they’d be able to produce some kind of answer, off the cuff, but I doubt anyone would interact with their own thinking the same way they would if I asked them why we have time zones, or how the heart circulates blood, or any of the other bullshit we do learn.  It’s one thing to have engaged with information, at some point, formed some opinions about it in a climate of hopefully healthy exploration, and then to be able to recreate those ideas for someone on command — it’s another thing to entirely extemporize thoughts and ideas with which you’ve never consciously grappled, which have remained ambient at best, and about which you’ve never had a single adult discussion.  

That latter sensation was the impression I got from these college kids tackling, with furrowed brows, this ambush about academic integrity.  The people I’ve met raised in at least vaguely Christian and/or Catholic households don’t strike me as being any more conversant with personal ethics than anyone else — they just know to hide their porn and heavy metal CDs from their parents.  The Mormons I’ve met do seem, for whatever reason, able to be upstanding on purpose for the most part.  I’ve met very few practicing Muslims, while enjoying a good close friendship with one, but imo that faith seems to really hammer on a couple good things and to neglect quite a few others.  In short, I think there’s plenty of reasons to tackle personal ethics and morality in an entirely secular manner, and on top of that, and separately, to tackle the creation of some space for Spirit in a way that is really hands-off, like meditation, other than simply being facilitated.  It would be ideal if these skills were taught at home, but they’re not, and so it would be great if they were captured and advanced to at least some degree anywhere else, but they’re not, so here we are — utterly without spiritual or even ethical resources, as a nation; and not only without those resources, but unaware that such resources even exist, or matter.

So, that’s what I mean when I say, we are spiritually illiterate.  And like addicts who’ve hit rock bottom, it really does appear as if everything else is the problem, but the magic of surrendering to even a vaguely understood higher power, and developing qualities of character in keeping with that exploration, cannot be overstated.  

As usual, I’m probably just blogging into the void, but that’s on my mind today.                                                   

2 thoughts on “Spiritual Illiteracy

    1. That blog’s a slam dunk! Shared with my text group where we actually talk about actual things and no one’s off the rails. Yes, we have that God receptor, something’s always gonna connect, whether constructive or destructive.

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