Monday, December 24, 2012

School Prayer

School Prayer
Prayer is currently permitted in U.S. public schools, so long as it is not officially sponsored by the school and does not interfere with others doing their work.

The current state of the law is the result of numerous court cases dealing with the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…" If you insist on public school sponsored prayer then your beef is with the Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court, not with 'godless' liberal politicians. Indeed, conservative Christian politicians are the ones proposing legislation regarding school prayer. They have repeatedly attempted to require school sponsored prayer.

According to the Establishment Clause, officially sponsored school prayer is tantamount to religious coercion. It forces on students and teachers a particular religious dogma that may well be at odds with their own religious views and social values. Panderbear seriously doubts that many advocates of school prayer have in mind Muslim teachers and students bringing in their prayer rugs and disrupting classes by kneeling and praying at the times required by Islam. That being the case and peer pressure among children being what it is, open school prayer clearly favors Christianity over less followed religions and thus constitutes an obvious violation of the Establishment Clause.

Christians who want their children to practice religious observance in school have several options: they can encourage their children to pray silently in a public school; they can send their children to a parochial or private school with an overtly religious curriculum; or they can homeschool their children. Panderbear suspects that, for those in the Religious Right who reject all of these options, the real agenda is to proselytize Christianity in publicly supported institutions. That's contrary to the Founding Fathers' intentions as expressed in the First Amendment.

Panderbear thinks Christian parents have ample opportunity to religiously indoctrinate their children at home and in church without attempting to circumvent the constitution. Never in her 84 years did Panderbear's mother advocate prayer in school. She was a devout fundamentalist Christian, but understood well the dangers to both religion and public institutions of entangling the two in a religiously diverse democracy. She supported strict separation of church and state. Panderbear does too.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bloody Hell! A Review of the Holy Bible

Panderbear recently reread the King James version of the Holy Bible with an eye toward its possible relevance to the formulation of effective value-based public policy. Below, in the form of a book review, are Panderbear's first impressions and conclusions.

Bible as Literature: Its religious significance aside, the Bible utterly fails as a work of literature. Precious few passages rise to the level of John 3:16 or the 23rd Psalm. It turns out that Panderbear was already familiar with the good bits. Much of the rest was a tough slog and a trial of perseverance.

Old Testament: An alternative history replete with depictions of incidents of appalling carnage separated by vast wastelands of repetitive, nearly content free verbosity. Panderbear is not really criticizing the OT on the grounds of excessive violence, but perhaps it should be rated PG-13. With all the smoting going on, the OT is at least as violent as any first-person shooter video game and equally inappropriate as a basis for domestic public policy or foreign affairs.

New Testament: Much the same as the OT with the carnage reduced to a more human scale. The protagonist in the OT was an erratic and terrible God the Creator, while the NT features Jesus Christ, a far more sympathetic, if irasable, figure. One lesson here is that change is not always a thing to be feared. It can be a good thing.

Personal Reflection: The dismal prospect of suffering through all eternity in a Hell of fire and brimstone pales in comparison with Panderbear's abject terror of being condemned to a Heaven of infinite, unremitting bliss and the everlasting tyranny of a jealous, capricious, and insufferably vainglorious God. (Are bliss and tyranny compatible?) Perhaps the relative merits of heaven versus oblivion should have been played up a bit more. In any event Panderbear thinks good public policy must take into account a diversity of views regarding desirable policy goals.

Jesus the Man and His Politics: The New Testament Jesus was neither politically nor socially conservative. He was a Jew, a revolutionary, and a heretic. That's what got him crucified. Jesus loved and ministered to the wretched poor while holding the rich and powerful under suspicion and often in contempt. He dispensed free medical care in the form of miracle cures. He fed the hungry and clothed the naked - more miracles. Jesus neither blamed nor despised the less fortunate for their diminished circumstances.

Christians vs Christ: Jesus was in many respects the polar opposite of those who today self-identify as conservative Christians. No doubt today's Religious Right can cite chapter and verse to support their conservative views. After all there is plenty of fodder in the New Testament to bolster almost any argument. But those who search out particular passages in the Holy Bible as confirmation of their personal conservative biases are missing the forest for the trees. The big picture of the man Jesus of Nazareth is that he was, in context, a liberal activist who loved and uplifted the downtrodden. Far too many modern Christians are anything but Christ-like. Mahatma Ghandi said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Amen to that.

Recommendation: A must read for lovers of antiquarian history and Christians who aspire to leave hypocrisy behind. You can get it free online.

Panderbear thinks that Christ's liberal activism and uplift of the downtrodden can positively inform the formulation of humane and rational public policy, even though the intolerance and magical-thinking inspired political agenda of today's Religious Right cannot.

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