Yesterday, I made my usual mistake of agreeing to attend church services with my family, an agreement that usually ends up with my blood pressure spiking from holding in my outrage at what gets said from the pulpit. This was no exception. My family sometimes describes me as “selfish” and “free from guilt” in the sense that they believe that I live my life in a way that ignores their desires for how I should live and behave in favor of my own happiness; leaving aside for now the issue of whether there’s even anything wrong with that, they don’t realize the ways in which activities that seem commonplace and trivial to them–like attending a southern Methodist church service because they want me there–might feel to me like a compromise of my own integrity and even my sense of comfort and well-being (given that past ministers there have railed against homosexuality, for example), and therefore probably not acts of selfishness.
The church’s usual minister is away for the month, pursuing some additional theological education, so yesterday’s speaker was a lay leader–a contemporary of mine whom I knew well in my youth as we grew up together in that church and in that community. He’s a nice guy, sincere and compassionate, but the topic of both the children’s discussion and general sermon were about the lack of God, overt Christianity and prayer in public education: “Isn’t it ironic that we are educated from preschool to college in order to find a good job [already a premise I reject, at least as a sole justification for acquiring education] so that we can pursue the evil of money, on which we find ‘In God We Trust,’ but just a few people have made them take God out of our schools? Since just a few people got God removed from school, maybe just a few of us can get Him back in.”
Every time he said “just a few people made them take God out of our schools”–and he said it many times–it was all I could do not to shout out “Yeah, like the authors of the Bill of Rights.” I wanted to point out that “In God We Trust” was not an original motto of our nation and hadn’t been printed on our currency before the 1950s, just as “under God” hadn’t previously been part of the Pledge of Allegiance. And I was curious as to whether his belief that religion should be put back in the classroom would extend to encouraging daily prayers to Shiva or Diana, or if the assumption of Christianity was, as I suspect, so fundamental (if you’ll pardon the pun) to his argument as to be unquestionable. More humorously, I wanted to suggest that despite the alleged absence of God from school, I probably heard more prayers being offered up during final exams than anywhere else in my life.
But I kept my mouth shut, sat on my hands, and tried to tune out the service as much as possible, for the sake of my parents’ feelings–I was there for them, after all, and clearly not for my own spiritual or intellectual edification–and the implicit inappropriateness of speaking back in church. And it turns out that my family all thought it was a great sermon, so I guess it was just as well that I–no longer a member of that church, nor indeed of that community–didn’t rock the boat. I’d already used up most of the family’s tolerance for political discussion with my comments throughout the weekend about the war, the economy and the environment.