Monday, January 03, 2005

The Real Issue

"Democracy requires the nourishment of dialogue and dissent, while religious faith puts its trust in an ultimate divine authority above all human deliberation. When the government appropriates religious truth, it transforms rational debate into theological decree. Those who disagree no longer are questioning the judgment of the elected, but the rules of a higher authority who is beyond reproach."

Justice Harry Blackmun, 1992

A group of Montgomery County parents and others are not just opposed, but vehemently opposed to a new sex-ed curriculum that the Board of Education unanimously approved on November 9, 2004. In fact, they are so outraged by the content of the new curriculum that one day after the Board's vote, they organized to publicly advocate for recalling the entire school board. Never mind the fact that the school board can't be recalled—one can only assume that the intention behind the creation of a web site with such a name was to signal the level of indignation they felt about the new curriculum. Hence, these people have been dubbed the "recall group".

Why are they so angry? Some of us, who find the new curriculum to simply be a common-sense approach to helping teens understand and manage their biological and emotional urges as well as understand those of others around them would say, that's a good question. Why all the outrage? Why band together, form an executive committee, build two web sites, beg for donations (for "media buys and other activities such as legal action, printing costs. etc."), and try to bully and intimidate the Board of Education, just because of a new sex-ed curriculum?

In order to get to the real answer, you have to be very perceptive. The recall group talks about a lot of problems with the new curriculum, but to get to the heart of their outrage, you have to listen very carefully—to what they say and what they don't say. You have to read between the lines of their carefully-crafted verbiage—crafted with the intention of conveying the image of a group of calm and rational parents who simply have reasonable and legitimate concerns about their childrens' education.

The reality is, that is not who they are. Who they really are is a group of very angry religious zealots who are driven by and interested in promoting one thing—dogma. And what really makes their blood boil about the new curriculum is that it strays from their own deeply held dogma about one issue—homosexuality. While I'm sure they have other, lesser complaints about what our children will soon be taught, they are absolutely terrified of the possibility that children will be taught a terrible, terrible thing—to respect the dignity of gay people.

Yes, that is the sin that the Board of Education has committed—asking our dear little children to accept the fact that there are and will be gay people in this world, and that at the very least, they should be left alone and allowed to be who they are, and as they are.

The problem with that, for Fundamentalists (be they Mormon, Christian, or other) is that Fundamentalists tend to believe in a hierarchy of sins, and at the very top, is homosexuality. It is so offensive that 'sinful' tends to not be descriptive enough—stronger words are needed, words like abomination.

For many Fundamentalists, the very thought of 2 people of the same sex joined together in a loving, intimate relationship is not just uncomfortable (as it is for many heterosexuals) but it triggers a deep and visceral reaction that brings to mind visions of Gommorah—for them, it symbolizes the ultimate in the depravity of human nature, and once we begin to allow such depravity to go unchecked, fire and brimstone are just around the corner. And for those of us who do not share their views, our hearts and minds are guided by Lucifer anyway, so we couldn't see God's wrath coming if it slapped us in the face.

And that's the thing. They tend to focus on a wrathful God. Never mind the Prince of Peace. For those who read the Bible, you can skip all that stuff about God's love and mercy. Forget about David, who committed adultery and murdered his lover Bathsheba's husband—and yet God loved him. Forget about the fact that Peter denied Jesus three times and yet Jesus told him "you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church." Ignore the part about the woman at the well, whom Jesus forgave without hesitation. And really forget the fact that the thing that angered Jesus the most, was religious hypocrisy.

Ignore all of that and focus on a judgmental God who can't wait to comdemn people—and then maybe, if your own heart is full of wrath, you'll have successfully made God into a perfect image of yourself, and you'll have a great justification for being preoccupied with how other people live. And, you'll have a fantastic reason for ignoring this exhortation: "Work out your own salvation, with fear and trembling."

My view of God has nothing in common with the view of most Fundamentalists. But, that's okay with me—I can live with that. I would never try to deny others the right to believe in God in a way that makes sense for them. God gives us free will, and not even He will force us to live or believe in a way that we do not choose. And if God doesn't force us, what would I look like trying to force my views on someone else?

The truth is, regardless of how deeply held my beliefs about God may be, I don't have the ability to change anyone else's beliefs, even if I were inclined to try.

And the truth is also, that neither my view of God, nor those of Fundamentalists, have any business being imposed on other peoples' children. And since the new curriculum requires that parents return signed permission slips before their children can participate, (and those who prefer will have options such as abstinence-only sex-ed), that's what this is really about—an attempt to control what other peoples' children will be taught. A small group of angry people are demanding the right to limit what my child, your child, and the child down the street can learn in a publicly paid-for school—even if that means dumbing down the curriculum by stripping it of scientifically-accurate facts supported by every major medical association in this country. And all of that, because those facts don't fit with somebody's religious beliefs.

So what? If an equally irrate group of Muslims demands the right to impose their religious beliefs on public school-children, should those demands also be met? And how about Buddhists? Or Zoroastrians?

Or how about this—how about we let parents teach their kids whatever they want to about God, and let public school teachers keep doing what they're paid to do—teach the facts.


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