And yet, though this simple and beautiful concept would work in practice if we'd let it, often we don't. Growing up (in Mississippi, if you're curious, not that that means anything), we had prayer in public schools all the time. I don't really know what they were thinking. Most probably, they weren't thinking anything. I student-taught once at a place where they did prayer over the intercom system. The principal said to me something like, "We could get in trouble for doing this, but I think it's worth the risk." My memory is fuzzy, but I think she even said, "Everyone here is a Christian anyway." Not only would that be beside the point, but it's quite an assumption. When my public school prayed when I attended, I considered myself a Christian, too, but I hated that they prayed in a public school. I knew it was wrong. Even if most of us could be filed under the broad label of "Christian," I knew that they weren't praying to my god. The god I believed in wouldn't have liked what they were doing. Especially since I knew for a fact that some of my friends were non-Christians and Atheists and may have cared for forced prayer even less than I did. During these prayers, with "every head bowed, every eye closed" (as they commanded you), I looked around the room in an angry mini-rebellion. I sometimes caught eyes with others who were probably doing the same.
Then of course I got to hear nonsense my whole life like "Everything gone downhill since they took prayer out of schools," which happened -- you know -- in 1964, so that shows how outdated a statement like that was (not to mention that the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791). Sometimes they'd go this far: "There's been another school shooting. Well, what do you expect when you take God out of the schools?" Which means, one must assume, that these statements were made by those who choose to worship a god who will murder innocent teenagers in the guise of a disturbed child with a shotgun (who now gets to spend the rest of his life in jail), just because he's upset that no one is talking to him during federally-funded education hours.
As I say, I don't know what people are thinking when they willfully combine church and state and impose their religion on others, but the sentiment sounds, to me, something like this: "Our ancestors came to America to flee religious persecution. The founding fathers included freedom of religion in the first amendment. That means that today every American is free to worship Jesus, and if any fuckers who believe in anything else want to do otherwise, I will eat the American flag and shit it down their pagan necks."
Sound demonic? It is.
This mentality is alive and well right now with the "controversy" over the Muslim community center (which is being built in order to improve Islam-West relations) being built several blocks from so-called "ground zero," where the World Trade Center used to be. I don't like to write about current events on the God Blog, and in a way I'm not, since this is just a manifestation of something that's been going on and will continue to go on: a continual struggle to uphold our constitutional right to freedom of religion.
Any objection that I've heard to the community center is based entirely on ignorance. I don't mean "ignorance" in the general, "you're stupid" way, but in the sense of not knowing something, or in believing misinformation. Some of the misinformation seems to be spread on purpose (for political reasons or to sell Post Toasties on television by stirring up exciting "controversy" for us to watch), some of it is from those who are too lazy to learn the truth, and some of it is simply a stubborn kind of ignorance.
Because what are the objections? The main one is that the community center is "insensitive" to 9/11 victims. First of all, what is more insensitive than forgetting the fact that many 9/11 victims were also Muslims? Second, 1.5 billion Muslims in all of their varieties are not the Taliban. To say that all Muslims are terrorists is to say that all Christians share the beliefs of the KKK, or that all Christians bomb abortion clinics. Islam does not equal Osama Bin Laden: a statement of fact, and one that, if taken as fact, erases all controversy.
Even George W. Bush told us this (beautifully) just one week after the attacks in 2001: "The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace. They represent evil and war." He went on to say, "Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don't represent the best of America. They represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior. This is a great country. It's a great country because we share the same values of respect and dignity and human worth."
And the spreaders of misinformation, those who set up some false image of evil terrorists Muslims setting up a "fuck you" mosque (which translates to "terrorist attack headquarters") on the rubble of the twin towers, should be ashamed. But at least I can understand those people. They're hoping to use this for a future political victory. I can understand that kind of selfish evil, even if I don't care for it one drop.
But I don't quite understand non-politicians and non-pundits who are opposed to the mosque and therefore opposed to their own religious freedom, unless they're just that gullible. When someone cries "just build it somewhere else," the "somewhere else" is really "not America." In their world (I can only guess), America is composed entirely of Christians who look like them. New York City, however, is one of the greatest cities in the world (even if it's not my personal cup of tea) because of its diversity. If there's such a thing as a "real America," New York City is it. And if you have such a narrow view that you think "real America" is only white Christian carnivores, then you should probably shut up until you learn a little something about this country of immigrants and ideas.
To paraphrase (and add to) Yoda, "Ignorance leads to fear which leads to hate which leads to suffering."
Ignorance: "All Muslims are terrorists." "A mosque is being built on ground zero in order to claim victory and rub it in." "America is a Christian nation." "Barack Obama is a secret Muslim." "Muslims are secret because they're evil and they're always plotting to overthrow the country." "Illegal immigrants are dropping anchor babies who will grow up to be terrorists." Etc.
Fear: "The Muslim terrorists want to kill me." "The mosque will train the secret Muslims to make me become Muslim, too, or die." "Barack Obama will use a combination of socialism and Muslim terrorism to make me his slave." "Illegal immigrants' anchor babies will convert my babies into Muslim terrorists who will kill me and my wife."
Hate: "I hate those goddamned Muslims!"
Suffering: "Kill the Muslims! Bring on the 2010 Crusades!"
I can't tell how much of that is exaggerated. If the guys on television believe the nonsense coming out of their mouths, almost none of it is.
Well-founded personal opinions are excellent. They make the world go 'round. But ignorance is not acceptable. Franklin Graham, son of Billy, said that Obama's "problem" is that he was "born a Muslim," which means that Graham believes just enough of Islam (the idea that lineage passes down through the father) to condemn Obama for being a part of it, even when, of course, he isn't a Muslim--though apparently 20% of Americans believe he is (which, once again, demonstrates the problem with "belief" vs. facts). White House spokesperson Bill Burton said that Graham was entitled to his opinion. No! This isn't an opinion. If someone says that I, Rusty Spell, am made of cheese, that's not an opinion. It's a delusion. Graham is entitled (as a mentally insane person) to his delusion, and we are entitled to have someone in the know say, "Billy Graham's idiot son is delusional."
My original point is this: If you are worried about someone else's religion taking over yours, then the last thing you want to do is limit freedom of religion! The moment you say "You can't build that here, even though you're an American protected under the first amendment" is the moment you're saying "Take my religion, please." The moment a public school teacher or principal forces students to pray is the moment when their freedom of religion is stolen from them. Why is this not common sense?
And "insensitive"? This word used by a group of people who control everything in such a way as to be able to use the concept of "them" when referring to Muslims as if Muslims don't have televisions and aren't American? A group who thinks that being Muslim is a "problem," that Barack should be ashamed (or something?) even if he were? A group who insists Christmas upon the entire nation for about three-fourths of the year? A group who denies basic rights to about ten percent of the nation because they think dudes kissing dudes is gross? A group who builds "abortion graveyards" on their church lawns specifically to make people feel bad?
Look, I just I don't want to live in a theocracy controlled by the ignorant, that's all, and this whole thing is really bothering me, if you can't tell. I haven't felt this bad since my elementary school teacher said this prayer: "Dear Jesus, I know everyone in this room believes in you... and if they don't, I pray that you will save their souls today." Will the fate of our country come down to our "opinions" about whether Obama bows to Mecca five times a day or whether he bows at his bedside every night, to pray to something that is -- let's face it -- invisible? Is our country becoming nothing but a collection of delusions? Will our freedom of religion be taken away because someone refuses to give that freedom to someone else because (get this) "they hate us for our freedom"?