Religion Taught In School

One of last month’s comics from Tatsuya Ishida jogged my memory of high school.  I, like I’m sure many of you, attended one of Virginia’s numerous public high schools.  Mine was Harrisonburg High School.  It’s amazing the growth in the school in the eleven years since I was there.  Here are just a few random observations and questions.  They have a new building far removed from the center of the city that is just huge.  When I visited it, I found myself wandering the corridors feeling like a rat in some sort of lab experiment.  I have read that the numbers of non-native English speakers have exploded.  I would guess that such a statistic would prove an additional challenge to teachers and administrators.  Why is it that according to Wikipedia that our only notable alumni are sports athletes?  I’d like to think that our school serves to enrich both the body and the mind?  But, now I’m getting off the topic of religion in school.

If you look at the webcomic I mentioned, you might wonder how that comic has anything to do with my high school.  Well, in sophomore year, I took biology.  Let me say upfront that I really liked my biology teacher.  He was a personable guy and always took steps to make the lessons both informative and entertaining.  However, during the school year (way back in 1995-96), he mentioned to the class that he would soon discuss the topic of human evolution, not merely as theory, but as fact. These were the earliest days of my political activism having come to political awareness in the later half of 1994 and I was uncertain what I should do.  Evolution ran counter to my own religious beliefs, and I worried that my fellow classmates might fall prey to his arguments.  I believed that evolution is a theory in the same way that traditional creationism is a theory.  Both seek to explain the beginning and purpose to human existence.  Both have scientific data that support and run counter to them.  Both cannot fully be proven using empirical evidence.  Therefore, both require faith.  As a result of requiring faith, both creationism and evolution are facets of larger religious movements.  Looking back, I would expect that my facial expression on hearing such news of evolution in the classroom mimicked Seymour’s in the last panel.  I believed then, as I still do now, that theories of creationism and evolution seek to annihilate one another and using the forum of public schools and our children’s minds to achieve such ends is wholly unacceptable.

Now it would be entirely different if the teacher merely stated that he or she believed in evolution (or creationism) and taught from an equal perspective, but teaching one as a fact stifles the debate and gives school children only one side of the argument (possibly a side that differs from the wishes of their parents and their religion).  The position of a teacher can be very powerful in the minds of impressionable students and offers tremendous credibility to his or her ways of thinking.  After I had a bit of time to think, I began to gather information in favor of creationism in order to provide this balance.  Perhaps some will say that it was merely the foolish idealism of youth, the thought that a student could rebuff a teacher and his or her classmates, but I ardently believe that at any age one must stand up for his or her religious or political beliefs lest they be swept away by the popular currents of the day.

I kept waiting for the day when the teacher would bring up the subject of human evolution.  I lugged around scientific and religious texts, as well as a recorded sermon from my pastor on the topic to and from my locker.  Yet, the day never came.  Perhaps, he ran out of time to discuss the issue, or decided against such a controversial issue, or maybe, just maybe, he noticed one of his students dutifully carrying around materials opposing his point of view.  I doubt I’ll ever know.  Yet, I strongly encourage students, in a respectful manner, of course, to question their teachers, fellow students, or anyone else when they offer up teachings that run contrary to their own values.  My advice to high school and college students is simply this:  You can make a difference.  Be strong and don’t be intimidated.  And beware religion taught under the guise of science in school.

Comic Diversion

Ok, I admit it.  When I was growing up every time I got hold of the paper, I’d go straight for the comics’ section. I can’t say exactly why, though I suspect it was out of a simple desire for entertainment.  One of my early favorites was Jim Davis’ Garfield.  I still own a sizable collection of the strips even though my interest is gone.  Ok, ok, we get it.  The cat wants more food; Jon’s life is terrible, etc.  Couple this narrow and repetitive focus with grotesque amounts of merchandizing and you’ll know why I’ve moved on.  On the other hand, one comic that remains consistently funny to this day is Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes.  Although the comic ceased production over a decade ago, it offered an interesting take on growing up, philosophy, personal relations, and even politics.  Today when I read his work again, his strips are amusing and insightful, but they hold an even greater depth than I realized back in the late 80’s.  I also enjoy poignant political and editorial cartoons and have a stack of books of them spanning more than a decade.

Where might I be going with this article?  Well, if you haven’t noticed, a little while ago I included a link on this blog to a handful of comic strips.  Although a few of you have gone to visit these sites, a vast number of you al have not and so I thought it might be helpful to give you a bit of information as to their contents and underlying themes.

The first of the other three is Steve Notley’s Bob the Angry Flower.  While still at William and Mary, a friend of mine suggested checking out this comic.  Written by a Canadian, the main character is a highly egotistical and power hungry anthropomorphic flower who routinely manipulates both his “friends” and strangers in order to achieve his goals.  Although certainly an oddity (though I suppose no more so than a talking dog or cat), through this work and his accompanying writings, Notley offers his observations and criticisms of American life, culture, politics, religion, and morality. While I often find myself disagreeing with Steve Notley’s suggestions and conclusions, nevertheless he offers a strangely entertaining strip.  As a side note, he too lauded the presidential candidacy of Ron Paul.

The second is Shannon Wheeler’s Too Much Coffee Man.   Initially the series focused on the exploits of the title character, a man wearing an oversized coffee cup on his head who enjoyed the beverage far too much.  For some unexplained reason, the character of Too Much Coffee Man has almost entirely disappeared from the work and, with the exception of a few brief story arcs, there are no reoccurring plots or characters.  Much of the strip serves as a critique of modern existence running the gambit of social ills and personal issues like addictions, materialism, unrequited love, and fear.

The third (and newest) is Tatsuya Ishida’s Sinfest.  This strip offers the most continuity among the three as most of the story focuses on the exploits of Slick, a sex obsessed character that bears a physical resemblance to Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes and Monique, his liberal activist fixation.  Other reoccurring characters include a pig that acts like a stereotypical frat guy, a bookworm, an ardent Christian fundamentalist, God, the Devil, and a cat and a dog.  During the election cycle Ishida often devoted his comics to the real world offering caricatures of Sarah Palin and Barack Obama.  Not only is the comic drawn in a fantastic style, it’s pages laments the prevalence of consumerism, the decay of civil rights, and schizophrenic U.S. foreign and domestic policies.

A word of warning…although I would not call any of the above comics conservative in nature, sometimes instead being downright liberal and yes, they frequently contain “colorful” dialogue, I would still recommend perusing the strips.  Even if you disagree with a number of their premises as I do quite regularly, they still can offer thought provoking commentary and entertainment.  After all, as Bill Watterson proved time and time again, aren’t those the twin purposes of a good comic?

Have any other good comic suggestions?  Feel free to comment here.

The Uninformed Voter

First, let me direct your attention to today’s Sinfest comic.

I suppose the strip would be funnier if there were not actually voters like the dumbfounded one in the comic.  Let me tell you that having been involved in politics for as long as I have, few things scare me more than the uninformed voter.  You might be voting for McCain, you might be voting for Obama, you might be voting for someone else, but I sincerely hope you have some sort of logical reason for doing so.  If you can’t offer any sort of rational thinking, then please, please, do not vote!  If you don’t know the positions of the candidates, then you shouldn’t select from among them.  As I’ve told a number of folks, back in 2000 while volunteering for the Bush campaign, I came across a voter who said he would be supporting W. in the election.  When I pressed him for a reason why he was voting for George Bush, he answered, in all honesty and with a straight face, that it was because he liked Busch beer.  Although I said nothing then, and even though he was voting for my candidate, I would have preferred it if he had not voted.  Just as bad, still other voters have told me that they want to vote for whichever candidate will win.  Do you honestly think that you get a prize if you vote for the winner?  Don’t we still have a secret ballot in this country?  Although I think you should be ashamed if you don’t know at least a little bit about political issues and candidates, there is a far greater shame in voting ignorantly.  At the rate we are going, mark my words…sooner or later an uninformed electorate will ruin our country.

Voting is not a test.

Voting is not a popularity contest.

Voting is not like picking a winner at the horse race.

Voting is a chance for the voter to express his or her opinions and principles through the selection of a like-minded candidate.

Any questions?