Age as Adventure
Thanksgiving Day 2005

Gimme That Old Time Religion

Last year on this day - the eve of Thanksgiving - the voters had just returned George W. Bush to the White House for a second term. The role of religion in public life had played a part in the campaign and Crabby Old Lady, with good reason, had harsh words for a minister she had seen interviewed on television:

"Crabby Old Lady was shocked to hear the minister say further that Bush’s election shows God is giving the United the States one more chance to mend its ways, and when asked about those citizens who adhere to other religions, he dismissed them all with one word: 'Repent’ or they will - to his satisfaction - burn in hell.”

When two weeks ago, Dover, Pennsylvania voters threw out all the school board members who supported teaching intelligent design on an equal footing with Darwinism, Pat Robertson called down the wrath of God on the town. On the same election day, the Kansas Board of Education voted to join four other states in requiring that intelligent design be taught in the state’s science curriculum.

Let us be clear: intelligent design is dressed-up creationism. Teaching it as a scientific alternative to evolution is an attempt by certain Christian groups to subvert the Constitutional doctrine of the separation of church and state and, long term, to turn the United States into a Christian theocracy. We all know how peaceful the theocracies of the world are. [Be sure to check out biology professor Colin Purrington's funny (and serious) take on the teaching of evolution here and here.]

It all makes one nostalgic for the good old days of my youth. Growing up in Portland, Oregon, I was surrounded by the numerous religions of my neighborhood playmates. There were more stripes of Protestantism than anyone could count. Kids are curious sorts and sometimes I went to church with my friend Carol, who was a Baptist. It surprised me that they used grape juice for Communion; the Episcopal Church used real wine.

In a row of three houses across the street were three related Chinese families who practiced Buddhism and I remember watching Yeu-Bun’s mother saying prayers at a shrine in a corner of their living room.

The other Chinese family around the corner were Catholic as was the woman who took care of my brother and me after school, and we attended Mass with her sometimes.

For the year or so leading up to our 13th birthdays, the Catholic kids in my grade were let out of school early one afternoon a week to attend Catechism classes, and the Jewish boys (bat mitzvahs for girls were not common in those days) were allowed out early too for bar mitzvah classes. The only complaints were from Protestant kids whose churches didn’t have such ceremonies, but it was just schoolyard joshing among kids. No one really minded.

There were Christmas pageants at school (I have vague memories of being a snowflake one year), but parents of non-Christian kids showed up with every other parent to watch their little darlings recite their lines. No one was bothered that the pageant celebrated a Christian holiday and no one sued the school board. Although not as excessive as today, Christmas was a secular holiday in the 1950s, as it is now and without which, retailers could not survive. That was understood and I am certain no one of other religions thought their beliefs were diminished by the pageants.

I grew up in an ecumenical place and time. Religion - except for kids' normal curiosity about one another’s differences - was a private, family matter. Today, we have public, Christian prayers at the start of school sporting events; lawsuits over the Ten Commandments displayed in schools and courtrooms and creationism in science classes - the last endorsed by a president who swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States.

We have made gains in many social problems that hadn’t been addressed yet in the 1950s, but on this issue, it feels like two steps forward, one step back. We would do well to return to the old time religious attitudes of my childhood.


My background was both different and the same, mostly when I lived in the city. But one thing that remember was that while retail was largely given over to Christmas - and Christmas in New York was something else - in school the religions that were represented by the student body were given something a lot closer to equal time. It was probably just a natural extension of what the population was rather than any plan not to piss people off.

You are so correct with the comparison to growing up in the 50s when everyone seemed to understand and tolerate the differences between themselves and others while coming together on the agendas where they had similar interests.

Your penultimate paragraph hints at the underlying problen in all of our current messes, from creationism in the classroom to destruction and death in Iraq. These were all "endorsed by a president who swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States." It is apparent that Bush does not understand the Constitution. Do you think he has ever actually read the Constitution? That is not a rhetorical or sarcastic question. Think about it...

I grew up in the 50's on Long Island. My sister and I were probably the only WASP's in the school which was 80% Jewish. I remember a period when the Lord's Prayer was said when we had an assembly. I was always uncomfortable when this happened. I suspect that this is why I rebelled when "under God" was put into the Pledge of Allegiance - I still don't say it. To me it is not necessary

That's the first time I've read or heard someone advocating for going back to old-time religion ... when it actually made sense. I hadn't thought of it that way, but you are right -- there seemed to be much more tolerance or religious diversity in the 50s and 60s than there is now. I hope we can reverse the trend toward narrow-thinking and closed minds the far right have set into motion in the last few years.

Good thoughts. I feel the same way about it and very grateful for growing up when and where I did. As you said, we have made advances but lost things. I know some of this has to be natural cycles but it's not been much fun going through such a time of hate and condemnation as we are seeing right now where religion is used like a weapon instead of a loving touch.

Your experiences growing up in Portland sound nearly identical to mine in the Midwest, except that there were no Asians in our community, and I never met a Jewish person until I went in the military. (Which shattered my preconceived notions: I expected all Jews to have New York accents, and the first ones I met were Southerners. "C'mon Davey, y'all goin' to temple or ain't ya?" Weird.) But while everyone in my home town seemed to be either Catholic or Protestant, we all got along because we accepted each other's differences. What I resent now is the obvious effort to go beyond acceptance and make everyone else conform to one's own beliefs. I wonder if that minister you quoted has the slightest idea as to how much he sounds like the Ayatollahs he would probably be quick to condemn.

I remember those times. It's ironic but as far as religion was concerned it seems like tolerance and acceptance was practiced with more ease back then. Although I am not an American, I was particularly offended when Bush was discussing support of the troops and made the comment that "you are with us or you are against us." I know that is not true. I know that Americans, barring very few, whether anti-war or pro-war, support through prayers and caring thoughts all of the brave men and women in their military. It was ignorant for the President to suggest otherwise -- mean and hurtful.

Good, thought-provoking posting. I grew up in Washington, DC and then the suburbs. My neighborhood was a mixture of Protestant, Catholic and Jews, each child jealous of the other only for the special clothes or special holidays that we didn't get to celebrate. We learned Chanukah songs alongside Christmas carols in school. Chief Justice William Brennan's wife was my sixth grade teacher and I remember her teaching us about the world's religions... comparitive religion in the sixth grade. What an interesting thought.

Amen Sister! Well said, and Happy Thanksgiving to you. I'm thankful that so far we don't have a goverment mandated religion, although it sure seems that we're headed that way.

I couldn't agree more with Ronni's memories of far more religious tolerance in the 50's than what we experience now, but hadn't thought about that before.

I spent some growing-up years in a Great Lakes midwest State. I didn't experience the diversity of religions and cultures I subsequently encountered as I lived in other places.

I do remember the lessons of my youth that spirituality is between an individual and their God. My Mother taught us that we could worship God in any "church" or sincere gathering of people for that purpose, in any setting including when we were alone and in the privacy of our own home. She said she found strength through life's storms in the company of others, so valued church attendance.

We were taught not to be bound by "enlightened" self-proclaimed religious prophets who pronounced their own supposed God-given rules. We were taught to think and discern those man-made rules from those that were not.

As each of our worlds expanded in various ways, so did our capacity to embrace all religions and cultures; to know others with differing beliefs. This is one of those times in history when we have a special need to cherish our differences and value our sameness.

I remember only too well moving to another State at the ripe old age of 12. For the first time I encountered not only racial bigotry in it's rankest form; but also saw first hand the effects of the type religion which seems to want to drive our nation toward a theocracy, as Ronni cautions.

I have had this dialogue in months past with my adult children which they have welcomed. I believe we have a moral obligation to sound the alarm to the generations who follow us.

Very wise words - in Ronni's post, and the subsequent comments. Speaking personally, I am more scared of the growing wave of theocracy in the US than just about anything else. I visited the US on about ten occasions, between 1986 and 2000, for visits ranging from a few days to three months - and returned, for the first time in five years, this year. What I'd read from afar didn't really prepare me for what I felt, closer to hand.

What seems to have gone is tolerance - the acceptance that, just because someone thinks or believes differently from you, that they're automatically "wrong" / "worse" than you. I don't give a rat's patootie what anyone else chooses to believe (or not to believe) - why should *they* care what *I* choose to believe? Maybe they don't - but when those of a particularly zealous disposition think it's their right to impose their belief, their religious dogma on others (and, worst of all, from my perspective, on *me*) then I cry "foul!")

I issued a challenge to those who think they have a right to impose their beliefs on others in a post on my blog - a simple challenge - which, if they could satisfy it, would grant them the right to so impose their beliefs on me. Funny that none of the imposers have taken me up on it - and that the people who *did* respond to my challenge are the kind of people who wouldn't impose their beliefs on others.

Beware of false prophets - oh, yeah.

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