Lately, I have been having trouble with religions. Not the kind of in your face, evangelical trouble you might think, no. Rather the kind of introspection that typically accompanies growing older and watching things change from your younger years. They say that when people grow older they grow more conservative - they are less willing to allow change in their lives, perhaps because they dont wish to grow old - (it is better than the alternative).
But I will say there is one set of changes that does make me long for the olden days - say 30 years ago or so. You see, I grew up in the south...
YUP, I grew up in the Bible belt, where God, country family was the motto. Make sure and get that ordered correctly if you please. Indeed, not only did I grow up there, but I went to a religious (baptist) school. You know the kind. One in which the enlightened brethren of local congregations saw an opportunity to make a little money AND keep us kids "separate" if you know what I mean (vis a vi race). But here is the curious thing. I left that school knowing something about Islamic beliefs, Hinduism, Buddhism, shintoism, etc. It wasnt hidden from us. Of course we were all taught that this was the hell bound train from heathen-ville, but never the less, we were taught what their beliefs were and why. I also took a civics class, where we had to learn what constitutional liberties meant, why they were enacted, and that they specifically limited public-religious mixing. These were meant as OUR (collective) safeguards as a society. Evolution - yep, that too, though again it was pointed out that it was preposterous. However, to their credit they did offer the full discourse of the science. We read Steinbeck and discussed the difference between socialism and communism. The New Deal legislation was consider a common "good." All this again, in a Baptist school with a minister as a school head from the southern baptist convention. And we were not the only ones! there were about a dozen such small schools in the town were I grew up. All of them fearfully misguided with regards to race, but eventually this too changed. Now to be sure, these were the church, sunday school, and prayer meeting every wed. types. The no drinking or dancing or your going to hell types. We didnt have a senior prom, because dancing was evil. Sex was out too, because it was too similar to dancing. But they certainly saw the nature of knowledge differently than today.
And what of today?
Well I had the occasion to visit my hometown not too long ago. Most of those schools are now gone, replaced by megachurch schools that proudly proclaim "Christ and nothing else" in their classrooms. Their literature filled with political invectives, and hate speech against the group of your choosing. Radical and self-important leaders whose Bibles come with an easy to understand synopsis of the "right" interpretations for your salvation from sin. The local Starbucks are filled with "Bible study groups" (all little white kids) which invoke pure memorization of text and are lead by young men and women whose job it seems is to admonish local high schoolers for the clothes they wear, the friends they keep. There arent any more bible thumpers on street corners, but Jesus fish abound on every car you see (we were taught that religious icons on cars, clothes, etc. was sacrilegious) - right next to the "support our troupes" magnets and the "breast cancer awareness" magnets. Local business leaders now meet once a week at a local eatery for prayer meeting (the local branch of the dominionists). What is more, civics is no longer taught, it has been replaced with the "evils of abortion 101." And what is more, these new mega-schools have begun to influence local school boards to bring their "enlightenment" to the public schools. Where the religious schools used to teach something of evolution, now the public schools are being de-funded so that they cant teach it. While we never would have allowed religious icons to have been displayed beside military ones, these "new movement" church-schools have built a cultish following of the troupes within their walls.
You may say "well perhaps you remember it wrong?" Nope, I dont think so. Many of the books we used are now banned from the public schools, and certainly not taught in the private ones. (here private means religious) The clubs for political conservative activism and the open dis-civil discourse about our government can be seen in these schools down to the grade school level now, we never had anything approaching this. In short, the new movement schools have become little more than madras's dressed up in a different religions clothes. I will say that this shift has not been lost on my classmates from long ago. It is indeed curious to hear the likes of some of the "religious leaders" talk about how secularism has "taken over" when in fact it seems that they have!
In short, society has changed. You cant walk into a local diner without seeing circles of families praying in public. This used to be reserved for more personal and solemn settings, but now it seems more important to let others see your devotion. Dont get me wrong, I am all for living what you believe as long as it doesnt hurt others, but the feeling is one more of telling everyone else whose team you are on. I note that I rarely if ever saw this growing up. Would I say that people then were less religious than today. Absolutely not! Just the opposite in fact. Religions seemed somehow deeper then. It wasnt a club that met before class, it was a life choice. It wasnt a show of choreography, it was a deeper caring for the community (which did eventually overcome segregation to a degree - though it had a ways to go). I note that we are reversing that trend today. I guess I am saying it wasnt so shallow and politicized. It wasnt a team.
I think the trouble was that these "old" church schools simply didnt provide the bastion of market-based religion needed by the big money capitalists to maintain the ever growing and ever privatized economic philosophies they espoused. So they eventually died out. And with them died an era, where churches werent afraid of truth because they understood the real value they brought.
We were taught that the choice to be a christian brought happiness in this life. Maybe these new movement schools are not so sure of that message anymore. What a shame. If all you have to hold on to in your old age is a set of lies and restricted access beliefs, then I fear that the products of these "schools" will have more of a problem with religion in the end than I do.