Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Useless People

First as preface, I am not a religious person. That doesn't mean I don't have personal beliefs, and my own idea of a soul, the afterlife, etcetera, etcetera. But you know what, by definition all religious beliefs are fairy tales, whether they are mine, yours, the pope's. They can't be proven by empirical fact, and therefore they are not true. That's why we call it FAITH. We believe what we believe because it makes us feel better, safer, vindicated, superior, or any other number of emotions. I think of spiritual beliefs as nighlights, because they are the things that make us feel not quite so alone in that huge dark that surrounds us all.

Everyone deserves their own nightlight, and I don't begrudge them that. But I do begrudge them the right to try to make their nightlight into someone else's, or worse, to fashion their nightlight into a blunt object to bludgeon other people with. For goodness sake, have the common sense to keep your fairy tale in your head, as I keep mine in my own head. The world will be a better place. And if you absolutely feel the need to share your beliefs, get a pet. They're good listeners.

My younger children go to Catholic school. I would prefer they did not, but living where we do, this is not just the best option, but the only viable option. As they say, if life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, even though you would rather take those lemons and peg them hard at someone's head.

The S/O is a devout Catholic, but we mostly get along fine. We respect each other's feelings and while occasionally one of us makes a thoughtless comment that wounds the other, it's not done maliciously. We have arguments, because if we didn't, we'd be freaks. But we also both believe that the most important things in life are kindness and generosity of spirit and responsibility for our fellow travelers, and this is true whether you follow the FSM, Jesus, a ceramic pig, or nothing at all. Which brings me to today's morality lesson.

Monday night, my son's hamster died. He was quite disconsolate. He's 10, but this is first big-time brush with the reality of death. We flew to visit my father shortly before he died, but my son was only two at the time, and it's more like an episode of a TV show he once watched.

We comforted him as best we could and assured him that Gazpacho had lived a full and happy life, and whatever was eternal in him had moved on to wherever those bits of us go. (He knows that mom and dad have varied ideas of what an afterlife entails, and is well-versed in various beliefs from reincarnation to the Summerland to Heaven to living on in the memories of those who loved us.) We reassured him, because that is what grown-ups do when a child is crushed and worried about the unknowable workings of the universe.

He's doing okay as we send him off to school. I pick the kids up at the end of the afternoon, and he's distraught again. It seems in his religion class, he asked his religion teacher if they could say a prayer for his departed hamster. She replied, "We're not going to say a prayer for your hamster. Animals don't have souls and they don't go to heaven."

To say that I was appalled would be quite an understatement. To say I wanted to slam on the brakes, stomp into that class and clock that horrible woman would have been a tad more accurate, but still lacking the real essence of the fury I felt.  Of all the....  At the very least, I wanted to find that petty little martinet and give her a dressing down that would have left her cowering under a too-small desk for days to come. I am trying, however, to control my....impulses. I used to be not a very nice person, and the desire for vengeance sometimes rears it's ugly head.

The S/O was likewise appalled. He's very mild-mannered (opposites attract and all that rot), so if something gets him sputtering, you know it's serious. It's not resolved yet, as he hasn't had a meeting with the principal who was away at a meeting, but he's talked to every teacher he can get his hands on, and I've supplied him with notecards full of talking points. At the very least, we expect a sincere apology to our child and a written apology stating why what she did was wrong in both intent and content. And none of this "I'm sorry if you were offended" bullshit. That will not stand. If the apologies are not forthcoming, well, let's say I hope it doesn't come to that. I'll be picketing outside that damn school every day with a placard that reads, "Why do you hate children and little animals?"

I don't care for people teaching morality to my children, because often I find their morality is not so much morality, per se, but some warped flow chart to either cow children into behaving for fear of  hellfire or to ever slightly nudge children to believe that they are superior by the sheer fact that their God is "righter" than anyone else's. For people like my son's teacher, religion is an excuse to be a bully. I hate bullies. I hate all people who are cruel to children and animals and anyone they perceive to be weaker or less able to fight back.

If a child comes to you asking for comfort, keep your crazy thoughts to yourself. Regardless of what constitutes your bitter outlook on life, you smile and say, "I'm so sorry for your loss. I'll keep your friend in my thoughts."  You do not break that child's heart, however briefly. Trust me, there's enough broken hearts coming that they don't need an extra one.

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