Actually, I don't have a problem with that.
Yeah, yeah, no sweat. I'll wait for you to finish laughing before I continue. My hypothetical-roommate, on hearing about this, actually went so far to ask in a hungry tone of voice, "Oh, man, did you get her to wear the uniform?" I don't think his enthusiasm was notably quenched when I mentioned that it is the students who have to wear uniforms, not the teachers. My officemate, on the other hand, asked if she was wearing a nun's habit. I think I'm surrounded by people suffering from some kind of perverse sexual lust. I should probably also mention, as long as I'm talking about my date, that her role at this school is to teach religion.
Right, exactly, Drek went on a date with the religion teacher at a Catholic high school. Yes. I'm as surprised as you are. For what it's worth, I wouldn't say the date went all that WELL, but it wasn't a flaming train wreck either. So, basically, it went more or less like you'd expect, except I managed to leave my "God Sucks!" t-shirt at home. Just sorta seemed like the thing to do.
For my asshole friends, who are no doubt wondering, yes her name starts with an "L." For those who don't know, I seem almost entirely incapable of developing a romantic relationship with a woman who does not have a name starting with the letter "L." It's more than a bit weird and I can't really explain it.
Done laughing? Okay then, let's continue.
In any case, while on this date my companion was talking about work and said, "You'll probably hate this, but on Monday we're going to play Bible Jeopardy."
To this I can only respond: why would I hate it that you, a religion teacher, are going to play bible Jeopardy in Catholic school?
What else, after all, should you play? "Whack-a-Heathen?" Maybe a rousing game of "Stone the Adulteress?" Look, I'm an atheist, I like being an atheist, I don't much like religion, and definitely don't like Christianity, but that doesn't mean that I object to your right to your own beliefs. I similarly recognize that your institutions are going to teach your beliefs. Why should that be a problem?
Well, maybe because of two distinctly related factors. The first factor is that doctrinal intolerance seems to be built into many religions, and particularly Christianity. I don't mean this to be insulting, but think about it: the argument is that only those who accept Christ as their very own personal savior will avoid eternal damnation. It is, therefore, necessary that at least certain elements of doctrine be adhered to, lest one be at risk for a one-way ticket to the metaphysical version of the Las Vegas airport. Granted the selection of which doctrines are critical seems a bit random and arbitrary, for example Jesus seemed much more annoyed by usury than homosexuality from what I can tell, but it is at least clear why certain doctrines are regarded as immutable.
It is genuinely puzzling to me how someone who honestly believes this argument could NOT be evangelical; since anyone you know and like who isn't Christian is going to hell I would expect a believer to feel compelled to "witness" or whatever it's called. The consequence of this, given that Christianity comes in a number of flavors that would give Baskin Robbins a headache, is that attempts to alter the beliefs of others become commonplace. Each splinter faction with its own "universal truth" must struggle to convert everyone else before they are doomed to eternal torment. It's sort of like a soul-based version of Pokemon: You've gotta catch 'em all! In this context, the revelation that someone is teaching children a different doctrine could certainly be expected to generate an amount of ire, since it is tantamount to facilitating their journey into the so-called lake of fire. So, basically, the belief that I, as an atheist, would object to Catholics teaching Catholic doctrine in Catholic school seems to be based on a general assumption of religious intolerance.
As a side note: Wow. That was remarkably scornful. Sorry about that, but some days I get really annoyed.
The second issue is that, given that we were mostly raised as theists, and that we're almost constantly under fire from evangelicals, many atheists develop a seriously bad attitude about religion. You can't really blame us- there seems to be a common understanding among evangelicals that Atheists are easy targets for conversion. I mean, since we don't believe in god, we must not believe in anything, right? Right?!
Um... not exactly.
Frankly, this gets even worse when it comes to marriage. I have known atheists who have been expected to convert to their spouse-to-be's faith as a matter of course. When they've objected, the family almost always reacts with surprise along the lines of, "What's the problem? It's not like you believe anything else." As a matter of fact, we DO believe something else. Specifically we think that when you sit and pray you are, at best, talking to yourself, because there is no supernatural being listening to you. Further, we probably believe that pretty strongly, since y'all don't exactly make being an atheist easy.
So, as frequently as we find ourselves on the receiving end of religious rhetoric, it doesn't seem that strange that we may grow to be pretty intolerant of the idea that anyone is being exposed to it. I have to admit that my own tolerance for people shoving religious literature at me is only slightly higher than my tolerance for painful rashes. Still, it's a mistake for atheists to become intolerant of religious education generally.
To my fellow atheists I have to say: we're a minority. Most people have a religion of some sort and we have to respect that. If we ask them to allow us to be atheists in peace, then we have to extend to them that same civility. If they want to be trained in religious dogma, we cannot object unless we are willing to concede our own right to simply live our lives. So, I really have no objection to a private Catholic school teaching Catholic doctrine. This seems to be just what you'd expect it to do, after all.
That does mean, however, that we atheists have a right to non-religious institutions. You know... like public schools. To the extent that we are a plural society, we must accept that diversity. That means more than altering our public rhetoric to allow for all different types of gods worshipped by our citizens- that means altering our rhetoric to accept those who do not worship any gods. I have no interest in tearing down your churches, or temples, or mosques. I have no interest in stamping out religion. But that does not mean that I intend to allow anyone to make me feel like I don't belong in my own home because I do not believe as they do.
The unfortunate truth, however, is that the religious folk have done a really crappy job of letting us feel welcome. In fact all too often the religious seem to use "separation of church and state" clauses only to defend themselves against other faiths. They decline, in turn, to respect those separations when they conflict with their own desires. Yet, I cannot believe that all religious people are so short-sighted as to think that we can legislate belief. We can legislate intolerance, and exclusion, and even hate, but belief is beyond the ability of even our most powerful laws.
I believe that many religious people are wise enough to take the literal out of the liturgy, and see the essence of the message. I know many religious people who understand that the value of a god concept is not in the belief in a vengeful, punishing, disapproving almighty, but one that loves and cherishes humanity, and wishes only to see us grow and prosper. For these truly blessed people, there is no puzzle about their valuation of tolerance: they simply understand that such is the true message of so very many religious traditions. They understand that one should not read theology with the eyes of a lawyer, but rather with the heart of a parent.
To share a nation we must accept that others believe differently. We must learn to tolerate and accept those with whom we disagree. You may not like the way that I believe, much as I do not like Christianity, but you must be willing to defend my right to believe that way, just as I defend your right to believe in your own way. If we fail in this simple act of reciprocity we will know nothing but an unending seqence of religious conflict. That's simple logic. That's simple history.
That's a moral value.