Friday, January 11, 2008

What was it really like when we had God?

La Shawn Barber has a post on Christians in St. Louis opposing the distribution of Bibles in the public schools. This prompts me to put down (or put up, I guess) my thoughts and recollections on the whole "prayer in schools" area of things.
The history of the United States, clear back to a number of the original colonies (most notably Plymouth, but also Maryland and Pennsylvania come to mind) is religious freedom. We haven't always practiced it; we discriminated against Jews, for instance, but it has been our ideal. I believe it has now become "freedom FROM religion", pushed by people and groups who are opposed to God and religion and want to get rid of it or at least marginalize it.

(Many have written about the historical facts concerning "separation of Church and State", e.g. that the phrase, "a wall of separation", was first used by Thomas Jefferson, one of the least "religious" of the framers of the Constitution, to assure the Governor of Connecticut that if that state wanted to establish a State Church (i.e. a formal link between the State and a particular church denomination/heirarchy), the Constitution prohibited the Federal Government from prohibiting it. I'll pass on that exact discussion.)

Instead, I want to move to more recent historical sociology. The claim is being made that the America of today is not unlike the America of the past, that "the Cleavers" never existed, that the past has been whitewashed.

Sorry, not true. Perhaps we never had a "Norman Rockwell setting", but I can tell you from personal experience that we used to allow religion in schools and our society, and both school and society was much better than today, much less: drugs, crime, hate (with notable exceptions), broken families, welfare, to name a few.

At age 14, I ran my father's gas station by myself 5-10 PM. I wasn't in a bulletproof booth, either. (In fact, the cash register was out in the open and required no key or password.) Try that today!

In school, the most difficult behavior problems had to do with talking in class, passing notes, or chewing gum. There were a few occasional truants. Even the roughest kids wouldn't have dreamed of talking back to the principal. (I'm talking high school here, but in recent years I've seen elementary students read the riot act to the principal [who was, btw, an ex-football player]!) (Also, if you got in trouble in school, you got in trouble again when you got home. Very rarely did the parent blame the school, as is too common today.)

In those pre-Murray v. Board of Education days, we prayed and pledged allegiance to the Flag every morning. In high school, Catholic kids were bussed (by the school) to the church every Thursday, eighth period, for religious instruction. Jewish kids were allowed absences on Jewish holidays. (Of course, it's true, too, that the only diversity we had was Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish.)

A further account: In 1942, my aunt recounted in a letter how on a trip to the shopping district, her friend's car was blocked in by a double-parker, and how she got into the blocking car and her friend pushed, and they moved it out of the way. Just as they finished, the owner came along. He got mad at them for putting his car in where theirs had been (because it could get blocked in--he calmed when reminded he had blocked theirs). Notice a few things here:
1. They felt free to move some stranger's car.
2. They were able to move the car. It was not locked or alarmed.
3. The owner was not mad at them for moving his car, but for where they put it.

Okay, so do I look at the freedom from crime that's obvious in a first-hand report from that time, or do I believe the people today who assert that things were the same then as now?

Another contemporary report, this one from much earlier: In his account of the America of the early 1800s, de Tocqueville noted that women were safe walking along the street without escort, a marvel to the Frenchman. Today, we hear reports all too often of women being raped on college campuses and other seemingly safe places and of child abductions and molestations. Then and now, the same or different?

Do I think that the changing view of the place of religion in the public sphere has had an effect on our American way of life? Is Bin Laden a Muslim?


Lori Dupre Jackson said...

Absolutely perfect. Mind if I link this post to my blog?

The Dooz said...

I'd love to have that honor. Thanks.

Jack said...

but I can tell you from personal experience that we used to allow religion in schools and our society, and both school and society was much better than today, much less: drugs, crime, hate (with notable exceptions),

And there are many others whose personal experience differs. Religion doesn't belong in school. It only creates issues.

Let the parents be parents and determine what sort of religious instruction their children receive.

The Dooz said...

Jack, I'd love to argue with you, but I can't. I just don't know what to think about "having religion in schools". What I cited here is an obvious correlation between religion being in school and the level of moral level of our culture.

I'll say this: The "religion" we had in school was pretty vanilla; as far as I know it offended nobody (except Madalyn Murray). As such, my suspicion is that it also was more effective as an inoculation against real religious experience than as promoting such experience.

I'll say this as well: I think most people back then--parents, school officials, clergy--agreed with you that actual religion should be taught at home and at church; where the difference between then and now falls is that then, there was not an objection to religion being in school as a part of the culture.

Remember that the complete removal of all things religious from school and government is a very recent phenomenon, going back only to the 1960s at most.