Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Max, You're Going to Hell -- by Josh

Religious Bullying.  I'd never heard, much less thought, of this term before Rebecca made it up the other day.  She was asking me to help take care of a little problem at Max's school.
He had begun to come home with stories of kids who said he was the devil; that he was going to hell because he wasn't Christian; that he should convert as soon as possible to get money on Easter; and finally, that he could no longer be friends with a buddy from all the way back in kindergarten because Max doesn't believe in the devil.
The face of Satan.
It figures, he likes McDonald's.

I actually had an opportunity to watch first hand as Max discussed the finer points of 2nd grade theological superstitions with some classmates. I was subbing at his school and Max had asked me to join him for lunch.  It was interesting to watch and listen as Max debunked and tore apart the logic of ideas like "If you say 'devil' three times he'll lock you in a closet for 3 hours" and "God is dead, that's why we have Easter".
I was obviously in a tough spot to do anything but guide the conversation away from direct insults, given that I was acting as a teacher in their school and I'm Max's dad. However, this got me thinking.  Should I bother to talk with his teacher about it? Or is it just an opportunity for Max to show the kind of patience that his brethren (and sistren) in Iran practice every day?
Max has an amazing teacher who does a great job of helping kids think about diversity and how different people live in different places.
In fact, there has been a fantastic leap forward in the development of curricula dealing with racial, gender, sexual, and familial diversity, yet almost nothing about religious diversity.  It is a crying shame that 12 years after the 9/11 attacks, we still don't bother to teach kids what others believe, and that it's okay for them to believe it.
 I brought this up to a former colleague on a long and lovely walk and she pointed out that some people actively work against teaching religious tolerance in schools.  This blew me away, but I could see how that could be.  Yet, like my dear friend Terry Madison (a fantastic human being I got to know in Bulgaria) said, tolerance doesn't go far enough. "I don't want to be tolerated," she would say, "I want to be loved!"
And isn't that what it's all about anyway?  The common thread of Jesus and Baha'u'llah and the Buddha is not putting up with others' existence, it's full-on unconditional love.
So, I think I will stick with a page from the book of those great souls and remind Max that he is indeed fortunate to have the opportunity to suffer for his beliefs. He will continue to have the good fortune to be confronted with the chance to go past putting up with their existence, and show genuine love.
Ultimately, these soul-stirring, world-shaping ideas come from books, and the hatred and intolerance that Max and myriads of others have had to face comes from hearsay attributed to books, but really rooted in ignorant closed-mindedness.
As I think about it, I remember Max bringing home a book from his elementary school library in the States around the time that this bullying started.  It was a book showing kids around the world celebrating their religions, and Max was beside himself that there was a section on the Baha'i Faith.  I think he just finally felt normal, and after he finished reading the section about Baha'is, he kept on reading and learned about the joy that other kids get from their own faiths.
So, let's give more books to more kids, all types of books, from whimsically entertaining to thought-provokingly controversial. Then, let's talk about the ideas contained therein and not shy away from the conversations that matter.  Open books lead to open minds.  Now that's an idea I'm open to.

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