Sometimes I think that what public education in this country really needs is a good general requirement for a course in comparative religion. I’ve thought that one obstacle, though, would be finding teachers who wouldn’t warp it to proselytize for their favorite cult. It turns out that there’s another major problem: parents will sue teachers who make their kids think about that which must be believed dogmatically.

On Jan. 31, McDonald gave the class, which consisted of juniors and seniors taking it as an elective, an assignment to read an Iroquois tale of creation, “The World on the Turtle’s Back,” in the course textbook.

The textbook’s teacher edition suggests having students compare the creation myth with other creation accounts, as well as discuss their own concepts of good and evil.

McDonald used the textbook’s worksheet. On it, students were to give examples of how the Iroquois tale reflects four functions of myth — to instill awe, explain the world, support customs and guide people.

But he adapted the form, and had the class do the same for the biblical account of creation in Genesis. He provided a paraphrase of the story.

That all sounds fair, and far more gentle with the material than I would be. It basically sets up four virtues of religion and asks students to explain how an Iroquois myth and the Genesis story fulfill those functions — isn’t that what people are always telling us uncompromising atheists, that religion has a significant role in culture, and that we should consider it? The teacher had a specific goal in mind, too, with this exercise.

Religion played an important role in early American literature, he said. The goal was to prepare students for the study of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” based on the Salem witch trials.

Apparently, Christians are exempted from having to think about Christianity’s place in literature and history and society.

Junior Lanae Olsen, 17, said it all went too far.

The assignment was offensive to her Christian beliefs, and came one day after McDonald told the class he was atheist.

“I just don’t think it had a lot to do with the literature,” Olsen said. “You can learn about religion but not in that way, by putting it down.”

“Putting it down”? Being asked to explain how religion is used “to instill awe, explain the world, support customs and guide people” is putting it down? Sounds more to me like it’s exalting it. Oh, but he also asked them to consider the problem of evil — something that’s standard in theology schools, or do they think that’s only brought up by atheists? — and he himself is an unbeliever.

Ken and Claire Olsen are proud of their daughter.

“She made a stand,” Claire Olsen said. She doesn’t expect public schools to teach or cater to one religion over another.

Total bullshit. These are Christian twits who a) object to the fact that a teacher doesn’t believe in Christianity, and b) think it’s OK to analyze how Iroquois beliefs affected Iroquois culture, but reject the idea that one can analyze how Christian beliefs affect American culture. They are entirely about giving special privilege to and catering to Christianity.

So scratch the idea of having American schools giving courses in comparative religion. Thinking is offensive and a sin to some Christians, so all it will do is lead to lawsuits.

I sure hope Lanae and Ken and Claire Olson are just as active in keeping creationism out of Lake Stevens High School.


  1. #1 David Marjanovi?
    March 3, 2007

    And, I’m thinking that if that teacher felt that he couldn’t even mentioned God’s name in the pledge, he was a pretty die-hard atheist. I know quite a few atheists who have no problem with the word god in the pledge, but then they aren’t at all militant about their atheism. They merely don’t believe in God, but they aren’t pissed at everyone else for believing in him.

    What a mixture of misunderstandings and non-sequitur…

    Maybe I should mention that, according to the Bible, God’s name isn’t “God”. For that matter, “Allah” isn’t a name either, it’s the word of the Arabic language for “god”. Arabic-speaking Christians use that word, and so do the Maltese. You could say your hypothetical example without touching the 1st Commandment in the least.

    Now for the problems I have with the Pledge of Allegiance:

    1. Eisenhower’s addition of “under God” is unconstitutional. Caledonian is right. He’s wrong about a fair number of things, but not about this one.
    2. As far as I know, the USA are the only democratic country where such a pledge exists. Elsewhere it’s either restricted to soldiers at their initiation ceremony, or it’s used by dictatorships to make sure everyone constantly pledges allegiance to whatever the ruling ideology is. I always remember those little Yemeni schoolgirls on TV who, under a flag, shouted in choir things like “Al-Thawra!” (The Revolution) with smiling faces and joy in their eyes. It wasn’t creepy — it was sad.
    3. It’d be one thing if it were allegiance to the Constitution (like the oath required of politicians), but no, it’s allegiance to the flag. To a symbol. To a piece of cloth. Isn’t that a shame?

  2. #2 David Marjanovi?
    March 3, 2007

    Stupid me. Yesterday I read that post by Skatje and commented on it. And today I forgot what it says… All hail to the flag salesman.

  3. #3 David Marjanovi?
    March 3, 2007

    Please feel free to point one or two of them out, if you have the courage.

    Remember our last discussion? I think it’s near the bottom of the “No church-going doctors for me, thanks” thread.

  4. #4 David Marjanovi?
    March 4, 2007

    The problem I have with the Pledge of Allegiance is that it’s a pledge of allegiance.

    Well said.