15 July 2009

An atheist should teach her child the Word

Brendan posted the other day about having to endure a bad theatrical musical based on some stories in Genesis. His comments included the following observation:
Also frustrating was the implicit assumption on the part of the playwright that the audience is familiar with Genesis. One thing I’ve learned as a writer is that the only assumption you should ever make is that your audience doesn’t know what you’re talking about. Without exposition, the characters were nothing more than a flat allegorical device. You never get to learn Eve’s motive for eating the Fruit of Knowledge, you never really understand why Cain slew Abel or why God curses all of Cain’s offspring, and you never really get to learn why God is so intolerant of and threatened by these powerless creatures she made in Her own image and claims to love, that she feels she has to destroy them. Imagine the plot-free “Starlight Express”, but churchy. The playwright clearly assumed the audience had some level of biblical knowledge, which may be an easy assumption if you’re putting on a production in a church. But [not for everybody in the audience.]
This comment got me thinking. I've been an atheist since age 4, raised Catholic. That is, when I was 4, I was sitting in a pew with my parents and my sister and suddenly I thought, "Why doesn't Daddy go up to get communion with Mommy?" And, more relevantly to this post, "What if the Bible is just a bunch of stories that people made up?" And nobody since then has been able to convince me otherwise; but I had my first communion and did all the C.C.D. classes anyway. (But I was never confirmed -- when I got to the usual age for confirmation, my family relationship had deteriorated enough that nobody was making anybody go to church any more.) So the end result for me at this stage in my life is a better-than-lay knowledge of the Bible and Catholic doctrine, a profound suspicion of the Vatican's motives in anything it does, a very healthy spidey sense against anyone trying to lay a guilt trip on me, and a fetish for the odor of frankincense.

My daughter doesn't have any of that, and I'm not sure exactly how to give it all to her. Lest you argue that I've begged the question that these things are good for her to have, I assert that they really are (excepting the frankincense thing).

While I guess I hope she ends up less deeply cynical and knee-jerk suspicious than I am, I do want to give her both a working knowledge of the Bible -- its stories, themes, and frequently referenced concepts and phrases -- and a firm grasp of critical thinking skills. Rejecting guilt trips immediately out of hand will be a helpful skill, too, but let's just say I learned that one the hard way and she's not growing up in the same environment that I was.

One thing that came to mind yesterday as I was doing some bar exam studying is the idea of a "Good Samaritan" law -- either the "duty to rescue" that requires 3d-party observers to intervene when they know someone is getting hurt or a crime is going down (not in the U.S. but in civil law countries), or the law that shelters medical personnel, absent gross negligence or recklessness, from personal-injury lawsuits when they administer medical aid in emergencies. My thought was, what of the poor law student who doesn't know who the Good Samaritan was? Then I thought, I hope that person was in my torts class, so that I got a better grade than them due to the forced curve.

Law school aside, and back to parenting, I think I can train my daughter's critical thinking skills by grabbing all the "teachable moments" I can as I'm raising her. As for the Bible larnin' . . . well, it's so important in a cultural literacy way, but I'm really, really not interested in starting up Sunday homeschool. On the other hand, she'll be seriously handicapped in a lot of academic areas (and socially, too) if she can't recognize biblical references or have a conversation about Bible topics with people as an adult. I wonder how I can do that outside of sending her to Bible camp some summer. 'Cause I don't want to risk her being converted: I have a scary memory from an attempted 4th grade conversion at a friend's sleepover party. Maybe I'll just try to dig up some Christian teaching texts or something. Like a science textbook from Alabama, maybe (rimshot!).

On a whim, during my last term at law school I attended a lunchtime "Come Learn about Christianity!" meeting run by the law school's Christian students' group. The lesson was run by a female student whom I'll call Jane. When question 'n' answer time came, I asked, "So, I honestly mean no offense here, but Jane -- isn't there a problem with you leading this meeting and teaching us doctrine? You follow the Bible, right, and believe that the text is the revealed truth? But the text in Paul is really clear about this, isn't it? Women should be silent and not teach. That's in the text. How do you square the text" -- that's law school talk -- "with what you're doing here?"

Jane turned a little red and avoided answering the question. I kind of caught her out, anyway, because Paul there (1 Cor 14:34) was talking about women speaking in churches, not necessarily to small groups of law students who clearly need enlightenment, and smartasses who have learned a few atheist talking points. And calling any Christian out when it comes to what Paul says is kinda unfair on any level.

1 comment:

Frank said...

Expecting someone to be familiar with Bible stories is really no different from expecting them to know who Romeo and Juliet or Huck Finn or Tom Swith are.

'course, these days, that's quite a stretch.