Education Crisis

I’m still continuing  to further comprehend the extent of the scope of power that the establishment clause of the first amendment possesses.  It emphasizes that government should not establish a national religion and favor one religion over another.  One of the biggest hot topics that this includes is the presence of religion in public schools.  Now I’ll admit I’m a little biased because I went to a private Christian school but I’ve observed students that left over the years to go to public school and their performances there, not to mention the overall performances of public schools across the nation.  I may be completely wrong in this, but a lot of people, if they are able to afford it, are putting their children in private schools, regardless of their religion, because private schools are providing better educational opportunities than public schools.  Is it possible that the people that do put their children in public school care more about the child’s religious freedom rather than their education?  It just seems there is an overwhelming theme of “should we have prayer in public schools” rather than being concerned if our students can do basic arithmetic or read.

Even now, there are controversies here in Texas on teaching creationism or intelligent design in public schools so that students won’t feel discriminated against because of the theory of evolution, which I actually think is really stupid.  This sounds like the government giving preference to a specific kind of religion which is in direct contrast with the first amendment.  In many ways, Texas politicians seem to think that the only children that go to public school are Christians which is presumptuous on their part.  The point of public schools are that regardless of religion, they are supposed to provide a foundation of education that will enable them to survive in the workforce and society at large.  With the way public education is nowadays, there is no challenge or a motivation for students.  Besides, rather than teaching students to do well and actually retain knowledge, they teach to the TAKS test (or another version of the test depending on what state you’re in).  Most of the students that slacked off and got lousy grades in my private school went to public school and got straight A’s.  That tells me something.  There are loads of other issues going on as well that may contribute to this.  There is a great documentary called “Waiting for Superman” that goes further into the dilemma of the educational system in America.  Among the problems are the teacher’s union and cutting of funds that go toward public education.  I also like to think that the the lawsuits concerning religious disputes in the schools are another issue that drains further funds from the schools as well.

Private schools on the other hand have an established religion and are typically not funded by the state (there have been exceptions in history to this) but they have the initiative to actually educate students and send them off to college.  More and more people are realizing this and are sending their children to private schools because they want their children to be more successful in their careers and in dealing with the world.  It didn’t really matter what religion you were.  It was an Episcopal School, but a lot of the classmates in my high school were Baptist, Jewish, Islamic, even some Atheists.  They tolerated the Episcopalian overtones knowing that they were getting a better education.  Also, we were never taught Creationism.  No, we were taught Evolution because they did not want us to close our mind from other viewpoints.  We are rapidly approaching the fact that we as a species are growing into a global community.   The rest of the world is superior to us in education and that’s a problem to us as people.  From a lack of education do people do terrible things that endanger both them and make the world into the cesspool that it already is.  I know that sounds pessimistic, but if we are not able to amend the religious and educational issues going on within our public education system, a large majority of people are going to cripple their own lives and the lives of others.

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Government Restrictions on Religion

In my religion and politics class, I have recently come across a statistic in my textbook that concerns the public’s view of the government and the relationships between church and state.  Apparently in 2007, the same number of people that approved of the FBI to keep a watch on cults (nearly 57% of the population) were similar to the number of people that wished restrictions on Krishnas and satanists.  The first thing I thought was “okay, why Krishnas and Satanists specifically?”  Why not Wiccans or Scientologists?  Those groups are so different from one another on a religious spectrum.  Then I took another look and saw the wish to restrict satanists was actually lower than Krishnas (maybe 3% lower).  By this viewpoint, it sounds like American’s have more issues with Krishnas than Satanists which blows my mind.

I am no expert on either religion, but Krishnas do not strike me a particularly dangerous and Satanists are more Atheistic.  If you go to their respective religious homepages  iskcon.org and churchofsatan.com, you can see that they are not inherently evil religions, yet they receive a bad reputation as cults perhaps due to the fact that they are minority religions in the U.S.  People seem to think that Krishnas are trying to brainwash others to join their religion through their literature.  I think it’s true that they are an evangelical religion and like other evangelicals of other faiths, they enthusiastically want to share their faith with others because it holds a truth that has improved their own lives.  Satanists are a little different because they don’t really reveal themselves in the public eye like the Krishnas do and therefore are more mysterious and likewise potentially dangerous to the majority religions.

Perhaps the statistic I saw only used Krishnas and Satanists as an example of the relationship of the inherent mistrust that larger, well accepted religions feel about smaller obscure ones.  Take Catholicism for example.  Even though the Catholic church was the original form of Christianity which all other denominations stem from, Catholics were largely regarded early on in America and even to today as a cult and called “Mary-worshippers”.  The first amendment of the constitution obviously states free speech but also freedom of religion.  In the free-exercise clause it clearly states that the government will not prohibit one from practicing the faith one possesses.  If the government did this, it would be favoring a specific religion, and make them hypocrites, liars, and an un-reliable system of democracy (regardless that they may be already).  The free-exercise clause ensures that minorities have a chance to participate and actually survive in this nation.  Going back to the statistic, if more than 50% of the population wants restrictions on these groups, regardless of the ideas of whether or not they may be cults, how is that not the government favoring certain kinds of religions over others.  It sounds like a violation of the free-exercise clause.  If you put a restriction on a religion, ANY religion for that matter,  is it really freedom of religion or free speech at that point?

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Jonathan Edwards and Slayer: a Match made in Hell

Back in high school for my AP English class, one of the texts we had to read was Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. Naturally we had to dissect it and try to figure out how it was a good example of persuasive speaking for that time period.  One of the prominent things I remember thinking was, “wow!  This would make a sick heavy metal song!”  I am one of those people who are so lovingly referred to as a “headbanger” so hopefully my ideas won’t seem too farfetched when I make comparisons.

So my question is this: why is it that Jonathan Edwards’ sermon has been so influential to politics and Christians for so long yet both Christians and politicians alike are more hasty in censoring Slayer even though their lyrics are really not all that different from Edwards’ sermon?

When Edwards gave this sermon, he was a part of a congregationalist colony where the laws of the church were synonymous with the laws of the government.  When the Puritan system was starting to shake up from religious revivals thanks to preachers like Whitfield, people like Edwards had to devise a new way to keep their church members and their citizens in their proper place in society.  Apparently the best way to do that was to use a super strong scare tactic.  If you seriously sit down and read this thing, it’s pretty freaking terrifying!  For instance, this passage:

“If you cry to God to pity you, he will be so far from pitying you in your doleful case, or showing you the least regard or favour, that instead of that, he will only tread you under foot. And though he will know that you cannot bear the weight of omnipotence treading upon you, yet he will not regard that, but he will crush you under his feet without mercy; he will crush out your blood, and make it fly, and it shall be sprinkled on his garments, so as to stain all his raiment. He will not only hate you, but he will have you in the utmost contempt: no place shall be thought fit for you, but under his feet to be trodden down as the mire of the streets.”

That’s…..pretty brutal.  The graphic nature of this passage would have been one to strike fear into most churchgoers because, let’s face it, being crushed by an omnipotent being and having your blood splayed onto him like Leatherface in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre is terrifying.  But that is what makes it brilliant rhetorically.  Edwards knows his audience are Christians in the colony who only want to learn the right way to live, therefore they can be easily swayed by messages that may be more appealing personally.  Yeah it may be nice for the individual, but the Congregationalist Church being in power at that time did not want to lose the influence it had held over the people for some time.  This was Edwards’ way of winning back citizens  to the classic Puritan fold.  He told people that if they did not change they’re ways, God would hate them forever and  then all of Heaven would come together to watch them suffer in the abyss of Hell:

“Thus it will be with you that are in an unconverted state, if you continue in it; the infinite might, and majesty, and terribleness of the omnipotent God shall be magnified upon you, in the ineffable strength of your torments. You shall be tormented in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb; and when you shall be in this state of suffering, the glorious inhabitants of heaven shall go forth and look on the awful spectacle, that they may see what the wrath and fierceness of the Almighty is; and when they have seen it, they will fall down and adore that great power and majesty.”

This sermon is what has sealed Edwards’ place in American History: his use of language that was able to win over churchgoers and citizens of the colony in one fell swoop.  I think this has been very influential for fellow preachers and politicians alike throughout the years.  Who hasn’t heard a politician speak so adamantly about the tenets of his political platform as if it was their religion?  Are not politicians preachers for civil law and order amongst a group of people?  Edwards goes to show that imagery and language are key to entering the minds of the populace in order to gain control of their “vote” towards what religion should be in power.

But what about Slayer?  Like Edwards’ most referenced and taught sermon, they speak of very graphic imagery of Hell.  One need not doubt this after reading the lyrics of Behind The Crooked Cross.  However, they were affected by the wishes of the PMRC (Parents’ Music Research Center) which was founded by several wives of senators who wanted to censor music for the graphic violence, sexual content, and drug and alcohol use that may be present in a song.  They succeeded enough in getting the Parental Advisory Sticker put on albums with questionable content.  Ever since, Slayer has come under intense criticism for the political nature and anti-Christian nature of some of their songs including Cult, Angel Of DeathJihad, and Hell Awaits.  The band itself has been called Satanic, regardless of the fact that Tom Araya, the lead singer, is Catholic.  Once when questioned on the lyrics shown below, Tom Araya stated that God doesn’t hate, they just make great lyrics.  Here is the beginning of Disciple:

“Drones since the dawn of time
Compelled to live your sheltered lives
Not once has anyone ever seen
Such a rise of pure hypocracy
I’ll instigate I’ll free your mind
I’ll show you what I’ve known all this time

God Hates Us All, God Hates Us All
You know it’s true God hates this place
You know it’s true he hates this race”

From a certain perspective, how is this no different from the words of Edwards telling his congregation about the fickleness of their actions and the intense anger of God?  Slayer also achieves to pervade itself onto the mind of their listeners with the help of fast paced riffs and pounding drums to emphasize the rhetoric of their message in the lyrics.  The sound of the thunder and rain at the beginning and end of Raining Blood is there to effectively transport the listener to the greater reality that is Hell.  Is this not like Edwards as well who wants the citizens of his colony to see the horrors of Hell if they do not turn away from the teachings of people like Whitfield?  Only in intent do they differ.  Slayer says this to raise a point about the danger of extreme religiosity and its effect on people.  This is why they come under attack from church goers and religious politicians in general because it offends them and, like the accusation of Socrates, is the corrupter of youth.  Yet are these the same kinds of people that proclaim Edwards to be America’s greatest theologian?  I would love for them or any other metal band to condense Edwards’ sermon and make it into a metal song just to see if it is strongly criticized for its content.

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