September 19, 2010

Enduring Beliefs

Okay, finally the waves made by a visit to a local mosque in May of this year by a bunch of Wellesley Middle School children have hit the shores of Boston:

The usual suspects are riding the waves. Dennis Hale, a director of Americans for Peace and Tolerance which released the video, said:

"If a Catholic priest took school kids to a church and said, 'Let's teach them about Catholicism,' and the kids kneeled before the altar, took wine, and the Host, the furor would be visible from outer space".

Bilal Kaleem, president of the Muslim American Society of Boston, which manages and runs the cultural center, retorted:

"They make it their business to go after mosques," Kaleem said. "They've never come to the center, never agreed to meet and talk about their concern."

There is probably an element of truth in both the statements. I don't care which religion is corrupting the young minds of Wellesley, but I do care that the Wellesley Middle School is, at the very least, an accomplice in this corruption. Four field trips — to a mosque, a synagogue, a gospel musical performance, and a meeting with Hindu religious representatives — all in a single course. That's one heck of a lot of mental abuse heaped on a child, with more than a little help from the school officials and willing parents!

The superintendent of the school district, Bella Wong, has defended the trips as a part of their sixth-grade social studies course, "Enduring Beliefs in the World Today". I have several questions for Ms. Wong about the "Enduring Beliefs" that the teacher had selected for the class, as well as about what happened in the classroom between and after the field trips.

After all that gospel music praising their god as compassionate, merciful, and loving, did the teacher tell them about the belief that their loving god could turn wrathful if his commands were not obeyed, however unreasonable and hateful they might be? Otherwise, they would not have understood why gays and lesbians are singled out as the target of Christian fury:

In 1987, Daniel Wan was beaten up outside of a bar in Broward County, Fla., by assailants who called him faggot, repeatedly kicking him and throwing him up against a moving car. He died from his injuries two days later.

At a pre-trial hearing, Circuit Judge Daniel Futch jokingly asked the prosecuting attorney, "That's a crime now, to beat up a homosexual?" The prosecutor responded, "Yes, sir. And it's a crime to kill them." To that, the judge quipped, "Times really have changed." Although the judge apologized and maintained he was kidding, he was removed from the case.

The students should then be referred to the report that there was a 11 per cent rise in homophobic hate crime (1706 gay victims in all) across America in 2009, as evidence for the enduring belief that homosexuality is unnatural, despite every bit of scientific evidence to the contrary.

When they met with the representatives of Hinduism, did the teachers ask them to explain to the children the enduring belief in their religion, that their gods created one man as inferior and a slave to another? They could illustrate this belief with the story of the "Nayadiyar", a community in the region of Southern India where I was born. The name literally meant in Tamil, the local language, "those who killed and disposed off stray dogs". For this service the rest of the village gave them food. The Nayadiyars were not only "untouchable" and but must also remain "unseen" by other "upper caste" communities in the village. They'd hide behind the bushes at night and howl like dogs, begging for food. "Compassionate" villagers would then throw the leftovers from their dinner into the bushes, for the Nayadiars to pick up and eat.

Should this be dismissed as a thing of the past, perhaps, the Hindu representatives could explain why the belief that couples who'd love and marry across caste lines deserved to be lynched, was still enduring in many Indian towns and villages.

Before their field trip to the mosque, did the teacher explain to her students why the mosque was a "safe environment", especially for the girls who would be asked to stand behind in a corner of the room, unseen by their male friends during the prayer? Perhaps, she could have arranged for them a special screening of the film, "The Stoning of Soraya M." for adultery. And then the teacher could also tell them about the punishment of 99 lashes for Sakineh M. Ashtiani, for showing "her face" to strangers in a photograph that was not hers, before being put to death for a murder that she did not commit.

That should educate the girls about the enduring belief in Islam that a woman was a deceitful and lascivious creature prone to sexual excesses, and must always be caged.

After all the field trips and all the learning about these enduring beliefs, will there be at least one class on facts, just so the students take away the lesson that beliefs, however enduring they may be, are not necessarily facts? Will the teacher let them know of the fact that belief in these fictitious gods is a delusion, and if enduring, can be harmful to their mental health?

If the teacher is unable or unwilling to educate the children about this fact, I suggest she invite Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Richard Dawkins, or Sam Harris, and they will be glad to oblige. In the unlikely event that they don't, she can always invite me.

1 comment :
  1. I really hope she invites you!!! great article as usual


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