Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Whatever you Believe, Don't Waste Your Life

Recently, in Nova Scotia, a teenaged high-school student was told he could not wear a T-shirt to school with a slogan that read: "Life is Wasted Without Jesus." The story developed some more from that with the teen insisting he would only come back to the school if he was wearing the shirt. Eventually the school board relented and allowed the teen to wear the shirt, but it seems that some sort of tolerance discussions were included to help students understand diverse points of views in terms of relgions, politics, etc.

Judging by the comments on many of the news websites on this story, initially there was a public outcry that the teen should be left alone and that wearing the T-shirt was his right in a country with freedom of religion. A few dissenting voices pointed out that freedom of religion also means freedom from religion, but in my opinion the public perception was overwhelmingly in support of the boy's right to wear the shirt. I didn't have particularly strong feelings about it. If I had seen a teen wearing a shirt like that in public (or in a school) I wouldn't have been offended, but I would likely have felt sorry for them. However, I do feel that the shirt is potentially more offensive than it could be since it openly states that you are wasting your life is you don't have a particular religion. This is quite different than a shirt that states something along the lines of: "I love Jesus" or "I choose to follow Jesus" or something along those lines. The difference, of course, lies in the finger pointing towards someone else being wrong and wasteful of their life. This part of the story could probably be argued back and forth. I don't consider it a huge deal. As I say, I probably wouldn't be offended by the shirt, though I do feel that it is out of place in a publicly funded educational institution.

The problem emerges when we see the follow-up story about the boy's father pulling the teen out of school. All of a sudden we realize we are not dealing with a peaceful, loving family that simply wants to have their religious beliefs respected and tolerated, and who are also willing to respect and tolerate the diverse beliefs of others. Instead we get this father driving up to the school, refusing to engage with the public or answer any questions, making his own statement with Bible in hand, and taking his son out of school because they are engaging in "extra-curricular" activities that are not "good old fashioned academics" such as reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic. Clearly the father has no idea what education is, to begin with, and he also is a very intolerant man. He isn't interested in a society that respects diverse points of view. This is not about having a society in which there is freedom of religion, it is about having a society in which he can display his own religious point of view but is not open to hearing (or allowing his son to hear) others' points of view. Part of education, a big part, is learning about the world we live in and how other people think. Learning about other cultures, poltiical systems, and religions, is a genuinely valuable part of education. Education is much more than simply learning the Three R's. This school board has gone out of their way to accomodate a potentially explosive issue. They have taken what I believe to be a mature and respectful approach in allowing the teen to wear his shirt, but to include some education on tolerance and religion to help deal with the diverse opinions involved. But this father has specifically rejected this tolerance and education by taking his son out of the school saying essentially that he will only bring his son back to school if they allow his son to wear his religious billboard without having to hear anyone else's point of view.

This seems to be a classic case of what I was writing about when I wrote about shining religious lights in society. I prefer my dark light.

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