Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Peace, Be Still

Modern life can be a cluttery overscheduled whirlwind.  Wednesdays, and today in particular, was on the nutso side.  Leaving the office after five, I trucked over to pick up my youngest son from Hebrew School.  Normally, that would include picking up my oldest son, but he was in a school play, from which his grandparents were retrieving him.  I then spent 40 minutes on the Beltway at the height of rush hour, got home, fed and crated the dog, and then took the little guy to drumming, which involved another 25 minutes in the car. 

With him dropped off, I drove to the mall to pick up a camo shirt for the big guy, who needed it as a costume for the role he'll play tomorrow.  On the way back, I hit a Whole Foods to get organic milk and eggs.  Then Magruders, for some more sanely priced groceries.  The little guy bopped out of drumming at nine, and we popped into Subway for a bite.  We got home at twenty-to-ten.

This is what it means to be a suburban American.  Is crazy, yes?  Our culture could use a little bit of slowing down and catching it's breath.

Which is why I can't quite grasp the resistance to the Moment of Silence law in Illinois.  The state legislation has been stalled out as it wended it's way through the court system following a challenge from an angry atheist activist, and is more accurately titled the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act.  It provides for a time of quiet reflection at the beginning of the day.  What it does not do, in any way, is mandate any practice other than silence.  As the law is written, it says the time "...shall not be conducted as a religious exercise but shall be an opportunity for silent prayer or for silent reflection on the anticipated activities of the day."

This works great if you're a person of faith.  We know how to use that time to get centered in our Creator.  This gives us that time we need to be still and know.

But if you're not a person of faith, it's still a good thing.  Sitting back, being analytical, and organizing your thoughts...these are essential characteristics of any focused, reasoning human being.  Even the most committed atheist might find their capacity for thought improved by just holding still and letting their neurons be optimized by the otherwise imperceptible tickle of His Noodly Appendages.

Yeah, the law mentions prayer, which works for the 80-plus percent of us who believe and freely practice our religion.  But the law gives equal airtime and respect to the secular virtue of reasoned, measured reflection.

I just can't see either harm in it or any meaningful violation of the church and state separation that is so vital to our freedom.


  1. I can kinda see both sides of this.

    To get the atheist side, the problem is that it's compulsory, and it's clearly intended to skirt around the rules against compulsory prayer.

    To feel a hint of the force behind the objection, try applying your argument to another context.
    Suppose we lived in a Muslim majority nation. "Okay, fine, you don't have to bow towards Mecca, but we do expect you to wait patiently while the rest of us do, and no, you can't read a book. You don't want to stand out, so that means you too need to be on the floor with the rest of us normal people. Why don't you just do some stretches? Who can object to stretches? They're good for you. It's compulsory in gym class and no one says a word. So now they are compulsory at other times during the day for all those not actively engaged in prayer. That's all. If you don't like it, well tough. There are some lovely secular private schools out there that no one is stopping you from going to, and some of them have financial aid. But if you wish to participate in the public school system, you should know that you will be on the floor doing some sort of stretchy motion during our completely secular prayer-or-stretches time, or you will be disciplined."

    On the other hand, when it comes to a moment of silence, this is one of those things where I'm not sure I would have the gives-a-hoot to take it to court. For all the reasons you say. A moment of silence just seems sufficiently secularized that it's hard to see what real harm there could be in it. In the end, it seems like a suitable compromise. One's energies could be put to better use than to struggle against it.

    I feel the same way about the Pledge of Allegiance, which, as an explicitly theistic compulsory loyalty oath, is far more objectionable, but still too trivial get worked up about.

  2. Weirdly, I agree with Browning. I believe this is a first. Moments of silence should not be enforced, nor mandatory. Fuck that.

    Freedom of religion includes atheism, and they shouldn't have to bow when anyone else does. I'm a liberal Christian, to boot, so the issue isn't even as personal to me as it probably is to Browning, but it pisses me off to think that somebody's trying to make them pray.

    Fuck that, give the guys a free reign. I believe they can disbelieve!

    (Which needs to be a bumper sticker.)

  3. @Anonymous.

    I don't ever think I've heard such a back-handed expression of solidarity. I'm not even entirely sure I agree with your "agreement" with me. It's not clear to me that you understood what I was saying. To paraphrase Me: "I can see both sides." You: "Neither can I!"