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Tag Archive: Tolerance

The Error of Permitting Religious Practice

Posted: Saturday, September 18, 2010 (11:50 pm), by John W Gillis


A local furor erupted a couple days ago over a Wellesley Middle School class’ visit to an area mosque, a story which has subsequently gone national. This whole story is just so wrong, on so many levels, that it approaches (?) the absurd. It is a microcosm of everything wrong with the deracinated public life that has banished religious faith to the margins, and adopted a functional atheism as public policy (despite the lingering religiosity of much of the unwashed masses).

The 6th grade class found itself at the mosque as part of a social studies unit called “Enduring Beliefs and the World Today.” It’s hard to pass over the name chosen for the program without snickering at the irony of it, for unfolding events would make it clear enough that “enduring” pretty well describes the approach these public sector “leaders” take toward beliefs – at least of a religious nature.

Along with visiting the mosque, the learning unit called for visiting a synagogue, and meeting with “Hindu religious representatives” – whatever that means. Oh, there was also apparently a section on Christianity, which I guess also continues to be a belief endured in the modern world. So what did the “Christian” field trip entail? Attending a “gospel music performance!”

OK, so you might be thinking that perhaps it’s hard to find an actual house of Christian worship in Wellesley – hence the detour to hear Al Green covers, or whatever they ended up listening to. Becca_flyer Alas, though, this school is barely more than a stone’s throw from Saint Paul Catholic Church, with its associated elementary and middle school (where my youngest daughter is enrolled). If the teachers were afraid of catching dogma cooties from entering a real church (where Mass, incidentally, is offered daily at 9:00 AM – perfect timing for a walking-distance morning field trip from the public middle school), they could have taken a trip to at least view the parochial school kids, with their frumpy uniforms, old-fashioned manners, and serious classroom demeanor.

But whatever possessed them to so trivialize the “Christian” component of their program, that’s just so much snarky background for what would transpire with the trip to the mosque. A mother accompanying the class took a cell phone video showing several of the school boys motioning along with the men they were standing near during midday prayer. Well, between the knee-jerk anti-Islamic sentiment and the knee-jerkier sentiment that the children had been exposed to “prayer” without donning proper repellent gear, this has turned into an absolute circus.

First came the accusation from a group apparently aggressively intolerant of Islam, named Americans for Peace and Tolerance (founded by Jewish Advocate columnist Robert Jacobs), who claimed in a YouTube video based on the cell phone capture that the boys had been “asked to participate” in the prayer service – a provocative overstatement – and then they go on to ask: “How did Wellesley public school teachers allow this to happen?”

Now, I’m at a loss to understand how any sane person would think that those teachers should have forbade the youngsters to pray – never mind the likelihood that the boys probably engaged the rite on about the same level they’d engage a Cotton Eye Joe dance at a school social, but the superintendent of schools issued an apology for the “error” that “any students were allowed to [participate],” and assured the parents that “it was not the intent for students to be able to participate in any of the religious practices” [emphases added].

Somehow, we’ve gone from Thomas Jefferson’s conviction that the state should not decide which religious beliefs and practices should be suppressed, to an air-headed bureaucratic conviction that government at any level is in “error” if it permits any kind of religious practices among those unfortunate young charges left in its incompetent care. God forbid [can I say that?] we permit any kid to participate in a “religious practice” on the watch of the overbearing nanny-state! Although I do have to wonder: do you think the kids were permitted to sing along at the gospel concert? Did they have to self-censor certain words? What if all they did was dance, or bounce to the beat? Looks pretty similar to Muslim “prayer acts” if you ask me…

However, not to be out-done by the educators in either inanity or self-importance, the director of the group stirring up this trouble, Dennis Hale, has instead likened the “prayer acts” movements to the hypothetical scenario of the children having been taken to a Catholic church, and given Communion! A journalist friend of the group has called for the firing or suspension of the superintendent and/or the teachers involved! And now another Jewish advocacy group – the American Jewish Committee – is calling for the creation of state guidelines for school visits to religious institutions! Oy vey!

I can tolerate a little Jewish over-reaction to Muslim hostility, real or imagined – the Jews don’t have the luxury to consider appeasement – but leave the public schools out of it; those kids are already getting the shaft.

Good Friday Intercessions

Posted: Friday, March 21, 2008 (7:48 pm), by John W Gillis


While listening to the general intercessions today during the Good Friday liturgy, I couldn’t help but think about all the hubbub that was raised recently when Pope Benedict made the Latin-rite Mass more widely available.

I had some good, mentally stable, friends tell me that it was the beginning of the end of the Second Vatican Council reforms; that the priests would soon turn their backs – literally and figuratively – on the people (which I guess I’m supposed to think is self-evidently worse than priests turning their backs on the tabernacle, though I’m not sure why I’m not supposed to be just as offended by the backs of all the parishioners in front of me that are turned toward me – better stick to the front pew if I’m feeling sensitive…); that the Church was about to become a fortress of spiritual repression, where domineering, Latin-speaking clergy would rule ruthlessly over a servile laity… well, you can guess the rest.

I was approached by a particularly irate parishioner in Dunkin’ Donuts one morning, who explained to me (complete with a lesson on the finer points of Latin) how he was certain that the disgraceful reintroduction of the term “perfidious Jews” into the Good Friday liturgy would set Catholic/Jewish relations back decades (turns out he didn’t even know which liturgy is being used in the Latin, but accurate facts are such an encumbrance during an outrage anyway!).

I find it terribly difficult to understand the lack of trust so many Catholics have in the Church – which is what this smacks of, to me. I’m not unaware of the feet of clay that encumber us all, but how can anyone who feasts at the table of the altar not be amazed at the nature of the Divine gift that is the Church? If we believe that the Church is the Body of Christ, then a meaningful faith in that same Christ would seem to me to demand a certain level of confidence in His desire – and ability – to lead the Bride into “all truth” (c.f. Jn 16.13).

?

Then there is the curious situation of Jewish leaders who say that “something must be done” about the prayer for the Jews that actually is said as part of the current Tridentine Good Friday liturgy, because in it, the Church prays for the conversion of the Jews. OK, so . . . what am I missing here?

If the Christian Church believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God – the very Incarnation of God – and that fellowship with Christ (communion) is the means to complete reconciliation with God – and eternal life in pure, wondrous bliss – then why exactly is it offensive to express to God a genuine, loving desire that someone else come to share in that? In the English of the Novus Ordo, we pray that the Jews may come “to the fullness of redemption,” and this appears not to offend anyone. Being at least modestly familiar with Catholic theology, this suggests to me that it’s OK to wink, but not to nod.

I understand that most Jews do not accept Jesus as the Christ. I’m not offended by that. And if anyone thinks I’m in error, and wants to pray sincerely to God that I come to a full understanding of the truth, I won’t be offended – I will be grateful, in fact, even if I think that by coming to understand the truth more fully, I will be even firmer in my conviction of the Lordship (and Godhood) of Jesus Christ.

One thing I will not do is tell people of other faiths how they should or should not pray.

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This may be a very politically incorrect thing for me to say ( imagine that), but I think the position of those Jewish leaders (I have no idea if it is many, or just a few that manage to get press) who have agitated to have the Catholic Church’s liturgy changed is nothing short of religious intolerance on their part. Judaism may not be evangelistic, but Christianity is – by its very nature.

Any meaningful understanding of religious tolerance would have to allow for Christians, as well as anyone else, to practice their religion faithfully, as they understand it. To be sure, it would not require leaving room for malfeasance, religiously motivated or not, but it certainly must allow for charity and goodwill. Modernity’s unwritten rule against proselytizing is nothing but a weak man’s religious intolerance – nobody is allowed to challenge the status quo with religious conviction. What a sham.

The prayers for the conversion of Jews to the knowledge of Christ are offered in charity, and good manners would seem to demand that they be acknowledged as such, in goodwill. If the Jews think we’re bonkers (or idolaters), they can at least take note that we wish for them – nay, pray for them – the most important and wonderful good we can conceive. If they want to roll their eyes at us, and say “silly goyim,” well, I’d get a good chuckle out of that, and God probably would, too. But I never find anything amusing in someone taking offense where none is offered.