What Color is Your Underwear?

A little housekeeping: First, go to Atheist Census and be counted. Then scroll down and look at the demographics of nonbelievers. You’ll find it interesting. If you don’t want to fill out the info, you can still scroll down and see the stats they’ve gathered.

Second, Dale McGowan is writing the forward to my book, and I am very honored. He is the author of a great book called, Parenting Beyond Belief. Check him out here (also, on the sidebar).

I know many of you have children still in school, and now, with the end of the year approaching, life is frantic, tiring, stressful. After school is out, many of us will go through our children’s notebooks, saving a handful of papers and tossing the rest. Such a waste, really, all those trees, all the chemicals used in processing.

As I culled my younger kid’s papers, I found something interesting at the very end of his history folder. At the beginning of the year, the teacher had asked the students to tell a little about themselves. The first question was, “What are your religious views, and how do they affect your life?” This is a difficult question for our kids to answer. You and I know that it’s something that should not even be asked–but good luck making an issue of that in Texas. Your kid will have a scarlet letter, and your name will be recorded in a little black book of whiney parents. (Seriously.) But it’s a question they are going to be asked many more times in life: What is your religion? And their answer may change many times throughout their lives.

My son has told me before that he is embarrassed to say he is an agnostic. He tells me kids talk to him all the time about their church or about God. I think he’s especially worried about two (cute) girls who ask him on a regular basis to check out Young Life and their Bible Studies.

So, my kid wrote this: “I am Christian. I believe that you should always be respectful and kind to everyone. Religion doesn’t really affect my life. I feel it is very important for you to believe in what you want to believe in.” In other words, I call myself a Christian, but that’s it. I believe we should be kind and respectful to people. It shouldn’t matter what you believe in.

As I’ve said before, I don’t care what my kids decide to become when they grow older, after they’ve given thorough consideration and study of religion, its history and its various belief systems. But I think it’s our job as parents to make sure that the decision is theirs and that they understand the pressure society places on them to believe the same way, to think the same thoughts, to watch the same TV programs, even to dress the same. Some kids will be better than others at saying, “I’m not like you, and I’m ok with that.”

Maybe this teacher didn’t mean anything by asking this question front and center. Perhaps this history teacher simply wanted to know who she would be dealing with in class, so she could tailor her lectures. I’m not sure. I do know that, while she wears a cross around her neck, she also curses like a proverbial sailor and allows the kids to break the school’s “no eating in class” rule. It’s funny, though, that she can ask our kids about their religious views, yet I would feel very uncomfortable asking her the same question. To me, it’s almost like asking, “What color is your underwear?” It’s such a personal question that it should not even be asked unless you’ve been on more than three dates.

As parents, we can’t shame our kids for hiding behind Christianity; we can only continue to talk with and educate them at home, to encourage them to keep searching and to be as real as they can as often as they can. That, perhaps, is something they will not learn while they’re in school.

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52 responses to “What Color is Your Underwear?

  1. The thing I find most disgusting about teachers asking students their religious beliefs is that, at some point in the future, those who don’t share similar beliefs to the teacher may be singled out by the teacher, and in some cases bullied.

    Growing up, while my parents were part of the Pentecostal denomination, I attended a private Methodist school. So, each year we were asked a similar set of questions by each of our teachers. I don’t know if they were trying to keep track of whether we remained in the same position or if our beliefs somehow evolved.

    Regardless, the most fun I had with these questions is when I attended the required Bible classes for both the Old/New Testaments. Both teachers had categorized/stereotyped students according to their responses. When they came to my answers, one of the teachers said aloud, “Great. Another charismatic.” The other teacher sighed and said something like, “Here we go again … another student with misled ideas about the Holy Spirit and how He operates.”

    I did respond to both of the statements by pointing out the question: “In which denomination were you raised?” Then, I posed them a question: “What makes you so sure that I believe in or think the things as the previous students with the same answer?”

    I agree with you. I think kids should be raised without the influence of religion. When their brains have matured, they should be thoroughly educated about those religions by someone who has no particular bias toward any given religion. Then, the individual should be given their free choice to believe what they want.

    I didn’t celebrate holidays growing up, because of my parents religious beliefs. When I attended school, I was bullied by the other kids, some being athiest, because I didn’t celebrate holidays that everyone else did. The religious bullying goes both ways and it should stop.

    • @dqfan2012 What religion are you part of now? I always hate to hear about bullying….

      • I’m still a Christian, but I don’t regularly attend services anywhere. I left my home church for a number of reasons. First, leadership uses their leadership and authority to control people through fear. Second, the behavior from leadership is eerily similar to leadership of cults (I.E: secret knowledge, control through fear, no one can openly disagree with the main leader, people are afraid to disagree with the main leader when he’s not around).

        So, I’m currently looking for a church that has an established ecclesiology and system of accountability, which would prevent the existence of such behavior. Or, when that behavior arises, that it will quickly deal with it so there’s a minimal amount of “damage” done (for lack of a better word).

        • @dqfan2012 Have you ever looked at Unitarian churches? I hear they are very accepting and laid-back.

        • Hello DQ,
          You sound like a Frank Viola, organic church kind of guy. I came across his ideas 2 years before my de-conversion. The thing is his concepts are not traditional and are basically anti-mega church. As a result, it’s hard to find an organic church and about impossible to start one. It’s very similar to churches in the Epistles. I’m a Pentecostal turned southern Baptist turned atheist, I don’t care for religion, but to each his/her own. I hope you find the path that’s yours.

    • LanceThruster

      Your account, while upsetting, reminded me of the joke, “Q: Why are there so few atheists? A: No holidays.”

      When I was a kid in Catholic school, there was a new kid, a red-headed foriegn exchange student from France. We were all sitting around at lunch and I noticed he was eating a peanut butter and banana sandwich. I told him I never heard of such a thing. He said it was good. Playing up to the crowd, I said I never heard of such a thing. He said his mom made it for him. I said nobody I know eats them. Though I thought I was just have good-natured fun, he started to cry because he was getting all this unwanted attention. I don’t think I ever felt like such an asshole in my life. I think that was the beginning of me realizing how easy it was to hurt people and terrible it felt. Changed my life. And peanut butter and banana sandwiches actually taste great.

      • @LT There should really be just a set number of floating holidays for everyone, so that we just don’t celebrate xtian holidays.

        That’s too bad that drawing attention to the boy made him cry–and you feel bad. I know some kids are uncomfortable with attention, though you wouldn’t think a kid brave enough to go to school in another country would be so sensitive.

        • LanceThruster

          I misspoke saying he was a foreign exchange student; his family actually moved here. We at least did become friends after that, though.

          When I was atheist advisor, no events were scheduled on Fri, Sat, or Sun out of defference to the’ associated religious groups and their day of worship. Sincre atheist were always expected to be good with anything left, I thought it would be funny to declare that M-T-W-Th were our ‘sacred’ days and that the faithful would have to work around our schedules.

          Let’s do that with religious holidays. I declare that any day not a religious holiday of any group of believers, however obscure (great way to learn about the lesser sects), is an official atheist holiday and we can’t be expected to do much beyond our own interests on those particular days.

          Happy D-Day, everybody!

          “There are only two kinds of people who are staying on this beach: those who are already dead and those that are gonna die. Now get off your butts…”

      • I really enjoyed reading this response. BTW, I love PB&banana sandwiches!

        • LanceThruster

          @dqfan2012 – Thank you. Your sharing your story was the catalyst. It’s important to know that we can change our behavior at any point and a good way to start is to always try to see things through another’s eyes. Sad thing is, since high school I learned I can’t eat peanuts/peanut butter anymore (doesn’t kill me, just makes me break out like an SOB. I was lucky to have a smart dermatologist – Damn you, puberty!!)

          xD

          • I feel sad that you’re unable to eat peanuts/peanut butter anymore. Peanut Butter is so amazing. The PB&J sandwich has remained my favorite since childhood. I will probably eat Peanut Butter for the rest of my life.

  2. Shame on the teacher for asking the question, but I think your son answered it very well. He acknowledges that for him “Christian” is just a label and not related to his fundamental beliefs. Until he’s much older, he’s likely to stick to that “go along to get along” position in public. Fitting in with the group is of primary importance to most kids.

  3. Why not say….well, that is personal…..

  4. I would like to think it’s possible to have respectful, meaningful discussions about religious belief without it becoming hostile. I think this comes up to some degree at my kids school in Life Skills. In some units they are working with the kids to help them find out who they are, what they value, etc. It may be discussed there, not in a “this is what you must believe” way but in a taking stock of who you are. I’m sure no one is forced to discuss it if they don’t want to do so.

    I know my kids have told others they are atheist. In general it’s OK. They are fortunate enough to go to a small, progressive school. We are sort of the “hippie” private school in the area. There are plenty of atheist teachers, families and kids, as well as families who are religious in a very vague sort of way. They have had some negative responses, however. Recently in the locker room a boy said he was against gay marriage because of his religious beliefs. My son responded that because he is atheist he did not have to feel that way. The boy then told my son he was nasty and would go to hell. My son, although thinking him rude, took his comments with a grain of salt as he does not believe in hell and felt that if anyone were on the path to hell it surely would be the other boy who is consistently mean and does things like throw darts at a picture of Obama. A few years ago he shared some Yu Gi Oh cards with another boy, who had to return them because his mother said they were devil-related. He was very stumped by that. My daughter has had classmates not believe she’s atheist because “doesn’t everyone believe in god?”

    To be fair, this can work both ways. My daughter told me that a classmate confided in her that she does not believe in gay marriage due to her religion. She swore my daughter to secrecy as she knew the view would be extremely unpopular at school.

    If my kids were going to represent themselves as religious they would be at a disadvantage. It’s not that we don’t talk about religions and their beliefs, but it’s not a topic of great interest to them. Recently my son asked, “Christianity, that’s the one with Jesus, right?” Yes dear, that’s the one. Given the number of her classmates’ Bar and Bat Mitzvahs she has attended, my daughter might be able to plausibly pass herself off as Jewish in a pinch. 🙂

  5. Black or dark grey for the most. Boxershorts – I don’t do briefs.

    Now that we have that settled, I want to voice my disgust at the position that teacher (hopefully inadvertently) put your son into. In here – for the way our society is composed – no-one would be asking such a question. In here a Pentecostals are generally considered loonies even by rank-and-file church-goers. We probably have a couple of Baptists and Methodists and for sure some tens of thousands Catholics. Morons are consired just that – fortunately they are few.

    I have never said a bad word of any religion to our kids but somehow they have shied away from them. I think it just shows that lack of indoctrination leads to “natural” unbelief.

    • @saab93f I agree–we’re born nonbelievers, so unless we indoctrinate kids, they stay that way.

      • LanceThruster

        I just watched part of an episode of “Through the Wormhole” that asked “Did We Invent God?”
        Our belief in a God above explains all we can’t understand. Where do religious beliefs come from? Some experts believe God may exist only in our brain, that we are wired to worship the supernatural and that faith in a higher power gives us an evolutionary advantage. Is it possible that God is really just a neurological accident? And does that make Him any less real? Did God invent humanity, or did humanity invent God?

  6. There’s an entire spectrum of possibilities and motivations behind the teacher asking about the religious background of each of her students. Maybe it was to get a feel for the demographics of her class; maybe it was to see who her “troublemakers” were going tro be. In any event, you’re right: in places like Texas, having the wrong religion can be bad for your health, job, and social standing. Hell, there are places in eastern Oregon like that too. When they ask what your religion is, they mean “what denomination of Christianity”.

    Your son handled it in the best way possible, I think. He didn’t say anything to deserve undue attention from a teacher with then-unknown intentions and especially didn’t use the “A” word (*gasp*). I agree, though, that given the way religion is handled in this country, it shouldn’t have been asked at all. Even if the teacher had good or neutral intentions, some of his classmates may not once they find out … and there’s nothing like an evangelical presented with what they interpret as a “challenge”.

    By the way, interesting and very appropriate title. Even if that question weren’t intrusive, how often would you expect to hear “none” versus your standard range of colors?

  7. That was a great answer your son gave. It sounds like something my daughter would say since she recently told me she would almost rather pretend to be religious if it meant that she didn’t get singled out. My 13-year-old was bullied on his school bus by a former friend. The friend knew he didn’t go to church, even though he did attend church with this friend. He then started spreading it around the bus that my son was an atheist. This is a word that we don’t even use around here, we just don’t have any religion and don’t care to. It made me so sad that this all happened because even though this other kid is nobody to my son, I’m sure it made other kids think down on him. By the way, I did get the principal involved right away when this happened and let him know that this was not acceptable and that our religious affiliations or lack thereof was nobody’s business and that it did not define my son’s character whatsoever. So in light of this situation, I can see how this could go if say your son’s teacher discussed each child’s answer with the class. Some kids might identify with it (if he had said he was a nonbeliever) or more likely, other would look down on him and possibly treat him differently because of it.

    • @Gina– I also feel uncomfortable using the word atheist, so I know what you mean. What that kid did to your son was very mean-spirited. You were right to take it up with the principal. Did he/she do anything about it?

      • For me probably the single biggest reason why I call myself non-religious or an unbeliever is because I would not identify myself as an a-stampcollector or a-bald…
        Ain´t it nice how in-depth disqussion emerge here no matter the topic. Goes to show that people are good to begin with…

  8. Excellent post. My kids deal with religious pressure a lot at school – though they haven’t been asked by a teacher, thank goodness (I think that would really make me mad). My oldest, in high school, these days seems very comfortable in identifying himself as an Atheist, and has taken it upon himself to do a lot of reading up on all sorts of things pertaining to god and religion. My younger kids who are still in elementary school, are still trying to figure out how to navigate this whole thing – the questions, the peer pressure surrounding religion, etc. We have a lot of dinner time discussions about this stuff. Keeping the lines of communication open, I guess that’s the key.

  9. With your kids in the MISD schools, how do you feel about the pray during graduation? At DMS last night, a pray was said at the start of services and, and at the close. For me it was uncomfortable, not to mention confusing since I thought there was a separation of church and state. Do you know if this is common practice here?

  10. When one of my sons was in 5th grade (he’s in college now), he was asked a similar question on a questionnaire. He responded “Buddhist.” I asked him why, and he said that he didn’t think anyone else in the class was Buddhist, and therefore they probably wouldn’t be able to figure out that he wasn’t either. I like that he was so brilliant as to figure that out, but I’m sad that he had to do it in the first place.

    • @Theresa That was a cute response….And what did he really consider himself?

      • I don’t think he considered himself anything at the time. Now he identifies as atheist or agnostic, but that’s a guess. We discuss (ridicule?) religion regularly (privately, of course), but none of us has felt it necessary to assign a name to ourselves, I guess. Interestingly, all 3 of my boys have made it through Boy Scouts (they’re Eagle Scouts) and religion never was an issue for them. I do know that they faked their way through some things, though, just to avoid the inevitable discussions. One time my younger son said some kids were talking about where they go to church, and he just didn’t say anything. I told him that if he ever got put on the spot, he could say that we went to the Methodist church – that’s where they all went to Scouts weekly, so technically it wasn’t a lie. 😉 Like all kids, they just want to fit in, but they don’t “believe.” They understand that because they live in Collin County, the subject WILL come up, and they need to have a “satisfactory” answer.

        • @Theresa Do I know you?

          My son was in the Boy Scouts–you may have already read my post on this. The troop leader said he had to believe in God. Our troop met at Valley Creek. I really wanted my kid to stay in Scouts–and told him we’d go to any church he wanted…

          • Deborah – we may have run across each other at some point! I’ve had no issues with them over the last 8 years or so. That said, there’s a whole new crop of adults in there that weren’t when we started, so who knows now. Its certainly worth a try if your son really wants to do Scouts. No scout leader has ever told my boys (to my knowledge) that they “had to believe in God” to participate. There are prayers at times, and religious aspects to some projects, of course, but it didn’t ever strike me as a requirement or cause for confrontation. I’m sure some Scout leaders would disagree with me – it’s considered a “faith-based organization” and there IS that “A Scout is reverent” thing, ya know. (Even though most people say that makes it a religious requirement, the word is defined as “reverent – adjective, feeling or showing deep and solemn respect.” I’d assume that would apply to anything, not just religion.) I think my boys just sort went through the motions on the prayer thing. They did their own thing during it, didn’t gripe about having to do it, and got on to the more fun stuff like camping. 🙂

  11. LanceThruster

    The question would actually be quite fascinating and have the potential to spark a more unrestricted exploration of the topic if worded correctly.

    As stands, it’s like asking , “What kind of meat-eater are you?” while ignoring the possibility that one might be a vegetarian. A simple “What do you eat?” would pretty much cover it.

    What is your god-view?

    Asked this way it presupposes nothing. There is no wrong answer. It allows for limitless speculation, re-examination and modification.

    Variations on the question might actually leacd to further insight and introspection.

    What is your god-view and how did you acquire it?

    Would focus on where the view originated (parents, geography, religious organizations or publications, personal insight?)

    Is your god-view common or shared among others (in your family, your school, your community, your region, your country, and the rest of the world)?

    Would place focus on the world outside of your immediate surroundings.

    How is your god-view perceived by others who don’t share it?

    Places emphasis on both what is common to them as well as the differences and potential for friction and conflict.

    What do you feel is the probability of your god-view being accurate?”

    Would lead to an examination of epistemology verses wishful thinking – see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistemology

    How concerned would you be if it was not accurate?

    This gets to the heart of the matter with most people. I have a co-worker acquaintance when asked, “What if God does not exist?” answers that it is not even a possibility. If I ask, “Whose God?” he says there is only one. If I ask, “Which version of this God’s message is the right one and how does one know which one that is?” he goes on about how God’s message is in the bible and that’s how we know, ignoring the countless inconsistent variations amongst “bible believers.”

    Do you think it is possible to ever know for sure?

    See above.

    Should there be any cause for concern that some people act as if their god-view is certain?

    Also see above.

    Can they all be true?

    …and…

    In what ways could people claiming certainty do harm to others or themselves by acting on that belief as if it were true?

    Ditto, also, too.

    Philosopher Alan Watts once posed this two part question, “If you were God, what kind of universe would you create (if any – since as God you also have the choice to do nothing)?”

    He then asked, “Taking the universe as we know it, what is your explanation for the reason it is how it is?”

    He then offered that all religion is the product of the second part since as human beings we cannot actually do the first part. Atheism also derives from the second part, but without injecting the supernatural into it. The area of the greatest difference with believers is that of a “purpose.” Believers often claim that if there is no God, then life has no meaning. That seems sadly myopic and without justification.

    Our “purpose” could be as simple as Carl Sagan observed when he said “We’re made of star stuff” –

    “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”

    …and where we go from here…

    “If we long for our planet to be important, there is something we can do about it. We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.”

    (all Sagan quotes from – http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/3237312-cosmos )

    • These are all good approaches to more meaningful conversations without the bias. Thanks, LT.

      • LanceThruster

        When I was atheist advisor to the student group, there was a discussion by the office of religious life about plans for a proposed multi-faith center. They emphasized the benefits of these diverse groups working together to create a greater understanding. I said a “multi-faith” center encompasses believers, but leaves a portion of the population out. I said if you really wanted to be inclusive, create a “multi-god-view” center. Everybody has a god-view, even unbelievers and non-believers, and it would add that needed perspective to the faithful who often act as if no one else’s view matters.

        As you can guess it went over like a turd in a punchbowl.

        • @LT Ummm. Thanks for that disgusting image! So did the multi-faith center get approved, and if so, was it a faith-only club?

          • LanceThruster

            Glad you liked it.

            xD

            I used T in a PB because “went over like a lead balloon” just seems so common. Even then I messed up. I think the phrase is actually, “As popular as a T in a PB.”

            They haven’t built it as yet but their plans were to be inclusive in the usage. All were welcome to make use of or create their own “sacred space” and there are variants of Buddhism that are atheist.

            My concern was mostly with language and terminology. Imprecise language reinforces inacurrate perceptions. “Multi-faith” that says everyone is welcome, by default means, “even you, un/non-believers” as if their accommodation requires some extra effort.

          • LanceThruster

            Goes with the underwear motif, btw.

            xD

  12. Hoping for a signed copy of the book! 😉 Dale is a great guy.

    My eldest daughter hates getting targeted by Xian friends (and often strangers) at school to come to church or a youth group meeting. I can’t imagine her getting asked something like that by a teacher. How awkward.

  13. I can understand why kids ask the religion question. Labels are very important for young humans. When we are learning about the world and all its complexities, a label can reassure us or explain to us where we fit in with the social order. I think it is one of the reasons it is so easy to indoctrinate the young. Kids yearn to belong, to fit in and feel secure in a sense of community. When someone challenges the labels we have accepted, we feel threatened and less secure. I think this is why there is often a hostile reaction to an answer that challenges the status quo. That being said, I do not understand why a teacher would ask the question. I cannot think of a single positive motivation that the teacher might have had. I think your son did the only thing he could. He made sure he didn’t give the teacher any ammunition that could be used against him. I know from personal experience and experiences of many friends I have spoken with, a teacher can be a very potent force of destruction if they take a dislike to you for any reason.

  14. Quite frankly, your son’s teacher was wrong for asking such a question! As a mother, I feel that she crossed a line. I would have felt the same in my Christian days too.

    I swear, my oldest was exposed to less religiosity as a preschooler at a private, Baptist school in San Diego than what he’s here at a public school in west Tennessee!

  15. I won’t care what my daughter wants to be when she grows up (my partner on the other hand ….) regardless of her religious preferences. I just think questions like these in a public school setting can, even if unintended, sow seeds of doubt and confusion into kids who are being taught to think for themselves. In a time when peer pressure is prevalent, bullies, and social image is everything, I can’t imagine it a good thing to bring such a controversial topic into the classroom. It sets the child up for ‘lying’, confusion, and/or some sort of judgemental retaliation. This is what happens when adults forget, or fail to care, that there are other beliefs out there, or lack thereof, and perhaps we should keep the classroom to the academics and not the opinions. It would sure make kids’ lives easier.

    • @Rachael Good point & I totally agree: “I can’t imagine it a good thing to bring such a controversial topic into the classroom. It sets the child up for ‘lying’, confusion, and/or some sort of judgmental retaliation.

      I think there’s an appropriate way to introduce a topic like religion, but to request that info as part of “getting to know you” just encourages kids to hide–and/or lie–if they are on the fringe.

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