Thursday, May 12, 2016

Ethics, Morals, "Christians"

My kid took the English AP exam yesterday.

"How'd you do?" I asked when she got home.

"Kicked its ass," she said.

I was not at all surprised, obviously.  As the child of not one but two English Ph.Ds, one of us a fiction writer, the other a poet, she's been raised around books and reading, discussions of language and literature, grammar and rhetoric, all her life.

Also, and this is equally essential, she's been raised around people who are passionately interested in ideas, who read about, think about, and argue about those ideas, pretty much non-stop. Art is not, after all, for art's sake. Art is for our sake -- so everything that goes into being human, that makes being a human worthwhile, is of interest and is important to the artist.

"Listen to this," she said. "This was my favorite part of the exam. We had to write an essay on whether disobedience was a virtue or a failing."

"I hope you said it was a virtue," I said.

"Of course I did.  I was brilliant. I talked about the differences between Christian and Jewish attitudes toward obedience, and I talked about how America wouldn't exist if we hadn't decided to disobey King George. I talked about how women only got rights because they disobeyed. I said the whole point to free will, to being human, was rooted in the ability to disobey -- that disobedience was our most essential virtue."

That's my brilliant child.

Which brings me to my point, and I do I have one: this amazing post from Rod Dreher, in which he purports to believe (I can't believe he really does believe this) that because schools aren't teaching something he vaguely whines on about as "character education," and by which he actually seems to mean something like "LGBT people and sex are bad" -- because public schools don't teach those things, they can't be teaching ethical behavior.

I suspect he would also have problems with my phrase "ethical behavior."  In Rod Dreher's universe, I suspect he only believes in moral behavior, and in only one sort of moral behavior -- religiously-based moral behavior.

Of course, we have studies that show that children who are raised in atheist and agnostic households are, in fact, more ethical, and more moral that children who are raised in religious households.  But we already know that people who have alt-right religious worldviews aren't very interested in evidence or data, so there's no point in linking studies, I guess.

Still, I'll stack my kid's ethics, and her morality, against the Christian kids in her classes who spend half their time mocking Jews, poor people, black people, and LGBT people -- and all of whom have parents who are supporting Trump.  If that's what Rod Dreher's religion calls "character education," yeah, no thanks.


Contingent Cassandra said...

That's a very odd column. As far as I can tell, sex education that included even a bit of role-playing about how to express sexual interest, how to communicate with a sexual partner, how to politely say you're not interested, how to hear "no" as "no," etc., etc. (as opposed to an exclusive focus on plumbing and reproduction, or, worse, nothing at all) would avoid any of the problems he envisions. But apparently talking about consent, and getting appropriate consent before/during sex, isn't "character education." I'm perplexed.

I'm also wondering what he makes of "In Christ there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek," or the story of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts. Admittedly there are places in the epistles where Paul (or whoever wrote them) seems much more interested in maintaining traditional gender roles, but those passages are definitely part of the picture, as is Jesus' tendency to hang out with sinners, including sexual sinners, without harping on their sins.

And of course Jesus was pretty disobedient, at least to the religious authorities of his day, who thought they knew God's will (while at the same time being extremely obedient to God's actual will as he understood it).

I'm hardly one to argue that one has to be Christian, or religious at all, to be ethical, but I also have trouble recognizing some Christians as adherents of the same faith I try to follow (while recognizing that they are sincere in their belief that they are saving souls. I can't, however, believe that they can read the Bible with any seriousness and embrace Trump. His view of the poor and the alien just doesn't fit with anything I can find in either the OT or the NT).

In any case, it sounds like a good essay prompt, and it sounds like your kid made the most of it. Good for her.

delagar said...

Yeah, that's why I've got the scare quotes around Christian in the title. This religion as Dreher and his ilk are practicing it is so different from the Christianity my friends and students practice that I hardly recognize it as the same religion.

Though you're right, of course -- they're Christians as they understand Christianity. And it's a Christianity the Romans would have felt right at home with. I just can't believe it's one Jesus would have thought much of, or Rabbi Hillel, for that matter.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

Love the prompt. Hate the reality that disobedience is SO FUCKING NECESSARY STILL in our society. My god... What would it be like if we could actually have a status quo of compassion and acceptance? It would render disobedience obsolete, and yet the need for it has YET to go away. Ugh!!

Bardiac said...

Your kid rocks my socks!

delagar said...

Aw, thanks, Bardiac!

Fie: It would be nice if people would just act right! Teaching kids when to obey and when to disobey is the key, I guess. We don't want kids who disobey just to be punks; but we don't want blind obedience, either. Rational disobedience FTW!