Tag Archive: Secular Education

Depressed, Repressed, and Oppressed by Jesus

creationism

Cartoon by Kirk Anderson

Guest post by ObstacleChick

Looking back on my 1988 valedictory address at an Evangelical Christian school, I would like to put my remarks into some context. Some of you may have read parts of my story in other posts, but the quick summary is that my mom and I left my abusive dad in Knoxville, Tennessee when I was three years old to live with my grandparents outside Nashville, Tennessee. My mom held some relatively progressive views on racial and gender equality, and she encouraged me to read and to ask questions. She even admitted that a lot of things in the Bible might be allegory instead of historically accurate. Sometime during my adolescence, I realized she had turned thoroughly Christian Fundamentalist, forbidding movies such as “Star Wars” which we had previously enjoyed together.

Additionally, due to rumors that students in my public school district were to be sent to a predominantly African American school district, my mom and grandparents decided to send me to an Evangelical Christian school for grades 5-12. This school taught everything from a “Christ-centered Biblical view” — which means we learned lame apologetics for Young Earth Creationism, were required to take Bible classes, attend chapel, and were forced to abide by a gender-specific dress code. I hated that school.

My grandparents were very active in the Southern Baptist church in our rural community. Grandma became a neophyte culture warrior, and Grandpa was a deacon who quietly helped anyone in the community (whether a member of our church or not) who he heard was in need. He was a master of connecting those in need with those who were willing to help. Grandpa also taught me that my education came first and that I should NEVER EVER be dependent on a man financially. His biggest dream was for me to attend Vanderbilt University in Nashville. It became my biggest dream, too, and I determined to excel academically to make it happen.

In my endeavor to achieve academic excellence, I came to look down upon my peers as inferiors. In my estimation, popular culture was cheap, anti-intellectual, and as useless to one’s intellectual improvement as cotton candy is to one’s nutrition. However, I also grew to look down upon the pastors and leaders of our church as teaching anti-intellectual doctrine. I considered the (male) teachers at our school to be only slightly better. My viewpoint was exacerbated by my exposure to working with Ph.D. Biochemists at Vanderbilt University when I was 16 years old. My mom worked in the Biochemistry department as an administrative assistant, and due to our lack of automobiles, I had to work wherever was convenient for my family in terms of transportation. At 16 years old, I got a job as a dishwasher and lab assistant at the university. I was able to meet highly educated people from all over the world. I knew these were the people I wanted to be like, not the Christian Fundamentalists of my church and school world. However, I knew that the Christians among them were not Real Christians®, and some of the scientists weren’t Christians at all. It became difficult for me to reconcile the Fundamentalist teachings of church and school that these people were damned to an eternity in Hell with the reality that they were kind, intelligent, socially active human beings. These people became my mentors and my friends as I worked with them for eight years (two years before college, during college, and for two years afterward).

As a high school student, I did not have many friends. Students attending the Christian school came from far and wide, so some of my classmates lived a 30-45-minute drive away and I did not always have access to a car. I was not allowed to participate in activities outside school (except for piano lessons to which my stepfather drove me each week), so my goal was to excel in everything I was allowed to do. My competitive nature, coupled with my determination to gain admittance to Vanderbilt, fueled my path to academic and musical dominance. I refer to it as “dominance” because my goal was not merely to learn the material, it was to master the material and to score the highest grades. It wasn’t uncommon for me to “blow the curve” on tests, where I would score 100 and the next highest score might be 85 or even in the 70s. I was known as the “smartest” student in school, and I relished that title.

However, I was a depressed and angry teenager. I felt utterly trapped in a school where everything must fit within a “Christ-centered Biblical worldview.” For Bible class, it was easy for me to regurgitate the material. While there were gaping holes in our education about history (for example, we never learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement), we weren’t required to recount history in a particularly Christian manner — just the facts were required (the facts as they were presented, that is). And looking back, I believe our English teacher was struggling with the confines of Fundamentalist Christianity as he only preached in chapel the minimum required number of times, and he walked a fine line with the literature he selected for his classes. (Years later I heard that he and his wife divorced, and he took a job as a truck driver, traveling the country, and no one seems to be able to find him.) In most classes, there would be discussions of some sort about God, the dangers of secular humanism, the ridiculousness of evolution, and the erosion of society due to people “turning away from God.” And let’s not forget that every chapel service was a reminder that we were all filthy sinners in need of the saving grace of Jesus in order to escape eternity in hell.

I resented that my whole life was supposed to revolve around giving glory to God. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman who needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV). This was one of the mantras of the school. The other was this: “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12 KJV). As a student, I worked hard for my success and thought I deserved recognition for it. Maybe God had given me intelligence, but I had worked hard to use it. I hated hearing all the “God talk” where people were thanking God for this or that in which humans had more of a hand than an invisible deity seemed to. These praises seemed obsequious to me, as from someone seeking favor from a deity they feared.

Students in our school were encouraged to attend Evangelical Christian universities. The administration and faculty wanted as many students to follow a “Christ-centered Biblical” path as possible, both to promote this as a benefit to prospective parents and because they felt it was the right thing to do. Many of my classmates were personally steered toward these types of universities. I was the only one who was not steered in that direction. It was also a benefit to be able to promote that not only do most students attend Christian universities and become pastors or teachers, but the academics are so sound that they can also be admitted to nationally-ranked universities.

When it was time for me to write my valedictory address, I had a lot of different emotions. I was ecstatic to finally be free of the shackles of the “Christ-centered Biblical” education and able to pursue secular education. Additionally, I still looked down on the majority of my peers who were secretly (or not so secretly) listening to rock music and attending parties — to which I was not invited — instead of forging a path for their future (in my opinion). Furthermore, I considered graduation a celebration of my hard work and accomplishments, and I wanted to make sure that was evident to all in attendance. Neither did I want to sully my accomplishments with “giving glory to God.” I was a pompous jerk, excited about having the freedom to escape Evangelical education for the opportunities available in “the world.” While I did have some trepidation about navigating “the world” — partly because I was more sheltered than my public-school-attending peers and partly because I was still afraid of what God might do to me if I strayed too far from the fold — I was glad that no one tried to stand in the way of my pursuit.

My valedictory address reflects my contempt for my peers (hence no congratulatory message to my peers) as intellectual and cultural inferiors. It reflects my arrogance in my own intelligence and willingness to read what I considered to be intellectual books outside those assigned in class. It also reflects indoctrination regarding the “evils” of rock music, premarital sex, drug & alcohol use, and divorce. However, it also reflects that I did not refer to salvation due to a return to Christian values or praying to God or any other Christian trope. I didn’t let the door hit me on my backside on the way out of Christian school.

At the university, I was active in the Baptist Student Union during my first two years and attended church services at a large Southern Baptist Church near campus. However, I took courses that opened my eyes to the false claims of inerrancy and literalism of the Bible, which led me to question much that I had learned in religious circles about human behaviors, and overwhelming, incontrovertible evidence contrary to Young Earth Creationism. I befriended people from different religions, people who were LBGTQ — who were cut off from their religious families for just being who they were — and people who were from different cultural, ethnic, and economic backgrounds. Gradually I lost some of the intense fear of the Evangelical Christian God and was able to live my life freely. Again, I didn’t let the door hit me on my backside on the way out of Fundamentalist Christianity.

Questions: Bruce, How Was the Quality of the Education You Received From an IFB College?

questions

I recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.

Troy asked, “How Was the Quality of the Education You Received From an IFB College?”

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan from the fall of 1976 to the spring of 1979. Midwestern was a small, unaccredited Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution started by Dr. Tom Malone — who had an earned doctorate in education from Wayne State University — in the 1950s. Dr. Malone called Midwestern “a character building factory.” It existed for the express purpose of training pastors, evangelists, and missionaries (and providing them with wives). Most of the professors were either men and women with degrees (and honorary doctorates) from Midwestern or men and women with degrees from other Fundamentalist Christian institutions. Malone preferred having Midwestern men teach Midwestern students. It was quite incestuous.

Were the classes I took at Midwestern inferior? I guess I would have to ask, inferior to what? I took some classes out at the local community college, and I found that they were every bit as superficial and worthless as some of the classes I took at Midwestern. I found at both institutions that the quality and depth of a particular class depended on the professor’s commitment to excellence. My world history professor at Midwestern basically read the book to the class and had us take tests. Yawn. I had similar classes at the community college. The best teachers were men and women who loved teaching and enjoyed engaging students in raucous discussions. Such discussions were rare at Midwestern because what teachers could teach and talk about was limited by the college’s commitment to certain doctrinal beliefs. For example, ministerial students were required to take one year of Greek. Good idea, right? However, the professor was only allowed to talk about certain manuscripts — those that supported the Midwestern’s King James-only position. Discussions about minority texts, alternate translations, etc., were verboten.

Generally, Midwestern’s classes were easy (as were the classes at the local community college). Part of the reason for this was that Midwestern was unaccredited. Students received NO financial aid. Most students worked their way through college. I worked a forty-hour-a-week job while taking classes full time. I also attended church three times a week, taught Sunday School, worked on a bus route and took out my girlfriend twice on the weekends. A truly rigorous academic program would have been too much for most students, considering all they had to do outside of school. As it was, most students washed out, and by their senior year, seventy-percent of students had dropped out of college. This wash-out rate, in the eyes of the school administration, was God winnowing the chaff from the wheat. Married, with a child on the way, and laid off from work, I dropped out in the spring of my junior year. That said, Dr. Malone publicly said of me at a pastor’s conference, Bruce, we would probably have ruined you had you stayed in college. At the time, I was pastoring a fast-growing IFB church in Southeast Ohio. I was told when I left college that God would NEVER use me, yet here I was pastoring a successful church — a sure sign that God was indeed using me.

Most of my theological education came post-Midwestern. I read countless religious tomes and studied the Bible for hours on end. I committed myself to being a student of the Bible, and spent two decades educating myself in the finer points of Christian belief. In one church I pastored, one of the congregants was a PhD candidate at Westminster Theological Seminary. I was able to intelligently converse with him, and I never felt educationally inferior. In my mind, it’s not the degrees that matter as much as what you know. In 2005, I saw a young family medicine doctor for treatment of Fibromyalgia. He was honest, telling me that his whole knowledge of Fibromyalgia came from one class period on the subject. He knew that I had read virtually every book on the condition, so he asked me to recommend books for him to read. He was a humble man who had sense enough to know when he didn’t know something. He quickly got up to speed and was able to meaningfully help me with my condition.

I learned very little “Bible” at Bible college. Ironic, I know, but most of my Bible classes were Sunday School level survey classes. Study the text, take a few tests, write a few papers, done. On to the next one. There were two classes that did help me tremendously as a pastor: speech class and homiletics. My speech teacher was Gary Mayberry, He taught me how to structure and deliver a speech. My homiletics teacher was a southern preacher by the name of Levi Corey. On the first day of class, he said, forget everything you learned in speech class. Corey taught me how to craft a sermon and deliver it with personality and passion. I owe much of my preaching success to him.

Evangelical colleges such as Midwestern do not exist to educate men as much as they exist to indoctrinate another generation in dogma. Unfettered intellectual inquiry is never permitted, and professors who dare to foster such a climate are summarily dismissed. The goal is purity of belief and practice. The only way to achieve this goal is to stifle teaching and discussion that challenges or contradicts the approved narrative.

Midwestern did give me one thing: Polly. Whatever my current opinion of Midwestern might be, I am indeed grateful that the college was the vehicle that brought Polly and me together. I may not have gotten a good education, but I sure got a wonderful wife, lover, and friend. I’ll take that any day!

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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Why Religion Has No Place in Our Schools

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A guest post by Carla who blogs at The Right Side of Truth.

Religion is a tradition and a part of life across the entire globe, appearing in virtually all cultures. It comes in many shapes, sizes, and flavors, and advocates both peace and violence. People may change their religious ideas over time. Across all of these variations, a single variable is shared: faith based not on objective fact, but on belief.

By itself, that isn’t a problem per se—religious beliefs don’t necessarily need to conflict or interact with secular ideas. But when they do, we get problems. Historically, civilizations ruled by religious ideology inevitably face challenges when it comes to making rational decisions about the greater good of society.

At the center of America’s founding principles, we have the separation of church and state. There’s a very good reason for that foundation and it isn’t because the founders were faithless heathens or that they hated religion. It was because, in their time, religious institutions wielded tremendous power over governments and interfered with progress and prosperity.

Fast forward to today, and there are a number of fascinating examples of yesterday’s problems causing today’s problems. Where then do schools fall into this argument?

Socialization

Our schools teach us many things—the liberal arts, sciences, arithmetic, and sometimes even life skills such as those taught in the rapidly disappearing home economics classes. Yet regardless of the grade level or subject, the central tenant of all schools is socializing our children.

Socialization teaches them how to interact with others, what’s expected of them in the world, and how they must interact with rules and authority. Foundations begin at home but are molded by the social experience.

What then for students who are taught that it’s expected of them to follow certain religious tenets? Even if we ignore that religious ideas taught at schools can conflict with the beliefs acquired at home, we must acknowledge that institutional teaching of religious ideas limits the freedom of choice. It robs individuals of the privilege to choose their own beliefs, by spiking the proverbial thought pool with predispositions.

Furthermore, schools that push religion absolutely influence how tomorrow’s adults will interact with the rest of the world. Being taught that a single idea is right and familiar makes foreign religions and ideologies appear strange and at times threatening. It plays perfectly into fear-mongering of the “other” where one religious belief is backed by the power of the state.

Objectivity

Religion becomes an issue in schools not when attendees practice their own beliefs, but when the institution itself favors any form of “belief.” Schools must be objective; they need to teach skills and facts based on the best available evidence, and religion simply doesn’t fit into that category because it is inherently not evidence-based.

That doesn’t mean religion is inherently good or bad; it simply falls into a different category from what schools are intended to teach. Truthfully, there should never be room to argue about material taught in schools because the information ought to be undeniable.

For instance, one can argue whether stories in the Bible, Quran, etc. are true, but absolutely no one will disprove grammatical rules, mathematical formulas or basic scientific laws. The last comes with some caveat, as scientific theories are continually rewritten based on new information.

Admittedly one might argue that cultural identity and historic events are open to interpretation, but the underlying facts don’t change. The president during World War II is not a point of debate any more than whether or not the Civil Rights Movement actually happened.

A Balanced Viewpoint

Most information we’re given as adults comes with a major slant or agenda. Even this piece has an agenda, which you’ve no doubt assumed at some point from the title. Pushing a single religious ideology as “right” is simply not something that belongs in our schools.

Yet we see it all the time. It’s not the little vestiges such as the pledge of allegiance, but the general favoring of certain religious ideas as being more correct. For instance, the ancient religion of the Greeks is taught in most schools as “mythology.” That title assumes the ideas and stories are fictitious—something never directly linked with the world’s major religions.

Think to yourself and ask if you’ve ever seen primary or secondary school offering a class on “Islamic Mythology.” You won’t ever see this class title because it pre-supposes that one of the world’s current “top” religions is based on fiction. It becomes inappropriate to do so because it might offend someone, yet the former class on the Greeks is acceptable because there’s scarcely anyone left to be offended.

This is a double standard and truly violates the spirit of an institution built on fostering creative free thinkers, though the former point is somewhat of a “liberty” to be taken with modern schools.

But inevitably, balance would dictate that schools either teach all religions or none. The sheer number of beliefs makes the first option unreasonable, leaving only one serious choice.

For a moment, however, we need to return to reality from the land of fair and hypothetical ideas, because the real world works quite the opposite in practice.

Politics and Religion

Returning to one of our original points, we have the idea that religion and politics should be separated. It’s a founding principle in America, but that doesn’t mean it’s practiced or accepted by everyone everywhere.

Even in the United States, where religion is legally separate from the state, we constantly see the use of religion to steer politics one way or the other. Pastors, priests, rabbis, and all other sorts of religious leaders seek to use their influence to steer voters or public policy.

Those raised on an education where religion is omnipresent are far less likely to object to making decisions based on religion because such a thing is already a standard in their lives since childhood. And it wasn’t just mom or dad pushing those ideas.

Of course, there are other extremes that demonstrate our point much more clearly. Religious states such as Iran are the talk of the world, not because of their unbridled prosperity, but because of the threat they perceive to those with differing beliefs. The same could be said of Israel, who despite a secular slant, is dominated by a single religious faith system that very much impacts public policy.

One last form of state-sponsored religion is the unorthodox practice of a dictatorship backed by a “cult of personality.” Like the Hitler youth groups of World War II Germany, countries such as North Korea and China practice devotion not to an otherworldly deity, but to a person. These beliefs are communicated in school in a manner no different from in a devout Christian or Islamic state.

It should be noted that in either case — secular or spiritual religion — both institutions seek to repress information on a massive scale. Without the use of specialty programs such as VPNs, those in many of the aforementioned countries have severely limited access to information online, as their governments prevent access to the outside.

Obscuring dissenting ideas is just one of many tactics used by state-sponsored religion, and schools make it easier by issuing textbooks that only contain information in support of the dominating ideology.

Secular Religion

The last point we’d like to discuss is with regards to the above points on what may as well be termed “atheist religions.” Though traditional spiritual religions have no place in schools, their absence shouldn’t be taken as permission for similar secular dogmas to step in.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in today’s cult of science. It quietly invades our classrooms, pushing singular ideas as being the one and only correct explanation for phenomenon when insufficient data exists to support a certain conclusion. And it can have dire consequences.

For the last half century, schools taught a generation of students that butter was somehow inferior to margarine. That in itself wasn’t a problem because the research seemed to support it; the problem is that today many institutions still teach these same, incorrect ideas because the established professors cling to old “facts” like a religious ideology.

These are the people – part of the “science is never wrong” group – who selectively ignore information that is detrimental to their own beliefs. These beliefs are the unintentional replacement for spiritual belief systems that need to be rooted out all the same.

If and when religion is removed from our schools, then we can truly create the most open and creative minds. These students will be the leaders of tomorrow who help to end meaningless conflicts based solely on beliefs.

Do you think religion has a place in school? Why or why not?

About the Author: Carla is a thinker and rational debater with a major focus on modern issues ranging from education to politics. With a background in cybersecurity and freedom of information activism, she brings a unique perspective into arguments, always with a hope of opening minds to new perspectives.

The Sounds of Fundamentalism: College Professors Are Intellectual Pedophiles by Lance Wallnau

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This is the one hundred and forty-first installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section.  Let’s have some fun!

Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a video clip of Lance Wallnau speaking disparagingly about secular college professors. Wallnau sets up a straw man and then burns it down. Way to go Lance, Team Jesus® wins again!

Video Link