Requiring Religious Mentoring

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The above is an article which caused a discussion between a Facebook friend and me. The friend is very much in favor of the Ohio Governor’s initiative, saying that inner city schools in particular are ineffective, and that mentoring could very possibly save a lot of children from perpetuating the cycle of poverty. That much I agree with. I wouldn’t limit the problem to inner city schools, though it’s arguably more acute there than anywhere else. The part I have trouble with is the requirement that each school system partner with a religious group and an industrial group.
My problem is not necessarily with religious people, many of whom I’m sure could provide very helpful mentoring to troubled children, nor with individual representatives of industry, who could very likely do the same. It’s with the REQUIREMENT that school systems partner with such groups. My Facebook friend disagrees.
Much of his disagreement has to do with the link above, an article he feels provides a skewed picture of what Governor Kasich’s program intends to accomplish. He may be right, but I’m not so sure.
This link articulates a lot of the reasons for my questioning of Kasich’s action. It’s a talk given by Chris Hedges, formerly a foreign correspondent who covered wars in the Balkans, and other foreign news stories for two decades before returning to the United States. In this talk he says that the America he left was starkly different from the America he returned to.
Hedges, besides his experience as a journalist, has a theological degree, and says that one of his teachers warned, in the 1970s or 80s, that the Religious Right was a dangerous movement that could be compared with fascist movements in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 30s. He says he didn’t take that statement very seriously at the time, but at the time of the talk recorded on YouTube (almost eight years ago) had found he agreed with his teacher. He adds that his teacher had some direct experience of fascism, having lived in Germany from 1935-1936, and left that country because the authorities strongly suggested he should, since he had had close connections with groups who opposed the Nazis.
My friend accused me of having a negative view of “people of faith”. I replied that I DO have a negative view of SOME of them, but by no means all, and while I think there are some religious people who could perform a valuable service as mentors, there are others I wouldn’t want within miles of any child for whom I had responsibility.
I find myself in an interesting position. At least two of my Facebook friends are atheists, and an acquaintance through another friend is not only an atheist, but what I would call a science fanatic. On the other hand, one of my friends at work is a very strong Christian of the Fundamentalist variety who disagrees with and disapproves of the teaching of evolution. I disagree with all those friends, but respect their viewpoints, as I think they respect mine.
Mr. Hedges’ view is that the impetus behind the Religious Right movement is despair: millions of ordinary Americans have been marginalized by economic forces and policies, and see no way to counter those forces except through revolutionary action. The beliefs encouraged by the Religious Right takes them out of reality into a black and white world, which destroys the moderate and pluralistic middle of the society to create more and more polarization between groups who increasingly mirror each other (the term Hedges uses) in their actions, which tend more and more to be violent. He reports that the dictator of Croatia and the dictator of Serbia in the 1990s needed each other as enemies. Is this not what we’re witnessing in our own country?
The real Nazis in Germany, and the real Communists in Russia, for example, were a very small percentage of the population, but were able to get the support of millions because they were willing to do anything to get it, creating propaganda against anyone they disapproved of, and eventually persecuting those “enemies” violently. There is fear of that happening among both conservatives and liberals, but neither side seems to do much to constructively bridge the ideological gap between them.
Hedges says that after the Reichstag fire, when Hitler instituted martial law, hundreds of thousands of Germans protested, but didn’t have the leaders to make their protest effective. Leaders of the Social Democratic party in Germany had fled to Switzerland. The Religious Right, he says, is ready for another catastrophe like 9/11, financial collapse, or ecological destruction, to use as an excuse to seize power. Those are the kinds of events totalitarians have used in the past.
Why would religious people be willing to support such an agenda? They have in the past. Most German churches supported Hitler. Religious people who opposed him were a distinct minority. The Roman Catholic Church, of which Hitler was a nominal member (and which never excommunicated him) thought the Nazis were less dangerous than the Communists, and were inclined to support them (or at least not condemn them). Christianity, after all, has a long history of being authoritarian.
The Religious Right also encourages its members to feel victimized. I quoted to my Facebook friend what Rick Santorum said: that President Obama wasn’t fighting as hard as possible against ISIS because he wanted ISIS to persecute Christians in the Middle East. I think that’s a ridiculous idea, but the fact that Santorum said it indicates he thought a lot of people would agree. That kind of statement may be superficially religious, but in my opinion has little to do with any genuine religious feeling.
I asked my friend what he meant by “people of faith”. Are those people who believe what they’ve been taught, people who have experiences relatively few have, or what, exactly? After all, people can be brought to believe “any old story”, and to call their beliefs religious doesn’t automatically make them valid.
In the New Testament, Jesus calls us to love our enemies, bless those that curse us, and love our neighbors as ourselves. I don’t believe that’s the Religious Right’s approach. Mr. Hedges said he experienced a chill after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, and he saw many members of Blackwater descend on the city. Blackwater was a prominent paramilitary organization in the Iraq war, but a civilian one, able to operate outside of legal constraints. Its owner, says Hedges, is closely associated with the Religious Right. Given a national catastrophe, what would prevent them, or an organization like them, from descending on Washington, DC? That could be the beginning of a closed society in which all disagreement is heresy, and therefore punishable.
It’s possible that my friend is right, and my fears are unwarrented. Perhaps I’m extrapolating too much from Governor Kasich’s initiative. There’s nothing wrong with the goal of stopping the cycle of poverty, violence, and family breakdown in the inner cities. But my concern is with the REQUIREMENT that school systems partner with both religious and industrial groups in this attempt. I wouldn’t want individual representatives of either group to be excluded, but requiring their presence sets off alarm bells for me. There are many groups with agendas not good for society as a whole. Conservatives are suspicious of indoctrination by government, and there are certainly precedents for their concern. I’m also concerned about indoctrination by religious and business groups, and there are precedents for my concern too.
An esoteric teacher said, “There is no good or evil. Only lying.” That’s a statement many will disagree with, but one that I think is worth pondering. One of the things he meant by that is that good and evil are relative to one’s AIM. He began from the view that humans as a whole are asleep, and behave like machines. If one’s aim is to wake up, then good is whatever helps one wake up, and evil is whatever keeps one asleep. A totalitarian group has a different aim: to achieve power and keep it. Its aim is one that contradicts democracy, and the tolerance of different viewpoints that makes democracy possible. Lying would be essential to constructing such a society. Some people might find that comfortable to live in. I suspect most would not.
Several months ago I read an article about a man who had left the Westboro Baptist Church. He said one reason he did was because he found acceptance outside the church in his daily life. He added that there were a lot of good people in that church who felt it necessary to say and do hateful things for fear of going to hell if they did not. This may also be true of many members of the Religious Right, who have bought into the view of their leaders, but might be persuaded that view is mistaken. The leaders are unlikely to change, though. I think (and hope I’m wrong) they’re committed to a path that won’t be good for this country as a whole. I see Governor Kasich’s initiative as an invitation to such people. I hope I’m wrong about that too.

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