21 July 2006

Memories of my High School Religion Classes

Today I'd like to take a trip in a time machine back to ... The mid 90's [Duh, duh, DUH!!!]

My family is a-religious and I went to a public elementary school, but I went to a local area catholic highschool for the simple reason that my area public highschool was old, run-down, smelled like urine, was farther away, had low educational standards, and was filled with hicks. To give you an idea how bad the public highschool was, my grade 8 public school teacher recommended going to the Catholic school. So, for the sake of my education, away I went the land of horrible school uniforms with itchy pants and drab colours...

... and much to my annoyance (though not to my surprise), I found that religion courses were mandatory for grade 9 and grade 10. Of course, it wasn't really "religion" so much as it was "Catholic doctrine." The grade 9 class was taught by a Sri Lankan priest, while the grade 10 class was taught by a math teacher with incredible armpit stains who always rested his hands on top of his head (yikes) and accused us of mentally goofing-off ([snarly]: "You look like you're all paying attention, but I know that you're all mentally goofing-off!").

These classes were weird beasts, full of strange indoctrination and nonsense. We recited the Lord's Prayer and Hail Mary, we read New Testament stuff, plus scant Old Testament stuff (namely the 10 Commandments, where our teacher reworded each of the "Thou shalt nots..." to the more positive "Do...", as in "Do respect the life of your fellow man"). We had some hokey stuff, too, like coming up with ad campaigns to promote Catholicism, including drawing posters (Garfield, with the slogan "We put the 'cat' back in 'catechism').

The Catholic church hasn't really done much in recent times to dissuade scientific teaching, and our school taught evolution as fact. But these classes introduced some concepts that were just silly and ridiculous to me. In grade 9, we were taught creationism, including the creation of Adam and Eve, the Garden, and the Fall, though it was never made clear if it was intended to be Young-Earth, Old-Earth, or just allegorical. We were then taught something called The Ladder of Being. This is an old conception of the classification, or ranking, of entities created by God, starting with God at the top, followed by Angels, then Humans, then Animals, Plants, Rocks, etc.

One day, we had a quiz on what we had learned. I quote (to the best of my recollection):
Today, we will have a quiz. Write down what you believe [pause] about how the world was created. It's not supposed to be a hard quiz. Just write something, as much as you can, about the creation of life and all the things we've gone over. Remember, I'm interested in what you believe. I'll give you 15 minutes or so, and include sketches if you can. {Emphasis his.}
Of course, being a science-minded atheist, I took my 15 minutes writing about the big bang, billions of years of stellar evolution, and the evolution of life on Earth, including drawing a very lame sketch of tetrapod evolution from a lobe-finned fish. I didn't mention God once.

Of course, after picking up the quizzes, the teacher took an informal survey and asked, "Who wrote about Adam and Eve?" and everyone other than me put their hands up. "Who drew the Ladder of Being?" Again, just about everybody put up their hands.

I knew I was in trouble.

Later on in the week, everyone got their quizzes back, graded based on how much stuff they had included from the class. Everyone, that is, except me. My quiz had mysteriously disappeared. The teacher ignored it without a word.

Another time we discussed goodness. A scenario was presented where three people are each tempted to steal something but don't, each for a different reason. The first doesn't because he fears getting caught. We all agree that he is not a "good" person. The second person is much better because he follows the golden rule, and decided not to steal because it's not nice to others; he is deemed to be good. Our teacher then tells us the third person is the best yet, because he remembers that God says stealing is wrong and to love your neighbour, so he doesn't steal. I asked, but it was never explained why doing the right thing because you are afraid of God is better than doing the right thing because you are afraid of mortal authorities. The teacher merely said it was because he recognized God's love.

In grade 10 we talked about more topical subjects, like abortion and homosexuality. I say "talk" rather than "debate" because dissent was discouraged and rarely did anyone voice arguments for non-Catholic views. The topic that stood out the most was euthanasia. One student actually went against the official Catholic stance and spoke in favour of euthanasia. He told a sad story about how his grandfather had an excruciatingly painful tumour that was slowly killing him. Near the end of his life, he was in so much pain that he repeatedly requested to be overdosed with painkillers; his requests were always denied, and he suffered for many extra months before he died.

I'll never forget the callousness of the teacher's response: The student was coldly admonished that he needed to "do more research."

Fortunately, this fascist mentality toward teaching didn't extend to the other classes at school, and I was able to survive those years despite my lack of belief.

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13 Comments:

At July 23, 2006 6:20 PM, Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Ah, yes. The inscrutable "God loves your pain". I'm surprised he wasn't told that his grandfather should "offer his pain to Jesus".

 
At July 24, 2006 8:34 PM, Blogger breakerslion said...

"Do more research!" Wow. That's the same way the Regan Administration pulled the teeth of OSHA. "Asbestos is killing people? You want to shut these companies down? Go back and do more research! Just keep researching until you run out of funding."

 
At July 24, 2006 9:42 PM, Blogger JaundiceJames said...

You have excellent writing skills and weave your tales so colorfully. I love to read people who care about my favorite subject but are also talanted writers.

Great story.

I hate to say it, but your experience doesn't sound that bad. Especially this:
"Later on in the week, everyone got their quizzes back, graded based on how much stuff they had included from the class. Everyone, that is, except me. My quiz had mysteriously disappeared. The teacher ignored it without a word."

I wonder if the teacher chose to do that as a safe alternative for both of you rather than having to tell you you were wrong.

I get the impression, from your story, that POLITICALLY the teachers had to take a certain position, but (there could be more to the story - probably is) I don't see them trying to beat you up over different points of view; especially compared to the evangelicals we're so familiar with today.

I hope you remember and write more about your Catholic School experiences in the future.

Hey, is this part for real, or did you make it up for fun:
"(Garfield, with the slogan "We put the 'cat' back in 'catechism')"

?

I'm kinda hoping you made it up because it's good stuff if you did. : )

-JJ

 
At July 25, 2006 8:54 AM, Blogger King Aardvark said...

JJ- thanks for the kind words.

I know my experiences weren't that bad. It was a good school and I appreciated my time there. Still, from an atheist perspective, it could be quite odd.

And you're right, it certainly was the best tactic politically to just pretend that my quiz never existed. In fact, at the time I thought it was hilarious (and I bragged to all my friends about it). I never thought about the politics of teaching that stuff, though I wouldn't be surprised if the teacher did actually believe all the Adam and Eve, Ladder of Being stuff; he was a priest, and more "by the book" than most of the other teachers.

re: the garfield bit - I wish I could claim credit for that, but it was proposed by someone else in the class. It just stuck in my brain though, and it won't come out.

 
At July 25, 2006 6:10 PM, Blogger corsair the rational pirate said...

I read your otherwise informative post yet got to the end and have yet to see anything about Catholic schoolgirls.

How's about enlightening us infidels?

 
At July 26, 2006 8:32 AM, Blogger King Aardvark said...

corsair:

Unfortunately for you, my readers (and especially for me), back in highschool, my relationship with Catholic schoolgirls was pretty much "look, but don't touch." ;-) (a couple of exceptions, but not enough happened to make telling about it worthwhile). So, sorry, I got nothing.

 
At July 26, 2006 1:32 PM, Anonymous Paul in FL said...

Your catholic school experiences are very much like my own, except that mine were 30 years earlier than yours.

It's interesting to note that catholic schoolgirls didn't change much either. :)

 
At October 03, 2007 9:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very well done. I go to a Private All Male Catholic Military School in the Southern US and it is hell. Everybody here eats that Catholocism shit up. We have to take it for all four years to graduate. I actually recieved a Saturday detention where the School makes us do free landscaping and janitorial work for three hours for bringing up the Crusades in my Religion class last year (Topic was Church History, the book failed to mention the Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition).

 
At October 04, 2007 10:22 AM, Blogger King Aardvark said...

Wow, that's really bad. Getting punished for bringing up church history in a church history class? That's just nutty.

Then again, not unexpected. You're in an environment that doubly wants an obedient sheep: religion class and military academy. I can't imagine the amount of brainwashing and intellectual suppression that would be present in an environment like that.

 
At August 01, 2008 2:35 AM, Anonymous Rob said...

Yeah, another Catholic school boy here. I can relate to a lot of this. However, I was Catholic going INTO high school, but I sure as hell wasn't coming out. Theology courses were mandatory and it seemed that in order to be qualified to teach it, you had to be a nutcase. 9th grade: timid new guy, all about jesus' lovey doveyness. 10th grade: strict bible cruncher, real fire n brimstone kind of guy. 11th grade: happy-go-lucky crazy lady who smiled when she tells you you're wrong for every opinion that you have that isn't in line with hers, calls Jesus "my man." 12th grade: feminist lady who thinks women should be priests, women should be deacons, women...etc. didn't like guys much.
But yea, for quizes like the ones you spoke of that asked for what you "believe" I just wrote down whatever I felt they wanted to hear no matter how much bullshit it was. Worked every time. I tried to stay away from being controversial. I'm just glad to be in college now...a secular college.

 
At August 01, 2008 3:50 PM, Blogger King Aardvark said...

Ha, they certainly sound like interesting characters. I wonder why that is? (probably crazy, eh? as good an explanation as any)

You were undoubtably wise to just regurgitate whatever crap they wanted to hear. Avoids problems like mine.

 
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