The current movement to restore public school prayer is an act of pure political nostalgia, a step backward toward our own theocracy.
What the fundamentalists really want is for the world to go back to a more imaginary perfect time rather than to go forward. The past wasn't better; it's just past. It wasn't better in the Fifties for Americans, nor in the late first millennium for the fundamentalists. Nostalgia, especially phony nostalgia, has turned out to be one of the big political diseases of our time. At its most basic, fundamentalists want a theocracy. Prayer in the schools is a step backward, toward our own theocracy. It is an act of pure political nostalgia.
I grew up with school prayer. I am Jewish. My mother carefully warned me not to say Christian prayers. I'm certain Christian parents would not want their children to be saying prayers to Allah, and vice versa. (Prayers, it should be made clear, not as academic study but as messages to the heart of God.)
Immediately, I felt marginalized -- I knew I was somehow different. My relationship to this confusing dominant religion was uncertain. For years I wouldn't recite the 23rd Psalm because I didn't realize it was an Old Testament prayer. There is an impact on both the children who are not included and those who are. Jehovah's Witnesses, who very publicly would not say the Pledge of Allegiance, were not just teased by the other kids, but treated as different. At least with prayer, you just shut up and tried real hard to concentrate on other things. Unfortunately, with me, this proved to be a God-given talent that's haunted me most of my life. Religious beliefs mattered, and to those slowly growing personalities, especially in the early grades of elementary school, there were consequences. Later on, we had all become experts at classroom ennui.
Even when I disagree with KVET personalities Sammy and Bob, I usually respect where they are coming from. But they went on the other day about how, if 95% of a school district is Christian, Christian prayer should be allowed. Sorry, not in public school. Either the public education system belongs to all of us or it doesn't. We want to send messages about religion to neither majorities nor minorities.
The Bill of Rights, the separation of church and state, was written by Christians to protect themselves from other Christians. Don't become so blinded to the dominant ideology that we start to think of things that are decidedly ideological as organic.
Prayer in the school sends a message -- not to God, but to the community. It is about an inherent divisiveness rather than a joining together. Isn't that what the terrorists want? For us to forget we're Americans and exactly how gutsy and outrageous a position that is? All people are created equal. All. It's the beating heart of a culture that has amazed the world.
The truth, the real truth, is that prayer in the schools was pretty meaningless. Most of the kids stared off into space or mumbled along. Only a few were really into it. As a religious/sacred experience, it was on par with saying the Pledge of Allegiance as a patriotic one (although that's probably changed now). I don't mean to be disrespectful, but you mumbled the Pledge because you had to, morning after morning after morning. Contrary to the claims that removing school prayer destroyed Western Civilization as we know it, it was not a very profound experience for anyone.
Let's not be fanatical; a moment of silent meditation is pretty much as nondenominational as you can get. But the greatness of this country is in the whole of the beliefs, races, religions, nationalities, people that make us up, and not in any single part.
So after that Thanksgiving Day sermon, I'm thrilled that this issue's cover story is a profile of the great Jimmie Vaughan, by Margaret Moser. We are in such uncertain times that this Thanksgiving holiday should be even more reaffirming than ever. As always, the whole staff offers you their best holiday wishes.
We have received so many letters about recent events that we have created a special home for them on our Web site (austinchronicle.com). Any and all letters and comments we receive on these events will be posted to the site.