The State Religion

Not many people realize that communism–at least as it was practiced in the Soviet Union, and today in North Korea–is a religion. I had scoffed at this concept until I went to the Soviet Union as an exchange student myself many years ago. Over my bed, my Ukrainian komsomol roommate had put a picture of Lenin which looked like an icon.

Listening to capitalistic rock music beneath the image of Lenin (1987)

If that wasn’t enough, I also found a children’s book in which baby Lenin faith-healed an injured lumberjack, not to mention baby Lenin pins. You could even (and probably still can) visit his corpse, kind of like venerating the bones of of dead saints.

More recently, I’ve been morbidly fascinated with North Korea, where this sort of this is even more overt, like a perverse cross between Confucianism, monarchy, and Christianity, with Kim Il-Sung and his descendants as the the divine, and the U.S. as the designated Satan. People are so mentally conditioned to his religion that they openly give thanks to Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il for anything and everything, and bow to their ubiquitous statues and pictures.

I forget who said it first, but when people don’t have a religion, they make one, even if they don’t call it that. Which brings me to the subject of a state religion. Typically, we expect state (public) schools’ purpose is to teach civics and give citizens the education they need to function and contribute to society. Fair enough: the schools we know teach children to read, and write, and do mathematics, all of which are vital skills. But as I found out between my first summer homeschooling Neil, and his last year of public school, the history being taught is fairly anemic. By fifth grade, the children could recite with confidence why Rosa Parks; Martin Luther King, Jr.; and Cesar Chavez were American heroes, but they had far less class time being taught all the rest of American history. Even worse, when Neil’s fourth grade teacher posted a provably false “fact” on her door in honor of the upcoming Earth Day, she dismissed my objections on the grounds that she believed it was true, and even if it wasn’t, it didn’t matter, because telling elementary school students that their nation is the more garbage-y in the world is more important than any actual facts. Excuse me if I started getting the impression that a particular line of social justice was usurping bourgeoisie priorities in education, like history and factual investigation.

As educators indubitably discovered,religion is an effective way to keep people in line, especially when you have a diverse range of people of different backgrounds. But as the school system is increasingly devoted to a separation of church and state which is more firmly enforced that I think the founding fathers had in mind,there had to be some form of groupthink. As a result, I think we’re seeing a conflation of social justice ideals, multiculturalism, and Christian groundings. For instance, in the State religion there are clear sins, like racism, or homophobia, against which you must not transgress, lest you get socially ostracized. There are penances you pay, like recycling, and taking public transportation, and praise you must pay to teachers and other public servants. A problem (beyond the heretics who don’t agree fully with the religion) is that since this won’t admit it’s a religion, the rules aren’t clearly defined. You  may be a homophobe merely for being good friends with a Mormon; you may need to buy carbon offsets for the non-hybrid SUV you use and love, but people will always question whether that was truly enough.

It’s a lot easier dealing with the Christians, who are down with their principles, which are widely-known, even as they vary from sect to sect. For instance, I now send Kelly to a Lutheran school. One day one of the children in Kelly’s class stole an item from her backpack. The teacher found out, the class discussed it, the student repented, and they all agreed to forgive him (or her). The teacher warned me this had happened, so it wasn’t something Kelly should complain about. She never breathed a word, and there hasn’t been a theft since. That’s a Christian principle that’s pretty cool. I’m not sure I’m even cool enough to do something like that, but I’ll consider it now.

There is a fair amount of what they teach which they expect to have the children take on faith, such as Christ’s resurrection and death. (As it happens, the grown-ups may discuss the nuances, context, and archeological/historical record with the professional and amateur theologians at the church, but it is still considered fact). On the other hand, the Christians respect my bourgeoisie notions about secular education, and more than anything, Kelly’s first grade classroom seemed a lot like Charlie Brown’s in the Peanuts specials. And even though I don’t expect or desire prayer to come back to public school classrooms, I wish public schools could be more wholesome and truly tolerant than they are under the umbrella of the nebulous though recognizable State religion.

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