In the right direction

January 09, 1995|By Alexander Hooke

"In reality there has been only one Christian -- and he died on VTC the cross."

-- Nietzsche

TO SATISFY the combatants in the latest prayer-in-schools contest, I offer an easy solution. Give students a chance with prayer. More, let them try parts of the Bible throughout the day. Instead of worrying about whether a moment of silence to start the day will turn an MTV generation into a band of religious zealots, we should let them regularly cite sacred texts for each class.

Here is a sketch of the average day under my proposal:

Energized by homeroom's famed silent moment, eager students trot off to economics class. Here they might encounter the theory supporting additional tax relief or capital gains breaks for the wealthy. The yacht, learns our typical student, is a business investment, not a leisure vehicle. For this class it would be fitting to chant Jesus' classic on the ticket to heaven: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 19:24).

Next is history class. Here a 12-year-old might read of a time when 12-year-olds were considered property, subject to arranged marriages or forced labor. It was during such a time when children were rebuked from seeing Jesus. So let history begin with students together reading Jesus' response. "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God" (Mark 10: 13-14). Who knows, this might spark history students to pursue a cross-generational semester project about, say, how the right to own guns, public orphanages or dangerous schools are current ways of rebuking a child's sense of belonging.

Undaunted by the scary comparison, the average student heads for English class. First the teacher returns last week's essays full of red marks. Then the class recites Jesus' famous line: "Judge not and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned" (Luke 6:37).

Lunchtime. Students say grace, of course, but silently.

After recess students trudge on to social studies. Before turning to the pages on homelessness and deviance, they chant in unison Jesus' words: "Your sins are forgiven . . . I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little" (Luke 7: 47-48). This is a startling comment. Jesus does not explain immoral actions in terms of bad genes, personal malice or innate evil. Before students can finish thinking about this, though, the bell rings.

Finally, math class. A dumbfounded school official might wonder how a biblical passage can start a math class. I suggest a drill be a group meditation on a puzzle of how to feed 5,000 people on five loaves of bread and two fish. Everyone gets a crumb, muses a young idealist. Too impractical, speculates a hardened realist -- better to feed the healthiest and ensure the survival of the species. A violation of rights, ponders the constitutional purist: whoever owns the food eats the food, so the starving do not have a right to another's property. This drill is to explain Jesus' solution when he said of the 5,000, "Bring them to me" (Matthew 14:18), and he fed all the people. (Hint: Jesus did not say anything about punishing welfare recipients.)

My proposal should satisfy the major sides of this dispute. Conservatives get more than what they are demanding, though often that is not enough. Constitutional purists and liberals should be content realizing that all the prayers in school will not corrupt the purity of American politics and culture -- our devotion and sacrifices to television and computers are unshakable.

And multiculturalists should see this as a victory. After living in a country where immigrant children are unwanted, where politicians portray welfare mothers as happy in their poverty and fear-ridden neighborhoods, where 50 percent of the world's energy is used by 5 percent of its population, our students would reasonably conclude that the biblical passages they recite with each class are merely samples of a strange voice speaking of a strange culture.

It is a voice whose name is shared by billions. But as Nietzsche might put it, the voice is quite solitary. For it evokes a way of life with different hopes, different compassions and different spirits.

Alexander Hooke is an associate professor of philosophy at Villa Julie College.

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