Tag Archives: gay-straight alliance

Of faith and learning

A friend directed me to a recent piece in The Toronto Star about how Ontario schools have seen a surge in parents requesting that their children be excused from classrooms when the subject being taught conflicts with their religious beliefs (eg. evolution).  This follows the incident several months ago involving a Catholic school board leader who was pilloried in the press for breaking Godwin’s law while trying to explain why her board refused to permit gay-straight alliance clubs on campus (she infamously and quite stupidly said “We don’t allow Nazi groups either”).  This is one of those areas where there seems to be no middle ground; you either believe these parents are standing up for their faith and their most cherished values against offensive secular indoctrination, or you think they’re utter ignoramuses trying to shield their poor kids from truth and consequently crippling their ability to function in the real world.

If you have to pin my belief system down to a single philosophy for the sake of reference, I’m probably closest to what’s called a secular humanist.  I like to know how things work and I’m unsatisfied with the explanation that life functions as it does because of the will of an insubstantial being who decided my fate long before I was born.  Yet I acknowledge that there are numerous things I don’t understand and never will – and I’m okay with that.  Rather like how not knowing the ending encourages you to keep reading the book, I’m happy for the continuing mysteries of the universe, because they keep me asking questions, keep me exercising my intellect in pursuit of truth.  I recognize that I will never know everything, but I can always learn more.  A man does endless reps on the rowing machine not because there is an acme of idealized muscular strength he needs to reach, but because he wants to make himself ever stronger.  That’s the most wonderful thing about learning; there will always be something new to learn, and, if one is to extend the metaphor of the gym, simply working your chest and avoiding the leg press will only make you look like Donkey Kong.  Shutting out the acquisition of knowledge because said knowledge fails to dovetail with ideology results in a state of imbalance – an inability to complete the equation or to advance the cause of truth.

Faith is not an easy journey.  Whether it is faith in God, faith in one’s fellows or faith in oneself, it requires strength.  Where extreme believers such as those who demand little Johnny not hear a peep about Charles Darwin fail their children in teaching them that lesson is in sending them the message that their faith is so brittle it cannot stand challenge.  Unchallenged faith is no faith at all – it’s blind obedience, and I also suspect that the vast majority who consider themselves spiritual do not like to think of themselves as mindless followers.  I have also never understood why some can’t accept the precepts of science while continuing to keep faith, that every word of the Bible has to be literally true for any part of it to have any weight.  After all, scientific thought built the iPad on which you’re tweeting your screed against the evil atheist school system.  It would seem to me that anything as universal as “God” cannot and should not be codified in human language, that the very concept defies the limits imposed upon it by the twenty-six letters of our alphabet.  It remains an unanswerable question, but one that demands pursuit.  Faith, then, is the sense that there is an answer worth going after – and if one is to approach understanding, then you can’t arbitrarily discount the information that might help you get that infinitesimal step closer.  Deciding that my mind’s made up and I’m going to stick my fingers in my ears when someone says something that contradicts it, is sacrificing that most precious gift of free will, the most important quality that guides our brief journey across life.

I’m not saying that what I believe is what you should believe.  Everyone deserves the chance to figure it out for themselves, because that’s the only way it’s going to work.  It’s our mandate as human beings to not abdicate our responsibility to learn all we can while we’re here, otherwise life is truly Shakespeare’s poor player strutting and fretting his hour upon the stage, the tale told by the idiot full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.  Let the kids learn about science in school.  Let them learn about God in church.  And most importantly, let them learn enough to be able to make up their own minds.

It has to get better

Bullying sucks.  In all shapes and forms.  There’s no need for it.  There’s no excuse for it.  Some might argue that you’ll find stronger animals preying on weaker ones throughout the wilderness.  But in human beings, bullies are inevitably those who have no true strength compensating for their insecurities by attacking the ones who are different – who are special.  It’s the weak lashing out at the vulnerabilities of the stronger in spirit.  Or to paraphrase Gore Vidal, it’s not that it’s enough to win; everyone else has to lose.  Schadenfreude gone wild.

You can tell by what’s been released about him since his suicide that Jamie Hubley was a special kid.  What’s burned most in my memory is the photograph of him in a dress shirt and bowtie with his father’s arm draped over his shoulder, both beaming with pride.  You can see the love there.  It could be a picture of any father and son.  What’s particularly sad about Jamie’s loss is that he was not someone who was passively taking his bullying, he was trying to make things get better.  He had tried to set up a gay-straight alliance at his school only to see his posters torn down by ignorant half-wits.

In the aftermath of Jamie’s suicide and the subsequent media coverage, a group of Conservative MP’s and senators released an “It Gets Better” video.  A lot of criticism and discussion resulted, questioning both the sincerity of the statements and the cheapness of the production, given that some of this party’s MP’s have gone on record with some pretty ugly homophobic remarks in the past, and that they would have likely spared no expense if this had been an ad attacking the Leader of the Opposition.  I suppose they could have done nothing at all.  But it is a bit rich to see a party who have made it a habit of governing by bullying now claiming that bullying is wrong and trying to tell kids that it really does get better – unless you’re elected to the House of Commons.

No one is born with hatred inside.  Like one’s ABC’s, it is taught – impressed upon innocent, unknowing children by parents or institutions who are sadistically cognizant that the only way to spread the flame of prejudice is to nourish it with a constant diet of fear.  “Those people aren’t like you.”  “They’re the ones responsible for everything that’s wrong in your life.”  “It’s your duty to attack them, to bring them down.”

Leadership starts by example and it is a responsibility vested in all of us.  What example are children to take when the next kid tries to start a gay-straight alliance in his school, and adults try to squelch such organizations on the justification that “we don’t have Nazi groups either,” as was the case with a prominent Catholic District School Board chair earlier this year?  Equating a club of teenagers trying to promote tolerance and understanding with the most genocidal regime of the 20th Century, no matter how “off the cuff” the remark, only reinforces and helps to spread attitudes that should have died in Hitler’s bunker.  Every ignorant remark by a grown-up creates another bully somewhere.

How do we stop it?  Sadly, it’s too late for Jamie Hubley, but the rest of us have to start trying a hell of a lot harder.  The answer is in, as my father once told me, finding the courage to break the bully’s nose.  It’s in the kid who sees the smaller kid being picked on and decides to step in instead of hurrying past, hoping not to be noticed.  It’s in the refusal of the silent ones to stay silent; it’s in their resolve to stand up for the victims instead.  It’s in not pretending that it will just go away.  It’s in not letting the bully win, ever – whether in the schoolyard, at the office or in the government.  It’s calling them out.  It’s shouting “I’m here, I’m special, and you can shove your taunts and your lies up your lily-livered ass.”

It gets better when we make it better.  Let’s make it better.