Several of his classmates have engaged in an ongoing debate with him about the origins of man. I suspect this is more to have something to argue about than any real committment to the beliefs they parrot.
At their age, it's more about being right than being convicted.
He is grossly outnumbered.
Most of the children in his class have been marinated from birth in the belief that God created man in his own image and that Eve was molded from Adam's rib. Evolution is blasphemy. This is the only thing they know. This is the only thing they are allowed to know.
They tell him he's stupid to believe that man came from Apes. This, understandably, aggravates him.
"Mom...HOW can they think that human beings just POOFED into existence when we have PROOF that they evolved from apes? I mean, HELLO...we have fossils and stuff. All they have is some dumb book. THEY'RE the stupid ones."
Biting back a retort, I try to remain neutral.
I explain to him that here in the South, most people believe what the Bible says. And that's okay. But he has the right to disagree with him. AND, he has a right not to have to defend his own beliefs in a secular environment.
"Secular?" he says, blushing.
He has mistaken the word for something unsavory.
"That just means 'not religious', dude. Your school is a public school. That means that it's for all people, not just Christians. Or Muslims. Or Jews. And nobody has the right to promote their own religious beliefs there. That's what church is for."
He looks intrigued now. Immersed as we have been in the hyper reiligious climate that dominates here in the South, I doubt it has has occurred to him that he might not have to listen to it. I doubt it has occurred to him that he has any rights at all when it comes to that sort of thing.
But it has occurred to me. Plenty.
"In fact..." I continued, really working up a good head of irrevent steam, "it's against the law to talk about religion in your school. It's called 'separation of church and state', and it's in the Constitution."
"Really???" he says, earnestly.
He's a BIG believer in the Constitution.
"Yes, really." I say triumphantly.
Then I realize that I might be coming off a little too contentious and smug. I really do try to teach him that he can believe whatever he wants, and that people who believe differently are not our enemies. That's one reason I killed myself putting on Cultural Arts Night.
So I decide to change my tack a little bit.
"Look, honey, it's okay that some people believe in Creationsim. It's what they've been taught to believe from the time they were just little children, just like you've been taught about Evolution. Neither of you should be calling the other stupid because of it."
"Yeah, I know." he says morosely.
They shouldn't, but they do. And he is powerless to stop it.
"Religious beliefs are a very personal thing and you don't have to discuss it with anybody you don't want to discuss it with. So the next time someone tries to start a debate with you, you tell them that. You tell them 'that's my own personal business'. And if they won't stop, then you tell them that they are breaking the law. Because they are."
"But what if it's someone I like and they just really want to know what I think?"
"Well then that's fine, if it's okay with you. Because someone who is truly your friend won't stop being your friend because you believe something different. And you can actually learn from each other."
He is silent now, processing what has been said.
"Is it really breaking the law?" he asks.
"Yes, it is."
He smiles then. Not a malicious smile, but one of relief. He has a weapson now, to brandish against the onslaught of intolerance that he faces every day. Something to balance the scales a little bit, if not tip them in his favor.
With that he disappears to do kid things.
And I am left to wonder...
Could our forefathers; those men that so bravely put their names on a document that could have seen them swinging on the end of a rope for the crime of high treason...could they have possibly foreseen that their radical ideals and commitment to freedom would calm the fears of a 10 year old boy 250 years in the future?
Don't you think they would find that pretty goddamned awesome?
If something I did in my lifetime could carry that kind of impact across centuries...I would be a fulfilled woman indeed.
And then I think...maybe it just did.
Thanks for all who commented about the legality issue. I actually do know the specifics of the law, but most 5th graders won't. I'm hoping "againist the law" will put an effective end to the bullying re: religion, and it won't come into question. If it does, I'm prepared to handle that. In fact, I welcome the opportunity to express to any parent who might take issue with that, my feelings about the way their children are behaving.