Facebook Memes, Information Overload, and Religion in the Classroom
Normally, I just don’t pay much attention to ridiculous memes on Facebook, and scroll past them with a “to each his own” attitude. However, a recent meme, in combination with a discussion that I had with fellow Philosophy Matters author, b0t, has gotten me thinking a little more about this attitude.
Throughout most of history, a lack of information and knowledge has been one of the biggest challenges society faced. Now, we find ourselves overwhelmed by easy access to an abundance of information. Yet, wisdom remains as – if not more – elusive than ever. With so much information, it becomes increasingly difficult to sort through it all and determine what is both relevant and true in any given situation.
On top of that, social media makes it easy to follow sources for everything we believe in. This is great, but it is quite possibly adding to confirmation bias:
In psychology and cognitive science, confirmation bias (or confirmatory bias) is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions, leading to statistical errors. – Science Daily
With social media, it’s easier than ever to find and share those things we already believe in. And for the most part, I believe that most of us tend to want to keep the peace among our friends and social contacts, so when they post something we don’t agree with, it’s much easier to take the “to each his own” attitude that I mentioned above.
My worry is that this simply reinforces a culture where we don’t seriously consider issues, where instead of actually thinking deeply about a particular issue and the consequences of a particular view, we click the share button, get some positive feedback, and assume everyone agrees with us.
Recently, however, I have found a new Facebook meme personally offensive, because if the person sharing it actually believes what is written, it means that they believe I am an evil person. I’d like to share the meme and my response to it. Please bear with me, as the meme is a bit long:
COLUMBINE STUDENT’S FATHER 12 YEARS LATER !!
Guess our national leaders didn’t expect this. On Thursday, Darrell Scott, the father of Rachel Scott, a victim of the Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colorado, was invited to address the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee. What he said to our national leaders during this special session of Congress was painfully truthful.
They were not prepared for what he was to say, nor was it received well. It needs to be heard by every parent, every teacher, every politician, every sociologist, every psychologist, and every so-called expert! These courageous words spoken by Darrell Scott are powerful, penetrating, and deeply personal. There is no doubt that God sent this man as a voice crying in the wilderness.. The following is a portion of the transcript:
“Since the dawn of creation there has been both good & evil in the hearts of men and women. We all contain the seeds of kindness or the seeds of violence. The death of my wonderful daughter, Rachel Joy Scott, and the deaths of that heroic teacher, and the other eleven children who died must not be in vain. Their blood cries out for answers.
“The first recorded act of violence was when Cain slew his brother Abel out in the field. The villain was not the club he used.. Neither was it the NCA, the National Club Association. The true killer was Cain, and the reason for the murder could only be found in Cain’s heart.
“In the days that followed the Columbine tragedy, I was amazed at how quickly fingers began to be pointed at groups such as the NRA. I am not a member of the NRA. I am not a hunter. I do not even own a gun. I am not here to represent or defend the NRA – because I don’t believe that they are responsible for my daughter’s death.
Therefore I do not believe that they need to be defended. If I believed they had anything to do with Rachel’s murder I would be their strongest opponent.
I am here today to declare that Columbine was not just a tragedy — it was a spiritual event that should be forcing us to look at where the real blame lies! Much of the blame lies here in this room. Much of the blame lies behind the pointing fingers of the accusers themselves. I wrote a poem just four nights ago that expresses my feelings best.
Your laws ignore our deepest needs,
Your words are empty air.
You’ve stripped away our heritage,
You’ve outlawed simple prayer.
Now gunshots fill our classrooms,
And precious children die.
You seek for answers everywhere,
And ask the question “Why?”
You regulate restrictive laws,
Through legislative creed.
And yet you fail to understand,
That God is what we need!
“Men and women are three-part beings. We all consist of body, mind, and spirit. When we refuse to acknowledge a third part of our make-up, we create a void that allows evil, prejudice, and hatred to rush in and wreak havoc. Spiritual presences were present within our educational systems for most of our nation’s history. Many of our major colleges began as theological seminaries. This is a historical fact. What has happened to us as a nation? We have refused to honor God, and in so doing, we open the doors to hatred and violence. And when something as terrible as Columbine’s tragedy occurs — politicians immediately look for a scapegoat such as the NRA. They immediately seek to pass more restrictive laws that contribute to erode away our personal and private liberties. We do not need more restrictive laws. Eric and Dylan would not have been stopped by metal detectors. No amount of gun laws can stop someone who spends months planning this type of massacre. The real villain lies within our own hearts.
“As my son Craig lay under that table in the school library and saw his two friends murdered before his very eyes, he did not hesitate to pray in school. I defy any law or politician to deny him that right! I challenge every young person in America , and around the world, to realize that on April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School prayer was brought back to our schools. Do not let the many prayers offered by those students be in vain. Dare to move into the new millennium with a sacred disregard for legislation that violates your God-given right to communicate with Him. To those of you who would point your finger at the NRA — I give to you a sincere challenge.. Dare to examine your own heart before casting the first stone!
My daughter’s death will not be in vain! The young people of this country will not allow that to happen!”
– Darrell Scott
Do what the media did not – – let the nation hear this man’s speech. Please share this with your FB friends!
First, a quick visit to Snopes will explain part of what’s wrong here: The speech above did occur, but all of the other information around it is essentially wrong. It was spoken only a small sub-committee hearing, and not a special session of Congress, and no one there was shocked or unprepared for his words. Further, it was relatively heavily reported by the media at the time.
Perhaps an even bigger issue with this speech is that it implies that any type of prayer in school is completely banned, and this is simply not true. I’d like to highlight a few of the relevant guidelines as they stand now:
Students may pray when not engaged in school activities or instruction, subject to the same rules designed to prevent material disruption of the educational program that are applied to other privately initiated expressive activities.
Students may organize prayer groups, religious clubs, and “see you at the pole” gatherings before school to the same extent that students are permitted to organize other non-curricular student activities groups.
When acting in their official capacities as representatives of the state, teachers, school administrators, and other school employees are prohibited by the Establishment Clause from encouraging or discouraging prayer, and from actively participating in such activity with students. Teachers may, however, take part in religious activities where the overall context makes clear that they are not participating in their official capacities.
As you can see, students, and even teachers, are able to pray in school. The problem is with teachers leading prayer in an official capacity. Imagine how you would feel if a teacher who was another faith forced you, or your child, to participate in a prayer from their religion. Or if an atheist took time out of class to explain why God didn’t exist. The problem is not with people having religious beliefs, the problem is with authority figures forcing their views on others in this setting. There are a diversity of beliefs in our country, and that’s a good thing – all the way up until the point that we start allowing figures of authority to force their beliefs on others.
The Offensive Bit
The part I find personally offensive is this: “Men and women are three-part beings. We all consist of body, mind, and spirit. When we refuse to acknowledge a third part of our make-up, we create a void that allows evil, prejudice, and hatred to rush in and wreak havoc.”
This implies that as an atheist, I have a void in me that has been filled with evil, prejudice, and hatred. If a lack of “spirit” or spirituality means those things take over, then this must mean that those sharing this post believe I am evil, which I find troubling.
I’ve both been a student and worked in public schools in Mississippi, part of the Bible Belt in the United States. I quickly realized it was in my best interest to keep quiet about my lack of belief, but even trying to be careful I often ran into trouble. At one school where I worked, I was meeting some of the faculty there. One of the teachers I had just met asked me what my degree was in, and when I told him philosophy he replied with:
Oh, you’re one of them atheists. We hang people like that around here.
Mind you, I never said one word about my actual religious beliefs. I share this story because I believe it demonstrates how prejudice and hatred can exist even among those who are religious. I think everyone would benefit from remembering the following:
We can be good without God, or evil with God. It is not our belief or disbelief in a god that determines whether or not we are good person.