By Janna Reeves
It wasnít until 7th grade that I learned that "Pagan Baby" was not a widely-accepted term of endearment. Neither was "Heathen Child." Huh. Time for some questioning. Needless to say, my first week at a new school, a junior high school, and Catholic no less, was not. . .fun. When my very small family (just Mom, Dad, and me - the Pagan Baby) moved to Kensington (near East San Diego), I had to choose a new Junior High. Drug dealers, police action, and gangsters frighten me in general, so I picked the nearby private school, hoping for a more sheltered atmosphere. Mom and Dad agreed, despite having been the product of a combined 26 years of Catholic education (complete with gory tales of nuns, rulers, and seat assignments by height, grades, or just plain favorites). The education was good, the uniforms were easy to deal with, the teachers were supportive, and the kids were ruthless (but I have determined that Junior High kids are ruthless anywhere . . .the Pope himself probably was a squirrelly pre-teen).
It was the religion that got me. My experiences with it to that point had been benign. Pleasant. Unforeboding. My grandparents are Roman Catholic; they took me to church on Easter, and to Mass on Sundays when I would visit them back east. Nice, cozy memories, actually. For exposureís sake, Mom and Dad sent me to Bible school one summer with my best friend when we were 7. We walked down to a church a few blocks away for a few hours every week for a month or so. We sang songs, heard stories, ate snacks, but mostly giggled in the back about who-knows-what. My parents also tried the Unitarian church for a while, looking for a sense of community for their little only child, I guess. More of the same: songs, snacks, and stories. I remember a great playground with sandboxes, faucets, and wood with hammers and nails. Again: religion seemed fine with me.
What a shock, then, when I took my first test in religion class. "Name three ways God acts in your life." O.K., easy. I think I answered something like, My Grandparents. My new friends here at Catholic school. Going to church on Tuesday mornings here at Catholic school.
Well, wrong, wrong, wrong. There was some textbook answer that I was apparently supposed to memorize, and hadnít. My first bad grade. Mulling this over on my bike-ride home that afternoon, I leapt to a very heavy conclusion: Religion is totally bogus. Now, obviously it was for the wrong reason, but then I managed to do enough slanted, one-sided, self-affirming research on my own that I had more mature, adult reasons to back up my pre-pubescent conclusion.
After a few more years of Catholic High School, a number of years at UCSD studying Communications, and my own personal discoveries, I can make my own informed, educated, and intelligent decisions about the "bogus-ness" of religion. I can also stand tall and declare my convictions. I can argue. I can substantiate. And I will look you straight in the eye to admit that maybe I donít know. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I need to learn more. Come back in ten years after I have given birth and produced a human life from my own body, or lived in a third world country where every meal is a miracle, or have seen our own glorious Big Blue Marble from another planetís rocky field. I may feel differently.
But my process of self-awareness will never change.
My anecdotal illustration leads to my point. Many among us have made those big "discoveries," and simply continued to pedal home. There are many who will not make that next step. They came to their conclusion, but they canít show their work. These people are the mirror image of the right-winged close-minded bigots that try to make policies for the rest of us. They are those folk who immediately write off anything which they do not know or understand as irrational, backwards, wrong, or stupid, without spending a moment to investigate.
Let us not forget the last part of our associationís name. We are not allied in this group to judge, to scorn, to mock, but to make rational inquiries about anything that does not immediately seem sensible, intelligent, and wise. We celebrate science and apply its methods. We stand fast against cultish conduct. We work hard to instill a sense of critical thinking in our children and our peers. We shall not succumb to the small-mindedness of others that makes our membership and involvement in associations like SDARI necessary.
Janna Reeves is the program chair person of SDARI.