It’s funny to think about now, but I used to be quite a good little Christian boy. I was very adamant about it, extremely goody-goody. This fizzled out for me in time, but not before I had my opportunity to believe and help spread around some serious lies that my betters taught me were incontrovertible truths; matters of undeniable fact. Lies being what they are, it were the biggest ones I fortified myself in the most.
In the America I grew up in, one of the biggest things that Christian kids were pushed on was praying in school. A long time before I was born, it was considered standard practice to open the school day up with a prayer, oral Bible lesson, or some combination of the above. This was always done following the Protestant belief system, and most preferably with a King James Bible. In the 1960’s, a couple of Supreme Court decisions rendered the practice legally unconstitutional vis-à-vis the Establishment Clause. This precedent of course didn’t prohibit individual public school students from praying on their own, or even forming student groups centred around their various faiths. It simply stated that in public schools, prayer was not to be mandated by school, local, or state officials. Naturally, the Religious Right has engaged in perpetual tantrums for upwards of sixty years after the fact.
The lie was that the government had banned prayer in school. I saw the sentiment expressed through hints in pamphlets, and I heard it shouted in so many words from pulpits. Youth pastors marketed the idea that we as Christian children were walking into a prayer-hostile environment, that the doors of a public school were doors to the Valley of the Shadow. Precautionary fictions were written featuring kids being suspended or given detention for prayer. These were subsequently taught to kids in Sunday School as bona fide happenings. Kids from different Protestant churches came together in rallies specifically over this issue, with mass prayers being held under the pretext that we were super cool for doing something that would be super forbidden outside the safe embrace of the convention center walls. Of course, everything about this was performative ridiculousness with layers of insidious orchestration layered for enhanced security.
I believed all of it, even though and perhaps sometimes because none of it was even remotely true. I drank deeply at the well of this dishonesty. If you’re going to lie to somebody, most especially a child, it’s best to do it early. Establish your story deep within a person’s mind. If they believe it long enough before seeing tangible obstacles to its veracity, they’ll get to the point that the entrenchment starts to defend itself. Much has been said about the human brain’s unfortunate tendency to attack information different from that which it believes to be true as actual physical threats. I speak from personal experience when I say that American conservatives are very clever at weaponizing this function to galvanise religious dogma far beyond its original purposes.
By the time I had started school, the morning prayer was long gone. It had been replaced—at least in Georgia—by the much more neutral-sounding “moment of silent reflection”. This was nice because you could shoehorn just about anything you wanted into that one-minute period. At first I assumed it was about teaching kids to be quiet for a couple of minutes because what adult doesn’t want kids shutting their trap? After I got just barely old enough to understand it’s actual purpose though, those-that-know-best wasted absolutely no time in informing me that this entire construction was an absolute affront to Christianity and was actually a subtle mockery of the very concept of school prayer. I even heard it connected to various new age religions—another bane of the American faithful—due to perceived associations with Eastern meditation.
This was the kind of thing that helped reinforce my defences. Every concession towards reasonably allowing students to assert their religious identity and rights was redefined as a twisting or distortion of those same rights. Likewise any student or group doing anything towards asserting those rights was held up as a brave and resolute child of God. A student praying near her locker before school who no teacher paid any mind towards was taking a risk by doing so where she might be seen. The student prayer groups that I saw pop up that were headed by local churches were presented almost as covert operations. They met before school started or just after, and always in a sort of out of the way classroom; somewhere to which they could claim they’d been relegated. When the principal of that very same Middle School openly had a Christian youth organisation put on an assembly—with the clear intent of getting students to come that same night to their religious youth rally—it wasn’t seen as running against the victim narrative. Indeed, he was declared a hero of a principal standing up for the local Christian community where the school district had failed us.
This strategy of evangelism and forced discipleship is not isolated to the churches and their flocks by a long shot. It extends well into the greater community’s society. I’ve seen the trust of normal people in their various and sundry “community leaders”—be they priests, police, or politicians—be soldered together in a flailing mace of misplaced anger and resentment towards anything and everything that has even the barest whiff of progressive scent. It seems near-immune to challenge as well. It’s so rigid because like the school prayers, the collective and contrived grievances of the town’s people on behalf of their masters is redefined as the elegantly arbitrary and simple “faith” of the townsfolk.
And every good Christian or American kid in the South, or the Heartland—or just about anywhere that shows up red enough on an electoral map—knows that your faith must be unshakably steadfast. You must constantly assert it over and over again and bring others into it, never relenting on it for a second. If anyone even seems to be trying to separate you from it, that person should be regarded as a terrible misled agent of the Enemy. For your faith is the most vulnerable part of your entire existence, the bedrock of everything you chose to be when you took on whichever of the associated great causes you did. Being so vulnerable, it can indeed be broken, and if that happens it’s nobody’s fault but your own that you ended up among the ranks of the dreaded “others”. You’ll be forgotten by all your friends and family, being so godless and without morals because you’ve magically changed into one of the bad guys. And now that you’re one of the bad guys, you’ll have been so injected with evil that perhaps nothing can bring you back.
So, whatever you do, don’t lose your faith, child.