Student’s religious intolerance fueled by selfishness, scorn

By: Alex Sorondo/Staff Writer

Abiding by an increasingly fervent trend with secular youth of reflexively attacking religious gestures, Jessica Ahlquist, a high school student in Rhode Island — the country’s most Catholic state, according to The New York Times — lobbied for the removal of a banner listing a school prayer at her high school.

The prayer read: “Our Heavenly Father, Grant us each day the desire to do our best, to grow mentally and morally as well as physically… to be honest with ourselves as well as others… to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win. Teach us the value of true friendship… Amen.”

Ahlquist told The New York Times that just looking at the banner, which was eight feet tall in the school’s auditorium, made her feel ostracized.

She claimed to have had no trouble with religion in school before. She suggests, in fact, that she did not even notice the banner but had it pointed out by a friend. Still, with greater selfishness and intolerance than she attributes to the school, she pursued the prayer’s removal.

Conservative ideologies will always earn the scorn of mainstream youth, particularly with kids who, sheltered from the toils and demands of adult responsibilities, have yet to realize the benefits of moderation, respect, and patience.

One drifts with age, ideally, further and further from a sense of all-knowingness. But while it lingers in later youth, and a young person – myself included – begins to read the tracts of popular contrarians and their vocabulary grows and, in the ocean of post-modern hipster culture, they develop a strong disdain for emotional candor and matters of the heart, they tend to sprout some indignation, usually in the form of some social or political outrage.

This indignation must then be directed at something, as Norman Mailer said, “There’s nothing more onerous than practicing on a team that plays no games.” It tends now to point toward Christianity and Catholicism, the most prevalent sources – or the faces, at least – of American conservatism today.

You will find, however, that the well-spoken young contrarian will rarely wag their finger so aggressively at any other conservative orthodoxies, religious or not.

In Jeffrey Eugenides’ latest novel, “The Marriage Plot,” he writes, “The worst part about religion is religious people.”

There are misanthropic, bigoted, uninformed fanatics like those who stand outside of the Graham Center and berate us for our “drugs and homo sex,” but they don’t accurately reflect their religion’s modern sentiments.

Unfortunately, such people ferment a widespread disdain for what they claim to represent.

If, in Ahlquist’s situation, there was any display of intolerance, it was her own. I say this on the basis of The New York Times’ Nov. 26 story, in which no mention is made of Ahlquist being told to pray or adhere to the majority’s religious ideals.

She was asked only to sit from time to time in a room where, on a tall stretch of wall, someone had written some pretty harmless words.

There are no bad words, the late comedian and atheist George Carlin argued; only bad intentions. The words on this banner were of good intent and little consequence, but because it began with an address to a god and closed with “Amen,” she took offense.

The aforementioned radicals, propelled by hatred and aspirations of control, are the ones who deserve the humanist’s scorn, not their religion.

Were there no Christianity or Catholicism, they would be radicals of something else.

Unappealing as it might be for those of us who don’t ascribe to it, religion is the well from which a huge number of people tap both meaning and strength, and the majority of them are surely pretty decent people.

To attack their beliefs is to attack their intelligence and their character, their approach to life and their values. And I’d guess that nobody has so strong a grasp on life, so measured a control over its curve balls and miseries, as to fairly criticize the means by which others get by.

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