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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Valedictory is mine!

In my post about Brittany McComb, the Foothill High valedictorian whose microphone was shut off by school administrators because she was about to talk about how God was the biggest part of her life, I wrote that the school shouldn't have cut off her mic, but that the extent to which she wanted to talk about her faith was inappropriate for a commencement address. I said:
Look, this ain't proselytizing, but it's obnoxious. It's obnoxious to the many people who don't share McComb's beliefs, and honestly it should be obnoxious to those who do believe as she does, because it's the wrong place and the wrong time to be talking about such a personal issue.

McComb was speaking to her fellow students, their families and their friends, all of whom have their own personal views on religion and their own relationship, or lack thereof, with God, and I'm sure the last thing many of them wanted to hear was an extended soliloquy on how Christ died to save their souls. This is no different from someone giving a high school commencement address and talking about her belief that the war in Iraq is illegal, or Bush = Hitler, or John Murtha is a coward, etc. Yes, it's all protected speech (as McComb's should be), but it doesn't belong in a commencement address.
Apparently a lot of people disagree with that last assertion. (Though oddly, I'm guessing most of those people would be highly upset if McComb had wanted to use her platform to rail against President Bush.)

While ordinarily I might say that my own personal religious beliefs are nobody's business, in this case I feel as though I should lay them out so readers can factor them in, particularly if they find my lack of faith disturbing. Basically, I'm cheerfully agnostic, but unlike many "unbelievers," I have a deep and abiding respect for strong religious beliefs - it just happens that I was born without the faith gene. I can tell you that because I find religion such an interesting subject, I know more about it than most laypeople (including religious ones), but I'm well aware that this is wholly (holy?) different than believing it. I will never understand people who think the Bible is the literal word of God, but that's okay: they don't need me to understand them, and I'm fine with them not understanding me. The only time I have a problem with religiosity is when people want to use their faith-based beliefs to push for public policy, e.g., the idiocy of a constitutional amendment forbidding gay marriage. (I'm not saying that all people opposed to gay marriage fall in this camp, I'm just talking about the ones who do. And feel free to substitute another issue if you'd like: I'm not wedded* to this one.)

Don't get me wrong: If you want to say that something is immoral because God (or Jesus, or Allah, or Yahweh, or Odin) says so, I completely respect that, even if I'm not with you. Likewise, if you want to argue that the State has a vested social interest in keeping marriage between men and women, I may disagree with you, but we can have a rational discussion about it. But if you want to proclaim that something must be illegal simply because in your opinion God says it's wrong, you should tell me that up front so I know I don't have to pay attention to the rest of what comes out of your mouth. Also I would prefer you find another country in which to force your beliefs down other people's throats, but that's just me.

But back to young Brittany.

I have nothing but respect for the fact that God is the biggest part of her life, and for her wanting to thank her Lord and Savior at her commencement. To paraphrase what I said in my original post, if you want to give a shout out to God, or Jesus, etc., nobody should stop you.

But that's not what Brittany wanted to do, at least not originally. The speech she turned into school officials for approval contained two Lords, nine Gods and one Christ. (Not in the polytheistic sense.) Echoing the trailer for the new version of Superman (or do I have that backwards?), it also referenced God giving his only son "to suffer an excruciated death in order to cover everyone's shortcomings and forge a path to heaven."

Now, I'm sorry, but given the setting, that is completely and utterly inappropriate, and Ms. McComb should not be lauded for wanting to include any of it. Know your audience: people who come to a non-sectarian high school commencement aren't there to hear the Sermon on the Mount, whatever their personal beliefs might be. Injecting your religion at length or in great detail at a secular function is, quite frankly, tasteless and rude, regardless of what those beliefs are. (It would be equally tasteless and rude to ruminate about your disbelief in God in such a setting.) It's the wrong topic at the wrong place at the wrong time.

And here's another thing: Is it just me, or does anyone else get the sense that people who constantly feel the need to talk about how great their faith is often are engaging in unseemly self-congratulation rather than humble devotion? To me, this is the equivalent of the guy who's always talking about how much chicks dig him to cover for the fact that he's got a small pe list of girls he's actually gone out with. If your faith is that strong, you shouldn't have to go around telling everybody about it: it's probably obvious from the way you lead your life. Remember, there's a fine line between singing God's praises and singing your own praises for singing God's praises so loudly.

As an added bonus, my next post will be the Cranky Insomniac's top ten ways to tell if it's the right time to go on at length about your faith. Some will apply to all faiths, others will be more faith-specific. Stay tuned.


*Unless otherwise stated, all puns are intended, and will not be apologized for.

Blogger LittleOrangeFox said...

I thiiiiiink all and all people who payed attention to the ACLUs role in this speech were upset over hypocrisy, which is why they overlooked that her speech might have contained a whole lotta relgious tones.

They were upset because 9 times out of 10, if she WAS bashing Bush or saying praise Allah death to American infidels, then we would probably blow her off but the ACLU would have been there defending her and cranking the mic up a notch.They tend to pick n chose their religious causes , no?

09:11  
Anonymous fmragtops said...

Good point, LOF.

Cranky, you and I are gonna have to have it out one day on the religion driven public policy thingy, but since this about the commencement speech, I'll leave that for another time.

I think I mostly agree with you. Like Foxy said, the thing that gets to me about this is the selective way in which religion is allowed or disallowed in public settings.

Since this is a constitutional argument, I will frame it as such. The religious freedom granted us by our creator (hehe) in the First Ammendment has two parts. Congress shall pass no law respecting the establishment of religion is the first part. It seems everytime we hear about the religion in schools issue it is always about the school violating this clause, but I think people forget, or forget to remember the second part: Or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

Maybe i'm wrong. Maybe the legal battles to protect us against the violation of the second clause just don't get as much press, or maybe I don't pay enough attention. But when was the last time you heard of the ACLU protecting a "Christian's" right to freely practice their religion?

I think part of the reason for this is because most people feel that the limit on "rights" is the point where someone's rights impede someone else's rights. For some reason, it seems people these days feel like the moment they're offended is the point at which their rights are impeded by someone else's rights. This purely hogwash because nowhere in the Constitution is there a right not to be offended.

If people would spend more time bettering themselves and their situtation, and less time being offended, would could stop discussing this sort of idiocy.

10:00  
Blogger The Cranky Insomniac said...

you and I are gonna have to have it out one day on the religion driven public policy thingy

-Why do I have the feeling I better come to that conversation strapped? (;

I agree with both of you, and I hope that point was made strongly enough in both my posts on this. T

FMradio: I understand why the ACLU doesn't spend its time protecting the right of Christians to freely practice their religion: the ACLU sees itself as the protector of every possible minority against every possible majority. (I'm not saying this is what it truly is, only that this is how it sees itself.) As such, it would never "waste its time" defending the rights of a large majority group such as Christians. Again, I'm not agreeing with this, just pointing to it.

In all honesty, I will say that Christian Americans don't need a helluva lot of defending, Fox News hysteria aside. (And I don't mean LOF.) A "war on Christmas?" Please. And do you think a non-Christian, let alone a non-believer, will be elected president any time soon? Doubtful.

But none of that takes away from either of your points.

Foxy, you're absolutely right that if Foothill High had had a Muslim commencement speaker, he or she probably could have praised Allah all day and at best the ACLU wouldn't have said a word. It's an incredibly hypocritical organization - don't even get me started on its cavalier dismissal of the 2nd Amendment.

FM, you're absolutely right about too many people thinking they have a constitutional (or natural) right to not be offended. And I hope I made it clear that while I think McComb shouldn't have made her speech excessively about her religious faith, I think she had every right to. Nothing pisses me off more than people who think their "shouldn'ts" should automatically be "cant's."

13:42  
Anonymous FIAR said...

I don't even know where to begin nodding my head in agreement, so I'll just leave it with: I couldn't have said it better myself, and I saved a lot of time by letting you say it.

21:33  

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