More from the religious right
By Howard Lisnoff
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Apr 16, 2009, 00:24

The essays with a religious bent began in the North during this academic year. Two community college students whom I worked with were slavish in their constant references to God in their writing. One student insisted on using Biblical references for papers that she completed for an upper-level English course, while another student rationalized every bad event that had happened in his life with a religious interpretation.

Over the past several years, I have moved further and further away from any religious affiliation. As religious fundamentalism grew in the U.S., I was drawn to a completely secular belief and value system. After reading Bertrand Russell�s �Why I Am Not A Christian,� (While Russell wrote his essay with Christianity in mind, it applies equally to all religions.) I came to view the residual effects that religion had in my life through the perspective of what Russell identifies as superstition. I was left with no firmer belief in some all-knowing deity than I was with the tooth fairy. That�s not to say that there isn�t anything that can be gained from religion. I look to one of my heroes, Martin Luther King, Jr., and I can see how his sense of a religious interpretation of justice can be both a solace and a driving force for action. Still, the effects of religious dogma and extremism have left a trail of dead bodies from Iraq and Afghanistan to the Palestine Territories and back to the World Trade Center. I want nothing to do with such blind extremism!

When I returned to the South in the New Year, I knew that the expressions of religious fervor would dwarf anything I had experienced in the North. Again, I began editing students� writing in a community college setting. The expressions of religious sentiments came fast and furious as students began coming into the learning lab where I work seeking to help with their writing. Remaining neutral in the face of points of view that a person vehemently and diametrically rejected was no easy task. I corrected grammar and syntax and content without trodding onto the hallowed fields of the religious expression of students.

It seems that at the community college where I work in Florida a great many students who write from a religious perspective do so because their lives have been tested by extreme deprivation. This is especially so for some of the students who have emigrated to the U.S. from Haiti. I cannot imagine the economic and political environment from which they come, but see the expression of religious fundamentalism in essay after essay that they bring to me for editing. On a given day I see numerous examples of the latter in students� work. One student, a native of the U.S., was writing a paper that interpreted Biblical psalms, asked me during our work together what my religious affiliation was. Again, her paper reflected a fundamentalist view of the Biblical literature with which she was dealing, and when I responded that I was a Jew, she said, �My husband is Palestinian and he hates Jews!� I didn�t bother to respond that I was a secular Jew, if indeed she could understand that concept, or that I have long favored the establishment of a Palestinian state.

In Florida, it is not only students who feel free to flaunt their religion. One of my supervisors sometimes wears a scarf that reads: �I Love Jesus.� In a classroom building adjacent to where I work there is an entire bulletin board given to the use of a campus group called Faith Walkers for Christ. Slogans on the board read: �Encounter Faith: Explore Answers to Life�s Questions,� and �Surrender Our Lives to His Honor.� There are also advertisements on the board for a nearby fundamentalist church and a student pastor available to advise students.

I�m not surprised by any of this since, after all, I am working in the Bible Belt. What did surprise me, however, was a fellow worker I ran into while taking a break in the lunchroom at this college. She had completed copying a huge pile of packets for the supervisor whom I mentioned above. The cover of each packet was topped with a picture of the supervisor�s church in a nearby community.

In the single positive note at semester�s end, a professor rejected a student�s essay on marriage that railed against gays. He simply returned the essay with the note that �this is the Bible, not writing.� In a sea of intolerance at least one open mind exists.

However, the worst example of religious intolerance came unexpectedly from an acquaintance. I asked her opinion about the establishment of a Palestinian state. Her response, in the form of a tirade, seemed endless. �You�re not one of those people?� she asked angrily, probably meaning that she viewed me as a liberal Jew, making my point of view toward Israel and the Palestinian Territories immediately suspect. She continued, �And how about the rockets fired from the Gaza Strip?� The latter being a standard response for any challenge to Israel�s occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and the recent war in Gaza.

For those of a liberal bent, don�t wager on the fact that the religious right has been defeated in the November elections. And don�t think that the wall between church and state will be rebuilt anytime soon. Those on the religious right are just biding their time.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He can be reached at

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