Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Dear Gideons: Please fuck off.

You know, every time -- every single time -- I even start to think remotely charitably about organized religion, one of its representatives manages to bring me back to reality. This time, it's the Gideons, who are determined to continue to distribute free Bibles to students in B.C. who ask for them.

Let's set the stage:

For 60 years, the Gideons, a lay association of Christians, have given Bibles to Grade 5 pupils across Canada through public schools.

All of them? Every student? Well, no, not quite:

The Gideons no longer automatically bring Bibles to schools across the country every year, but wait for requests. Every year, each of the 38 elementary schools in Richmond receives one or two requests for Bibles, Mr. Beairsto said.

"Requests?" From who exactly? Ah, here we go:

The Richmond board's policy is to place a notice in school newsletters, and Grade 5 pupils may take a form home for their parents to sign if they want a Gideon Bible. The children return the form to the school, which relays the request to the Gideons, who bring the Bibles to the schools.

Ah, so the requests come from individual students. Now, follow along here -- can anyone else spot the absurdity in this process?

First, this entire idiotic program is based on the assumption that any child who really wants a Bible has no other way to get one. However, given the fact that the student has to take home a form to be signed by the parents, did it ever occur to those parents to maybe, just maybe, go out and get that Bible themselves? Lots of good bookstores around, I'm pretty sure at least one of them will have a Bible for sale. Why get the school board involved? But it just gets sillier.

Given that the form goes home to the parents, why can't it be a mail-in form to be sent directly to the Gideons, at which point a shiny new Bible will arrive forthwith in the mail? Why continue to have the school board involved at all? But that's not the stupidest part.

What I don't understand is why the local churches aren't absolutely outraged by this program. If a child genuinely wants a Bible and the family truly can't afford one, why aren't those local churches stepping in to fill that need? I can't think of a better PR campaign for a local church than to advertise that all new Sunday school students will receive a free Bible. Problem solved. Church gets good PR, Sunday school class gets extra student, student gets free Bible, school board stays the hell out of it and everyone's happy. Well, everyone but the Gideons who are just a bunch of sleazy, opportunistic hacks, anyway.

And yet, we have the local clergy being way too freakin' stupid to understand how they're being undercut by the Gideons:

Rev. Gary Simpson of the Broadway Church in Chilliwack, which has Gideons among its members, said when he was in Grade 5 in the late 1960s, Bibles were automatically distributed, requested or not.

"Obviously, the Gideons are interested in conversion, otherwise they wouldn't be doing this. They hope the Bible can help kids in need and they believe God can change someone's life," Mr. Simpson said.

I would describe the Rev. Simpson as an idiot, but I fear that would be a mortal insult to idiots everywhere. However, in the end, it's not really about freedom of religion at all, is it? Well, it is, as long as it's their flavour of religion:

"We don't proselytize, of course. This is a vexing issue that we've wrestled with as to what multiculturalism means," Mr. Beairsto said. "If someone wanted to distribute the Koran the same way, we would be quite happy to do it in an equitable way.

Really? Fair and equal treatment for all? Whoops, not quite:

Mr. Beairsto said some school trustees raised concerns at the meeting Ms. Gepraegs attended about what would happen if a less mainstream religion, such as the Wiccans, also requested that their materials be distributed.

"If one of those odd things come up, we will talk to our parent groups and try to share a collective wisdom," he said yesterday.

Yeah, freedom of religion is a terrific idea. Unless it applies to those fucking Wiccans. I mean, we have to draw the line somewhere, dontcha know? And why don't we give the intellectually-stunted Rev. Simpson the last bigoted, narrow-minded word here:

"But I'm not sure it's right to do it in a public school system. I would be willing to shut the whole supply off, if it means our kids are going to be bombarded with 50 options. My Bible doesn't need to be out there if that's the case."

Free Bibles? A great idea. Free other holy books? Not so much, apparently.

AFTERSNARKS: There is just so much more to say about this. First, one has to ask just how desperate the need is for free Bibles in the first place:

Every year, each of the 38 elementary schools in Richmond receives one or two requests for Bibles, Mr. Beairsto said.

One or two per school? That's it? This entire controversy is based on one or two students per school who allegedly have no other way to get a Bible? Oh, please. Just go to your nearest hotel and ask for a free one out of one of the rooms. How hard can that be?

Then there's the Gideons' Paul Mercer, possibly saying one of the dumbest things I've heard this year:

Executive director Paul Mercer of Gideons International in Canada said that throughout Canada, 250,000 to 300,000 Bibles a year are requested by students. Years ago, schools and the Gideons decided Grade 5 was the appropriate age to receive the Bible, he said.

"It's been done since the mid-1940s, and the offer is made. Some can say no and some can say, 'we want one,' " Mr. Mercer said. "We just simply believe that everybody should have the opportunity of owning a Bible."

Here's a suggestion, Paul. Why not add a Bible request form to your web site? That way, anyone who was interested could fill out an online form and have a Bible mailed to them. No school board involvement, everyone who wants a Bible gets one and everyone's happy. Well, everybody except you, since this has nothing to do with Bible distribution and everything to do with proselytizing in the public school system, but that'll be our dirty little secret, right? But here's the most disturbing part of all of this:

Renate Gepraegs thought she had stepped back in time when she opened her son's public-school newsletter and read a notice from the Gideon Society about free Bibles.

How exactly do the Gideons have the right to submit content for a public-school newsletter? One would think that the content of a school newsletter should be precisely restricted to official school or school board issues. In what way do the Gideons qualify for that?

It would seem that the Gideons have a special deal that allows them to advertise in the pages of a school newsletter where no one else can do the same thing, which inspires me to suggest the following legal strategy.

If the Gideons are allowed to continue to advertise there, then other local companies should submit their content as well. "$10 off lube, oil and filter at The Muffler Guys!", that sort of thing. And when those local businesses are (as they will be) turned down, they should immediately sue, pointing out that if the Gideons, who are completely unrelated to the public school system, are allowed to "advertise" in the pages of the newsletter, everyone else should have that right as well.

I'm sure hilarity and chaos would ensue.


lept said...

The complete separation of church and state: no superstitious crap in the public system.Point. Simple!
(No silly clothes or accoutrements either if I had my way.)

Side note: when I took Canadian citizenship, a while ago, the Gideons GAVE everyone a bible and mentioned that there were other books available to swear on at the back of the 'court'.

GoodGrief said...

Thanks for the post. I had no idea this kind of nonsense was still occuring. With the crisis in Educational funding in many provinces, I find it appalling that even one dime of public money, via the third party school interaction, is being used for this type of activity. Many teachers I know are using their own money to buy activity books, library books and basics such as pencils and paper. I've personally contributed to coordinating and participating in fundraising efforts through school councils because the government funding is just not sufficient to cover all the bases.
Lept - you are absolutely correct. Church and state - separate entities.
Although in my later years - I am an atheist - I did have my children baptised in the Church of my youth, but only when they were old enough to understand the significance of the ceremony at ages 7 and 5. During the baptismal service, they were presented with their very own copies of the bible. I continued taking them to Sunday School until they indicated that they were no longer interested, at which point I gratefully ended the endeavour. We had many discussions about religions of all kinds after that, and today, my kids are just like Mom - atheist. They haven't suffered - they are two of the nicest, most caring individuals that I have ever met, and I'm so very proud of them. They volunteer, contribute time & money to charitable causes but are just not interested in organized religions.

Annamarie said...

I agree with lept. Complete separation of church and state. (And the silly clothes, etc. too.)

goodgrief, you made some excellent points. Contrary to 'popular' opinion, one does not have to be a believer in any particular religion, myth or fantasy to be a good human being. Fact of the matter is that I've known many so-called religious people who weren't worth a dime (that's putting it charitably!), and then again, I've known some who were deeply religious yet also good, caring, helpful human beings. Religious beliefs or lack thereof have nothing to do with a person's 'goodness'.

I have a great disdain for proselytizers. To each his own, live and let live, and don't shove your religious beliefs (and your life-style) down anyone else's throat. It should be a personal thing, between you and your inner self, or your God if you prefer, and then only in your own fellowship community. As for the Gideons, I'm surprised they're still around and active.

Shannon said...

As a Wiccan, I find that pretty damned offensive, but not at all surprising.

It's just another dose of the same shit we deal with every day from these people.

Personally, I'd like to see a complete separation of church and state, because it's a joke in this country and the punchline seems to be spreading northward as well. It's really up to us as parents to teach our children about spirituality, and I don't want to have my children proselytized to in school.

Is it any wonder so many Pagan parents homeschool their children?

Laura said...

Before people call for a complete separation of church and state, I think it should be required that they actually understand what that means.

What it does NOT mean:

1. That people should not be allowed to practice their faith in public places or in a public manner.

2. That people of defined religions should be denied access to democratic processes enjoyed by those of uncertain faith.

3. That cultural traditions with roots in the traditions of religious faiths should be banned from public view.

4. That people of faith should be prevented from reaching out to others in order to share their faith.

What it DOES mean:

1. That the ability to create laws lies strictly with the state. The church has no special right to take the law into its own hands.

2. That the abilities of churches to set the tenets of their faith and to be masters of their own destiny is protected from interference from the state.

What it INFERS (in my opinion):

1. That people of all faiths, including atheism (which after all is the faith that God does not exist, in spite of the fact that it cannot be proven)have the right to reach out to others and share their faith.

2. That people have the right to choose to listen or not listen to those who wish to reach out to them in such a way.

3. That the state cannot impose a certain set of religious beliefs on the public, nor compel people to break their faith as a result of such an imposition.

4. That laws enacted by a democratically elected body that represents the state may reflect the cultural influence of various faiths, but that these laws do not necessarily constitute the imposition of a given faith/religion.

I fail to see how an ad such as the one described in your post compels people to break their faith. It is not an imposition. It is easy to ignore. The Bibles are free if you want to take certain steps to get them, but there is no compulsion to do so. I suspect that no other faiths are represented because no-one else has asked. I suspect that if everyone asked all would be denied: not for religious or philosophical reasons, but for lack of space.

In fact, I think your post shows a much lower degree of tolerance than that shown by those people you are referring to as "stupid". It is their right to believe what they believe and to live consistently with those beliefs. And for this you denigrate them (I assume this is the only reason, because you offered little else). Yes, people of faith can seem narrow minded, but that is the nature of faith. Your post does not seem very open to their point of view either, especially since the actions that you outline in no way impact your quality of life or your ability to pursue your own beliefs.

My advise? Just relax. Your apparent propensity to be offended by everything and everyone who do not share your opinion will only hurt you.

And in the likely event that you are already writing me off as a religious nut, let me assure you that I am not. Well, not religious anyway.

Will Jackson said...

Thank you- good article!
It's about time we got rid of this evangelist bullshit once and for all.
And i'm not saying that as an atheist, I'm a Wiccan!
I have religious beliefs, but I don't try and force them on others and I certainly wouldn't try and bring my children up that way.
Religion for children is brainwashing, pure and simple, hence I won't let my Christian girlfriend have our children Christened, when we have some.
Children should be free to choose, and whatever anyone says- if you're brought up to believe something then your belief simply becomes a product of your environment.
Here in the UK, the Gideons give out Bibles to every kid in school!
I say- No Sunday School, No Free Bibles and No Fucking Evangelism!

thigh said...

Amazing. You know why the religious insist that the irreligious are amoral?

It's not because you don't believe in their god.

It's because you insist on spewing brainless bullshit like this.

The Gideons, according to your own article, are giving bibles to people WHO WANT THEM.

Want evangelism to stop? Tough shit, it isn't going to. 97% of the human population have a superstitious belief in something greater than humanity. I don't share it, but when I read the morning paper or watch the evening news, I can sure as hell understand why that's the last place they can turn to for hope that the universe as a whole isn't one gigantic fuckup.

So it's a crutch -- well, guess what, assholes, THE HUMAN RACE IS FUCKING CRIPPLED. Let them have their crutch.

You're an atheist? I'm an atheist, and that is NOT what you're showing here. You're an ANTItheist, which makes you a fucking HYPOCRITE.

The a- in atheism means WITHOUT. So go WITHOUT being the same judgmental, self-righteous prick these people piss you off by being.

Live your life, do what you want, and when it comes to other people living THEIR lives and doing what THEY want, keep your fucking mouth SHUT.

Joshua Gordon said...

here, here!
- Josh

Anonymous said...

Angry hearts like these crusified Jesus. i wondered why your God's name mentioning makes you so mad and its strong in you. this country foundation was built by people who had their bible by the bed side. now you say it has no place. i know that there is not even a dialogue here - i've seen this hatred look in the eyes before - our Lord's name will devide, but he is your God and you will meet Him again. There is a place where is no God and the pain there is unberable because there is no hope. you still have hope - who knows how you will come to it, is it through a death of the loved one, a cancer, a cripling accident, after family break up, madening depression... Who knows. Self rightious judgement? Hardly. Every true christian will admit he or she is a sinner. I speak to what i''ve experinced when the blinders came off and there is no greater love than our Lord's love. He has patience for you and me. Now its you hour - but just give it a thought about a possibility

Anonymous said...

Anonymous -- you are right.Sooo many questioners, doubters, etc. out there. Must be very unhappy. To those unhappy ones out there-- Have you ever had a Bible, had one offered or given or read even a part of one?? ever consider that the Bible is the oldest history book on the planet - a guideline for life and living - as accurate and valid as the day it was written?? Who would deny the offer of opportunity to have such a document to anyone learned enough to understand what they read?

Anonymous said...

Thank ' God' we still live in a free country. Expressing yourself in whatever way you want. On any issue. Whether its religion and .......

john said...

Good to read!! Interesting to find people sooo afraid of an old book. Might there be something to it??

leonard said...

Wow....if our children and some of these commentators had just a little of what JESUS has to offer, the world would be a much kinder, less self centred , more livable place to live.

Wilf said...

A portion of the dialogue above shows an element of anger, emphasized by a repetitious adjective starting with "f". It might be an idea to do a little more reading in books that offer good advice and information, and notice a lot more disciplined ways of expressing one's opinion. Of course we are all entitled to our opinions, but they are usually better received when presented in a positive, constructive way. The Bible encourages us to live with love for our neighbour and for God. What's so wrong with that. The world could use a LOT MORE of that. Our future depends on that.

Anonymous said...

What a world. "You" can say what you want and stand up for what you believe - but as soon as a Christian states their beliefs, they are told to shut up and are called idiots. The Gideons are never pushy or ignorant like some of the people who have commented on this site. If you want a Bible, they will give you one for free....the horror!!! You can believe whatever you like - but "we" know the truth and one day so will you.