I’m the girl who misses school the second day of Rosh Hashanah to go to services. I’m the girl who spends her Friday nights eating Sabbath dinner. I’m the girl who went to Jewish day school, reads Torah on occasion and spent six weeks of her summer on a Jewish-focused trip. I, however, am not the girl who shares my religious beliefs in English class.
I keep my mouth zipped during classroom conversations regarding G-d or Jesus or creation, unless I want to comment on the author’s particular point. For me, there’s a time and a place for a theological discussion, and that time and place is not English class.
Although we are at a secular school, we do encounter religious or religiously-influenced texts on occasion: the Bible, Paradise Lost, Jonathan Edwards etc. When these kinds of texts are brought up, there is admittedly some squirming and tension in the room at first mention of the G word. However, I think we manage to keep that tension to a manageable level because we avoid direct theological discussion.
In all honesty, we would get nowhere if every time Jesus was referenced in Paradise Lost, we erupted into conversation about who thought he existed or, if after reading every chapter of the Bible, we spent time talking about if we believed in the stories. Just as we don’t discuss our own romantic experiences when talking about the sexual lives of characters in a book, we shouldn’t discuss our religious beliefs in the classroom.
The truth about religion is that you can never validate any one belief system. People have been fighting for centuries because there are no hard facts to prove that the Messiah is going to come or that there’s some “being” out there who has outlined a path for each of us. At least in a discussion of Shakespeare we can use specific textual evidence to ground a fiery debate.
Don’t get me wrong: there is absolutely nothing wrong with discussing religious beliefs. In fact, I wish that conversations about spirituality occurred outside of the classroom more frequently. I’d love to find out more about my peers’ thoughts on religion, but that kind of dialogue should take place in private.
If you’d like to have a good, long discussion about theology and religious practices, great. Far too often, we avoid topics that make us uncomfortable. However, what we need to realize is that sometimes, the “I” doesn’t matter. When we’re in the classroom, we’re not there to express our beliefs. It doesn’t matter whether you go to confirmation, or you pray every day, or you believe in Buddha, Jesus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Save that conversation for lunchtime or a sleepover, and keep the English classroom as a place for English, not theology.