(Originally published by Earthblog.net with the title “Bootleg Bibles Passed Around the Playground?” Jan 10, 2006)

Evolution, versus intelligent design or whatever they’re calling the God theory these days: why is this such a huge issue? It’s not as if school is the only opportunity that a kid will have, to learn about either evolution or God. There’s a thing called reading, and it works just as well now, with the Web, as it used to work when people only had books. And of course there are friends, always dependable sources of illicit lore. There’s TV, and movies, and on and on. If you want your kids to buy into creationism, be assured they will find out about the monkeys some day. If you want the kids to be strictly scientific types, you can bet they will run away to join an ashram. (Yes, there are still ashrams.)

This one guy on TV said the intelligent design theory pretends to be scientific, but you can see the clerical collar peeking out from under the lab coat. Huh? It’s a cute image – in fact, if I were a creative writing teacher I’d give it an A. But a lame remark all the same. Style: A. Content: F. And that’s not good. Religious zealots tend to overlook the fact that evolutionists are often very spiritual people. So it makes as much sense to say evolutionism, at least as practiced by some, may seem to be spiritual, but you can see the lab coat peeking out from under the clerical collar. See how stupid that sounds?

Besides, the best thing that could happen to creationism would be for the schools to forbid any discussion of its tenets, and build a mystery around them. “Sorry kids, if you want to know about the seven days, you’ll have to sneak around and find out for yourself.” Simply enhance Christian doctrine with that forbidden fruit mystique, and they’ll be all over it like fleas on Rover. Kind of like, oh, I don’t know…. any number of other subjects. I can see it – bootleg Bibles passed around on the playground…crucifixes on every juvenile delinquent – never mind, that one already came true.

Okay try this on for size: If the authorities make your kids pray – so what? People have been made to say prayers out loud for centuries, and it doesn’t necessarily create servile puppets of the church. Look around – it’s pretty obvious that a lot of times, behavior-wise, even those heaping helpings of religious indoctrination don’t amount to a hill of beans. With a lot of people, it just rolls right off. Always has, always will. Then you got your satirists, your cynics, etc. With a lot of kids, exposure to doctrine brings out their sense of the absurd and they grow up to write for Saturday Night Live. Or the enforced recitation of a prescribed set of words will make them contemptuous and rebellious, which generally isn’t considered to be a hoped-for outcome, except in societies far advanced in their decline.

It’s kind of like pledging allegiance to a flag. When a person is made to say those words, there’s always the chance, and the danger, that the person might start to think about what he or she is really promising. You’re saying you will be loyal to your country because the ideals it stands for are liberty and justice for all. Well….I’m surrounded by a homeland full of people who grew up pledging that pledge, and I don’t see liberty, and I don’t see justice…. this is starting to sound like a folk song, which is neither here nor there. Indeed it would be hard for a song to be anyplace, since it lacks the requisite molecules to take up any space.

The point here is, reciting any group of words does not cause people to act in any particular sort of way. I mean, look at marriage vows. I rest my case. Saying the pledge won’t make your kid a patriot or even a nice person. Not pledging allegiance won’t make your kid a Commie. So part of me says, what’s the big fuss about? Why not focus on some more urgent battle front?

Of course the other part says, are you kidding? Being made to say any formulaic sequence of words is repugnant to the very soul of freedom, whether you’re forced to tell your sister you’re sorry you put purple bubble gum in her hair so Mom had to cut off a big chunk of it, or whether a judge coerces you into making an anti-drug TV commercial or else spend your childbearing years in the Big House.

Being made to say something is the very essence of B&D, S&M, all those naughty initials – “Please, master, lay the lash on lingeringly!” I’d think about that before advocating compulsory words of any kind.