I didn't check the syllabus before taking the 1-hr trip to suburb Pargas yesterday for the weekly meeting of my course for teacher's assistants, and so didn't realize that it was, in fact, Multiculturalism (aimed at Extremely White Non-Academic People from Finland AKA A Country That's 98% Insular and Racially and Ethnically Homogenous).
I immediately correctly guessed that I should have executively exempted myself, considering that I studied Sociology through all the Bachelor's level courses and quit only when it was time to write an undergraduate thesis, and that I was raised Unitarian Universalist
on my English professor grandmother's considerable collections of world folklore (not to mention educated in America where in school I learned more about world religions than the Finns, which is hilarious considering Finland has the best secondary education in the world and America places 14th) (of course, that isn't universal in the US, where considerable latitude is given to state governments, city governments, and individual schools).
When I saw the first Powerpoint slide said "WHAT IS CULTURE?" I was like, Oh shit
, and started ripping up my handout to make a series of progressively smaller origami cranes, which has been my habit whenever reading a novel through a boring class isn't possible, starting in 9th grade. (I had seven at the end of the class, four of which had small allover patterns drawn in ballpoint on both sides of the paper, and the smallest of which I folded using the tip of the pen when my pinky nail could no longer fit into the folds. I threw them all away on my way out.)
(LOL. This was entirely my own fault, by the way. Some of the class probably DID need the lecture and all of the lectures are optional.)
My dad, 3/4 Jew and 100% naturally and genetically irreligious, was raised in the Ethical Culture Society
and UU congregations because his parents wanted people to have dinner parties and nature hikes with, and summer camps to send their children to. My mom was raised Catholic and didn't like it, and my parents were happily sleeping in on Sunday until they moved to Alabama when I turned 6 and I was plunged head-first into the Alabama public school system, and consequently exposed to Christianity enough to notice it for the first time.
At age five, I was impressed by Buddhism and used to tell people when asked that I was Buddhist based on children's books on the subject. But everyone (everyone vocal at least) in my new school was a Southern Baptist. They were all talking about Jesus all the time, as well as telling so many stories from Bubble Camp (their accents were very thick and it was several years before I realized that "Bubble Camp" was actually Bible Camp) that I wished to take part. When people asked, I said I was Baptist for a while. Even though it was clear I didn't know what it entailed, my parents decided I needed a positive influence, so they joined the local Unitarian Universalist group - today a Congregation, back then a Fellowship - which, at the time, was renting space from the local synagogue.
For the first few years, there were few volunteers to teach Children's Religious Education (CRE), which takes place during the service for UUs and thus denies those volunteers adult company. The debate raged on the CRE Committee over which UU CRE curriculum to use: the one based on Bible stories that we did my first year, or the World Religions one. For a while I think there was a time-share policy in place, but somehow I managed to almost completely miss any Bible-story learning. Most of my childhood Sundays were given over to World Religions. I also went to the adult services because I felt like clinging to my parents' arms a fair amount in the years my mom wasn't teaching, or whenever the topic of the sermon looked interesting. The adult "sermons" were usually not actually sermons; our group didn't hire a full-time minister until I was in high school. They were generally on current events, philosophy, science, civil rights, or history, and the last quarter to half hour or so would be given over to a congregation-wide open debate.
By the end of my third year in Alabama public schools (3rd grade, 1992), I had learned all the salient features of trying to argue about religion with crazy Christians (aka the futility of arguing with trolls, even though I didn't know the word 'troll'). This isn't to say that I completely stopped, but I put more effort into, for example, contradicting the Bush Sr propaganda perpetrated by Weekly Reader
and the American History propaganda about Washington and Columbus perpetrated by our textbooks, and pro-choice arguments when my 4th grade teacher tried to preach anti-abortion during math lessons, and campaigning for Clinton on the playground.
There were gay couples, Hindus, practicing Jews and recovering Christians in the congregation when we joined. Over the years, my home congregation has had a handful of practicing Buddhists and Native Americans and provided a meeting place for the local university's pagan group (my mother took me to several meetings in middle school, but they weren't as exciting as fantasy novels had led me to expect, even if I did get to jump over a burning candle). None of these acquaintances were very much more than superficial, but at least they were there. Tokenism, privilege, Nice White Ladies: it's practically my native culture. True inclusivity often (usually?) starts with the well-meaning majority being accidentally insensitive (it took my parents and the practicing Canadian Jews several years to part the fellowship from its "Thanksgiving Seder" in favor of a truly multicultural Thanksgiving that made factually correct references to Sukkot and none to Passover, which is about freedom and fighting for it, and thanks for, you know, the plagues
as opposed to for the HARVEST. Although this concept was not too difficult to get across to a congregation of college-educated former Christians, they still held onto it for several years because it was "fun" and "everybody liked it").
The guest lecturer was a MA in Psychology who teaches World Religions in secondary school (hilariously - or maybe it's just me - Wax's good friend Sofia is a Doctor of Religion who teaches Psychology in secondary school). She was highly animated, and included a number of anecdotes from her international travels, so the class wasn't mind-numbingly boring, even if the only new information I learned was that no other books may be placed on top of the Qur'an (but this applies only to the Arabic; translations aren't holy); Indians throw dead bodies into the Ganges; in the Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem high-rise elevators stop on each floor automatically on the Sabbath so residents don't have to push any buttons, and men can't go before the Wailing Wall with their heads uncovered; and that Hare Krishna used to be the Swedish government's #1 Threatening Religion because they encourage people to cut off all ties.