I don’t have much time here this morning, but spurred on by some comments following this post this morning over at Green Mountain Daily, I want to reflect for a moment on our social and political “priorities” here in Vermont.

For those of you too lazy to click the link and do the background reading, a story was posted over there about a teacher in Irasburg who is clearly violating the separation of church and State by doing things such as posting the ten commandments in his classroom, sending home materials to his seventh grade class like “why jesus is better than santa”, and linking to Christian websites from the school’s publicly funded website.  As the good secular progressives that most folks over at GMD are, there was a bit of shock that the kinds of bible thumping ignorance that we don’t expect here in Vermont is, in fact, happening, even if on a very small scale.  One commenter though lamented that “you folks worry more about religion in our schools than drugs” and asked that we all “reflect on our priorities”.  

OK, well, here it goes: religious beliefs are an individual choice about how to make sense of the (often complex and confusing) world around us.  Specifically, religion is an authoritarian-minded, mythical/magical way of viewing our lives, society and nature.  There of course are some side notes to that generalization, like many Eastern philosophies or people like Thomas Merton, to name just a couple.  But nonetheless, in a free society we must have the freedom to choose, individually, what our beliefs are and how we’re going to interpret the events around us.  This means that the State, through our school systems, has the responsibility to teach us to be creative, critical thinkers, and to expose us to a wide variety of cultures, myths, and sciences, in order to give us each the tools necessary to maturely decide for ourselves what we want to believe or not believe as Truth, capital “T”.

“Drugs”, on the other hand, are like any other substance we may or may not ingest.  Meaning, whatever we put into our bodies has, to one degree or another, the effect of altering the chemical processes that are continually happening within us.  Given that some substances have a far more drastic effect on us than others, people have seen to it at various times in history to determine that some substances, which we’ve come to refer to as “drugs”, should not be ingested  at anytime, by anyone, because the effects on the individual and society are too dangerous.  However, laws (and the people who make them) are not perfect.  And over time we may find the need to change them.  In this case, as Vermonters, we’re arriving at the point where we understand that the physical and psychological effects of smoking pot are not nearly as destructive for the individual or society as the enforcement of the laws that ban it.  Rightly so, we’re re-considering the logic of keeping such a law.

Would the decriminalization of marijuana be the same as mounting billboards everywhere that literally said “hey kids, smoke pot! it’s good for you!”? Um, no, obviously not.  Can, and should, there be classes which honestly teach our children what the physical, psychological, and social effects of marijuana smoking actually are? Yes, of course.  That would provide them with the information they need to make their own choices.  That is a free society.  Pamphlets explaining to us “why jesus is better than santa” (which to me sounds like “why a firing squad is better than drowning”) do not teach us to do anything for ourselves; it’s simply telling us what right and wrong is.  This gets back to the authoritarian nature of religion.  Authoritarianism, as Bush has helped illustrate so well these past few years, is not compatible with a free society.

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