That’s “Too Controversial!!”

Posted on November 17, 2020


Throughout my lifetime, certain actions I’ve taken in groups have been deemed “controversial” and censored. Calling something “controversial” is the “Midwestern polite” way to silence unpopular ideas.

For instance, at 20, as a devout and passionate evangelical Christian, I agreed to be the song leader for Sunday services when the Deacons at Lakeview Baptist Church asked. Then, after only a few weeks of leading songs during service, the Deacons asked me to step down: they were happy with the energy I’d brought to the services, but some congregants found the idea of clapping during worship to be irreverent. The Deacons liked having me lead the songs, but it had become “too controversial.” I stepped down, and we returned to singing reverently without hand claps (and sometimes without rhythm!).

That was the first time the word “controversial” was weaponized to silence me. It would not be the last.

After my de-conversion from Christianity, I became a public school teacher, where it is against the law to promote religious viewpoints.

Starting in 1994, I taught high school courses in literature, reading, writing, public speaking, drama, logic, and rhetoric. An important part of studying a text is to learn about the time, place, and people from which it comes. Since many people come from cultures with religious traditions, the history and developments of religions are often part of the discussion.

Public school teachers are required by law to refrain from taking a position on religious beliefs. Religions must be discussed in their historical and social contexts, NOT from a perspective that promotes or prejudices any. The rise and developments of every religion can be traced through history and discussed factually without belief (atheism) in any.

Strangely, after two and a half decades of explaining religious history to students, many of whom are now the parents of currently-enrolled students, one development in religious history was suddenly deemed “controversial.” District administrators deemed it “controversial” to teach high school students that the Catholic practice of donating money to the Church to obtain indulgences to shorten a dead loved one’s time in purgatory was one of the factors that lead to the rise of Protestantism–from the perspective of an atheist.

Excuse me?

As a teacher of mythology, I taught the beliefs centered on thousands of deities and the religions created to worship them. I worship none; I speak of all deities and religions in the historical and cultural contexts from which they come.

As a public school teacher, it is not my role to show reverence or preference to any religious idea. It is simply my role to explain their existence–from the perspective of an outside observer.

What makes religious history in a literature course “controversial” when discussed from a nonbeliever’s perspective? Was it controversial every time I spoke on the rise and development of any religion throughout all of human history in Mythology courses? What is controversial when I taught the IB Theory of Knowledge “Religious Knowledge Systems” concepts?

I KNOW Protestantism was controversial in 16th century Europe, but how did it become so in 21st century Adrian? What harm comes from learning the facts about religious history and concepts that influence our literature and culture? How many ideas can simply be erased by labeling them “controversial?” Can any historical facts any religious believer finds unpleasant be banned from high school courses? How does one teach the humanities without historical and social context?

I was recently reminded of the “controversial” Protestant Reformation when I saw an article from October 23, 2020 Catholic News Service titled, “Vatican extends time to obtain full indulgences for souls in purgatory.” According to author, Carol Glatz, “Plenary or full indulgences traditionally obtained during the first week of November for the souls of the faithful in purgatory can now be gained throughout the entire month of November, the Vatican said.”

The good news is: for a few dollars, you can buy a better afterlife for your dead loved ones until the end of the November 2020.

The bad news is: by weaponizing the word “controversial,” would-be theocrats can “politely” erase historical fact and silence truth in public school classrooms.

While some religious believers may agree with the current administration’s granting religious privilege to their religion, let’s remember the example I began with: even devout Christians can’t agree on how to appropriately worship their god, who, some feared, just may be offended by overt displays of enthusiasm, such as hand claps during a worship song.

Rather than bow to religious zealotry, public school administrators should zealously protect church-state separation, and we, the citizens of the community must demand that they do so. Public school teachers must maintain a position of secular neutrality regarding all deities, all religions, and promote none, whether they’re believers or not.

As we move into December, we arrive at one of the most troublesome periods of the school year, when APS students are fed a steady diet of Christian mythology, music, and religious beliefs–as if the children of Adrian have never heard of Christmas. As a faculty member and parent, I think it’s enough that Christian holidays determine the school calendar; it’s time to stop spending instructional time on Christian traditions. As for the non-Christian, pagan traditions, such as wreaths, trees, candles, etc–they are treated as if they are secular; their non-Christian religious roots are erased; students do not learn about all the deities who are worshiped and celebrated with December holidays.

Finally, if school personnel cannot rid themselves of the idea that December is for celebrations, there is something to celebrate that doesn’t exclude anyone: the Winter Solstice. Students can strengthen their science knowledge and celebrate the light of the world: the sun. It shines for everyone.

Related Content

Podcast: How Did the Reformation Impact Jews? Kenneth Austin explores what impact the Reformation had on Europe’s Jewish communities.

lisa eddy is a writer-for-hire, researcher, educator-for-hire, youth advocate,  musician, and gardener.

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