So this is my personal experience with religion class:
I went to a Catholic high school for the past four years. During my time there, I realized I was an atheist. By senior year I was reading Richard Dawkins’ work. That was the year I had the most amazing religion class.
Death and dying was THE most offensive class to my beliefs. In fact, it was the most offensive to logic itself. But I had that class by the horns since my first day. I questioned the definition of death (“the permanent cessation of all vital bodily functions, including total brain function and spontaneous function of the respiratory and circulatory systems”) with the proposition: what if the dead organism returns to life? How do we know it’s permanent? And ended it off as a zombie joke.
That same day the teacher said that death wasn’t necessary. She asked, “Why can’t we all just live forever?” She said this was the mystery of death, that we don’t know the reason we have to die. And I was all over it. I explained to her, first of all, that if nobody/nothing died, then the world would become overpopulated. But this would beg the question why we would have reproduction in such a case. And I explained that we could either have everlasting life or reproduction. And without reproduction, I told her, we would not be able to evolve. Therefore death is necessary for evolution, and that is why we have death. Furthermore, we would not be able to evolve to have eternal life, because it would require reproduction to get there, and the closer we are to getting there, the less we reproduce, so we would never be able to get there. And from that day on the class was mine.
She gave me poor test grades. I didn’t care; I could argue in my favor. A few times I would win the arguments and get a change in my grade. On my Chapter 2 test, at the end of my essay, I wrote: “Also, where do you draw the line of who gets an afterlife? Will my cat be in heaven? Will bacteria be in heaven?” Her written response was: “ ‘Who’ is correct – only human beings have souls – only humans are created in the image and likeness of God.”
I handed in a paper once, where we had to answer questions with examples from the book, and at the bottom of the paper I wrote: “The opinions expressed here are the views of the text and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the writer.”
One essay we had to write at home and hand in had the prompt: “Some psychologists say that mourners are really grieving for themselves and what they have lost rather than for the dead person. Do you agree or disagree? Why?” Rather than answering reflectively and philosophically, I actually questioned the claim which said “some psychologists” and which proposed something that a psychologist would probably never propose without giving evidence. So I gave a complete psychological analysis of the emotion of grief and the areas that are affected in the brain, and explaining that grief is not a cognitive process, thereby disproving that the person is grieving “for” someone. My concluding paragraph was as follows: “In conclusion: Psychologically, one can infer that grief is (a) consciously not directed towards anything and (b) unconsciously directed towards oneself psychologically and physiologically. Logically, one can determine that (a) grief is not directed towards the deceased and (b) grief is correlated with fear for oneself, but is not necessarily directed towards oneself.” Her response was: “Well, this is the most intense response to this prompt I have ever received!!!”
Another essay was supposed to be about a funeral you attended, and how you felt about it. The only funeral I ever attended was my grandfather’s funeral, at which I felt furious because of all the religious BS in it. So I wrote a rant about how much I hated Christian funerals.
I also wrote a journal with a few key pointers in it: “Death, as I see it, is a part of life. Everything that has ever lived must eventually die.” “I think that believing in life after death is denial of death.” “I want to figure out why people who do believe in a ‘life after death’ usually limit it to human beings.” “And anyway, if humans did get a life after death, then how could you determine which humans went to heaven and which went to hell or purgatory? Are some people fundamentally bad, and they have to be punished for eternity because of the way they were made? Because of the way God made them, because of how the environment shaped them? If God knew the future and could tell who would be going to heaven and who to hell, then why would he create people who would be going to hell?” It appeared she didn’t read half of it. She wrote: “And as we study chapter 4 you will learn the teaching of the Catholic Church that death is the beginning of new life.”
We watched a video of a speech by Rabbi Harold Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. I don’t know why we watched that particular video, but I used everything in my favor. I took careful notes and used exact quotes from the movie in our review. I wrote: “His lecture clearly explained that God has absolutely nothing to do with breaking the laws of the natural world, even though he does ‘believe in big miracles, not small ones.’ If God controls neither free will nor natural occurrences, then clearly he never intervenes, and therefore God helps us only with reassuring thoughts.” “Theological explanations are meaningless when you yourself are suffering.” “Kushner thought rationally about the nature of suffering, and found that a loving and omnipotent God could not be responsible for suffering – it’s a logical fallacy. In reality, God doesn’t do anything; it’s like he’s not even there, but people know in their hearts that he is there, watching over us but not doing anything to help us.” “Why would God create us with free will in the first place, if we were made with the ability to be tempted and create suffering? Surely it isn’t part of his perfect design. Why are there natural causes of suffering – if nature is God’s language, then is God saying He wants to make us suffer? If God doesn’t control free will, and doesn’t control nature, then what does He do? Does He not do anything? If He does not, in fact, do anything, then does that mean He doesn’t love us, if love requires action? Why would God create free will if He knew it would lead to great suffering?”
And I was most proud of the project titled “My Final Arrangements.” We were supposed to arrange our own funeral as if we died. And there were elements in it that had to be religious. My first Easter egg was “Send memorial donations to: Non-Believers Giving Aid,” Richard Dawkins’s project for Haiti relief. And for the Mass for my funeral one of the songs I chose was “Imagine” by John Lennon. And on my memorial card I was given the option to choose a meaningful quote. Mine was: “Be thankful that you have a life, and forsake your vain and presumptuous desire for a second one.” – Richard Dawkins.
At the end of the year we learned about the moral difference between physician-assisted suicide and voluntary stopping of eating and drinking. Apparently, euthanasia is completely immoral, because it is a form of murder. And suicide by starvation, along with removal of medical support, is completely moral because it is the only the absence of life support, and it is a “natural death.”
The final exam called for an essay on the psychological stages of dying. So I did my best in the little time that I had to write my most convincing argument that a Christian cannot ever reach the acceptance stage of death, because they are still in the denial stage by believing that they are not actually dying, but are being born into eternal life.
That was my favorite religion class.