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Apparently certain parties are tweeting about how colleges are just left-wing indoctrination again, and god, it’s like the universe just WANTS me to rant or something.

Fine. Let me tell you the saga of the time I actually got in-indoctrinated about something in college.
Although you would not know it from my twitter feed, O internet, I’m actually a very chill individual in general. I don’t get really incandescently angry often. I don’t yell, I have never thrown a toaster, and there’s very few things I get really genuinely worked up about.
(I mean, obviously I have the same low level seething rage as everyone these days, but I mostly just sit in my garden and sigh heavily and donate money.)
But two or three times in my life, I have become blindingly, furiously angry, and each time it was because I was taught something by an institution which I did not question for many years and then found out later was a lie. For some reason, that absolutely enrages me.
For example, as a small child who lived in San Diego with her dad in the summer, we went to Sea World regularly, and part of the Shamu show was the handlers telling us that Shamu’s dorsal fin had lopped over sideway because of age. Never questioned it. Why would I?
And then, in...2013? I think? I went to Alaska and went on a whale watching trip and saw wild orcas for the first time.

I cannot really tell you what that was like. It was a revelation. It nearly broke me. A pod of wild orcas is this sleek, chilling, predatory wildness.
The sight of them sings a little song to your hindbrain that says “You are prey, prey, prey.” Even the relatively stable pods who eat fish. And—this is the key bit—dorsal fins like sails. Immense. Bolt upright. HUGE. Like giant knives.
And I said, stunned, to the whale biologist on the boat, “The fins on the ones at Seaworld are so small and lopped over...”

“It’s a stress response.”

“They said it was age!”

“They say that, yes.”
And I went away with a rage in my heart to storm the gates of heaven and gave money to whoever was trying to shut Seaworld down at the time that wasn’t PETA.
And I was so angry because they’d lied to me as a child and I had believed them for years. Just FURIOUSl How dare they? How dare they lie to me and everybody else like that? WHEN THEY KNEW BETTER?!
It’s the “knowing better” that really gets me. Passing on mistakes in ignorance or because you’re harried and it’s complicated and you’ve got to simplify for the test or whatever—ok, sure, that’s life. We’ve made our peace. But they LIED TO ME, with malice aforethought.
And now, let us turn to my freshman year in college.
In my long ago youth, my mother married a guy whom I deeply loathe and wish unspecified harm and boils upon. (She later divorced him, so that is not really relevant to the story.) He was a fundamentalist and my formerly Catholic mom started taking me to Grace Community Church.
There is a child like me in every Sunday School class, I believe. The ones with the twisty minds and beady eyes who are faithful, more or less, but they want to know how things works and why people in the Bible keep doing all this stupid crap when the solutions are OBVIOUS.
I was the one demanding to know where the animal poop went on the Ark and what became of the saltwater fish. I wanted to know why God hardened Pharoah’s heart because that was kind of a dick move by God? And what was up with the prophet with the bears?!
I had a number of thoughts about ways the Romans could have improved their Crucifixion technique, having just learned the concept of “flaying alive” and had to stay after Sunday school while the teacher had a talk with my mom.
Many well-meaning young women who previously believed they had a call to youth ministry foundered upon the shoals of my questions. And I didn’t disbelieve anything! I wasn’t mad! I just wanted things to make sense!
Eventually I got passed to the higher-ups, who would come in to have a nice talk with the youth and maybe a prayer revival at the church camp, and then everyone else would go to recess while they attempted to explain about dinosaurs, various translations, & the road to Damascus.
Anyway. As was perhaps inevitable, I ditched Christianity and became an angry young pagan in high school and then went to college, still an angry young pagan. I was a Classics minor, because if I majored I would have had to take a year of Ancient Greek.
One of the very best classes I ever took was called “Pagans & Christians” and was about the very early years of Christianity in pagan Rome, and the context in which early Christianity moved. And the teacher casually mentions one day the historical context of the Virgin birth
“You gotta understand,” he says, “in the religious climate at the time, this wasn’t shocking to anybody. It wasn’t “Oh my god, a virgin birth!” It was just “oh, yeah, my cousin follows a god who did that, too.”
Someone asked a question. It might have been me. And this teacher was a young guy, knew his stuff, very enthusiastic, and was like “Yeah! Let’s talk about the Gospels! Okay, so it’s two gospels that mention it and Paul doesn’t and he predates any of the gospels. So we got two—
—and one of them is Matthew and he uses this line from Isiah but he was using the early Greek translation which substituted virgin for a Hebrew word meaning “young woman” and here’s this pagan named Celsus who said it was bunk and here’s where an early theologian doubled down—“
And this was all true. Dude had bibliographies. His timeline was factual. Quite legit and faithful Biblical scholars agree with every word he said. He didn’t debunk anything, he was just like “here’s the actual references in the text, here’s the context of the day.”
“Here’s the guy who was arguing and here’s the point where it looks like people actually started to really care about the Virgin birth as a key element and playing up that element in the narrative and let’s talk about the Q sources!” (Not to be confused with the QAnon stuff.)
He loved his material. He loved all the faiths of the time with a broad and impartial love. He was just as excited about the
Magna Mater and Mithras. He had all this information and
WASN’T IT COOL?! Really fabulous professor.
In later years, I would wish I had picked his brain far more. But I had acquired a deep suspicion and I stayed after class and said “Virgin birth, yes or no?”

“Uhhh...look, I’m not here to talk about your faith, that’s a very personal—“

“I’m pagan. Don’t worry.”
Reader, he worried anyway. I had that man on a griddle. He started to sweat, but I was as relentless as I had ever been to a Sunday school teacher, and he truly wanted to share what he knew.
“It’s not my place to say. But nobody seems to have brought it up until decades after his death, anyway.”

Reader, I am an affable, distractable soul until I am interested in something and then I become focused like a beagle scenting ham.
I once derailed a panel dedicated to my writing because a woman in the audience trained cadaver dogs. This was terrible panel etiquette and I feel very guilty now, but OH MY GOD IT WAS SO COOL
“Then who was Jesus’s father!?”

“We don’t know! I mean, Paul says he’s descended from David through Joseph and Paul was the closest to a contemporary but it’s possible he was illegitimate because of this other bit here and there is no way of knowing from available sources!”
I finally let him leave. I went and checked a few things. Story checked out. It seemed to me that what we had here was a pretty damn clear case of a retcon.

I called my mother at long distance rates. (Kids, ask your aged parents.)
“Mom,” I said, to the woman who really truly believed, with every fiber of her being, in God and Heaven and Hell and sin and grace. “The Virgin Birth didn’t happen.”

“Well, no,” she said. “I always thought it was a metaphor for his divinity.”

My mother rallied and said that there was value to spiritual imagery. I countered bitterly with the plot to “Angels Aware” in which I had been forced to sing.
“I mean, they aren’t gonna tell kids about the Q texts...”

A sudden dark suspicion swept my soul. “Resurrection?” I barked. “Three days! Tomb! Big rock! METAPHOR?”

“Gosh, these long distance rates must be killing you,” said Mom. “I’ll call you next week. Love you, honey!”
I seethed. Deeply seethed. The Sunday school teachers and the youth pastor, okay, they hadn’t known. But I had bickered with church elders who damn well knew. This was in books. This wasn’t even particularly obscure stuff.
And they had carried on as if this was fundamental truth, when it was a mistranslated retcon to make it fit with Isiah. AND THEY KNEW.

I went and listened to Slayer for two hours and then got really savagely stoned.
The moral of the story is probably that if you have one of those twisty, beady-eyed little ferret children like me in your Sunday school class, grab them by the scruff of the neck and carry them down the hall and tell them to read Revelations and draw Satan or something.
You will never keep them in the flock and they will drain your energy and your belief that you like children and eventually they will discover the historical critical method and if you have not excommunicated them already, they will go up like a tower of flame.
And they will never, ever, ever forgive you for the lie.

And also that I am still quite bitter about my time spent on the Living Christmas Tree.

ETA The Living Christmas Tree! It’s a set of risers with green swags and a metric buttload of lights. The choir stands in it and sings. We had one on each side of the big cross and the soloists were the angels at the top and had wings with styrofoam packing peanut feathers.
Here is an article! Mega churches love these things! I am nearly certain it was a fire hazard!…
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