by Helen Bennett
Finished June 12, 2010
I bought this book for the library's collection to add depth to our religion/philosphy section. It's unfortunate that there isn't more written on the subject for children because this is only just good enough to be a placeholder. It simply fills an immediate need.
The book is written in a question and answer format. It begins by telling us that the classmate of a group of children (of undetermined age) has been in an auto accident and is now in a coma.
One of the children says, "Let's all pray for Amanda. I bet God will make her well if He hears our prayers." Mrs. Green answers by saying, "I'm sorry, Jesse, but we can't do that as a class. If you wish, you may pray on your own, silently, or pray at home or after school." The children are surprised by her answer and wonder why they don't have a right to pray together. Mrs. Green explains that the Constitution of the United States assures a separation of church and state and by having the whole class pray together might force someone who doesn't believe in God to do something that makes them uncomfortable. The children express surprise that someone wouldn't believe in God.
Instead of leaving it at that or suggesting to the children that they talk to their parents about it, Mrs. Green says, "If you are really curious about a different view, we can meet as a group about it after class if you will get your parent to sign a permission slip. We'll talke about Humanism, an ancient philosphy that many good people follow."
Now, in my mind, the children were simply asking why they couldn't pray together and whether someone who doesn't believe in God can be a good person. Mrs. Green's answer to this is a little like the old story abou the kid who asked his mother where his baby sister came from. She gives him an entire sex education lesson when all he wanted to know was which hosptial she was born in.
Six of the thirty two children bring back permission slips and have an after school discussion with Mrs. Green about Humanism.
The book should have been called "Why Humanism is Better than Religion." It reads more like an argument against religion than an explanation of Humanism. The children ask questions or make comments like, "My minister says that my church knows the truth, and all other churches are wrong. Is he right?" The questions the children ask come from a fundamentalist viewpoint. Since the book ended up being a religion vs Humanism debate, I was aching for more challenging comments from the religion side.
One child asks, "Who created nature and the world, if not God?" Mrs. Green answers, "Many people believe that our world didn't develop over time but was created by God - you know, the way you create trees and animals and people out of clay during art class. Humanists do not believe that the world was 'created' by anyone. The earth and all things on it developed or 'evolved' over billions of years." None of the children challenge this by asking - but where did it all begin? Everything has to have a beginning.
But that's the problem. Mrs. Green is debating with children. Her answers aren't challenged at all. Of course, that's not the point of the book. It's supposed to be an introduction to Humanism. However, it's a cheap shot, in my opinion, to present counter arguments to issues raised by children.
In Mrs. Green's version, "all" humanists are highly ethical. Yes, she said all humanists are highly ethical. "They believe in doing good because it is the right thing to do, not because they are afraid of God's punishment." I've seen this line used in other children's books about athiesm or humanism. Have they not heard of the Great Commandment? (Matthew 22:36-40). Of course, the bible is an unreliable source, for Mrs. Green. God is not that great of a guy because he's pretty mean and unfair in the Old Testament. She knows a lot about the OT God of Wrath but not very much about the God of Love and Mercy.