Friday, May 4, 2012

"Life Is Wasted Without..."

As you are probably aware in your corner of the world, there has been a recent news story break in my little Maritime province of Nova Scotia. I will explain the gist of it to begin and provide one of many links to one of many similar versions of the story so you can do your own investigation should you so desire (always a good idea but I am touched if you have come to trust me; I would never intentionally mislead you). Basically a young man wore a shirt to school that read "Life is WASTED without Jesus". He had been warned and there were meetings with him about this shirt and why it was inappropriate. The concerns of the school and those of the at least one student confirmed who complained about it were ignored and this young man wore his shirt once more and was promptly suspended.

This is going to be a little tough. I really want to discuss this but religion always ends up being such a controversial topic (ironic since they all talk about love, peace and an all loving, powerful, benevolent God). Once you drop the God bomb, people immediately jump to the defensive as though anything anyone says in opposition to a religious view is suddenly a personal attack and some form of hate speech (I can think of several others topics this happens with but we'll not go there today). Let me be clear: I am not opposed to any religion; that is one of the wonderful things about being human: choice. You have yours and I have mine.

The message itself is not what necessarily irks me. I will provide my two cents in an objective matter concerning ONLY this particular shirt. If you'd like to hear my opinion on other offensive or perceived offensive clothing please mention it in the comments and I will happily oblige. I am not terribly offended by the message; personally. I would have ignored it completely; at the very least played it off as another close-minded Christian wrapped up in their own beliefs. It would have been nothing more than a passing thought; never to be returned to again. But that's me and I do not speak or think for everyone. Some people take their religious beliefs very seriously and it does not take much to offend them. These people, well, I understand their point.

Their point is that the shirt, as it is written, insinuates and implies that anyone who does not believe in Jesus Christ is wasting their life; this must also imply that anyone who is not of this young man's faith must also be wasting their lives. Religion is a very touchy subject and those of you who are devout to your own should consider that others are as devout or more to their own. Clearly, from a devout religious perspective, this shirt is offensive. There can be no question about it and if you do question it, please remember that at least one student complained. One is all you need (or I wouldn't have anything to write about; the issue of not being able to wear the shirt was started with one).

On the other side I do understand this young's man's issue. Many people, students and adults alike, wear offensive and disturbing clothing every day, all day. They walk, they work, they attend school; you do not have to go far to find something that someone will find offensive. In comparison to other clothing, this one is particular tame in its language however it is the message that is in question here. I can place myself in his shoes and see how this would seem downright unfair to ban me from this shirt while others wear worse. Maybe it is unfair but one thing it is not, is an offense against his rights and freedoms; nor is it bullying.

This is the part of the story that perturbs me the most. I have been and continue to be an activist. I have seen political officials lie and deceive; I have seen first hand the corruption and brutality of police; I have watched some of the media manipulate and misinform information to persuade the public; I have even been fraudulently arrested in defense of my belief and I really, really want to make this clear: I have NO IDEA what it truly means to have my rights and freedoms truly broken or taken away. In a small degree (and I am aware of what I have said about degrees of things in the past, I stand by that and will do my best to clarify), yes. However, when you consider the real atrocities; the real dictators; the real tyrants; the real affronts to humanity and human rights, what do I or this young man really know about the loss of freedoms? Very little. I am not trying to diminish the offenses being committed here or saying that we know nothing but in comparison we know little and we should be a little bit more thoughtful on when we are going to cry wolf. As an added note, one need but examine some real cases of bullying to see that this is not that. As a small twist of irony, I am going to lay odds that some parent who has lost a child to bullying is offended by the use of the word bullying here (see how easily people can get offended? Even without religion being involved...and yes, I was a victim of bullying as a child).

You see that's what bothers me. A 19 year old child (I still consider myself a child in many aspects; knowledge is not maturity. Took me a long time to learn that) is told not to wear a shirt and all of a sudden this is a case of rights and freedoms? Freedom of expression? Freedom of religion? Freedom of speech? These are fundamental rights and privileges that people have lived, fought and died for and not to be used all willy-nilly. I myself do not like the idea of using some of these very same arguments for my own defense in my part of the Occupy Nova Scotia eviction, but that is not my choice; it is the lawyers. When you talk about it with me, you will find I do not speak of them either. Not because the police didn't break them but because I am aware of just how truly bad it can still get.

This is not a case of someone's rights or freedoms being infringed upon (unless you are of the mind that this young man infringed upon the rights and freedoms of others by wearing the shirt); nor was it a case of bullying. This was a case of a forced perspective being impressed upon others without choice. The school did not bully him; the school has explained the reasons behind their decision; the school even went so far as to contact a human rights representative to come mediate this. Meanwhile the young boy and more-so his pastor continue to scream out about rights, freedoms and injustice. 

I am not a practicing Christian; not any more but make no mistake, I am well versed and well educated on the subject. My choice to discover a more spiritually fulfilling path is my own and I do not force it upon others; ever. I discuss it; I debate it; but I never, ever force it. Religion, for all it's failures, has it's successes and it's positives. What I see is extremes on two sides here: one pro religion, the other opposed. Nobody is talking about facts, only who is more offended. 

Well, I'm not sure how this is going to be taken, I hope in a more unbiased understanding. Again, I am not opposed to any particular religion or cult but I am against the forced opinion of others. This is not restricted to organized religion; it goes with everything and anything at all time. If anyone, at any time, attempts to take from me my most relished and sacred right, that of choice, you will find that I will become the David to your Goliath; and we know how that ended(not meaning about this subject/topic/discussion; just in general).

I respect all people, all cultures and all religious views; please respect mine. The world is a big place and we all live here together; there is room for us all...and our beliefs and egos (not arrogance when speaking of egos, but just of the person).


For fun, check out this similar, yet opposite end of the spectrum, problem that arose in Ohio and how it was eventually handled. A "Jesus is not a Homophobe." was banned from being worn by a gay student who was being bullied about his sexual orientation. The ban was challenged under the first amendment (expression and religion) and though the student "won", in the end the student was only permitted to wear the shirt ONE day of the school year which was to be chosen by the student. Do you think this is an option for finding an agreeable solution?


  1. We need a new word for the physical expression of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of religion etc. The only way I have freedom of anything is in my ability to imagine. My only freedom is in my head as thoughts. I don't have to look at anything complicated to see my statement as being true. If I want a sunny day then someone without a full well is going to be hurt. If I want to cut down a tree because it might damage my house in a storm then I am taking away the production of oxygen for someone. Every physical action I make will have an impact on someone or something. In the real world being free only means being without conscience.

  2. Having a hindsight moment. Should have included a the following link as an interesting take on the problem with 'rights'. Definitely a provocative and bold.

  3. John>> Wonderfully well-written piece with excellent perspectives, but I would like to present a challenge:

    You didn't really expand on the "other people wear offensive shirts all the time" topic. That's precisely the argument I was going to make before reading you had thought of it, but then you didn't continue into the justification.

    My point: The kid has the right to wear whatever he wants. When Christians have to walk around every day, forced to see people wearing things that mock and humiliate their religion, listen to/watch it on TV in programs and on channels they used to be able to trust; how is it that they are not allowed to wear a freaking shirt that promotes their own religion? Sure, it's saying anyone who doesn't believe like him is wasting their life-- but does wearing a shirt which states that make it true? Since we know the answer to that question, how can you say that this is not acceptable/appropriate, yet mockery of their religion is?

    Furthermore, what if I wore a shirt to school that said simply, "You're wasting your life." Or "Life sucks, then you die."

    I've seen plenty of shirts like that in my school days. I'll bet nobody would come down on the kid for wearing "You're wasting your life." but the second it says, "Without Jesus..." first, then it's unacceptable?

    I Find that wildly unacceptable, and that it IS clearly in violation of the first Amendment.

  4. Clayton,

    Great comment. Thoroughly enjoyed it; sorry I was not more elaborate, sometimes I head down a separate road & neglect to return.

    As far as other offensive shirts go I would gladly write a similar post in regards to my thoughts on them, my perception and how it is I see them being understood by people who take offense. I don't necessarily agree with other messages, they just don't happen to be trending at the moment. When they do, religious or not, I will be there to discuss them. I like to try and discuss issues that I know are reaching many people to help increase engagement. Engagement is the first step on the road to understanding and resolution. Your feedback is an excellent example of this. I, in no way mean to insinuate or imply that this particular shirt is a problem based solely on it concerning Jesus. If you substituted Jesus for Buddha, and the story was the same, I'd write the same my friend.

    I will also try to give as best an answer as I can to your comment. Please feel free to substitute the word "Christians" for the word "I"; actually, insert any group/label/organization you wish for the word "I":

    I have a choice to change the channel on TV.
    I have a choice to read a book, magazine or newspaper.
    I have a choice to turn off the radio.
    I have a choice on watching that movie.
    I do not have a choice when it comes to a message being displayed publicly (not just t-shirts; advertising of any sorts including billboards, road sign advertisements or anything of that nature).

    In the "public" realm, when people pay for advertising on/in public space they kind of get free range to do as they please and I have some issues with this as well. I understand that school's are "public" but they are also institutions and institutions have rules set in place in an attempt to avoid this very exact problem. When this young man, and the many others for their own reasons, seek employment they will not find any such leeway. So what is the solution then? I don't know. Let everything slide; try to regulate on a case by case bases; ban it all and create an acceptable, casual dress code for all schools (not necessarily uniforms)? What I do know is that it requires engagement like this and like the engagements I've had in other places.

    There is no right and wrong here; just a difference of opinion. In the end, one will feel victorious and the other defeated. One will feel righteous, the other jaded. Nobody will really win if the solution is forced; and rest assured at the stage, it will be.

    1. "I'll bet nobody would come down on the kid for wearing "You're wasting your life." but the second it says, "Without Jesus..." first, then it's unacceptable?

      I Find that wildly unacceptable, and that it IS clearly in violation of the first Amendment."

      I agree that this is clearly a violation of the first Amendment.

      People who do not like the message of this t-shirt have a choice, and that is to ignore the message if it bugs them.

      This is a clear indication that our society is catering to those that are easily offended and indicating to them that they have the right NOT to be offended.

      That is wrong. That becomes censorship, which is exactly what this is.


    2. I will add that the t-shirt my OH was wearing, at school, thirty five years ago when I met him said "If you ain't Dutch you ain't much". Good thing the so easily offended bunch weren't catered to then.


  5. Kary >> Yes, that's just what I mean! This is censorship, based on people being offended by a person's opinion because it is religious in nature.

    John >>

    I think the problem is with the people who are offended, and not by the "offensive" statement. If I'm watching a TV show and a commercial comes on which offends my beliefs, it attacks me with its message. There's not much chance to change the channel if you're intently watching something, it goes to commercial, and within 30 seconds (usually less) makes a point or says something offensive.

    That being said, I'm not saying such ads should not be allowed, but that it's a double-standard to allow them but not religious opinions. I'm going to try to get kids to wear a shirt to school that says, "You are of poor quality." and see if they get in trouble for that. I'm sure teachers would disapprove, may "speak" to them about it, but I seriously doubt it will get the kind of attention that a religious (particularly Christian) slogan does.

  6. I see students who graduate but cannot tell time on watch with Micky Mouse hands. I see students who have no idea what grammar is, or how to use it. The right of this student to wear a Tee Shirt should not be the main focus. Why would so much energy be put into who is offended and who is not? Perhaps being offended in school, will better prepare the *children* for a much more offensive world after graduation: The world where they cannot find work to match the education they have, cannot afford the nice clothes they want on a Tim Horton salary, or have no guidance of social acceptance or merging into the *Pull-Up* world of reality. There will be a lot more offensive things to see after you graduate from the Nanny Service we molly-coddle you in now. Grow up, learn to read and write, express yourself and be creative, but do so with that same *Christian* belief of "Do unto others". Someone will always be offended. That may not be YOUR fault, it may be the upbringing the other person had, where ranting and raving is more important than reading. Form a constructive debate team, understand how your remarks and actions may affect others, and you will gain from your experience. This story is nothing more than a he-said, she-said, that you bring to your mother for resolution. This isn't going to help a grade 12 student next year, in the work force. We've made some advancements, but yet we stumble over the petty things, and (I hate this expression) at the end of the day, what did we learn? Certainly nothing we reduced education funding to teach. Get on with your education. Best way to level the playing field, everyone dress the same. Don't like school uniforms? Then get your pity-party together and stop ranting about how *offended* you are that someone loves Jesus while you don't and see if you can match their grade score instead. We don't need anymore ignorant graduates, we need critical thinkers who can resolve some of the world's problems for real. Be real. Stop the hating.