Monday, November 3, 2008


Whether you believe in God or not, you have to admit He is a really useful construct for a society to have around. If you are trying to build an orderly society, what is not to like about an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful deity lurking just out of view but fully aware of everything we do, of everything we think, of everything we feel, and of everything we desire.

I was reminded of this the other day when I spent the morning visiting a local private middle school. The faculty at my school have a fair amount of input as the yearly calendar is made and we have helped convince the Board that it can never be a good idea to have students in the building on either Halloween or the day after.

So, instead of teaching we are encouraged to go out to another school and spend the day observing. I find this practice valuable for many reasons, not least being the avoidance of direct instructional responsibility for sugar-crazed adolescents. The students graduate from my class and move on to any one of several public and private middle schools in the area. For this reason, I arrange for visits to these very middle schools in order to better help my kids and their parents decide which school might fit them best.

This is how I happened to find myself alone in the faculty room of a well-known private school last week. I had spent the morning in an Honors Math class, an English class, and a History class and enjoyed my visit thoroughly. The classes had excellent student:teacher ratios, the teachers were pleasant, smart, and engaging, and the students were interested and nice to each other.

I was spending a period in the faculty room, making notes for myself, having some typically bad faculty room coffee, and waiting to meet the Dean of Students for lunch. A few teachers straggled in and then straggled back out. Then I was alone.

And there, sitting previously unnoticed on the table in front of me, was a Baby Ruth bar stapled to a flyer for the Annual Fund Donation Drive. I don’t LOVE Baby Ruth bars, but I do LIKE them. And I was hungry. And I was alone. It was clear the candy was meant as an enticement, like free address labels or a shiny new nickel enclosed in junk mail. It was being given away.

But it was not being given away to ME and I knew that. That particular candy bar would not be missed by anyone if I just reached out, opened the wrapper, and munched it down. Still, I struggled mightily with myself. It was not in any way intended for me and there was no way I could convince myself that it was. It was meant for someone who might actually donate to the Annual Fund. Even if the person who ate it didn’t end up giving to the Annual Fund, it was still okay for him or her to eat that Baby Ruth simply because s/he actually worked at the school.

After literally twenty-five minutes of wrestling with my desire, I got up and left the faculty room. I won’t tell you if the Baby Ruth was still on the table when I left, but I will tell you that I left that room even more certain than ever that human beings created God rather than the reverse.

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