An Apology Long Overdue

I have this memory of a Cumberland High School English class in 1972 where the teacher—whose name I do not recall, but was likely just a few years older than the students— in an effort to be “cool,” asked about our thoughts on the lyrics to the song Thick as a Brick performed by Jethro Tull and written by Ian Anderson.

Instead of forcing us to embrace just the classics of literature, she tried to open our eyes with a more contemporary approach.

I recall only one moment, but it has stuck with me all these years. When asked what I thought about the line, “your wise men don’t know how it feels to be thick as a brick,” my answer was quick and without the least bit of thoughtfulness. 

I said, “it rhymes and fits the music.”

I can still see the disappointment in her eyes. To this day, I don’t know if the disappointment was with me and my callous response or with herself for not being able to reach us on our level..

Still, it has bothered me since.

I now realize many of the songs I grew up listening to carry more than pleasurable rhythms; they contain a wisdom that escaped me at the moment, all to my diminution. Hindsight being crystal clear, I’d like to apologize to that teacher. Better late than never.

Back then, I was often a shining example of “thick as a brick.”

Really don’t mind if you sit this one out.
My words but a whisper – your deafness a SHOUT.
I may make you feel but I can’t make you think.
Your sperm’s in the gutter – your love’s in the sink.
So you ride yourselves over the fields and
you make all your animal deals and
your wise men don’t know how it feels to be thick as a brick.
And the sand-castle virtues are all swept away in
the tidal destruction
the moral melee.
The elastic retreat rings the close of play as the last wave uncovers
the newfangled way.
But your new shoes are worn at the heels and
your suntan does rapidly peel and
your wise men don’t know how it feels to be thick as a brick.

Thick as a Brick by Ian Anderson

Ian Anderson’s brilliant writing contained more gems that may have escaped me at the moment, but have since revealed themselves. Over the years, I have struggled with the simplistic, if well-intentioned, indoctrination in the Catholic Faith of my youth.  As I expand my appreciation for the almost infinite varieties of religious tenets, I’ve also come to see how they are more similar than different. This similarity precludes any of them from exclusivity with the truth.

The demands of a god for devotion and worship. The claims of physics-defying miracles occurring always absent any independent method of verification except eyewitnesses, the least reliable form of evidence. The almost exclusive male dominance of the hierarchy. The gender-specific rules for what to wear, how to worship, and who can lead a congregation.

Once again, Anderson’s writing offers some answers. In the lyrics of Wind-Up, Anderson wrote,

I don’t believe you:
You had the whole damn thing all wrong
He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays
Well, you can excommunicate me
On my way to Sunday school
And have all the bishops harmonize these lines
How’d you dare tell me
That I’m my Father’s son
When that was just an accident of birth
I’d rather look around me
Compose a better song
‘Cause that’s the honest measure of my worth

Wind-Up by Ian Anderson

While most people are sincere in embracing their religion, even if they are somewhat less than consistent in its practice, they seem to miss the point that their faith was indeed “an accident of birth.” If that were not the case, we would offer our children an opportunity to learn about all religions and let them, “Compose a better song, ‘Cause that’s the honest measure of my worth.”

But that’s not what we do. Some have compared religion to a virus. One is exposed and develops the illness, then spreads it to others in proximity.  Some find this comparison offensive because they see malicious intent.  But nothing could be further from the truth. We have all unintentionally infected others with germs, not through intentional acts but through regular daily interaction.

No different than how religions are spread. While some convert from one religion to another, that happens when they are inoculated from the feverish philosophy of one religion by the vaccine of another.

Religion has its place in humanity. But when one religion is pitted against another, or integrated into government’s secular operation, the potential for religious orchestrated pogroms rises.

In this country, many would claim we are a Judeo-Christian based society with no room for Islam, Buddhism, or any other “foreign” religion. Some would argue we don’t need to include the Judeo part because Christianity is the one true faith.  The Catholic faith doctrine is more specific; if you are not baptized, confirmed, and fully committed to Catholicism, you cannot enter heaven.

This seems a bit presumptuous in light of the 4000-plus religions that have claimed to be the only truth at one time or another.

Anderson wrote it, and that teacher put it out there for me to see all those years ago. I just chose to close my mind to the possibilities—something I see in those who refuse to accept other religions’ equal validity.

All those years ago and the disappointment on that teacher’s face still lurks in my memory. I have no idea if she is even still around. But I wanted her to know the seed she planted finally germinated and broke through the brick of my ignorance.

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2 thoughts on “An Apology Long Overdue

  1. Nice, Joe. I was always struck by the fact that Catholics were not allowed to read the Bible themselves; they needed the priest to explain it to them. Talk about toxic paternalism…
    My catholic school years spanned Vatican II, which loosened up some of the rules. When I asked Sister So-and-So “What happened to all the people who went to hell for eating meat on Fridays before Vatican II made it okay?”, I got called a “bold, brazen piece” and sent to the principals office

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