By the time a fundamentalist child has spent any time in a fundamentalist school they have learned a fair amount of the three R’s (Reading, Writing, and Rhythmless Singing) but mostly they have learned an awful lot about what NOT to do.
They’ve learned not to question or express themselves. They’ve learned that it’s not what you do that counts but how people perceive what you are doing. And they’ve learned that perfection on the outside is actually better than perfection on the inside. In a thousand tiny unspoken ways they have begun to skip down the primrose path to fundydom.
By this point, they have also become well acquainted with the phenomenon of “chapel” which involves giving the men from the local Basement Bible College (and occasionally a visiting evangelist or pastor) a chance to bellow fantastic lies at a captive audience for forty minutes. What those children are subjected to in that time is the very worst of what fundyland preaching has to offer. For what is on display here is not the polished and practiced efforts of the veteran preacher, who has perfected his patter and picked his points. Nay, this is instead the sound and fury of those who are so unpolished they would not usually be allowed into a pulpit in front of an audience of adults so instead they are given young impressionable minds to practice on.
Middle school therefore becomes a time of terror for the student who is at all prone to believing what he hears as he is showered with tales of horrific deaths, terrible judgments, and new and novel sins that had been heretofore unknown. For not deterred by the fact that the children in the audience are all church-going kids from good fundy homes, the preacher inevitably assumes that the class of third graders in the front row are prone to the most heinous debaucheries he can imagine and delivers his rants accordingly.
If there were ever a case for homeschooling in fundyland the daily chapel service would be its strongest argument.
If you have a Pavlovian response of standing to your feet every time you hear the opening notes of the Doxology, chances are you went to Fundy U.
Since mandatory attendance to regular weekly church services don’t provide nearly enough time for indoctr…er…edification, Fundy U also provides its students with the opportunity to hear daily sermons from whatever preachers the president happens to be friends with this week. Many students also know this daily occurance by another name: “naptime.”
Since chapel services are not usually broadcast to the public like other services and have few visitors in attendance, it’s a perfect opportunity for the fundy preacher du jour to unleash a holy torrent of full bore crazy upon his listeners. Horrific tales of death and dismemberment? Check. Stories about the masturbation habits of the speaker’s teenage son? Yes. (Oh, how I wish that one weren’t true!) Insinuations that most of his listeners are probably Satan-worshiping whores who only came to a fundamentalist college to corrupt his offspring who are the only three good children left on the planet? Yea, Verily.
But amongst the endless alliterated instructions on Finding God’s Mysteriously Lost Will For Your Life (without which you’re totally screwed) and warnings about Amnon’s friend Jonadab lies a much subtler purpose in chapel services — they are the most direct conduit for the administration to use a kind of spiritual coercion on the behavior of their students. A single uncontested voice speaking with conviction is the perfect medium for authoritarian re-education.
When a pastor delivers a message from behind the sacred desk at least some percentage of the student body will take him seriously and go carry out his bidding. All that remains for the administration to determine is what action they want from the student body today. Whether it’s a carefully constructed message on why God would never, ever want you to leave Fundy U, a drive for votes in a local election, or a plea for students to turn in their roommates to the deans office for real or imagined wrongs, by a skillful use of the chapel speaker the leadership can be sure that they will get a decent return on their time investment each week.
Those who manage to sleep in Jesus instead of listening are the lucky ones.