When I first started this blog, and was brainstorming for ideas that could be recurring themes that might help fill up space to keep up with the demand of regular posting (something that, quite frankly, has become more of a problem for me), I hit upon the notion of a recurring theme called “Theists I Admire,” wherein I might express my admiration and respect for people like Gandhi or MLK or Jesus, and show that there is room for mutual respect and admiration between atheists and theists. I never got around to doing any TIA entries, but I kept it in my “scratchpad” as an idea. Which brings me to Installment 1 of my “Theists I Admire” series:
I don’t remember his first name (maybe Henry?), but my 6th grade teacher, the last all-day teacher I had before junior high where I went from class to class, was Mr. Cina. I’ve had lots of good teachers, but when the phrase “best teacher ever” comes up, it’s Mr. Cina who first pops into my mind.
Mr. Cina was probably a creationist — I remember posters on the wall that appeared to be questioning evolution. He was probably a fundamentalist — I remember him asking me if I believed the Bible (I have no idea how the subject came up), and when I replied that I thought parts of it were true, he said, “you either believe all of the Bible or none of it,” which even then struck me as extremely flawed logic. But here’s the thing: Mr. Cina opened my mind like no one else before or since.
Perhaps a lot of it was just me reaching an age where I was questioning authority and stuff, but a lot of was his doing, and may have been connected to his fairly far-out views on things. He spent a great deal of class time going off on tangents about all sorts of things (telling us all the bad chemicals that were in potatoes is one I remember), and he encouraged us to look beneath the surface, and not to take things at face value just because they appeared a certain way (or because an authority told us they were a certain way).
I remember him telling us that there are things out there that people won’t tell us about, or can’t tell us about. And then the kicker: “There are things I’m not allowed to tell you about,” he said. In hindsight, he may well have been referring to his religious beliefs or some such thing, and it could have just been a thinly veiled kvetch about not being able to subject us to prolonged religious indoctrination. But at the time, that simple statement blew my tiny little 12-year-old mind. And it taught me to keep looking past what was in front of me, to see if there was something interesting behind it.