Forbid Them Not: The Today Show Goes South

Forbid Them Not: The Today Show Goes South September 7, 2018

Forbid Them Not, pp. 208-213

This week, Cooper and Laura go on the Today Show. Fun! Also, makeup. Also, gender normatively! Also, ideation of Laura.

Cooper had goes through these paces five or six times by now and had adjusted to the idea of wearing makeup, so long as they removed every vestige of it as soon as he stepped out of the studio.

… Laura’s artist pronounced her “nearly perfect in every way” before she started, just needing a little powder here and there.

Fun!

The door to the green room opened, and they could see the back of a woman with light brown hair in a green silk suit who was engaged in friendly conversation with another person. Her head turned toward the sound of the opening door, and Jody Easler smiled her warmest and friendliest smile.

But who was the other person??

Awkward smalltalk commences.

Cooper was saved from having to think of what to say next by the young woman with the clipboard.

Was she the other person?? I must know!

This is some seriously awkward writing.

Cooper and Laura are moved along to the set, where they are joined by the Today Show‘s Jared Andrews, Rev. Matt Manilow of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and, of course, Jody Easler. Cooper ends up seated between Jody and Laura. Awkward.

“Should children’s Sunday school classes be regulated under the new United Nations children’s treaty?” Andrews intoned, in the manner that had brought him to the top of a profession that valued more the ability to project concerned winsomeness than to show actual intelligence.

We now know what Farris thinks of the Today Show!

After a bit more introduction of the case, Jared turns to Laura.

“Ms. Frasier, I think that everyone in America wants to know why you think it is necessary to teach that other religions are wrong. We certainly understand everyone teaching their own faith tradition. But, why does your denomination insist on telling young children that people who follow other faith traditions are going to hell?”

Laura’s ears burned. She had had no idea she was going to be attacked like this.

First, yes, I get that everyone has bubbles, and I get that that some (liberals and conservatives alike) can end up having little personal contact with those outside of their own circles—but really? I very much doubt that Jared would be so out of touch as to claim that everyone in America is shocked by a religion teaches it is the only way to God.

Second, I find Laura’s perception that she is being attacked interesting. She responds that she teaches that because it’s the truth, but what Jared said was the truth too—i.e., Jared accurately describes what Laura teaches. Jared’s words are perceived as an attack because of their tone: “How in the world could anyone actually believe this??” Jared asks.

Farris writes that Andrews was not prepared for Laura’s answer—that she teaches what she does because it is the truth. I find this somewhat odd too. Are there “coastal elites” who are this isolated from what evangelicals believe? Maybe—but I’m not convinced.

When Andrews reacts with stunned silence, Matt Manilow steps in:

“Here you have a perfect illustration of the dangers of fundamentalist thinking. We are right; everyone else is wrong. It is this kind of assertion that has kept the world at war over religious questions for centuries. I am sure that Ms. Frasier here means well, but at some point in time we have got to stop the bloody feuds over religion.”

 

This does not sound to me like something someone with Americans United would say. More on that later.

Moving things along, Jared turns to Jody. He introduces her as follows:

“Ambassador Jody Easler is with us this morning. Dr. Easler is a world-renowned expert on children and is the American representative to the UN at Geneva. She also serves on the official Committee of Ten for the implementation fo the treaty.”

The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.—as Jody keeps being called—would not serve on the Committee of Ten for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

I just found a list of members of this committee from 2001 to 2003 (members are elected for two-year terms). One was deputy minister of education in his home country; another was a judge specializing in juvenile law. One was a pediatric doctor with a focus in disabilities; another was a former cabinet minister responsible for children and youth. One was a professor of human rights; another was the a Finnish ambassador to other countries (not to the U.N., which tends to be a bigger job, and not concurrently with her work on the committee).

Farris does not know nearly as much about how the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child is implemented—or how the treaty responsible for overseeing it functions—as he thinks he does.

This book is set in 2005, six months after the 2004 election, which, in book world, ushered in a Democratic Senate which then ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. When the book begins it is March, so the ratification of the treaty—despite Farris’ discussion of very public hearings and media attention—had to take place between January 20th and March 20th (when Nora Stoddard visited Laura’s Sunday school class).

In 2003—after the book was published but before it is set—the committee of ten was expanded to eighteen. This committee has elections every two years. The election relevant to this book was held in February, 2005. That’s an awful tight treaty ratification timeline. Furthermore, the election process actually begins four months prior, when states’ party to the treaty are contacted for nominations.

The only way Jody could be a member of the committee is if the U.N. decided to disregard its rules. Would they do that? I suppose they might—but I rather suspect that they wouldn’t. Sure, the U.S. is an important and powerful country, but the U.S. has also been ass-backwards in not ratifying the treaty for decades. I can see the U.N. making the U.S. wait in line for its representative like everyone else, almost to make a point.

How does Jody respond to her question? With this:

“When we teach a child that one’s religion is truth, I think everyone benefits. Faith is such a noble thing. But when we teach children that their religion is the only truth, an insidious change takes place. Such children learn to look at others as lesser in value. Such ideas lead to disharmony, and potentially conflict, and ultimately violence.”

Curious about this, I found a Pew Forum survey on the topic from about a decade ago:

Around 29% of Americans believe that their religion is the only true religion that leads to eternal life. 65% of Americans, in contrast, believe that many religions lead to eternal life.

Pew asked those who said many religions lead to eternal life which religions lead to eternal life. The results are tabulated here:

Around half of these respondents said that Hinduism and Islam lead to eternal life, while half said they do not. A quarter of these respondents said Catholicism does not lead to eternal life; a quarter said that Protestantism does not. This even the roughly two-thirds of Americans who say that many religions lead to eternal life do not believe that all religions lead to eternal life; at least half believe that only some religions lead to eternal life.

In other words, over half of Americans believe that at least some religions do not lead to eternal life.

Next Cooper gets a question. He replies with this:

“If parents are foreclosed from teaching their children the truth in the name of political correctness, then we have lost the fundamental rights and values that have made this nation.”

Political correctness? What?

This is not about political correctness. 

While I do not want to see Sunday school content regulated by the government—intrusive much?—Jody laid out specific reasons for her position, none of which had to do with being politically correct.

Matt responds to Cooper’s statement as follows:

“There they go again,” he groaned. “You can’t have a conversation with a fundamentalist without him whining about the Founding Fathers.”

Cooper did not mention the founding fathers.

Matt goes on:

“Let’s face facts. The founders were deists not Christians. And simply put, we are not locked in a time warp of 1789 1776, or whatever year Mr. Stone thinks it is. This is 2005, and it is high time we recognize the nasty reality that that fundamentalism is a danger to us all. We are being nice to simply ask parents to refrain from teaching a small portion of their traditional hate-based doctrines to their children. We should probably think long and hard about doing more.”

From 1992 to 2017, Rev. Barry Lynn was the executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. It’s not a stretch to guess that Matt is meant to be patterned after Lynn. And frankly, I don’t see him saying this.

In an interview upon retirement, Lynn said this about religious freedom, referencing a case where a child was told not to read the Bible on a school bus:

[Y]ou have to be consistent. In the case of a child who was not allowed to read the Bible on a school bus, if the family had called us instead of the conservative group they did call, we would have written the same letter on that child’s behalf.

I’m nearly 100% confident that Lynn would have opposed any effort on the part of the government to regulate what is taught in Sunday school. After all, consider—if the government starts regulating what is taught in Sunday school, that would not affect evangelicals alone. It could mean regulating what is taught in progressive Christian churches too, what is taught to children in Mosques, and on and on—it would very quickly effect the rights of religious minorities. AU defends religious freedom, not the opposite.

Of course, I would not be at all surprised to learn that Farris thinks AU does the opposite. This section really tells us more about how Farris views AU than anything else.

Jared ends the Today Show segment there. Laura never gets another section. In the entire segment, she got one single sentence. Needless to say, she’s upset—but she’s not the only one upset. Jody is also upset.

I’m going to have to finish this segment next week!

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