Measuring the Space Between Indoctrination, Brainwashing

“I don’t want to brainwash my kids with my own views. I want them to decide for themselves what they believe.”

                                                                           — Pennsylvania mother of three

In secular circles, indoctrination and brainwashing are used almost interchangeably. It’s not all that hard to understand why. Instructing young, vulnerable children to pledge their blind allegiance to certain authority figures can, especially for the most cynical among us, evoke rather disturbing images. (Karl in A Clockwork Orange, anyone?) And because hell is so often dangled as a punishment for disbelief, religious indoctrination possesses a fear factor that seems, well, kind of mean.

Clockwork BrainwashBut, for all the sometimes-unpleasant underpinnings of indoctrination, there is a significant difference between what happens to children in CCD and what happened to Karl in Room 23. In short, indoctrination is not brainwashing. And I think that’s worth talking about — because parents who blow indoctrination out of proportion will hinder their kids’ ability to understand the difference between most religions and harmful cults. And I think that’s important — really important — especially if they don’t want to, ahem, indoctrinate their kids.

So here’s the deal: The Oxford English Dictionary defines brainwashing as pressuring someone to adopt radically different beliefs by using systematic and forcible means. It often implies mind control, and other unethically manipulative methods of persuasion. Some religious sects and many cults are famous for employing classic brainwashing techniques. In his book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief, author Lawrence Wright touches on a number of them. He writes of policies that prohibit church members from reading articles, essays or blogs that criticize Scientology, and he describes incidents of violence, threats and systematic punishments employed by church leaders to keep members from speaking — or even thinking — ill of Scientology themselves.

Robert Jay Lifton, an American psychiatrist, has devoted his life to the study of mind control. His books include The Nazi DoctorsCults in Our Midst and Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism. In the latter, Lifton lays out “Eight Criteria for Thought Reform.” They are:

  1. Milieu Control — The control of information and communication, resulting in extreme isolation from the outside world.
  2. Mystical Manipulation — Experiences that appears spontaneous but are actually planned and orchestrated to demonstrate divine authority, spiritual advancement, or other insight.
  3. Demand for Purity — The requirement to conform to the ideology of the group and strive for perfection. Guilt and shame are often employed.
  4. Confession — Ways to monitor the personal thoughts (“sins”) of individual members — which are then discussed and exploited by group leaders.
  5. Sacred Science — The idea that the group’s ideology is beyond questioning or dispute.
  6. Loading the Language — The use of jargon and terminology that the outside world does not understand as a means of gaining thought-control and conformity.
  7. Doctrine over Person — Subordinating all personal experiences to the ideology of the group.
  8. Dispensing of Existence — In order to be saved or enlightened, individuals must convert to the group’s ideology. If they are critical of the group, or decide to leave the group, they are rejected by all members.

It’s clear that, under Lifton’s criteria, few religious parents are actually brainwashing their children. They may be employing one or two of these methods — I know quite a few Catholics very familiar with No. 3, for instance, and a few Mormons familiar with No. 8, and, Oh My God, can we talk about the broad employment of No. 5?— but not more than a few, and certainly not all.

I’m not saying indoctrination is a good thing. To be honest, any degree of intentional indoctrination makes me twitchy, whether it’s associated with religion or with atheism. But, after viewing Lifton’s list, it’s clear that what most parents are doing — on both sides of the aisle — falls far outside the bounds of brainwashing. And that, at least, is a relief.

Don’t Freak Out; It’s Temporary

Relax, It's Just a TypewriterFirst the good news: Did you guys know this month marks the second anniversary of my blog? Yep, it’s true. Twice a week for the last two years I have been writing for and about nonreligious parents. It’s been wonderful, and still is, and if you’ll have me, I’d like to stay a bit longer.

That said, this fall is shaping up to be a very busy time for me, so — AND DON’T FREAK OUT ON ME HERE — for a while I’m going to scale back and post just once a week — on Mondays.

You’re not even disappointed, are you?

See now that’s just rude.

ANYWAY, those of you who subscribe twice-weekly will receive emails just once a week, and those who have weekly subscriptions will receive them every Monday instead of Thursday. Monthly subscribers, you will see no change. Of course, I may rerun posts once in a while and if I do, those will appear on Thursdays.

IN THE MEANTIME, I’m open to guest posts by any other secular parents out there. First-person posts are most welcome, but I’d consider relevant book reviews, as well. If you’re interested in pitching a story or getting some more information on guests posts, you can reach me at wendythomasrussell@gmail.com.

And be sure to track me down on Facebook and/or Twitter, if you’re active in those types of places and want to make me feel better about myself.

As always, I can’t thank each and every one of you enough for your continued support of my little project. I couldn’t do it without you, and I wouldn’t want to. See you Monday.

Survey: Nearly Half of All Parents Uncomfortable Talking to Kids About Religion

nervous mommaIn my two years of blogging, I’ve never before seen a study measuring the comfort level parents feel when talking to their kids about religion. I guess it’s too specific of a question to be addressed directly in mainstream religious surveys.

But, the other day, buried in a report about life insurance, of all things, I found an answer.

In a report called (yawn) “Public Affairs Life Strategy Survey” and funded by State Farm, surveyers found that 62 percent of parents in America are uncomfortable talking to their kids about life insurance. Harris Interactive revealed its findings after examining the opinions of 2,000 U.S. adults. Then it offered some comparisons.

According to the study, as reported by PR Newswire: 

When it comes to life’s most important topics, higher percentages of parents feel comfortable talking with their children about drugs and alcohol (55 percent), religion (53 percent) and politics (44 percent) than discussing life insurance (38 percent), family finances (36 percent) or sex/puberty (30 percent). 

Did you see that? Blink and you missed it.

Forty-five percent of parents in the United States say they are at least somewhat uncomfortable talking about religion with their children.

Wow wow and wow.

It’s easy to see why nonreligious parents (who make up no more than 20 percent of all parents) would have issues with talking to children about religion — oh, boy, is it easy — but these findings go directly against the common assumption that religious people know just what to say to their kids because they are guided by the well-practices teachings of their faith. The truth is, it’s as uncomfortable for some of them as it is for some of us.

And considering there are something like 150 million parents in the United States, that’s a whole lot of discomfort.

Inspiration for the Day: Walt Whitman’s Eulogy

Before he died in 1892, the great American poet Walt Whitman asked his friend and fellow secularist Robert Green Ingersoll to deliver a eulogy at his funeral.

Ingersoll was a political leader and orator known as “The Great Agnostic,” and the pair had been friends for a long time. Whitman once said of Ingersoll: “It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass… He lives, embodies, the individuality, I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen — American-flavored — pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light.” After reading a bit about Ingersoll and Whitman last night in Susan Jacoby’s book “Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism,” I decided to find the eulogy online. It didn’t disappoint.

In my experience, the best eulogies do two things. First, they sum up the essence of a dead person both accurately and artfully. And, second, they inspire the living.

Ingersoll’s eulogy, which I’ve included in full below, did that. After reading it, I had half a mind to CafePress a What Would Walt Whitman Do? sticker for my car. Although the whole thing is worth reading, the most (nonreligiously) relevant paragraph is this one:

You know better than I what his life has been, but let me say one thing. Knowing, as he did, what others can know and what they cannot, he accepted and absorbed all theories, all creeds, all religions, and believed in none. His philosophy was a sky that embraced all clouds and accounted for all clouds. He had a philosophy and a religion of his own, broader, as he believed — and as I believe — than others. He accepted all, he understood all, and he was above all.

Beautiful, right? It reminded me a lot of a quote by revolutionary writer Thomas Paine, author of The Age of Reason.

“My own mind,” Paine wrote, “is my own church.”

this-is-what-you-should-do-whitman

                   

                    A TRIBUTE TO WALT WHITMAN 

                    by Robert Green Ingersoll

                  Camden, N.J., March 30, 1892



     MY FRIENDS: Again we, in the mystery of Life, are brought face

to face with the mystery of Death. A great man, a great American,

the most eminent citizen of this Republic, lies dead before us, and

we have met to pay a tribute to his greatness and his worth.



     I know he needs no words of mine. His fame is secure. He laid

the foundations of it deep in the human heart and brain. He was,

above all I have known, the poet of humanity, of sympathy. He was

so great that he rose above the greatest that he met without

arrogance, and so great that he stooped to the lowest without

conscious condescension. He never claimed to be lower or greater

than any of the sons of men.



     He came into our generation a free, untrammeled spirit, with

sympathy for all. His arm was beneath the form of the sick. He

sympathized with the imprisoned and despised, and even on the brow

of crime he was great enough to place the kiss of human sympathy.



     One of the greatest lines in our literature is his, and the

line is great enough to do honor to the greatest genius that has

ever lived. He said, speaking of an outcast: "Not till the sun

excludes you do I exclude you."



     His charity was as wide as the sky, and wherever there was

human suffering, human misfortune, the sympathy of Whitman bent

above it as the firmament bends above the earth.



     He was built on a broad and splendid plan -- ample, without

appearing to have limitations -- passing easily for a brother of

mountains and seas and constellations; caring nothing for the

little maps and charts with which timid pilots hug the shore, but

giving himself freely with recklessness of genius to winds and

waves and tides; caring for nothing as long as the stars were above

him. He walked among men, among writers, among verbal varnishers

and veneerers, among literary milliners and tailors, with the

unconscious majesty of an antique god.



     He was the poet of that divine democracy which gives equal

rights to all the sons and daughters of men. He uttered the great

American voice; uttered a song worthy of the great Republic. No man

ever said more for the rights of humanity, more in favor of real



democracy, of real justice. He neither scorned nor cringed, was

neither tyrant nor slave. He asked only to stand the equal of his

fellows beneath the great flag of nature, the blue and stars.



     He was the poet of Life. It was a joy simply to breathe. He

loved the clouds; he enjoyed the breath of morning, the twilight,

the wind, the winding streams. He loved to look at the sea when the

waves burst into the whitecaps of joy. He loved the fields, the

hills; he was acquainted with the trees, with birds, with all the

beautiful objects of the earth. He not only saw these objects, but

understood their meaning, and he used them that he might exhibit

his heart to his fellow-men.



     He was the poet of Love. He was not ashamed of that divine

passion that has built every home in the world; that divine passion

that has painted every picture and given us every real work of art;

that divine passion that has made the world worth living in and has

given some value to human life.



     He was the poet of the natural, and taught men not to be

ashamed of that which is natural. He was not only the poet of

democracy, not only the poet of the great Republic, but he was the

Poet of the human race. He was not confined to the limits of this

country, but his sympathy went out over the seas to all the nations

of the earth.



     He stretched out his hand and felt himself the equal of all

kings and of all princes, and the brother of all men, no matter how

high, no matter how low.



     He has uttered more supreme words than any writer of our

century, possibly of almost any other. He was, above all things, a

man, and above genius, above all the snow-capped peaks of

intelligence, above all art, rises the true man, Greater than all

is the true man, and he walked among his fellow-men as such.



     He was the poet of Death. He accepted all life and all death,

and he justified all. He had the courage to meet all, and was great

enough and splendid enough to harmonize all and to accept all there

is of life as a divine melody.



     You know better than I what his life has been, but let me say

one thing. Knowing, as he did, what others can know and what they

cannot, he accepted and absorbed all theories, all creeds, all

religions, and believed in none. His philosophy was a sky that

embraced all clouds and accounted for all clouds. He had a

philosophy and a religion of his own, broader, as he believed --

and as I believe -- than others. He accepted all, he understood

all, and he was above all.



     He was absolutely true to himself. He had frankness and

courage, and he was as candid as light. He was willing that all the

sons of men should be absolutely acquainted with his heart and

brain. He had nothing to conceal. Frank, candid, pure, serene,

noble, and yet for years he was maligned and slandered, simply

because he had the candor of nature. He will be understood yet, and

that for which he was condemned -- his frankness, his candor --

will add to the glory and greatness of his fame.



     He wrote a liturgy for mankind; he wrote a great and splendid

psalm of life, and he gave to us the gospel of humanity -- the

greatest gospel that can be preached.



     He was not afraid to live, not afraid to die. For many years

he and death were near neighbors. He was always willing and ready

to meet and greet this king called death, and for many months he

sat in the deepening twilight waiting for the night, waiting for

the light.



     He never lost his hope. When the mists filled the valleys, he

looked upon the mountain tops, and when the mountains in darkness

disappeared, he fixed his gaze upon the stars.



     In his brain were the blessed memories of the day, and in his

heart were mingled the dawn and dusk of life.



     He was not afraid; he was cheerful every moment. The laughing

nymphs of day did not desert him. They remained that they might

clasp the hands and greet with smiles the veiled and silent sisters

of the night. And when they did come, Walt Whitman stretched his

hand to them. On one side were the nymphs of the day, and on the

other the silent sisters of the night, and so, hand in hand,

between smiles and tears, he reached his journey's end.



     From the frontier of life, from the western wave-kissed shore,

he sent us messages of content and hope, and these messages seem

now like strains of music blown by the "Mystic Trumpeter" from

Death's pale realm.



     To-day we give back to Mother Nature, to her clasp and kiss,

one of the bravest, sweetest souls that ever lived in human clay.



     Charitable as the air and generous as Nature, he was negligent

of all except to do and say what he believed he should do and

should say.



     And I to-day thank him, not only for you but for myself, --

for all the brave words he has uttered. I thank him for all the

great and splendid words he has said in favor of liberty, in favor

of man and woman, in favor of motherhood, in favor of fathers, in

favor of children, and I thank him for the brave words that he has

said of death.



     He has lived, he has died, and death is less terrible than it

was before. Thousands and millions will walk down into the "dark

valley of the shadow" holding Walt Whitman by the hand. Long after

we are dead the brave words he has spoken will sound like trumpets

to the dying.



     And so I lay this little wreath upon this great man's tomb. I

loved him living, and I love him still.



                          ********



                         Bank of Wisdom

                  Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201

 

Addressing ‘God’ in Secular Families: When is the Right Time?

When my daughter was 2, and barely out of diapers, she had her first Potty Emergency.

We’d been having lunch when suddenly she rose and sprinted to the bathroom with the speed and determination of a hunted deer. I’d been hopeful she made it in time, but when I arrived several seconds later, she was standing in front of the toilet, fully clothed, staring down at a puddle on the floor. Her little shoulders had fallen. Without looking up at me, she shook her little head and said exactly what I would have said in the same situation:

“Jesus Christ.”

I’m sure my Presbyterian ancestors would have been charmed to know the only thing my daughter knew about the Christian Messiah was that he made for an effective expletive.

In many nonreligious families, there aren’t a lot of opportunities for religious references to arise outside of idioms, proverbs and occasional profanity. Few of us visit churches or attend mosque or synagogue or temple. We don’t pray before meals. We don’t emphasize the religious aspects of national holidays. We don’t have Bibles or Qur’ans lying around. God just doesn’t come up.

As a result, sometimes we don’t know how to start the conversations. How do we kick things off? And when, exactly, are our kids ready to have these talks?

GodTalks

“I don’t want to make a big deal of telling her I don’t believe in God,” one atheist mom told me, “but there never seems to be a right time to say it.”

There is no magic age for God talk, and it depends a lot on the personality of the child, but kids are generally ready to start exploring ideas of spirituality around ages 4 or 5. This is when blossoming imaginations welcome supernatural ideas, and when concepts like good and evil come into focus. It’s about this time, too, when inquisition replaces demand as the rhetorical tool of choice:  Why did this happen?” “What happens if someone does that?” And it’s during these years they are first exposed to the reality that mom and dad don’t have exclusive control of the thought process: kids at preschool and daycare also have ideas to share.

Watch carefully, and you’ll see the signs of mental development, and a readiness for thoughts unrelated to immediate needs and wants. You may notice a new interest in how plants and insects die, curiosity about the sunshine, and a knack for picking up on anything “out of the ordinary.” They’ll pretty soon notice that people have different answers, different explanations, and that some of them will undoubtedly involve faith.

Even when you know the timing is right, the thought of broaching the subject of religion can be intimidating — even paralyzing. Many parents fret that they waited too long. Their children begin to “act” on what they hear without the benefit of context. They may assume that the religious ideas voiced by relatives or peers are absolute truth. They may learn to phrase things in ways that make their parents uncomfortable, which causes the parents to try to “undo” the children’s learning.

Focus-on-Religion_14496806

“My son overheard a discussion that I was having with another adult,” one mother told me. “When he heard me mention ‘God’ he asked: ‘Do you mean the ‘One True God?’ Apparently, his public school kindergarten teachers were praying with the kids in class.”

This is not to say it’s imperative that we parents are the ones to bring up religion. More than 50 percent of parents surveyed said their kids had brought up the subject themselves. Don’t be surprised when the moment arrives. Accept the opportunity, and dive right in: “I’m glad your Uncle Joe brought it up!” you might say. “This is interesting stuff.”

The trick, if there is a trick to this, is to let children’s curiosity be your guide. Try not to tell them more than they want to know, or answer questions they’re not asking. There’s no need for a boring dissertation or a nervous oratory. Nothing needs to be forced or coerced.

Seriously, if talking about religion is anything other than natural and interesting, you’re probably trying too hard.

Quick! What the Hell is Yom Kippur?

I read a fascinating article in the Los Angeles Times this morning about local protests against the sacrificial slaughter of chickens being conducted this week in Jewish enclaves throughout Los Angeles — and, indeed, throughout the world. The ritual, as kaparotkapparot or kaparos, is supposed to help “cleanse” people of their sins. It’s an orthodox Jewish thing.

More progressive Jews are calling the ritual archaic and meaningless, and point to the treatment of the chickens before their deaths as further reason to stop the killings. Faith leaders have joined with animal-rights activists in the protest.

So, here’s the deal: The sacrifices all tie into the Jewish High Holy Days leading up to Yom Kippur. This period is meant to be a period of “atonement” — asking God to forgive your sins. The chicken is supposed to “accept” all the sins of those present and then be killed (knife to the throat) in one, big, bloody symbolic gesture.

Anyhoo…. in anticipation of Yom Kippur, which lasts exactly 25 hours beginning tomorrow evening, here is the latest addition to your friendly neighborhood Holiday Cheat Sheet.

Holiday: Yom Kippur (pronounced Yom Ki-POOR)

AKA: The Day of Atonement

Religion Represented: Judaism

Date: The 10th day of Tishrei in the Hebrew calendar.

Not To Be Confused With: Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

On a Scale of 1 to 10: Yom Kippur is a heavy 10.

What It Is: Yom Kippur is the last and most important of Judaism’s 10 High Holy Days, which begin on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. As you might recall, the New Year is a time to reflect on one’s life and resolve to be a better person in the coming year. On Yom Kippur, God is said to take a look at the deeds of the Jewish people and to seal each person’s fate in the “Book of Life.” More than anything, Yom Kippur is a day of seeking forgiveness and giving to charity. (And, um, slaughtering chickens.)

Associated Literary Passages: Leviticus 16:29 and 23:27; Numbers 29:7-11 and Mishnah Tract Yomah 8:1

The Sabbath of All Sabbaths: Saturday (“the sabbath”) is to Jews what Sunday is to Christians; it is the “day of rest” when synagogues hold their weekly worship services. Yom Kippur is considered the “Sabbath of all Sabbaths” because, not only is it a day of complete rest (no work, no driving, etc.) but it’s a day of fasting and other restrictions: no washing or bathing, no perfumes or deodorants, no wearing leather shoes, and no sex. Services run all day on Yom Kippur — from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. — with a break around 3 p.m. People wear white, and services generally end with a long blow from the shofar.

Coolest Thing about Yom Kippur: During their ever-so-long day of synagogue services (decidedly NOT the coolest thing about Yom Kippur, given the no-deodorant rule), participants take part in a “group confession.” They confess to being aggressive, slanderous, acting callously, and a number of other things — usually involving behaving badly toward others in speech or deed. The cool thing is that the sins are confessed in the plural — “we” have done this, “we” have done that — emphasizing “communal responsibility for sins.” Now, I don’t believe in “sins,” AT ALL, and I know that, in this sense, they are only talking about the Jewish people. But I think if more human beings could adopt even a little of this attitude, “we” could kick up the world’s compassion level a notch or two. Minus the chickens, of course.

Appropriate Greeting: “Have an easy fast.” (“Happy Yom Kippur” is not considered appropriate, as Yom Kippur is not a “happy” holiday.)

Can the Bible Help Kids Think Critically?

max-bibleOnce upon a time, I would have choked on my own vomit at the idea of buying a children’s Bible for my daughter. The way I saw it, the Bible was an indoctrination tool. I no more wanted to crack that book open than I wanted to get her baptized or plan her Bat Mitzvah or teach her to pray toward Mecca five times a day. It was all the same to me. In my mind, only religious people read the Bible.

But, times have changed.

Today, I don’t equate the Bible to religion; I equate it with religious literacy. It is the quickest and most effective way to expose kids to Western belief systems. When it comes to knowledge of Judaism and Christianity and — to a slightly lesser extent — Islam, you can’t do better than to read some key Bible passages. Judaism relies heavily on Moses and the book of Exodus. Christianity revolves around the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And Islam loves it some Genesis-bred Abraham.

Of course, kids are too young to understand the language in the Bible, so it’s definitely best to go with a children’s version. Yes, they over-simplify things. Yes, they white wash. Yes, they take out all the language that makes the Bible at all enjoyable to read, frankly. But the greater good is that the kids will understand the stories and be drawn into them enough to actually remember them. And memory is sort of key in the education business.

My daughter has had her children’s Bible for almost three years now. She’s been known to take it out and look at the pictures, but lately — within the last year — she has taken to reading it in the car. She skips around a bit, but is always fascinated most by the moral aspects of each tale. I think this is the age where kids really start to think more about “right” and “wrong” and Biblical stories are larger-than-life tales with big-name characters, and so the degrees of rightness and wrongness are heightened.

The shocking thing about it all is that — contrary to the common assumption — reading the Bible seems to be helping to hone her ability to think for herself. She reads the stories with genuine interest and serious consideration — but without the reverence, deference and praise associated with faith-based Bible classes. It’s remarkable, really, especially when I think back on the pure lack of critical thinking I employed when I heard the same stories as a kid.

The other day, for example, while reading in the car, she got to the 10th of the 10 Commandments and read (aloud): “Never want what belongs to others.” Then she stopped and corrected Moses. “Well, you can WANT what belongs to others,” she said. “You just can’t HAVE it. You can buy one for yourself.”

In the story about Joseph’s dream coat, the passage read: “Joseph was one of Jacob’s twelve sons. Jacob loved him more than all of his other sons…”

Maxine looked up at me: “THAT’S SO MEAN!” she said.

When Jacob is thrown in jail, and one of the other prisoners asks Jacob — quite out of the blue — to decipher the guy’s dream, Maxine was all: “Well how would HE know what that means?!” And when a father (I can’t recall who) tells his son that he must marry who the father chooses, Maxine declared that to be “dumb” and explained to me that, of course, the son can marry whoever he wants.

But my favorite bit was when her Bible told her that “goodly people” would go to live in heaven.

“I am a goodly person,” Maxine said, “but I don’t want to live in heaven.”

And then she added: “Where do all the BADLY people live, that’s what I want to know…”

When ‘Religious Jokes’ Cross a Line

On Facebook, you see a lot of religious memes. They are posted (and reposted and reposted) by religious people with genuine reverence.

On the Facebook group for secular mothers that I belong to, you see a lot of religious memes, too. Only they’re posted ironically, and for the express purpose of being skewered. The contrast can be refreshing.

religious-mind-joke

Now, to be fair, the group is much more about connecting with a like-minded community of women. Most posts seek parental advice or share the latest on someone’s health scare or fertility problems or battle with cancer. But there are jokes to be had, too. Lots and lots of jokes.

It’s a good group.

But sometimes, in good groups, bad things happen. And a few days ago, there quite the dust-up around a member who posted a picture joke that ended up offending a good number of people. I didn’t see the joke myself — it was taken down before I logged on — but the controversy continued into a follow-up post that I did see.

From what I gather, the picture depicted the Last Supper (original, right?) and featured a joke about the cost of the Last Supper and who would be footing the bill for all that food. The joke was apparently a play on the stereotype that Jews are cheap. And it used that word, too: Jews.

36gv0u

Tempers flared immediately.

It was offensive, people said. It promulgated a harmful stereotype.

No, said others, it was totally benign. And, plus, plenty of religious jokes are posted and tolerated on the site. Why not this one?

But it didn’t poke fun at a religion. It poked fun at an ethnicity. That’s different. 

It was funny. Sorry it offended you.

It was harmful. And you’re not really sorry.

And so it went.

Finally, the member took down the joke.

The controversy interested me on a couple of levels. On one side, I had to roll my eyes at this idea that poking fun at religious groups is A-okay, while posting jokes about other groups — ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation — is not. Talk about a sweeping double-standard.

Remember+when+religious+people+could+take+a+joke+_66ca48d81de92718e5de8cde9546359a

But then there was this ridiculous notion that because some people thought the joke was funny, the joke deserved to be seen in that light. In short, this woman didn’t mean to offend people, so why were people so bent out of shape?

The whole thing reminded me of the whole “rape-joke” controversy last summer. Remember that? When comedian Daniel Tosh was talking about rape jokes at the Laugh Factory and a woman in the audience heckled him by saying, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!” And he responded by saying: “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by, like, five guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…”

Well, as you can imagine, that thing blew up, too — BIG TIME. Tosh got hammered by feminist groups. Meanwhile, tons of big-name comedians lined up to defend Tosh’s right to tell jokes about rape. They turned it into a censorship issue.

In the midst of the ongoing debate, a woman named Lindy West, a comedian herself, printed her response on the website Jezebel. And talk about nailing it. First off, West is a funny, funny lady. Second off, West is smart, smart lady. In a nutshell, her point was this: Comedians have every right to say whatever they want, make whatever joke they want, no matter the subject, no matter how dark. Will it offend someone? Of course. Most jokes would offend someone. But just as comedians have the right to tell any joke they want, WE have the right to respond any way we see fit. If we want to stand up and say, “That is a joke that harms women,” and call for that person to be fired from Comedy Central, then that’s what we should do. It’s not about the subject matter; rape jokes can be funny. So can jokes about molestation and cancer and race and ethnicity and religion. It’s about the specific joke. We’re not talking about government censorship; we’re talking about audience regulation. Democracy.

Religious_fc7036_2240321I’m not, as my friends can attest, easily offended. I love edgy humor, the edgier the better. Shock value is a value I admire. But just because SOMEONE finds something funny — or that someone told it TO BE funny — doesn’t mean it’s a good joke. Or that they should telling it. Sure the line is hard to see sometimes; but we are human beings. We should care enough to look for it. And if we don’t, we should be prepared to be, forgive the expression, bitch-slapped.

In the end, Tosh got scolded in a very effective way. He was the object of national criticism, apologized to his fans on Twitter. Democracy.

In the end, the Facebook user got scolded in a very effective way, too. She took down her joke and dropped out of the group.

God Bless America.

Two Items of Business for Secular Parents

calendar-1Okay, people, a couple of items of business on this fine Monday morning.

1. Mixed Marriages: If you happen to be in an “interfaithless” marriage — one partner is religious, the other isn’t — you’ll want to keep an eye out for Dale McGowan’s newest project, a book called “In Faith and In Doubt.” McGowan, who announced the book title on his blog last week, promises to show “how religious believers and nonbelievers can create strong marriages and happy families.” The book is slated for release around July 2014, but McGowan (author of Parenting Beyond Belief: Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion) will be blogging about the process in the meantime. Best of luck, Dale!

2. Secular Parents: For those who live anywhere near Long Island, the local branch of the Ethical Humanist Society and Long Island Center for Inquiry are hosting an all-day seminar for secular parents on Sept. 21.  The seminar, titled “Raising Kids to Be Good Grown-Ups,” is focused particularly on instilling kids with strong moral character. Segment titles include: “Without God, Will My Kid Grow Up to Be a Criminal?” and “Morality, Religious Concepts and the Cognitive Development of Children.” The conference is billed as helping to “foster a society that encourages open debate and critical thought, as well as investing in the future for our children.” Speakers include Lenore Skanazy, author of Free Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry), Dale McGowan (!!!), and Dr. Alison Pratt, a clinical psychologist specializing in cognitive therapy and behavioral analysis, among others. For a schedule, visit: secularparentingforum.org.

Crucifixion Story, As Told By a Freethinking 7-Year-Old

A couple of weeks ago, while walking along a gravel road in the French countryside (!!!), my 7-year-old daughter, Maxine, decided to tell her 4-year-old cousin the story of Jesus’ death. It hadn’t been a recent topic of conversation in our house or anything, but we’d just passed by a very old, very Christian cemetery, so that must have been what prompted the storytelling. The narrative was classic Maxine — relatively accurate, deliberately paced, full of distractions and incredibly amusing, with an editorial comment or two thrown in along the way.

After the story was over, my nephew had A LOT of questions for his mom. I’d like to apologize for that, Jen. But what could I do? It was blogger gold! Oh, and a special thank you to the iPhone for allowing me to both record the conversation and get this shot of Maxine in a field of sheep.

Field of Sheep

Maxine: Once upon a time, Jesus… well, you know the story of Christmas. Do you know the story of Christmas?

Jack: No.

Maxine: Well, we’re not going to tell the story of Christmas. Okay, so one time there were some men. Or maybe there was one man. Or some men. I don’t know. So this man was a mean man. He wanted to kill Jesus. And he wasn’t very nice. So he went after Jesus and got Jesus and he put him in … jail? Well, I think it was in jail. And he wanted to kill him, so this is what he did:  He nailed him to the wall. Nailed him to the WALL. He nailed his hands and he nailed his feet. I would think it would be really hard. And he left him there for three days, or five days, something like that. Three days, yes. Yes, three days.

[Gets distracted by a loose-gravel sign on the road.] 

So. They nailed him to the wall. They left him there for three days. He died. Of course. Well, it’s not the end of the story yet. You THINK it’s the end of the story. Don’t you think?

Jack: Yeah.

Maxine: Yeah. But it’s not. People believe in God. You believe in God. Also, even if you don’t believe in God, you believe that someone nailed him to the wall and he died. People HAVE to believe that because if they don’t believe that, they’re wrong. Okay, so whatever. Now.

[Gets distracted by a car driving by.] 

Okay. So. He, of course, he died. But some of his relatives, like his mom and…  I’m not sure if he saw his dad or not. Oh well. His mom and maybe his dad, I’m not sure, whatever, his dad, whatever, I’m not sure, and his relatives, his friends —

Jack: Or maybe Jesus didn’t have a dad.

Maxine: Yeah, Jesus had a dad. Mary and Joseph. Okay, whatever.

Jack: Hey, my grandma has a toy about that!

Maxine: Oh yeah! She does! She absolutely, positutely does.

[Gets distracted by a goat tied up in someone's yard.]

Okay. So, anyway, back to the story.

Jack: Is this a true story?

Maxine: Yes, true story. But some people don’t believe this part: Everybody put Jesus in a cave.

Jack: All the mean mans?

Maxine: Yes, there were mean men. Oh, who put him in the cave? Well his mom, his friends, his relatives, or even people who believed in him. Okay, so they put Jesus in a cave and they left him there for another three days. And guess what happened?

Jack: What?

Maxine: He came back alive! Remember, Jack, some people don’t believe this part. [Whispers] It’s probably not real, just to let you know. But people do believe in it.

Jack: When he came alive, is that true?

Maxine: Jack, I just told you the answer to that question. I’m not sure. People believe that it’s true. Also, people believe that it’s not true at all. My parents believe that it’s not true at all. But I believe in ghosts, so I believe it is. Maybe. I’m not sure. I still don’t believe in God, though.

Jack: My grandma has an angel in the Jesus toy.

Maxine: Yeah, uh-huh. Okay, so we’re getting to the end of the story. Jesus came back alive and — BABY COWS!

[Gets distracted by cows in a field.]

 Okay so then Jesus came back alive and said, ‘I’ll be back to visit you.’ And he floated up to heaven. The end. I can’t believe I memorized that whole — BULL!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X