Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Babysitter

My problem with moderate theists is the aiding-and-abetting aspect of belief that provides support to morally repugnant “holy" book(s) and their capricious interpretations by institutions and individuals that stem from the many dogmatic bronze-age mythologies as well as medieval thinkers with ulterior motives . None of the attempts to explain away the violence in these books is even remotely satisfying. The best explanation I've heard is, "don't look there." Is violence really the only metaphor, allegory, simile etc. that an all-powerful being can think of to make a point. Somebody needs a better creative writing professor. 

Walter Sinnett-Armstrong makes this very point in the essay Overcoming Christianity:

"Still, by calling themselves Christians, they associate themselves with certain institutions and views. That association buttresses those institutions and views by allowing true believers to claim more support than they really have. It would be clearer and better to emphasize the differences between their "spiritual" views and traditional religion. If true religion is as harmful as I think, then we all should want to dissociate ourselves from it."

 Let me offer my little allegory in response:

A couple with two young girls wants to go out on Saturday evening for dinner. The both couple's parents are busy so they have to find a babysitter. After several recommendations from friends, they settled on a young lady that came highly recommended from everyone.

The babysitter arrives on Saturday about 6:30 pm at their home and the father of the young couple introduces themselves and the two young girls to the babysitter. After showing the babysitter around the house, the couple hands her a basic list of rules and suggestions for the course of the evening as they walk out the door. They all wave good-bye and nothing more is said. When the babysitter looks down at the list it reads:

1. Don't let the girls go outside the house.
2. Feed them dinner around 7:30 pm.
3. Don't let anyone in the house while we're gone.
4. Put them to bed at 9pm sharp.
5. If they don't want to go to bed, drown them in a bathtub full of water by placing your bare hands around their throats so they and those that witness this holy event will know that you are their lord and master.
6. Don't let any harm come to them.

At first blush, one could argue—even without a Ph. D. in logic—that 5 and 6 seem to be in conflict with one another. Obviously, any babysitter would be confused. What’s that old adage? “Do what your told.” The rules seem simple enough but now the babysitter is faced with what most Republicans would call a moral dilemma: Follow the demands of their employer and drown the two children (the couple is obviously providing jobs to Americans and supporting the economy)—after all, it was written on paper, or second-guess the employer’s wishes, ignore the commands, and risk the chance of losing the job from a job-provider and be left to live out life as a parasitic socialist and worshiping Saul Alinsky in a hippie commune.  

Luckily, the babysitter never even considered the options. As the evening progressed and girls being girls, they didn't want to go to bed at 9pm sharp. SpongeBob SquarePants was being shown on Comedy Central  and Fox News was carrying Newt Gingrich's speech on child labor so they had vested interest in staying up late. The babysitter simply ignored the couple's rules on basic principle alone and offered to read them Hansel and Gretel as a bedtime story, which was much less incendiary than the moral platitudes of the Gingrich speech.

The evening went without a hitch. But, upon the couples return, the babysitter questioned them about the morally reprehensible list of rules they had handed her prior to their departure. As it turns out, the list was written by their senile great, great, great, grandfather who didn't like kids. Since the entire family thought so much of their ancestor and he went through all the trouble to write the list—it had been in the family forever—they said they didn’t have the heart to write a new one (after all, it was in his handwriting). 

The father turned to the babysitter and said with a laugh, “Don't be silly. We just interpret #5 as 'read 'em a bedtime story.'” 


  1. "Still, by calling themselves Christians, they associate themselves with certain institutions and views. That association buttresses those institutions and views by allowing true believers to claim more support than they really have. It would be clearer and better to emphasize the differences between their "spiritual" views and traditional religion. If true religion is as harmful as I think, then we all should want to dissociate ourselves from it."

    Reminds me of a post I made on an earlier thread:
    "Can we, as two reasonable people, sit down and divest the word "God" of all it's negative emotional baggage by redefining it as we see fit? Sure we could. But what practical purpose would this serve in a world filled with billions of monotheists? What is served by checking the same "yes" box on a survey that a Southern Baptist would check if asked "Do you believe in God?"

    1. Gods always retreat into the mystic when confronted with reality and hard data.

    2. Nice parable, Dean. The "rules" in their Good Book that many theists consider benign and irrelevant are just as odious as your #5.

      >What is served by checking the same "yes" box on a survey that a Southern Baptist would check if asked "Do you believe in God?"<

      A job at Belmont U., in my case. (I didn't check that box, & didn't get the job. See, everything DOES happen for a reason!)

      Seriously, I agree: don't say "I believe in God" if what you believe in is not a divine, worship-worthy, prayer-petitionable personality that created & sustains the universe.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. It is pretty sad that in our world today questions like that even exist on a job application. But most people who believe god think that others that believe in god must be a morally better person than someone who does not. Even though many people who claim they believe in god do bad things all the time.

    2. Point I was trying to make was on any job application or anything similar, that question has almost nothing to do with your skills that the job would acquire and people can judge you based on a silly question.

      About six years ago I filled out a job application and it had the same question on it. Even though I was sure I would be hired, I checked yes to question out of fear that I would be judged wrongly for answering no.

      That was along time ago though, and I don't think I could bring myself to answer yes on a question like that anymore.

    3. Actually I didn't check the box, I just filled in the form where it asked if I had any formal religious affiliation. How's that for a Hobson's Choice? I'd been to a few Unitarian services and said so. Shoulda left it blank. It just didn't occur to me that the "accommodationist" Unitarians might be perceived by Belmont's Southern Baptist provost as pagans and wiccans. But all's well that ends well.

  3. Another possible mid-term presentation topic for me: Why I think it's important to identify as Muslim, even if I don't believe hardly any of the orthodox doctrines at all.

    1. Which, I find myself replying to my own comment, can easily be read as saying I radically disagreed with Walter's point in this essay. I think it is fallacious thinking to say that moderate/liberal forms of religion must necessarily aid and abet more radical fundamentalist forms of that religion, and I suspect if the logic were applied to anything secular most people would see how silly it is: It's practically on par with saying that if you support socialism, you're a nazi sympathizer.

    2. Godwin!

      Seriously, though, I think a more apt analogy would be like me saying that I'm a nazi and that Hitler was just doing it wrong.

    3. "Apt analogy"--Exactly!

      It's like saying one likes Nazism because of the cool boots, belt-buckles, and comfortable outerwear; turning a blind-eye to the 'extreme' actions of the organization (we just ignore the genocide). Oh, and marching in-step and shouting 'hiel Hitler' reminds me of country line dancing. Then there's that snazzy swastika shoulder patch.

  4. Jamie, I rally hope you will do that topic. Your stance is intriguing, really unique in my experience. I want to understand it.

    I feel your discomfort over "aiding and abetting," but don't you agree that if we "accommodationists" (which is not to me the dirty word some think it is) are going to defend the middle we have an obligation to call out the extremists and not "cover" them - even unwittingly?

    1. I really hope. And I really hope to rally hope too ;)

  5. If Christian and Muslim leaders and members would stand up and publicly condemn the violent passages in the Bible and the Quran, I would consider that a good place start. That would move theists away from the literal Truth of their 'holy' books and move towards a more personal truth, which could reflect a peaceful interpretation by individual believers. I honestly think this is what most followers of Christianity and Islam want. But moderate and radical leadership isn't going to let this happen because it would mean a loosening of the institutional grip on the throats and minds of followers--a loss of control. Authority, moderate or radical, frowns on this; they just vary their tactics based on secular laws and social constraints.

    All we see now from religious leadership is a moderate condemnation of violence. Sure, they point out that the violence is wrong but fall far short of condemning the violent passages of text from which those acts are influenced or supported. This is purposely ignoring the problem. Wouldn't it be nice to have a 'holy' book that condemned violence for any reason except protection of the innocent.

    Many followers of religion use their personal interpretation of the Bible or Quran to shield their hate, bigotry and prejudice. This is why one 'true' interpretation of any 'holy' book will never surface. Welcome to one of the many reasons I think there is not god or gods. An all-powerful god would have its collective shit together.

    So, my challenge to you, Jamie, is to post your essay on this site about Allah, Islam, and your sanitized interpretation of the Quran--condemning the subjugation of women as well as the violent or radical interpretation of the Quran. I would also urge you to include a paragraph on why bullying or killing apostates is wrong and should be condemned as well.

    Then, let's take your essay and post it on an Islamic (English speaking) website so that the entire class can access and monitor the response.

    Maybe we would all learn something.

  6. I like this. As absurd and unfair of an example as it seemed at first, I honestly couldn't find any ways to attack it.

    On that note, would the Bible be a more useful document to mankind if man could edit it freely?

    1. I would say that mankind has made a pretty robust business of editing the Bible. It's called "translation", and there are plenty of different ones. Some of them take some fairly extreme liberties with the text, enough so that the characterization of editing seems appropriate. And I am all for efforts to modernize and water down the original directives.

  7. http://kurzman.unc.edu/islamic-statements-against-terrorism/

    My experience is that there is a lot more speaking out against violence than most people think. It's simply rarely covered in media. This is not an exhaustive list.

    This was in response to Dean's comment about leaders decrying violence. Though if I understand his point correctly, he was calling for them to renounce ALL violence in the book, not merely terrorism and not merely 'contextualizing violence'...in which case this list really doesn't do anything but add interest to the conversation. :)

    1. I read through your list and there was only one Islamic leader that condemned violence against all humans. A few statements were written defensively, proclaiming Islam as a peaceful religion but didn't condemn the violence. The majority condemned violence and bloodshed against the "innocent" but what is not even remotely clear is who is innocent.

      What is clear is who could be classified as infidels: all non-believers. This would include Pagans, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Wiccans, Buddhists, etc.

      Whether it's right to kill them or not is simply a matter of interpretation.

      The problem is not with the followers of Christianity or Islam, it with the barbaric bronze-age texts that come with the the religion that many take very seriously and a few act out on those interpretations.

      We, as a civilized society, must keep the pressure on all violent and oppressive religious belief (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) and continue to illustrate its falsehood; eventually relegating it to the status of mythology--still enjoyable and practicable for believers but way less dangerous.

    2. Yes, as I said in the post, if the point was to find someone condemning all violence against humans, then that would be significantly harder to find. Maybe impossible within the Islamic community.

      Even I would not be willing to condemn violence and bloodshed against all humans. I was a Marine Corps infantryman. It seems that war and violence is, if not inevitable, at least a current reality for human civilization since the beginning of time. I'm a firm believer in the somewhat apocryphal quote - "People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."

      Surely you would agree the terrorists at least, need killin' (as my old Gunn would have said). And that there are other legitimate situations and causes for war and violence. Where you and I do agree, is that religious considerations should by and large not be a part of that weighing process.

    3. Any reasonable and sane person would recognize that my argument's context is religious violence motivated by doctrine and would rightfully assume we weren't discussing national defense or self defense.

  8. Score one for Team Jamie:


    1. It made the Washington Post too. I hope the Murfreesboro papers carry it as well so a redneck or two will read it. Then again, there's that "read" barrier.

      We don't need anyone discriminating against any religious group--we need to discriminate against hate, violence, bigotry, and misogyny regardless of the source.