The Battle for Zachary's Brain, IX; "Can I show that to Daddy?"

There is nothing that is too obvious of an absurdity to be firmly planted in the human head as long as you begin to instill before the age of five by constantly repeating it with an air of great seriousness.

– Arthur Schopenhauer

Followers of the riveting “Zachary’s Brain” series of posts will know that the narrative is not a Gothic horror tale…but something that is just as disturbing: resisting the religious programming of a child.

His step-mother, belonging to a vanilla-Jesus sect, got Dad involved, of course, because he wants to be on the right side of her, though while married to my wife, he was a lapsed Catholic, a confirmed skeptic/deist who refused communion and mocked the Pope.

So now there’s a lot of church in Zachary’s life – church activities, services, quite a bit of Christian BS. My wife weeps over the cruelty of making a child believe lies. And she acts. There is no WAY this boy is going to grow up into a Christian.


We know what they’re telling Zachary. It’s all there, in the Holy Babble. So we’ve adopted two strategies for what we call “counter-church” (”anti-” sounded too anti-), since we have him every other Sunday: one is reframing; the other is anticipatory information and argumentation. We told him of the cruelty and insanity of the Noah and Binding of Isaac stories. We’ve told him that one day, when there’s been lots of warm, fuzzy Baby Jesus, they will tell him about hell. And this is exactly what they did.

Because of our efforts, he already knew there was no such place. And even now we’ve been able to tell him that religious people’s preoccupation with death leads them to do all sorts of nutty things. He gets that, even at 8.

He notes that he gets in trouble by asking questions at church, whereas he learns by asking questions in school. Big difference.

Secular Sunday School

Especially when we have him on a Sunday, we try to do something counter-religious, the more heretical the better, as when my wife defaced and ripped up a hotel room Bible in front of Zach, and God, predictably, did nothing.

This last Sunday, I was intrigued by a graphic sent in by a commentator on an Atheist Nexus post.

It compared “Atheist Reasoning”" with “Theist Reasoning.” Essentially, the atheist (make that “humanist” - I don’t like to be on the negative side of anything) reasoning has WHY? and HOW? in a circle in the middle, as the central questions. All intellectual activity around the circle — hypotheses, speculation, data-gathering, theories, etc. — is focused on answering these questions — on knowing. But to the theist, all explanations, questions, gaps, hypotheses, answers — everything — leads to GOD at the center.

Well, if all the questions are answered, how do you find out anything? You don’t. You remain primitive shepherds, or whoever founded your religion. And indeed, Jews who have long since stopped being primitive shepherds dress up and go to synagogue, there to read from a scroll and pretend they believe all those primitive-shepherd stories. Weird.

The Problem

At the bottom: DO YOU SEE THE PROBLEM? And indeed Zach saw it immediately. He’s 8, and he got it: If God is the answer to everything, how can his father make a living in a scientific profession, of which the Bible says nothing?

Some months ago, we showed him pictures of Jews and Muslims praying. Clearly, they were convinced that their god was the right and only one. He brought this question back to his other home and was firmly told that the Christian god was the only one. End of discussion.

He once asked his Dad which version of history was correct, the Bible or evolution. The Bible, said Dad. In a couple of years he’ll be sophisticated enough to ask the follow-up question: then why do I have to go to school?

Anyway, he saw the problem. And he asked, in all innocence, “Can I take that page home to Daddy?” Certainly Dad would see the problem if presented so simply and eloquently.

Well, Zach, my sweet lad, Dad does see the problem. And like so many weak-minded go-alongs (including most of my family too), he prefers to ignore it.

Zach’s naivete at that moment was touching, heart-rending. But he’ll learn. 

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Comment by Alan Perlman on May 17, 2014 at 9:53pm

Right!  We've always told him to use his mind to find the truth.  He does.

Comment by Michael Penn on May 17, 2014 at 2:21pm

I think that what you are doing for the boy is to help him make a rational choice in life about "religious things." Later in his life he may apply this critical thinking and always remember you for it.



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