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.
(1) We’ve engaged in reframing and in 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 7.
He notes that he gets in trouble by asking questions at church, whereas he learns by asking questions in school. Big difference.
Atheist Bible studies
(2) We also read the Bible to him: passages that describe how the earth swallowed people up or a mountain belched fire – and how these poor, ignorant shepherds thought it was God.
But there’s more: grownups STILL believe it! We give him examples of what they are required to believe.
We read him Deuteronomy 25:11, which says that a woman interfering in a fight and touching the other man’s genitals is to have her hand cut off. “Show no mercy.”
We told him about the Torah’s death penalties for adultery, homosexuality, practicing other religions, and disrespecting your parents.
We showed him the agreement between God and Abraham, in Genesis 17: loyalty in exchange for foreskins, including slaves. Owch!
God and penises
We asked him what a nutjob God would want with so many foreskins. And why he was so obsessed with penises. Why not mandate the amputation of a little toe? Because God wants to show you who’s really in charge of procreative power around here. And it’s not you. (On several occasions, God punishes women with infertility – closes their wombs, as the text puts it.)
We showed him pix – not pornographic, but clinical – of children’s penises, circumcised and non-. We discussed the some of the pros and cons. So delicate are they at the Christian household that the word “penis” is not uttered.
(3) Third, we encourage his interest in science. Right now he's into rocks and minerals, tangible, indisputable proof of the age of the earth. We went to a Rock and Mineral Show. He was enthralled and bought some nice specimens, many with ages far in excess of what the Bible says is the age of the earth. We go through the wormhole with Morgan Freeman.
And we remind him of the universe’s complexity. Zach became obsessed with memorizing Tom Lehrer’s The Element Song (and you must discover -- or re-discover -- Lehrer yourself; the most brilliant satirist of the 20th century, he sang, with sardonic glee, of nuclear proliferation, new math, pollution, nuclear holocaust [“we will all fry together when we fry”], illegal drug use, pornography [couldn’t get enough], and much more that was way ahead of its time).
And I asked him, wouldn’t it have been helpful if God had said, “I created with world with the following elements: antimony, arsenic, aluminum…etc.”? Always putting Bible stories in perspective.
Running from the Rag
Zach doesn‘t really understand a lot of Lehrer‘s songs (e.g., “Plagiarize,” one of my faves). But, interestingly and tellingly, there’s only one he shrinks from: The Vatican Rag, easily among Lehrer’s most brilliant creations. It makes fun of my religion, the boy said.*
Whose religion? we asked. And isn’t religion just a little bit ridiculous anyway? But to be accurate about it, tradition has always pointed to the mother’s womb as the source of Jewishness…so for Zach, born of an adopted mother raised Jewish, “my religion” really means Judaism.
(*Caveat: Zachary is a clever boy who wants to please, and it’s always possible that he’s telling BOTH sides what they want to hear, so we take whatever he says with a grain of salt. But his body does not lie. If, during a bedtime discussion of religion, the cognitive dissonance becomes too great, he’ll pull his blanket over his head.)
Clearly, the brain-washers and child-abusers had already told Zach about hell...and now, given his reaction to The Vatican Rag, blasphemy.
This brings us to our – or rather my wife’s – latest strategy:
(4) Desecration. Confront holiness head-on.
The scene was our bedroom in the Hampton Inn in Nashua, NH. Inside the nightstand drawer was the usual gift from the Gideons.
SHE: Is this a holy book?
SHE: So what does that mean?
Z: It belongs to God.
SHE: Oh, so do you think God would be mad if I did anything to it?
Z (quietly and tentatively): You’re going to get killed.
[On the cover, between the words “Holy" and "Bible,” she writes” Shit,” so now it reads “Holy Shit Bible."]
SHE: Well, is God going to punish me?
Z: I’m telling on you.
SHE: Who are you going to tell? The front desk? This isn’t hotel property.
[Begins ripping our handfuls of pages from the middle.]
SHE: So now what do you think of your God, Zachary? Think he cares about his holy book? Or maybe he isn’t there, which is why nothing will happen to me.
[Rips torn pages in half, throws them in wastebasket.]
SHE: You see, Zachary, if you use your mind, you realize that you can‘t believe in holy things because nothing really happens to people who destroy them – unless it’s by other people. Because God doesn’t care. He’s not there.
Demonstration concluded. The next morning:
SHE: See, Zachary, I’m still here. I guess God’s a wuss. Or maybe…he’s just not there.
[Zachary grins as if he’s gotten away with something, but he’s not sure what.]
Zachary relates the above to his father, who does not fly into a religious rage and damn us to hell; in fact, he's quite non-committal, except to say that the entire time he was with my wife, some 20 years, he pretended not to believe. He told his son that the Bible, not the scientific version of evolution, is true.
See above caveat. But if Zach is reporting accurately…what a fucked-up way to fuck with a kid’s head! This is what religion makes people do.