Tuesday, June 22, 2010
This week an old acquaintance “friended” my husband on Facebook, and I found myself upset about it. We had stopped associating with “Rob” about four years ago when we realized he was a bigot, and he had raised his children to think as he does. Unfortunately for them, they can be just as vocal with their hatred as their father. Rob is, in my opinion, the worst kind of bigot. He is a religious extremist, and he shares his views openly and freely in a poisonous manner with his children. From ages 12 to four, all of his sons know in great detail what an abortion is, and they are not shy about discussing it with anyone. I personally don’t think any child needs to know what an abortion is. It’s horrific to teach a child these things, and these children are adversely affected by it.
My husband and I have heard these words come from his children’s mouths: “John Kerry kills babies,” and “Democrats are baby killers.” Around the table one night Rob’s oldest son who was only 11 at the time announced that they no longer play with a boy who used to be a friend because his father (and their little friend) believe in the theory of evolution. The look on his face showed mortification that anyone could believe such a thing. When I was trying to get pregnant, I privately shared with his mother that our latest procedure had not worked. Six months later the oldest son asked me if I couldn’t have children because God was punishing me because I am a Democrat and therefore my “womb was barren.” Those were the words he used.
Rob and his wife have seven children. All boys. All home schooled. Two are young enough to be playmates with our sons. Dave and I agreed we did not want our boys introduced to that line of thinking, so we extracted ourselves from the friendship as politely as we could since Dave and Rob work together. I felt a sense of relief once they stopped talking because my husband is a very forgiving man who can find the best in someone time and time again. Personally, I find the behavior of Rob and his children to be creepy. Time and time again in the news media we see religious extremists flip out and do something hypocritical because somewhere in that heart of theirs there’s some sort of dark urge bottled deep inside, and it’s just waiting to come out in one form or another, so they suppress it with a big thump of the Bible. I would like to suggest therapy instead. For everyone’s sake.
I am terrified of religious extremism. I grew up in the Midwest where the seeds if it take sprout at a young age, and it spreads through elementary schools as persistently as dandelions on the playground. When I was in fourth grade one of my classmates named Donna, whose father was a Baptist minister, announced that she could no longer hang around Sarah Brauer because she was Jewish. She said it out loud. In class. And our teacher turned around and said, “That’s not a nice thing to say.” And Donna said back, “Well, the Jews killed Jesus.” Later at recess I huddled with the popular girls, most of who were Catholic, and one of them said: “Everyone knows that Baptists hate Jews.” So I asked my mom who had been fostered by Baptist parents why Baptists hate Jews and she answered: “Because Jews are smarter and richer and more successful than most people. The Baptists are just jealous. That’s all.”
I remember conversations like this from my childhood, and they affected me profoundly. As a fourth grader, I wondered what could I believe that will keep me safe. What could I say about God and Jesus that wouldn’t make me an outcast? I decided to start going to Catholic Church with the girls down the street who went to a private school. I figured it was a good option since there were many Catholics in my neighborhood, and there’s safety in numbers. But the church wouldn’t let me take communion, so I felt left out and embarrassed as I sat there in the pew waiting. My parents were not religious, so I didn’t get much guidance from them on the subject. We went to a Unitarian Church for a while, and I loved that. I learned about different religions, and we sang songs for both Hanukkah and Christmas, but someone on the playground called me a dirty, free-loving hippie and accused my parents as being swingers when I proudly displayed the “U” for Unitarian on my mail ordered dog tags.
I don’t want my boys to endure this sort of thing. I don’t even want them exposed to it, but I know there’s little chance of that. My husband and I believe in many things. We love to study Buddhism and Eastern philosophy. Once upon a time we did Native American sweat lodges regularly to keep our bodies and our minds clean. We have gone to church and temple and to the mountain. We believe it all works. Sometimes we are drawn to one thing more than another. That’s how it goes in life. We explore. We find tools that work for us at the time.
Unfortunately, hatred is also a tool for survival. Bigotry is a way of protecting the soul from doubt. From openness. From questioning. From anything that may be perceived as weakness. Hatred cements the heart and provides a stable base for ignorance. And ignorance is bliss. Yes. It’s ironic, but on a different sort of path, hatred can lead to happiness.
This is the very sort of misguided journey I do not want my children going on. So I want to protect them from the Robs of the world who bury themselves in self-righteousness. I want my children to find what is right and good for them, and I can only hope they do it with an open mind and open heart. And if they can achieve that, then I hope they go one step further and take that light out into the world and shine it so brightly across their path that dogmatism becomes a shadow of its former self left whimpering in the corner. I pray my sons, nor anyone else on the planet, ever bother throw it a bone.