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Category: parenting (page 1 of 5)

The Problem of Forgetfulness

The Problem of Evil is a problem for theists: If God is all-good and all-powerful, then why does he allow people to harm, torture, and kill others? (See Newtown.)

One common theist answer involves free will: God respects freedom of choice, and allows the wicked to fill the cup of their iniquity to overflowing, so that their punishment will be just.

Which is rubbish.
1) What about the free will of those kids in Newtown? Why isn’t their choice to stay alive respected? How come the shooter is the only one whose freedom of choice must be maintained?
2) I think freedom of choice is important, but if I saw someone about to gun down a seven-year-old, and I had all power, I’d stop them. I’d be terrible if I didn’t. God doesn’t. (This is the Tracie and Matt argument.)

And that last point brings me to a new twist on this theme, which I’m going to call ‘The Problem of Forgetfulness’.

Did you know that hundreds of children have died in hot cars because their parents spaced out and left them there? It’s awful. Maybe they fall asleep in the back, maybe the parent’s mind is occupied, they go about their day, and only remember hours later with a guilty start that they never went to daycare that morning. By that time, the child is dead.

Read this Washington Post article for all the heart-breaking details. This has vaulted to my number-one parental fear.

The answer to the problem, Fennell believes, lies in improved car safety features and in increased public awareness that this can happen, that the results of a momentary lapse of memory can be horrifying.

What is the worst case she knows of?

“I don’t really like to . . .” she says.

She looks away. She won’t hold eye contact for this.

“The child pulled all her hair out before she died.”

Imagine being that child, alone during those stifling hours. This is not a nice way to go.

Now let’s say you’re lucky and you run across such a car on your way through a parking lot. The car is searing, and the child is alone and crying. What would you do? You’d kick a hole in a window, wouldn’t you? Attract some attention? Get that kid out somehow. Or… would you just sit and watch for hour after hour?

God (in the believer’s imagination) could do any of those things. Because he has all power, he could also cause a fault in the car that makes the horn sound. I had a car like that once. The horn went off and wouldn’t shut up. It attracted a lot of attention. He could send some inspired soul around — that would make a great testimony story. But no, God sits and watches as the child suffocates in agony. And this scene is repeated a few times every year.

You can’t really invoke free will as an explanation. It wasn’t the parent’s choice to forget the child, not really. It was a stupid and fatal mistake. A god would know that, and give the child a break. But no. The deaths continue.

I’ve never heard a good response to the Problem of Forgetfulness. It’s much more likely that this god doesn’t exist, rather than imagining that he has a good reason for letting toddlers die in torment. But if you’re a believer, and you want to defend your god’s striking lack of initiative, please leave your explanation in comments. Just be aware that, due to the inevitably callous nature of these justifications, you run the risk of making yourself or your god sound like kind of a jerk.

Profiles in Faith: Charlie Fuqua

In Profiles in Faith, we celebrate those who really believe their scriptures. And today we feature Charlie Fuqua, Republican candidate for the Arkansas House of Representatives, and Bible believer. He’s attracted some attention for his stand on executing rebellious children.

Fuqua, who is anti-abortion, points out that the course of action involved in sentencing a child to death is described in the Bible and would involve judicial approval.

By golly, he’s right!

Exodus 21:17 And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.

Leviticus 20:9 For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him.

But parents wouldn’t be allowed to kill their children willy-nilly. That would be crazy! You’d have to go through the legal system and observe due process. It’s just that knowing your parents had the authority to kill you would instill a healthy respect.

Even though this procedure would rarely be used, if it were the law of land, it would give parents authority. Children would know that their parents had authority and it would be a tremendous incentive for children to give proper respect to their parents.

Tough but fair.

Lest we be too hard on Mr Fuqua, let’s remind ourselves that he is only following the example of his god, who drowned almost all of his own disobedient children in the most thorough act of genocide in recorded history.

It follows, doesn’t it? For Mr Fuqua, love is what you have for someone who can harm you. The love that a child has for a parent (who can only kill you for a limited period of time) is just a foretaste of that far more infinite love for one’s creator, who can torture you for eternity.

He really just wanted Doritos, and I said no.

This happened when my son was so hungry he could eat a three-day-old corpse, and I don’t just mean ritually.

Creepy Jehovah’s Witness video

Uh-oh! Looks like little Caleb has brought home some competing fiction! Mom knows that her Bible fiction won’t survive against it — it’s far more interesting — so it’s time for a guilt trip at the family table! (Fast forward to 2:58 for the video.)

Maybe AC Grayling was wrong — he suggested substituting ‘God’ with ‘Fred’ or some other name, just to show how silly the whole thing is. But ‘Jehovah’ sounds pretty silly to me, and they’re still buying it.

I imagine this is intended to help JW parents remove unwanted elements like ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘critical thinking’. It’s really terrible parenting, but it’s disguised as good parenting. Notice that Mom doesn’t yell or scream, or throw the toy in the trash. What she does is much more sinister: she manipulates the boy into caring for the feelings of an invisible bronze-age Hebrew deity, and acting accordingly. Check him out; he’s absolutely gutted.

Do you want Jehovah to be sad?

How stupid! Jehovah’s a big guy; he can look after his own feelings. Or is that a not-so-subtle threat? You don’t want Jehovah to be ‘sad’ with you, do you? Remember how we read about the Midianites? Jehovah was ‘sad’ with them, too.

What if you disobey Jehovah, and play with toys he doesn’t like?

I’ll turn horrible and old like those poor fuckers Adam and Eve!

Even creepier is how the kid is encouraged to be Jehovah’s ‘friend’. People sometimes talk about having a ‘relationship’ with their favourite deity, but what they don’t realise is that it’s hard to make a relationship work when there’s a significant power imbalance. When the other person in the relationship has all the power in the universe, knows everything you do and think, imposes arbitrary moral demands on you, and will ultimately decide your eternal future, that’s not a relationship. It even goes beyond ‘abusive relationship’; it’s a hostage situation. How is this a model for successful relationships?

You made Mommy very happy!

Hmm. Something about her seems familiar.


Afterwards, they sang “I Am a Slave of God”.

UPDATE: Hey, look what the Internet made! A Sparlock t-shirt!

Best of all, Café Press will give you a 25% discount if you use the order code 3XNEYLRKATMK. Apparently.

Celebrate this, the best of all possible worlds!

The Three Horsemen: Act 2

Setting: A very long book-signing queue

Dramatis personae:
Richard Dawkins (RD): A scientist. A public intellectual. A colossus among men.
Daniel Midgley (DM): A Daniel Midgley

Curtain rises.

DM: Hello again!
RD: (peers at DM as if for the first time, appears to recognise) Oh, hello.
DM: (hands over a copy of ‘The Magic of Reality’) This is the copy of your book that I read to my son.
RD: I’m glad! (Signs)
DM: Do you think that disgust was the mechanism for our evolved sense of morality?
RD: Yes. I do. (Hands back books)
DM: Thank you! (exit)

End of Act II

Global Atheist Con, Day 2: Leslie Cannold

Leslie Cannold is a writer, activist, and the author of “The Book of Rachel”. Her talk: Separating Church and State: A Call to Action.

It’s one of those funny paradoxes that Americans seem super-religious, when their constitution has provisions for the separation of church and state — and what’s more important, that separation gets upheld in court. Australia, however, allows lots of religious stuff past the legal barriers — and Australians are largely secular. The net effect is that Australia does not really achieve a separation of church and state.

Cannold compared the relevant bits of each country’s constitution. Let’s start with Australia:

Section 116: The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

And the USA:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

Both texts read about the same. The difference is that of implementation. In USA, courts have a tradition of “reading it up”, so that an action is prohibited unless it’s explicitly okay. In Australia, they “read it down”, so that it’s okay unless it’s explicitly prohibited. That means a lot of religious stuff gets in.

The difference between the two methods of implementation shows up in two landmark cases, both of which involved the role of the government in promoting religion in schools: McCollum v Board of Education (USA, 1948)

“For the First Amendment rests upon the premise that both religion and government can best work to achieve their lofty aims if each is left free from the other within its respective sphere. Or, as we said in the Everson case, the First Amendment had erected a wall between Church and State which must be kept high and impregnable.”

and The Dog’s Case (Australia, 1981), in which one Justice said:

[Section 116] cannot readily be viewed as the repository of some broad statement of the principle concerning the separation of church and state from which may be distilled the detailed consequences of such separation.

What this means is that Australian taxpayers pay to promote religions:

  • religious festivals (millions of dollars for World Youth Day)
  • canonisations ($1.5 million in the case of Mary McKillop)
  • tax breaks for churches
  • private schools
  • and exposing kids to religion via chaplains

Cannold actually has no objection to Religious Education taught by teachers. However, at the moment we have a situation where access to high school students is thrown open to what can only be described as evangelists. Here’s the head of Access Ministries:

“There is enormous amount of christian ministry going on in our schools, both at state level and at at national level, both at government and non-government schools, but we must ask how much of that ministry is actually resulting in christian conversion and discipleship growing”

“Our Federal and State Governments allow us to take the Christian faith into schools. We need to go and make disciples.”

In Cannold’s view, Australia is a soft theocracy. Politicians feign religiosity because they think it will get them votes. Our Prime Minister (who Fiona Patten calls a “non-practicing atheist“) has given religions everything they’ve wanted.

So what can we do?

Cannold emphasises that “we” includes the non-faith community and some religious believers who can’t stand this trend and who consider faith a private matter. We need to find them and form coalitions.

Here are some simple suggestions from Cannold.

Join the Facebook group for Australians for Separation of Church & State
Help with the Australian University Freethought Alliance.
Donate to Ron Williams. He’s single-handedly mounting a challenge against the chaplaincy, and the legal costs are climbing. Throw him some dough.
Engage in web-based advocacy
Build alliances with teachers. There are teachers who agree that scripture shouldn’t be taught in school, but after school. Opt-in, not opt-out.

And foremost — we need to admit that we do not have a secular state in Australia. We think of ourselves as secular and non-religious, and we are. But we’re also kind of conflict-averse, and we need to stop that.

Deep political discussion

Benefits tied to immunisation

Good news: the Australian government is now explicitly tying family tax benefits to whether children are immunised.

Parents who do not have their children fully immunised will be stripped of family tax benefits under a scheme announced by the Federal Government.

The Government says 11 per cent of five-year-olds are not immunised and has announced a shake-up of the system which will take effect from July 1 next year.

Under the changes, families who refuse vaccinations face losing up to $2,100 per child in benefits.

Children will need to have more vaccines, and younger.

Children will for the first time be required to receive vaccines for meningococcal C, pneumococcal and varicella (chicken pox).

A combination vaccine will replace individual doses of vaccine for measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (chicken pox) – which means children will be immunised against measles, mumps and rubella earlier, at 18 months instead of the current four years of age.

This will be great, as long as there are no easy exemptions to render the law toothless. Oh, wait.

What exemptions will be available for the new immunisation conditions linked to the Family Tax Benefit Part A supplement?

While the Government considers that immunisation is an important health measure for children and families, existing exemptions will continue to be available.

A child may have a temporary or permanent exemption if a recognised immunisation provider determines that receiving the vaccine is medically contraindicated. A child may also receive an exemption from the immunisation requirements if a recognised immunisation provider indicates that the parent has a conscientious objection to immunising their child.

This needs to be fixed. Even so, this might push a few more parents to immunise.

Baby names for linguists or celebrities

Natalie Portman has named her firstborn child after a letter.

Natalie Portman and her fiance Benjamin Millepied welcomed a baby boy last month and have finally revealed the name of the baby to be Aleph.

Aleph, also spelled “Alef” and pronounced “All-Eff,” is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Much like how “alpha” is the first letter in the Greek alphabet. In Judaic Kabbalah, its esoteric meaning in the theological treaty Sefer-ha-Bahir, relates to the origin of the universe, the “primordial one that contains all numbers.”

Why the fuss? People name girls ‘Beth‘ all the time, and no one says anything. And if we’re talking about Roman letters, ‘Bea’ or ‘Jay’. In fact, a letter is a great idea for a baby name.

So for the more adventurous parents, here are some characters from the world’s writing systems that might make good baby names, along with their likely consequences.

Character: Zel
Writing system: Ottoman Turkish alphabet
Sounds like: [z]
Expect the child to be: Extroverted
Future Career: Real estate agent, or MLM scammer

Character: Fita
Writing system: Early Cyrillic
Language that uses it: Russian
Sounds like: [f]
Expect the child to be: Colicky
Future Career: Yoga instructor

Character: Kaunan
Writing system: Runic alphabet
Language that uses it: Norse
Sounds like: [k]
Expect the child to be: Needing a search and rescue team at least once
Future Career: Artist, cheesemaker, or bikey

Character: Delt
Writing system: Phonecian
Sounds like: [d]
Expect the child to be: Albino
Future Career: Personal trainer, or assassin

Character: Yat
Writing system: Glagolitic alphabet
Languages that use it: Slavic
Sounds like: [æ] as in ‘cat’
Expect the child to be: A little slow
Future Career: Colour consultant, or unsuccessful real estate agent

Character: Lo Ling
Writing system: Thai
Sounds like: [l] (initial), [n] (final)
Expect the child to be: Mysterious
Future Career: Personal assistant to evil genius, or successful call girl

The danger is they might think for themselves.

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