Thank you Jehovah’s Witnesses

I’m pretty proud of yesterday’s big conversation with Peanut, and I have only the Jehovah’s Witnesses to thank. I can’t believe it actually happened this brilliantly, but it did.

P and I were eating dinner when we saw a woman walk up the porch and knock. When I opened the door she apologized for interrupting dinner and invited us to a celebration of her faith and I thanked her then closed the door.

Peanut: What did she say?
Me: She wanted to invite us to a meeting.
P: Me, too?
M: Yes.
P: And the cats?
M: No. Just the people.
P: What’s the meeting for?
M: Well, she and her family believe something and they want to tell us about what they believe.
P: Is it true?
M: Nobody knows, but she wants to tell us about it.
P: What does she believe?
M: Well, this is a big idea…….People have always tried to figure out how the Universe and the solar system and the Earth and humans got here, and some people believe that some chemicals got really hot and exploded and made the Universe, and some people believe that a kind of creator, not like a person but kind of like a ghost person that was here before anything else was here made the planets and the solar system and the people.
P: Do you believe that?
M: No. Daddy and I don’t believe that something decided to make the Universe. We believe that physics made the Universe. But lots of people we know believe a spirit decided to make everything and then created planets and people. [He asks who and I list the people we know and tell him who does and who does not believe in God.]
P: Well I believe a…what’s the name of it?
M: Most people who believe call it god. One god or lots of gods.
P: Yeah. I believe god made everything.
M: Oh.
P: But I believe something else made god.
M: Interesting.
P: Yeah. It was kind of like a bicycle that was just a basket and people have to push it and it made the god.
M: So a bicycle that’s just a basket makes a creator, and the creator makes people, and the people push the bicycle.
P: Yup. That’s just what I believe.
M: Interesting.
[eating]
P: Is god around anymore or did it die?
M: Depends who you ask. Many people believe many different things. Some believe god is everywhere and is still everywhere and will always be everywhere. Some believe god is an idea that people made and that idea died.
P: I don’t believe that.
M: No?
P: No. The bicycle and the god are still around.
M: Hmmm. Okay.

Here’s the thing. I’ve been waiting for just the right moment to introduce the idea that lots of people believe different things about supernatural forces. And I wanted it to be a discussion that respects all ideas, like our discussion about the afterlife late last year. So I’m thrilled the faithful came to the door. I’m proud of myself for teaching P by example to respect what other people believe, and I’m proud of not teaching him only what I believe. I’m glad I’ve been introduced to so many faiths and paid attention, so I can explain, when he asks, the basics of Catholic and Lutheran and Muslim and Buddhist and Jewish belief. I’m glad I got to introduce the idea seriously, with no pressure to hurry, no frustration at who introduced the topic or how. I’m glad I got to explain that we believe something, that other people believe something, and that you never know who will believe what, but that it’s generally pretty important to them.

And I’m proud, in a detached intellctual kind of way, that P saw the immediate question of “what existed before the Creator?” because this kid is gonna be way cool to talk with about philosophy, theology, and sociology, whatever he ends up believing.

[for the record, I do not hold his faith in an immobile bicycle as Creator of the Universe and all within on par with other faiths, nor am I trying to mock religion when I detail his reaction to being exposed to the idea of god. It’s his first try at faith, he’s four, and we’re just getting started on this journey. Please don’t misinterpret my being willing to relate his “god #1 invents god #2 so the latter can create people to wheel god #1 around” theory as an attack on any ideas you may hold dear. Just because I don’t believe doesn’t mean I disdain belief itself. There is no way the bicycle that is just a basket dogma will hold up, nor that fascinating theological texts like Jesus Interrupted or Misquoting Jesus dedicated to Peanut’s bicycle-god-people trinity, but who am I to judge, is the point.)

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What about the issues?

So the blogoshere and FoxNewsForRepublicans are abuzz with silliness about Sarah Palin’s Newsweek cover. Some are upset that she wasn’t airbrushed to within an inch of recognizability. Um…two things. First, airbrushing the humanity out of women’s faces is part of the problem with the way we, in this country, judge a woman first by her exterior and almost never by her ideas. Second, other persons of political importance have had exactly the same angle and zoom, and have looked just as flawless as she does, and nobody made a stink. How sexist that FoxNews thinks this cover is nasty, just because she’s a woman and presumably valuable for her looks. The cover pictures her face, and we’re not obligated to beautify it–every human face is beautiful the way it is. Sarah Palin’s face on this cover lovely and it’s not the point, because her politics are the point. Get over the fact that we should white glove her but manhandle the three other major political figures of the American presidential race. She gets the same treatment–respectful, full frontal magnifying glass. Airbrushing is reprehensible enough for fashion models and celebrities. She’s not in this game for her face. She’s in this game for her mind. Can we finally have a picture of that, please?

(Wouldn’t that be awesome? Have medical science design a way to measure a person’s intelligence, fairness, logic, goodness, and fundamental worthiness? Then election and marriage and hiring and friendship decisions would be much easier.)

Here’s a blog about the zoom-y cover nonsense. The first response, about a plastic surgeon judging her face is positively offensive. When are we allowed to look like ourselves? Baby photos are Photoshopped for magazines, toddlers are tarted up in full makeup for Little Miss Pedophile contests, teens are mocked for their appearance, and the rest of the country carves themselves to get self esteem.

On a similar note, I was searching the phrase “Sarah Palin is a hater” because after seeing a few clips of her speeches I marvel at how toxic and acerbic her tone is. “Who is the real Barack Obama?” Ah, excuse, me, Madam Governor, but isn’t that the pot calling the kettle an outsider? If his daughter or Joe Biden’s daughter was pregnant we’d be having a different election. If his religion or Joe Biden’s religion was as extreme, we’d be having a different election. If he or Joe Biden had been found by a bipartisan committee to have abused power, we would have a different election. Barack Obama has given hundreds, nay thousands, of interviews. And he has several flaws. But we know about them. Who is the real Barack Obama? Who is the real Sarah Pain? She can’t even name what media she relies upon for her information, let alone give a clear answer (I’m not going to answer that , and will instead answer the question I prepared…I read everything put in front of me…I’ll get back to you on that…it doesn’t matter what I believe about global warming, we just need to fix it). Obama’s Christian pastor said some really eye opening things, and Obama left his Christian church. (Had to repeat that qualifer because there are still people who think he’s Muslim. Not that I would care. Religion or not, I care how people think, not which brand of god they buy.) Palin’s pastor has said some really eye opening things and nobody calls her on it. Seriously, people. When is the superficial lovefest about this woman going to end, and when do we get to hear what she really believes? After the election? She doesn’t believe in global warming or evolution or birth control or government oversight, (until just recently, when it became clear that unbridled capitalism really kind of sucks for the innocent). She believes The Lord is at work in things like gas pipelines and wars (take a look at this article). She believes that rape and incest victims should be forced to have the children conceived in those violent acts, and she believes her daughter is the only one who should get to choose what to do with her own body.

Anyway, I found this blog, which led me to this New Yorker article. Funny, I guess, if it weren’t so scary.

Makes me want to go back to teaching critical thinking, because a good percentage of this country needs some of that skill.

(Speaking of, I heard a fantastic program on NPR yesterday that included a lengthy discussion of Harlem’s efforts to lift children out of the cycle of poverty. An interesting bit, early on in This American Life‘s piece, noted that job training and welfare programs are failing because some Americans aren’t missing one skill, something teachable that, once fixed, will enable them to work. They’re missing dozens of skils, including motivation, financial knowledge, and basic critical thinking. If we give kids positive, enriching environments that teach them to think broadly about problems, we create a future of universal success. Critical thinking might also help us end the cycle of getting the government we deserve, because we might, collectively, vote in our best interests, not in our narrowest interests.)