Blogs Are Stupid

Doesn't anyone believe in Dear Diary anymore? What happened to the joy of putting actual pen to paper? And why does every ordinary Jane and John think they can write well enough to burden the world with their scribblings? It’s a mystery that badly needs solving. My first entry contains my thoughts about blogging and will set your expectations. The rest will probably be stream of consciousness garbage, much like you’ll find on any other blog. Perhaps we will both come away enlightened.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Greater Gift

Years ago when were in gradeschool, my youngest sister had a friend whose family were Christian fundamentalists. I didn't realize that at the time. I just knew they were very, very different from our family.

The mother and only daughter had long hair. They did not wear pants. The mother was always pregnant and had a worn, dour look about her. All of them wore bedraggled handmedowns and the babies always wore cloth diapers that were gray and drooping from countless washings.

I would babysit every now and then when their mother had to grocery shop or run other errands. Their home, like ours, was almost a century old, but unlike ours, it was dark and dreary and scared me a little bit. It smelled funny too. Their father rode a bicycle to work. I don't remember if they even had a car.

They were homeschooled, which was not the widely accepted practice that it is today. It was definitely viewed with suspicion and made the children a target of teasing in the neighborhood. I don't think they had many friends aside from my sister.

They had to do chores. Not just a few chores either...they were regular workhorses. And they never, ever, ever sassed their parents. It was WEIRD. I got the distinct feeling that they were spanked a lot more than we ever were. Harder too.

But the thing that unquestionably inspired the most sympathy on our part, was the fact that there was no television allowed in their home. No Saturday morning cartoons, no after school specials about that kid who wet the bed. No Six Million Dollar Man. No Bewitched.

It was a bona fide travesty as far as we were concerned.

On occasion, their mother would allow the girl and the oldest boy to come over to our house to play. But they did not play at our house. My sister would beg them to play with her; play tag, or hide n' seek, or Twister...anything. But both of them would promptly plant themselves in front of our television, where they were stricken deaf and dumb to her pleas by the flickering images on the screen. They sat there, slack jawed and glassy eyed until it was time for them to go home.

It was sort of creepy.

I hadn't thought of those people in years, but yesterday, while browsing for children's crafts in Michael's, I was reminded of them with startling clarity.

A woman and a little boy caught my eye; the woman because her pinched, somber mein and dowdy appearance were oddly familiar; the little boy because his face was filled with wonder as he studied a display of fantasy action figures.

I smiled, because Diminutive One had shown similar interest in the display on a previous visit. He had $10 that my mother had given him on her visit here over a month ago. He had been saving it for just the right thing. After a lot of deliberating, he decided upon two model airplanes instead.

This little boy was much younger than Diminutive One; perhaps four, but certainly no older than five. And yet, the two were equally enchanted by the majestic creatures and the noble heroes. I smiled at the fact that wizards and dragons and knights can enthrall most any male, from those who have scarcely entered boyhood, to those who have left it far behind.

My reverie was broken by the woman's scolding. Her voice was heavy with contempt.

"Oh no. We don't like those ugly, evil things Matthew! They're not for little boys like you to play with. It would make God very sad."

I know that I gasped audibly. I know I did. I felt the outrage and indignation burst from me in a huge, scathing exhalation. But if she heard me, she gave no indication.

I wanted to scream at her.

"How dare you do that to a little boy! Don't you know they only have magic for a little while?? It leaves them so quickly, their ability to believe in the unbelievable. How can you take that from him? How can you manipulate him with God's approval? You know what would make God sad?? What you just did. That would make God sad. He had a little boy too, you know."

But I didn't, of course. It's none of my business what she teaches her kids. But goddamn it made me sad. Inexpressibly, inexplicably...sad.

I watched his head flop forward onto his chest and his shoulders sag. Ever so slowly he turned away and then reluctantly followed his mother, who was striding briskly away. He cast a single longing glance over his shoulder.

It tore my heart in two that look. It was hunger. Stark, naked hunger for fanciful things.

I saw that woman and that little boy in two other stores that day. And every time I hastened in the opposite direction, fearing I might witness another such scene. I couldn't face that child's disappointment, shame, and longing again.

And he was ashamed. He was ashamed of his hunger, ashamed of it because he was afraid it made God sad.

Maybe I'm missing something here. It happens, since I'm not a Christian and I don't attend church. I'm not privvy to the wisdom that is imparted there.

I'd like very much if someone would explain to me how depriving a child of magic and whimsy will make them a better Christian or a better person.

I'd like very much if someone could explain to me why God and magic can't coexist peacefully in a child's heart.

Me...I happen to think that there's precious little magic in this world, and precious little time to believe in it. And you know what? I nurtured that belief in my children. I fed it with tall tales and fantastic yarns and fairy stories. I fed it by placing quarters under pillows and presents under a tree and brightly colored eggs in a basket. I have watched it grow and thrive and become it's own thing in each of them...and it has gratified me.

If I have done my children an injustice, then I am not interested in doing the right thing.

My children do not hunger and they are not ashamed. And yet...there are those who would say that they are being deprived because I have not given them faith.

I have to wonder which is the greater gift.

(I know, I'm a little heavy on the religious meanderings lately, but that always happens this time of year. It goes hand in hand with spending time with my in-laws. Remind me to write about our conversation about "The Golden Compass" and how I almost inadvertantly set myself up for some good old fashioned soul saving by admitting that I wish I had the certainty of faith.)


  • At 8:21 AM, Blogger email said…

    I think that is an extreme. I don't personally know anyone, regardless of religion or lack thereof, who doesn't allow his/her children to believe in magic for as long as they can. It's certainly not a hallmark of all Christian faith, as far as I know. But I could be wrong; I am so often wrong. :)

    Also, I think that it is a child's ability to believe in magic that allows a child to believe unquestioningly in God. It's not until we're older that doubts and questions that aren't easily answered begin to plague us. When we stop believing in Santa and the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy, THAT'S when we start to question the whole concept of God. The results of this questioning vary. Some become atheists, some become agnostics, some are strengthened in their beliefs. And one became Mother Theresa. I guess it all depends on how you answer your own questions.

  • At 8:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Such a sad story. I guess everyone is a product of their environment and when these poor children are raised with that kind of restrictive parenting - in the name of God no less, it takes their spirit away. You are living the life of what a Christian should be.

  • At 9:02 AM, Blogger Terri said…

    Oh, I know the kind of people you are referring to. This is a sad story, but not all Christians are like this.
    I suppose this lady would not let her children read C.S. Lewis or Tolkein, both Christians and both include magic, wizards, etc. in their writings.

    Our children know that Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, etc. are not real, but they pretend that they are for fun just as they might pretend fairies are real. The reason we don't tell our kids Santa is real is because we feel that to do so is in essence lying to our children. It is building up something to be real which isn't and the parent is forced to make up more stories about why some kids get more from Santa than others. (This I remember from my own childhood.) This is a completely personal decision for us.

    I hadn't thought about it before, but JMC has a good point. Perhaps, believing in magic allows a child to believe in God.

  • At 10:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Do you know the song "Puff the Magic Dragon", by Peter, Paul and Mary? Your post brought the lyrics of that song to my mind.

    "A dragon lives forever,
    But not little girls and boys.
    Painted wings and giant rings
    Make way for other toys.
    One grey night it happened,
    Jackie Paper came no more
    And Puff that mighty dragon,
    He ceased his fearless roar."

    Imagination is a gift to be cherished and nutured within our children. How can children think outside the box and find cures for cancer, or send a man to Mars if they live in a tight small box with no room for imagination or invention.

  • At 10:54 AM, Blogger SUEB0B said…

    My personal belief is that God doesn't bother to get sad over us. The creator set up the world with everything that we need to make ourselves happy - or miserable - and it is up to us to do that. That makes me a Deist, I guess, which puts me in company with Thomas Jefferson.

  • At 12:10 PM, Blogger rebecca said…

    very sad...yet, imagination is a fundamental part of our growth. and, did not Jesus imagine? Of course he did, most especially when he imagined a world of peace and love and respect for one another.

    without imagination we cannot evolve as a species or survive -- from the beginning of time with the discovery of fire up until now with our technological advances and interplanetary travel, it is all based on our imaginations and our minds asking, WHAT IF...

    what imagination is NOT is evil. instead, it is a gift from God.

  • At 12:45 PM, Blogger Christine said…

    That reminds me of the hoopla around Halloween at my son's school. They banned jack-o-lanterns, witches, ghosts etc. at the "Fall Festival" because they are too demonic. This stemmed from one family who is not religious at all, but wanted to be 'sensitive' to those that are.

  • At 12:48 PM, Blogger flutter said…

    I wish I knew what to say

  • At 1:01 PM, Blogger Phoenix said…

    I think that is so sad. I knew a family like that growing up. All they wanted to do at my house was watch TV and hold Barbie, because they weren't alowed those things.

    I have a lot of the same views you have on religion. It makes me so sad that people are so ashamed of living that they choose to not let their kids do it. I remember a thing that went around my uncles church about Harry Potter books being against god. Luckily my uncle didn't feel that way and my cousins were allowed to have the books. But seriously a toy or a book against god? How lame is that? Kids should be allowed to be kids and that includes beliveing in magic and things unseen. I've never understood how it's so different then believing in a god that no one sees.

  • At 1:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Kids are able to distinguish between real life and "fairytale" stuff. Even my 3-year-old is able to enjoy stories featuring Santa Claus, spiderman, dragons or talking bunnies "even though" she knows they don't exist.*

    Heck - she even knows that there are REAL pirates (=scary thugs) and STORY pirates (=aarrrrrh!). My line as a Christian is: once we come to the thing about magic and wizardry and witches, I'll explain it's a lot like these two kinds of pirates. You can enjoy the story kind without going near the real kind.

    *My guess is she enjoys these stories BECAUSE she knows they're not real. She was a bit scared of ghosts first. I told her ghosts don't exist. She wasn't comforted. Then I told her that IF ghosts existed, then another thing that would exist is a cuddly dragon who eats ghosts. We'd have one of those and he'd sleep on her bed and eat every ghost that comes to our house. THEN she was comforted. Which tells a lot about why archetypes are important and how they work, doesn't it?

  • At 5:45 PM, Blogger Carol said…

    You and me both, my friend. You and me both!

    Great post. Important message and VERY well written!


  • At 7:11 PM, Blogger Sharon L. Holland said…

    Whack. Job.

    It's a technical theological term.

    I don't wanna get preachy on your blog, but Jesus had profoundly negative things to say about people who treat kids that way. That lady has completely missed it.

  • At 7:48 PM, Blogger Chicky Chicky Baby said…

    You don't want to get me started on this. I get very angry and belligerent when I hear people use God (whom I do believe in, in some way) for their own gains. In this case, the mother's beliefs over the child's harmless desire. I'm fuming!

  • At 8:58 PM, Blogger Ruth Dynamite said…

    Think of all the religious kooks who are exposed as Giant Hypocrites. They feel this deep sense of shame for their material or other longings, and so they gratify them in secret - only to be exposed, Jimmy Swaggart-like, for all to see.

    Makes me sick. All of it.

    I'm with you.

  • At 9:19 PM, Blogger Girlplustwo said…

    i was raised like that. and i'll attest, it sucked. i could havec been taught faith in a different way, for sure.

    but hey, what the hell.

    and now i can't stop hearing the 6M $ man theme song.

  • At 10:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Well I'm on shaky ground here as a very lapsed Roman Catholic, but I would venture to suggest that she is mis-quoting the big G and has corrupted His word [and intent]

    For my 2 cents, I think he's often misconstrued to fit other people's personal agendum.

  • At 11:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I figure if Santa & Jesus can coexist on the same holiday, then it works for me. :=) There is so little magic left in the world, and children grow up so damn fast these days, they need all the magic and mystery they can get.
    And the shaming? Shame on her, I say. Just picturing that little boy breaks my heart. Who is she to say what would make God sad? I mean, with all of the tragedies in our world, THAT is what would make God sad? Give me a break. Poor kid.

  • At 1:37 AM, Blogger said…

    God loves a good knight and dragon story.

    Just ask St. George.

  • At 8:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    My daughter goes to school with a little girl, a Chinese child adopted by what I would call slightly fanatical parents. I have only met the mother, who is always saccharin sweet to me, but I can only assume the father is as wacky as she is. My daughter made fast friends with this child on her first day at school only to end up being persecuted by her. My daughter believes in fairies and this little girl has been taught to believe that fairies are evil and are against God. This little girl glares at me and my daughter as if we are the devil and her spawn. She is outright mean to my daughter and managed to rally other girls against her, as well. Her mother even spoke to the teacher about my daughter's talk of fairies. The teacher (thankfully) asked the woman if she told her daughter about the tooth fairy and what about Santa? The woman agreed those two were okay, but that my daughter's talk of fairies was not acceptable!!! BTW, this little girl is spoiled beyond repair and has all the fashions and trappings of retail worship. It makes me wonder if she would have been better off in an orphanage in China. I told my daughter next time the little girl was mean to her to tell her that God was watching her be mean. How dare that woman and her child attempt to destroy my wonderful little girl's imagination with their crackpot dogma. It's one of the things I did not think I would have to deal with when I moved to Georgia. How ignorant I was to think that the dark ages were over!

  • At 10:12 AM, Blogger Chanda (aka Bea) said…

    Fear. Ignorance. Control.

    Faith and spirituality had nothing to do with what that woman did. So sad.

  • At 10:56 AM, Blogger Jessica said…

    The people you were talking about are a very good example of extreme religion. They can call themselves christian, and in their hearts they believe they are, but their actions say otherwise. God would not want them to shame their children.

  • At 2:07 PM, Blogger Kiy said…

    That just broke my heart. Wonderfully written, wish I had the courage to send it my my sister, who reminds me too much of that woman in the store. Makes me cry for her children.


  • At 10:27 PM, Blogger Cathy, Amy and Kristina said…

    My mother was raised in an extremely fundamentalist setting. She left in her her early 20s.

    I'm still working up the energy to post on the damage.


  • At 9:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I just don't think God has the time to care what toys that little boy wants to play with. He's got enough on his plate.

    I, too, am so sad for that boy. If she MUST keep him from playing with those toys, why not admonish kindly? Whatever you believe in, must you really make your kid ashamed in order to prove your point?

  • At 2:55 PM, Blogger Mary Alice said…

    Not all Christians are like that. Not all Christian churches teach that. The first thing that popped into my mind Terri already said here in the comments. C.S. Lewis. The Chronicles of Narnia. Magical and based on Christian theology.

  • At 5:05 AM, Blogger the mad momma said…

    I dont like it when parents manipulate and make God the bad cop. the sad part is, she probably believed it...

  • At 3:40 PM, Blogger Namito said…

    There is no hell like the one we make for ourselves, eh?

    What a sad pathetic woman. And how unspeakably infuriating.

    Oh do DO write about that conversation on The Golden Compass. I am in LOVE with that trilogy.

    BTW, everything has a price. Even faith.

  • At 8:28 AM, Blogger Candygirlflies said…

    God IS magic... God IS wonder, and joy, and all those wonderful things that make life worth living. Children, in my opinion, are much closer to God, and more "in tune" with what is truly important, than we adults are...

    I'm hanging on to the magic and wonder of my three girlies' childhoods with both hands, for dear life.

    God is not about fear. Or exclusivity. Or manipulation.

    Blog Anatagonist, you have hit the nail right on the head, and expressed it exquisitely, once again.

    xo CGF

  • At 12:12 AM, Blogger Rachelle said…

    Ugh. Sometimes I hate identifying myself as a Christian because of those who make us look really bad. Yet I'm also called to extend that woman grace... I have to assume that, like the rest of us, she is doing the best she can with what she knows, and not necessarily getting it all right.

    But sheesh, I hate sad stories about kids. And that one made me really sad.

    I'm happy to say Santa and Jesus co-exist quite happily in our home. The Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny get in on the action, too.

  • At 9:49 PM, Blogger Student of Life said…

    I have video (which I should put on YouTube) of some former neighbors of mine who dressed like you describe and had an assload of kids. It's from a couple of Halloweens ago. They, of course, chose not to participate in Halloween. Fine by me. To each his own. HOWEVER, instead of simply turning off their lights, they chose to HECKLE the children of my neighborhood for hours. They posted bible verses in their windows (which were all open), yelled things at the children, played their violins--quite badly--stood at their door but refused to open it. It didn't seem like practicing their own religion. It seemed hateful and mean. We're talking about one of the most magical nights for many children. Many of the children who WERE participating came from Christian homes. Even if you think what they're doing is wrong, children don't deserve to be taunted and heckled and berated for being kids and having fun. To me, that is evil.


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