After I wrote my blog last week about cute conversations nonreligous parents have with their kids, a reader sent me a link to a post on the Friendly Atheist website about actress Julia Sweeney. Run by a guy named Hermant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist is a great site — mostly because of its Ask Richard segment — but isn't always very "friendly," if you ask me.
I thought maybe it was a good way for her to learn about Jesus. HA. She was so bewildered. I realized that since she hasn’t been inculcated with religious behaviors, everything just seems weird to her. Things I would have never had the naive open-mindedness to even ask. For example, at one point she asked me, “Why do those sick people want to touch Jesus?” I said, “Because they think he’s magic and can heal them.” Mulan said, “Why would anyone think that?” Me: “Because they didn’t have very much scientific information.” Mulan: “That’s crazy.” Then I had to stop the film and tell her that lots of people in the world still believe things like that.
Later she asked, “Why are all those women putting oil on Jesus’ head, and sort of leaning on him like that?” I said, “Well, one — Mary Magdalene, is like Jesus’ girlfriend. The other women — well, when you’re a cult leader, or actually this can be true of any very high status man — women fawn all over you.” “Creepy.” Mulan said. Then she fell asleep and I didn’t wake her up.
Is it just me, or does Sweeney seem to be bragging about her kid's religious ignorance?
I know I'm biased, but I just don't get it. What about this story is interesting or funny? Would it interest you to know that my daughter doesn't know how to do the laundry because I haven't taught her? Would you write about how funny it is that your 4-year-old son has no idea how babies are born? There are elements of surprise and humor in a great many of the stories parents tell. But ignorance alone just doesn't cut it. And it's not just Sweeney; more and more parents these days voice a certain pride when their children reach a certain age and still haven't heard religious concepts.
So, yeah, in the end, I wasn't impressed with Sweeney's story. But it was Mehta's comment that threw me over the edge.
When summarizing his post on Sweeney, Mehta asked his (many) readers:
"Have any of you had similar teaching experiences with your children?"
No, wait, I'm sorry, did he just say teaching experiences?
As in, learning?
Dude, since when does showing a 9-year-old child Jesus Christ Superstar — a terribly funny but outlandish, outdated comic musical — pass off as teaching? Especially when, like Sweeney, all you do is pause the show to say: "And you know what, kid? People ACTUALLY BELIEVE this stuff! Hahahahaha! Isn't that hilarious?"
Like I said, it's not that I don't think these sorts of conversations can be funny — obviously I do! — or that I don't recognize that the fantastical elements of religion are going to seem downright wackadoo to any non-indoctrinated child. I just don't think it should be a point of pride when your kid dismisses religion as crazy because you've presented it as crazy. Maybe it's the arrogance of it all? The indoctrination factor? I don't know. But it's very off-putting to me — especially when it comes from atheists I admire, and who are in a position to influence others. And, dammit, if Sweeney didn't miss a golden opportunity.
I guess it comes down to this: Conferring with your very young children about how dumb religious beliefs can seem isn't nearly as funny as some people think. And I certainly don’t think it’s anything to brag about.
Then again, I wouldn't be writing this book if I did.