Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Juxtaposition 235: Cthuluh, Jack Chick and Child Abuse

Update: Dan J, in his total awesomeness, managed to find a link to a PDF of the Cthuluh tract at the artist's web site... Thanks Dan. I would also like to heartily recommend giving his latest post a read - I can't help but be terribly pleased to find that someone else came up with a rather more "profane" rant than I did - and a very good one at that. He makes several points that I will delve into at some point in the relatively near future - I am more than a little fucking tired of this bullshit notion that we should accept dangerous behaviors and decision making from people, that we wouldn't accept under any other circumstances, simply because there is religion involved.

As Dan so eloquently puts it;
Fuck Them!!!

It is terribly amusing to me, that at the same time I managed to get into an argument with someone about Tiamat and the fact that Cthuluh is really cause for far more concern, because frankly Cthuluh wouldn't kick Tiamat's ass - h'd jst fckng eat hr, I also noted this delicious little tidbit posted at Pharyngula. I found it while perusing a few blogs that were involved in the crushing of my hopes for Canadian healthcare. I have a rather dark sense of humor, so I thought it was more than a little amusing. But when I was talking about it with my dearest Juniper, I realized that there is an element to the humor that one is likely to miss, if they never experienced Chick Tracts when they were a child. In a most unfortunate turn, it seems that the old tracts aren't available online and the new ones aren't quite on a par with the ones I was exposed to as a child, but I did find a couple that provide a decent taste. "The Beast" shows a common theme that runs through many of these tracts, providing up with a glimpse of what we can expect in these "end times." There were a lot of scenes that showed us what hell was like, showed Satan as a deceiver and even several that talked about specific demons and types of demons.

Juniper just didn't find the Cthuluh tract nearly so amusing at the end - it is, I will grant, rather disturbing. But honestly, it is not the least bit more disturbing than a lot of the Chick tracts are and were even moreso when I was growing up. And when I was four, five and six, I read Chick tracts all the time. There were scads of them at church and I happened to be rather adept at ferreting about in the sorts of places they got stored. They were comics, which are just lovely fun for a child and no one thought anything of seeing any of us kids reading these abominations. Never mind the demons and souls and brutal destruction of life and property - it was all for the greater biblical good of raising good Christian children. It was also a hell of a indoctrination tool. And it is ever so useful for a small child to get a headstart in understanding demonology.

During this same conversation, Juniper and I got to discussing my parochial school experience - it actually came up when I casually mentioned being paddled by the principle fairly regular like. It occurred to her that this was a very good expression of this concept of arationality that I have been on about, since I first noted it's use by that albino gorilla, John Wilkins. Because I think it's important to recognize that a great deal of creationist and general religious thinking falls outside the purview of the rational/irrational dichotomy - though my opinion about the value of that understanding would probably differ fairly significantly from John's. So picture a bit of my life, if you will and see just how irrational my thinking was as a child and how irrational much of my adult life has been...

Fast forward to the third grade - I have been steeped in such brilliance as those older Chick Tracts. I am firmly entrenched in the terrorizing Belief that my dad and other people I love quite dearly are bound for eternal torment in hell, unless they accept my god in their lives. I am already a "Royal Ranger," the scout group that is part of the Pentecostal, fundamentalist church my mom and I are attending. And now I am getting set to start school at the same church. Without five days a week of elementary school, I am spending the vast majority of my time in this church. I'm in the choir, I am there on Weds for Royal Rangers, I am often there on Sat, for events involving both and there are a lot of activities happening throughout the summer. And now I am going to be there for school. Where I will learn some academics - and a whole lot more of the religious nonsense - six, often seven days a fucking week.

I was rather cleverer than the average bear, no question. But all the cleverness in the world is for naught, when all that is going in is filtered through rather extreme dogma. I was, at one point, taught that intellectualism was another religion - much like evolution - a tool of Satan. I was taught that I needed to focus all of that intellectual acuity on things that fostered my faith and the faith of others. My dad ran a strong counterpoint to the notion that focusing much of my intellectual acumen on anything not within the purview of my faith was wrong. But that didn't stop me from developing some rather deep seated shame - shame that would ease up from the recesses of my mind, to make me rather frustrated with myself - possibly even ashamed of myself, whenever I allowed my intellect to be wasted on anything that didn't bring glory to my god. After all, God had given me this intellect - how dare I ever waste it on the world...

Chris Mooney wonders, in his reply to me, why the realm of moderate faith isn't a reasonable place for fundies like I was to end up - at least for a while. Why I shouldn't, in spite of my anger, recognize that this is better for that person than being a fundie. Well here's the problem with that...

I have always been an insatiably curious person - I was curious before my infant eyes could clearly view the world around me, I was curious when my brother taught me to read at two, I was curious and I was clever. I was also pervasively lied to for many years - lies made no less egregious because those inundating me with them believed the lies themselves. I was taught to be ashamed of too much curiosity, unless that curiosity was firmly focused on the dogma I was constantly and consistently hammered with - day in and day out. I was taught that the majority of the humanity that I was commanded to love, were going to suffer for all of eternity in hell, because they didn't worship the right god, didn't worship the right god properly or didn't worship any god at all. I spent subsequent decades trying to make reality fit within the confines of dogma - tried to shift the dogma to accommodate reality - became increasingly desperate to find some way to hold onto my Faith, because that was right and critically important.

Please, if you don't see it as such - please explain to me how that experience of mine wasn't child abuse that led to decades of hell. Drug abuse, self-loathing and unrelenting depths of despair, masked by extremes of sensory overload from sex, drugs, writing and music.

More importantly, why should I sit back and pretend that this moderation that Chris speaks so highly of is any better for some of those people, than it was for me. At least when I was a fundie, I was somewhat content. I wasn't desperate to make it all make sense, because it made sense - I didn't need to question, because the answers were there and beyond those answers was minutia that I could parse easily, through prayer and study. Yes, I was occasionally angry and ashamed by my inability to focus everything on my god - but it was unquestionably easier than the suffering of the last eighteen to twenty years of my life.

I am certain that there are many people who are more than happy to live in that realm of moderate faith - I don't really care. Because for many people, that moderate faith is merely fundamentalism tainted and broken by doubts. A desperate place where the reality is an increasingly desperate need to make the absolutely incompatible weave into the fresh whole cloth of a coherent worldview.

I am for helping them, helping people like me - period. If some moderates and fundies get hurt, angry or offended along the way - well honestly, I'm not even really sorry about it. Both groups and those in between and outside on the fringes foster an environment of absolutely hellish agony.

That is what I am combating and will continue to combat. And I am not going to apologize for it - no one who fostered my personal hell has, or has even shown any remorse for my experience there.


Abby Normal said...

I thought you might find this a little heartening. I just got back from that folk music festival I mentioned a few weeks ago. As you might imagine, hippie-dippy-new-agey types did abound. Well, during one of the performances the singer, Christine Lavin, asked a short series of questions. Here are the questions and results of this extremely unscientific survey.

1. Do you believe in psychic powers?
38% Yes*

2. Do you believe you have psychic powers?
19% Yes*

3. Do you think there’s no such thing as psychic powers?
40% Yes*

About 22% did not respond to any of the questions.

Given the audience, I was surprised to hear so many cheering for skepticism. So take heart, magical thinking is on the decline and our numbers are growing. Perhaps one-day religion will be something kids learn about from history books.

* Percentages based on intensity of applause as estimated by me. Margin of error +/- 100%

Dan J said...

My post from last night kinda gets to the point that I've given up on being civil about religion. Many people who are religious deserve (and get) my respect. Religious ideas, on the other hand, have earned only my scorn and derision, and I'm not giving a fucking inch any more.

Jason Thibeault said...

I had no idea what a Chick Tract was through most of my childhood, though I recall having seen one such tract on a visit to my grandparents', when we went with them to church on Sunday.

Years later, I'm on the interwebs and someone mentions "Chick tracts" as being hilarious. I Google it (or I might have used Yahoo, I can't remember how long ago this was), and end up reading them all from chick.com . Yeah, seriously, I devoured them. Pointed out the most hilarious ones to my friends and had a good LOL.

Dan J said...

Just in case anyone is interested, there's a PDF version of the Cthulhu tract linked from a page at the site of one of the artists, Fred Van Lente.

DuWayne Brayton said...

Thanks Abby, that does rather make me feel good...

Dan J -

Holy Shit!!! You Rule - I was trying to find something like that and couldn't - totally putting it in the post...

And I will definitely get over to read your post when I have a few - I am definitely over the bullshit and tired of playing nice.

Jason -

I know that they seem terribly amusing and in some ways are. But they are also absolutely horrifying, when you consider the fact that a lot of children are exposed to them - children who are already being told to believe many aspects of the shit discussed in that vile garbage.

Becca said...

1) Christine Lavin is freakin awesome
2) Chick tracts are evil on many levels. Their take on Jews is particularly bizarre.

Ambivalent Academic said...

Yeesh! Catholics too.

DuWayne - I get where you're coming from. You've delivered a very thoughtful consideration of your own experiences and perspective. I'll freely admit that I have not been following all the discussion on this topic that's been going on here and elsewhere...because, well, I get so freakin' tired of the whole argument. I'd rather just live and let live. Seriously. I know a lot of religious people that I rather like and respect tremendously. I have had the (dis)pleasure of encountering a lot who want to "save" me. The ones I like don't do this. They respect my position although they do not subscribe to it themselves. I extend them the same courtesy. If the god-baggers who wish to look after my eternal soul for me could manage the same, they wouldn't bother me one iota. I'm a scientist - I get that there's sometimes harm in irrational thinking, but I'm not always rational either.

For those fundies that end up in a sort of middle ground for a while, as long as they're not hurting anybody, I see no harm in them being where they are. For those fundies that insist on dis-educating their children, I say STFU...but I think that this isn't what you're talking about. I don't know, maybe I missed your point. Or maybe I'm just tired. Or maybe I'm just getting so tired of these discussions on blogs where we're all trying to tell each other the right way to talk and think and live. Sounds a little like evangelism after a while.

No offense to you implied here, I'm just finding this all to be very exhausting.

Juniper Shoemaker said...

Or maybe I'm just getting so tired of these discussions on blogs where we're all trying to tell each other the right way to talk and think and live. Sounds a little like evangelism after a while.

Ambivalent, I think you missed the point of this post. Magical thinking is more than the trifling inconvenience represented by blogger's fatigue to those of us who've been hurt seriously by it.

Ambivalent Academic said...

Yeah, sorry - that didn't come across well. Not that it's any kind of excuse, but it was late when I wrote that comment and I certainly wasn't on form.

I don't mean at all to demean the damage done to people who have been force fed this kind of crap. I did not articulate that very well - apologies.

Perhaps this was an inappropriate post on which to voice my opinion. I don't doubt for a second that people have been hurt or damaged by magical thinking and I don't doubt for a minute that it's a problem. I'm torn up about people who have to go through that kind of yuck and claw tooth and nail towards reason. I know a lot of people whose relationships with their families and friends have been put through the wringer by this kind of stuff. Not good on any level. I do think it's child abuse to tell your kids that it's their *personal* responsibility to make sure that their own (rational) loved ones don't burn in hell for eternity - that's fucked up and if kids can't count on the adults in their life to help them see what's true and what's not that's bad.

On the other hand (and in re-reading this post this morning I see that this is not the point here, but has been a recurrent theme throughout this discussion), people of "moderate" faith (whatever that means) I understand to be in a sort of middle ground. They tend NOT to be so evangelical and insisting that everyone believe as they do or face eternal damnation. These folks aren't hurting anybody. They're not telling me or you to repent and convert or burn forever. They're not so convinced of this "truth" that they're dis-educating their children. They're holding onto some cognitive dissonance, but they're not trying to force that down anyone else's throat. That to me is a big difference - if they're not going to get all evangelical up on my ass, then I'm going to offer them the same respect. If these people approach me about these things, I'm happy to offer my point of view, but as long as they aren't hurting anybody, then I'm not going to get all evangelical about my ideas about what's real, as much as I might believe them to be superior. Some of these people will arrive at the same point themselves, or with the help of other people if they seek it out. Some of them might be content to stay where they are. IMHO, that's OK - as long as they're not being evangelical.

I hope that I'm articulating these ideas better this morning. Both my empathy for the experiences of DuWayne and others and that "moderate" believers maybe aren't doing harm to others in the way that evangelical folks are. Also that in spite of disagreements or differences in points of view, insisting that everyone else arrive at the same truths that we hold dear looks a lot like evangelism coming from the other side of the fence. In the case of people who are abusing their children by feeding them all kinds of horrific disinformation, I don't really care, but in the case of "moderates" who just want to live and let live, I would prefer to extend them this respect of their autonomy.

DuWayne Brayton said...

I would define the moderates as people who generally don't couch their beliefs in absolute terms, or who don't believe that their absolute beliefs should be translated to the entire population.

The mistake I think you're making, is in assuming that such people aren't evangelical. I hate to break it to you, but they quite often are. They have to be, or the entire substance of their belief is rendered entirely meaningless. They may not look at it with the black and white of fundamentalism, but that doesn't make them harmless. To the contrary, that makes them far more insidious - and I use that word with the full weight of my extensive personal experience as just such a person. I use that word, because I have spent many years of my life trying - successfully more often than not - to draw people into this "harmless" realm of moderate religious/spiritual belief.

I can see that I need to really go into this in a great deal more detail and will. But I have to get ready for class, so it will have to wait until later.

Ambivalent Academic said...

I think that we were understanding "moderate" to mean different things. I have encountered people like you describe and I agree that they can be quite evangelical. I was using the term to refer to non-evangelicals (of whom I know quite a few) and I think that these are a whole different animals. Thanks for clarifying.

Dan J said...

Yes, I also think that the term "moderate" is rather vague for what we're discussing. Non-evangelical is a good starting point, but I think there are overlaps with other criteria. I'm sure there are people whom we would consider to be non-evangelical, yet they still retain a wish to see certain of their moral standards imposed by legislation. Conversely, there are certainly those who do evangelize, yet keep their religious beliefs out of the realm of politics and legislation. It's as bad as labeling people either liberal or conservative. There are so many groups within groups, and various criteria to examine that it becomes nearly meaningless.

Jason Thibeault said...

I happen to think that mocking and spreading around links to hilariously bad, racist or antisemitic Chick Tracts, with the shared understanding that I'm showing it to them because it's so horribly wrong, is a good way to increase their visibility and detract from the influence they have. The more people are previously exposed to just how wrong they are, the more likely they will protect their loved ones from them (e.g., spot your kid with a tract, take it from them immediately).

That said, yes, it would be great if there were science-based comic tracts that we could spread around, in the same places Chick Tracts tend to crop up. Surreptitiously replace stacks of them in your local churches, pass them out in parking lots ("Hey, have you heard the good news about particle physics??"), etc.

Ambivalent Academic said...

"Hey, have you heard the good news about particle physics??"

:) Thanks for that.