Thanks to some problems with a print job I was needed to help solve, my lunch yesterday was late, & to compound frustration it was interrupted by a fire drill, which meant having to shut down my computer, do a quick pack-up, & join everyone else in the office — faculty, staff, students — in a walk in the rain.
But the worst of it was that it interrupted me in my reading: having learned at Phil Munger’s blog Progressive Alaska about the upcoming visit to Anchorage of Max Blumenthal, & further detail about the same at some of the other Alaska progressive blogs like Celtic Diva’s Blue Oasis, What Do I Know, Immoral Minority, and the Mudflats, I decided to check further into his recently published book, Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party. [Ref #1-6]
Well, lunchtime wasn’t enough to get the full skinny out of what is something of a fat book (416 pages in hardback) I ended up buying the book for my Kindle. Didn’t have my Kindle with me, actually — but I did have my iPod Touch, with the Kindle for iPhone app, so after work found me reading at the bus stop at Prov Hospital, then on the bus, & then some more over dinner. Per my Kindle, I’m now 14 percent of my way through the book at locations 1110-1119. That tells you a lot, doesn’t it? Sorry, Kindles don’t come with page numbers (I sure wish they did). Okay, so another way of saying it: I’m at the beginning of chapter 8, “The Killer and the Saint,” which is about to describe to me how serial killer Ted Bundy got some last-minute attention prior to his execution in January 1989 by blaming his sociopathic ways on an addiction to pornography, & by seeking absolution from the father-confessor he’d chosen, Focus on the Family leader James Dobson.
That chapter should be interesting. Back in the ’80s I’d read at least two or three books about Bundy, & I remember the date of his execution well — I was in Seattle at the time, where a lot of people were discussing him that day, especially women who lived in King County when Bundy was raping & murdering women there. Having read those books about Bundy, having read 7 chapters of this book already, I know even without having yet read chapter 8 that Bundy’s confession to Dobson was nothing more than self-aggrandizing publicity on both their parts. Bundy might claim to have been “born again” as a Christian on Florida’s death row, but best I can figure in all I’ve read about sociopaths of his ilk he had no soul to save: it had been, for whatever reasons, lost long ago — perhaps as a result of the abuse he himself had experienced as a child. Dobson might be claiming to be witnessing Bundy’s salvation, but best I can see is he was either (1) a chump; or (2) delighted to have Bundy’s assistance in promoting his distorted idea of Christianity, which itself is marked by a promotion of child abuse (what Dobson called “discipline”). Maybe both. Y’think?
I hadn’t actually known before starting this book that James Dobson got his start as a child psychologist & was even a professor of pediatrics at USC School of Medicine in the late ’60s/early ’70s. Then in 1970 he published his child-rearing manual, Dare to Discipline — his answer to the “permissive” child-rearing advice of Dr. Benjamin Spock. Blumenthal quotes from Dobson’s book:
A little bit of pain goes a long way for a young child…. However, the spanking should be of sufficient magnitude to cause the child to cry genuinely. After the emotional ventilation, the child will often want to crumple to the breast of his parent, and he should be welcomed with open, warm, loving arms. [Ref #6]
Wow. If my partner & I had followed that advice in disciplining the already-abused boy who came to live with us at age 9, guess what would have happened to us? We’d've been charged with child abuse. And rightly so.
Blumenthal makes a case that Dobson’s beliefs about corporal punishment extends into his views about — & indeed the overall Christianist view about — the Christianist believer’s relationship to (their version of) God. Blumenthal quotes from Philip Greven’s book Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse:
The persistent ‘conservatism’ of American politics and society is rooted in large part in the physical violence done to children…. The roots of this persistent tilt towards hierarchy, enforced order, and absolute authority — so evident in Germany earlier in this century and in the radical right in American today — are always traceable to aggression against children’s wills and bodies, to the pain and the suffering they experience long before they, as adults, confront the complex issues of the polity, the society, and the world. [Ref #6]
Blumenthal points out that many Christianist leaders — including Dobson — were themselves subjected to corporal punishment and/or outright physical abuse as children.
Now, this doesn’t surprise me. I’ve felt for a long time that the God worshiped by Christianists was your basic big bully. And that the fear of God’s bullying punishments & the threat of eternal damnation were the only things that many Christianists felt could keep them in line — if indeed they did keep them in line. When you’re taught from babyhood that “responsibility” is no more than blind obedience under the threat of a slapping hand or a belt or a “board of education” (which I remember seeing in use two or three times in junior high: yes, teacher-administered corporal punishment with a wooden paddle was allowed in public schools when I was a kid), what kind of responsibility do kids really learn? Do they learn the internal strength needed to make truly moral decisions? Or are they merely running scared from Mom’s or Dad’s or the (so-called) Lord God Almighty’s whiphand?
People in Anchorage probably won’t be too surprised, either, to learn that at least as of 1985, even preschool children in the Anchorage Baptist Temple-affiliated Anchorage Christian Schools were subject to corporal punishment. From an October 1985 story in the Anchorage Daily News:
The Rev. Jerry Prevo announced Thursday that pre-school children will no longer be paddled at the Anchorage Christian School following Wednesday’s sentencing of a school employee for child abuse.
Prevo, whose Anchorage Baptist Temple runs the school, said corporal punishment will no longer be used on the pre-schoolers, “based on the fact it’s hard to spank and not take a chance of accidentally bruising.”
“When that happens, it puts our employees in an awkward position, and it’s not worth the hassle,” Prevo said.
Mary Lou Love, 52, a secretary with the school, was given a six-month suspended sentence for bruising a 2-year-old child’s bottom. Love swatted the child, Jennifer Wheeler, three times with a wooden paddle last May when she refused to eat.
… During her sentencing hearing, Love testified that she had been deeply disturbed over the incident and said that she never meant to bruise the child. She said she spanked her only because her job required her to do so.
“I would not have swatted her if I’d knew it would have bruised,” she said, adding that she will never paddle another child even if it means losing her job.
In 1983, Love’s supervisor, Robert Moreland, was charged with bruising the bottom of a 2-year-old child who also refused to eat….
Prevo said the bruising incidents were isolated cases.
“The parents sign a permission slip knowing that corporal punishment will be used.
“We’ve had as many as 800 kids a day and in the 13 years (the school has been open) and we’ve had two incidents. We would think that’s pretty good.”
He said corporal punishment will continue to be used at the grade school, junior and senior high school levels. [Ref #7]
That was, of course, 24 years ago, in 1985 — I have no idea if Anchorage Christian Schools still hits older-than-preschool kids with wooden paddles for serious crimes against the Lord Bully Almighty like refusing to eat. It is, after all, possible that ACS has learned over the years using wooden paddles on older kids is just as much of a “hassle” as hitting two-year-olds with them. But then again… maybe not.
(Did I say I remembered seeing wooden paddles in use in my junior high days? Much more do I remember hearing them: the hard loud thwack of wood against a kid’s behind, & the kid crying out with each swat. None of the cases involved a kid having been violent. No, only the teacher was violent. This was in 1971–72. It’s a practice I hope the Columbia Falls, Montana school system has dropped long since.)
People in Anchorage will possibly also not be surprised that ABT’s pastor Jerry Prevo, like James Dobson, grew up in a household where incidents of abuse occurred:
Born Jan. 12, 1945 in Oak Ridge, Tenn., Jerry Prevo grew up as the eldest of two sons to a pious mother and an alcoholic father who worked at a nuclearfuel processing plant.
One of his earliest childhood memories is rooted in a latenight argument between his mother and father when he was 3. Prevo’s father was in a drunken rage and threatened to kill the boy to get back at the mother.
She retreated, dragging young Jerry across the family bed to safety. He stills bears a scar on his chin from hitting the bedstead in the frantic escape effort.
His father, Prevo says, was abusive only when drunk. When sober, he taught Jerry how to hunt and fish and other fatherson things. During Prevo’s high school years, his father tempered his drinking somewhat and life was a little easier at home.
But when Prevo went away to college, the drinking began again and his father eventually deserted the family for a barmaid.
In 1976, the day he received a letter from his son in Alaska that spoke of how he still loved him despite the drinking, Prevo’s father hung himself in a shower stall.
Prevo speaks openly about the alcoholism, the abuse, the desertion and the suicide. But the arrival at his decision to reveal the final chapter of his father’s life, which he did to his congregation upon returning from his father’s funeral, was not easy.
“The biggest problem I had,” he says, “was the pride factor. I asked myself, “Are you going to share that with others? . . . Well, no one is perfect and sometimes people expect perfection in a pastor and get hurt . . . But it was an example that everything doesn’t always go my way, that people don’t always speak highly of me, that I have personal problems that everyone else has.”
His childhood experiences hardened many of his current beliefs, including total abstention from alcohol. [Ref #8]
What really strikes me here is the apparent assumption on Prevo’s part that his father’s alcoholism, abuse, desertion, suicide — somehow had something to do with Prevo‘s lack of perfection: as if the young Jerry Prevo was somehow at fault for his father‘s imperfections. For imperfections that, in fact, harmed Prevo’s mother & Prevo himself.
This isn’t just irony — although it is that, too. But mainly: his is a common reaction in people who have been abused as children: they take the responsibility for the parents’ abuse of them upon themselves. They blame themselves: something must be wrong with them for their parent to hurt them so.
And then, all too often, unless someone helps them to learn differently, they grow up to pass that belief on, in word & in deed: the cycle of violence. Some of them even teach that it’s what God wants.
What a horrible teaching. What a horrible God. But this is the God Jerry Prevo, as much as James Dobson, calls upon us to believe in.
Sorry, but a Big Bully Child Abuser in the Sky is not anyone I want to worship.
I have more to say about what I’m learning from Max Blumenthal’s book, but it’s way past midnight & time for sleep — so it’ll have to wait.
But before I shut my laptop & shut my eyes, I want to reiterate what the other folks have been saying: Max Blumenthal is coming to Anchorage this weekend, & you have a chance to see & hear him. Phil Munger has the full lowdown on where he’ll be. [Ref #9] And if you’ve got a spare dime, please consider donating using the PayPal link on Phil’s site to help cover costs of Mr. Blumenthal’s plane ticket up here!
- 9/21/09. “Max Blumenthal Returns to the Land of Queen Esther” by Phil Munger (Progressive Alaska).
- 9/18/09. “Now THAT’S what I call some down-home ‘indoctrination’!” by Linda Kellen Biegel (Celtic Diva’s Blue Oasis).
- 9/21/09. “Frank Schaeffer on Evangelicals – Max Blumenthal in Anchorage Next Weekend to Tell us Personally” by Steve Aufrecht (What Do I Know?).
- 9/21/09. “Help Max Blumenthal receive the Alaska Bloggers bump” by Gryphen (Immoral Minority).
- 9/21/09. “Max Blumenthal is Comin’ to Town!” by AK Muckraker (The Mudflats).
- Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party by Max Blumenthal (Nation Books, 2009).
- 10/18/1985. “Children won’t be paddled” by Kim Rich (Anchorage Daily News, p. C1).
- 10/30/1986. “No middle ground” by Andrew Perala (Anchorage Daily News, Lifestyles section p. 1).
- 9/18/09. “Max Blumenthal in Anchorage Next Week” by Phil Munger (Progressive Alaska).