Category Archives: Religion

Babywise: “assessment of real need”

Look at this manipulative bastard.

I’m still not past Chapter 2.  I’ve noticed a really disturbing underlying assumption.  First, let me provide the actual quotes (emphasis added).

“[In attachment parenting] the baby is offered the breast simply and immediately without regard to assessment of real need.”

“the single most critical element for all aspects of infant care . . . an acquired confidence to think, evaluate and respond to real need,”

“using parental assessment to decide when to feed based on actual need.”

“Feeding based on fixed times ignores legitimate hunger cues

Lest you think I’m combing the book and cherry picking, those quotes all appear on pages 33-38.  The chapter is dense with this concept.

If parents need to constantly assess whether a baby has “real need,” and whether his cries are “legitimate hunger cues,” that assumes that babies also express “fake needs” and “counterfeit hunger cues.”  It’s clear from his use of this language that Ezzo is worried that babies are just shamming when they cry for a parent’s attention, and unless parents are careful that the baby has a genuine need, they’re just suckers for the baby’s sly emotional manipulation.

That interpretation is borne out by additional language in the first two chapters:

“If she believes she is central to the family universe, her self-centered feeling will carry over into every relationship in her ever-expanding world.”

“[The baby should learn] from the start that giving is equally important as receiving.”

“The virtues [of kindness, goodness, gentleness, charity, honesty, honor, and respect for others] are not inherent in her or any new life.  Therefore, Chelsea’s parents must govern and monitor her . . .”

There you go.  Babies are sociopaths, and only constant vigilance by the parents will train the evil, conniving ways out of a newborn.  Attachment parenting is a huge mistake because those gullible parents are duped by their babies into thinking every cry is genuine, and not merely a bid for domination of the household.  Sure, sometimes babies have “actual needs,” but a lot of the time they’re just trying to assert their power over the family, and you have to learn how to tell the difference.  If you don’t start in the first two months, it’s all over – your baby will be a selfish, manipulative jerk for the rest of her life, and never have a fulfilling relationship.  She’ll probably go to hell, too.

I suspect that they actually believe that bit about hell, and that’s what’s driving all this suspicion of neonates’ byzantine motivations.  A while ago, a friend suggested that I look into the original Ezzo parenting program, Preparation for Parenting, an explicitly Christian guide on children and parenting.  Babywise began as a mere copy of PfP materials, with the overt Christian references expunged.  With this in mind, all this blather about assessing whether a cry indicates a legitimate need makes more sense.  In their own words, the Ezzos proclaim that they “clearly teach the doctrine of the depravity of man and original sin.”  More to the point, PfP materials maintain that “children enter the world in a depraved state.”  I definitely need to get my hands on the PfP materials and compare, as my friend mentioned.  I think it will be very illuminating.

In the meantime, there’s plenty of evidence here that Babywise is based on the idea that newborn babies aren’t just subject to original sin in a vague, eventual way, such that they will require forgiveness when they reach the age of reason.  Babywise assumes that babies are actively sinful from the moment of birth, and indeed, that their sin nature imbues them with a precocious capacity for subterfuge, manipulation, and possibly even mustache-twirling accompanied by maniacal laughter.

This is not just silly, it’s dangerous when they are pressuring parents to adopt this approach for infants who can only communicate their needs by crying, and who have “legitimate needs” far beyond that for caloric input.  In the rush to squelch the legacy of Eve, Ezzo ignores the growing research that babies actually require human touch and interaction, help organizing their mental functions, and sensory stimulation including sucking, rocking, and hearing human voices.  Remember, this guide is for babies less than six months old, and this advice is meant to apply from the moment of birth.  Ezzo isn’t talking about beginning to socialize a toddler, whose needs and wants have diverged to some extent.  The bottom line is that all of a baby’s needs are legitimate, and all of their cries are disingenuous, and Babywise recklessly ignores these facts to service its hidden religious agenda.

Random Stuffs

I’ve been discussing theology with some cyberfriends, and someone brought up an idea I’ve seen before – because there’s uncertainty about these questions that can never be definitively resolved, both Christians and atheists have faith.  I think that misses the mark.  I would say this instead.  Faced with uncertainty, Christians have faith, while atheists have tolerance for the answer “We don’t know (yet).”

* * *

As I read further in Babywise, I’m attempting to run down some of his “citations” (I use the term loosely.)  In my Googling, I’ve come upon the excellent blog Unbecoming Baby Lies, which maybe has already done my job for me, but what the hell.  Read her, and read me – there’s plenty of Ezzo debunking to go around!  An excellent place to start is her hilarious conversion of Babywise infant management to  a system of husband management: Growing Husbands God’s Way.

* * *

A public service announcement: if you have little girls, think twice before giving them bubble baths.  Poor Claire suffered terribly over the past 4 days after taking a bubble bath, and grabbing the bottle and dumping the entire contents into the tub.  Withholding pee because it hurt led to withholding everything, which led to a delightful initiation into manual disimpaction for me on Thursday night.  Claire’s evocative metaphor as she looked back on the experience with painful pee was, “It was dark black and it had fire in it, that was the problem.”

Quiverfull Families

No time for a full-on, researched post today, as my 3yo has a horrific UTI and dealing with that is a full-time job.

But as I drove to the pediatrician today, I was listening to Godless Bitches interviewing Vyckie of No Longer Quivering.  She mentioned how she had felt she was “turning over her reproductive life to God.”

How come it’s always the reproductive life, and really, only the woman’s reproductive life that gets turned over to God?  As far as the man’s reproductive life, I’m pretty sure the quiverfull husbands don’t sit passively and wait for Yahweh to levitate semen out of them and into their wives.  They get to decide if they’re feeling frisky or if they’re just too tired after work, without being guilty of thwarting God’s will.  It’s only the incubators women who have to turn all decision-making over to the Almighty.

One wonders why it’s just reproduction too.  Wouldn’t any of these statements be just as valid?

I’m turning my nutritional life over to God.  If He wants me to be hungry, how can I disobey Him by eating?

I’m turning my dental life over to God.  It’s in His power to kill the plaque on my teeth, and if He doesn’t, it would be usurping His power to go to the dentist and get a cleaning.

I’m turning my economic life over to God.  If He wills me to have food and shelter, He will make it so.  I dare not contravene His will by making my own decisions to get a job and earn money.  (This one is particularly appealing, seeing as Jesus actually instructed his followers to live like this!)

All this leaves aside the question why Yahweh needs a man to reverse his vasectomy or even sleep with his wife in order to allow for Yahweh’s desired impregnation to occur, given that He’s omnipotent and has a proven track record of knocking up chicks with minimal spousal contribution.

Quickies for Christmas

No Virginia, There Is No Santa Claus, by Greta Christina

‘Twas the Night Before Reason, via The Friendly Atheist

“What an odd question . . . I adore Christmas. The fact that I know that Christianity’s origins lie more in Paul of Tarsus’s mental illness and [Emperor] Constantine’s political savvy than in the existence of the divine has no bearing on my ability to embrace this age-old festival of giving, family and feasting.” – Tim Minchin

And since we’re talking about Tim, here’s his Christmas song, White Wine in the Sun:

Merry Christmas!

Skeptical icons who look like Santa

I noticed the irony that Tom Flynn really looks quite a bit like Santa when he’s in his Anti-Claus getup.  Then I happened to read a tribute to Christopher Hitchens by Daniel Dennett, and the picture of Dennett made me investigate a bit further.  Now, I give you a surprising number of famous atheist “Santas.”  Mouseover for names.

I may not be posting new stuff until the 26th, as we’ll be busy partying with family.  Joyous Chrismahannukwanzaakah, Happy Yule, Merry Solstice, Felicitous Humanlight, and so on and so forth.  Whatever you’re doing during this season, I hope you have fun.  Tom, I hope you enjoy the easy drive to work and the peace and quiet once you get there!

“Serious atheists” shouldn’t celebrate Christmas?

Tom Flynn is infamous for being anti-Christmas.  It’s not just that he doesn’t believe in the supernatural bits.  It’s not just that he has decided not to celebrate any flavor of winter festival himself.  He doesn’t want me to, either.  And he’s kind of insulting about it.  In his recent interview on Point of Inquiry, he literally said, “if you’re a serious atheist and you know, you no longer worship the babe, sooner or later you let go of the bathwater, and that’s what I did.”

He argues that we’re propping up Christianity because grade school kids from Hindu and Buddhist backgrounds identify even secular Xmas stuff like Frosty the Snowman as Christian.  I see what he’s saying in a way, but Christianity is very intertwined with Western culture, and I can’t see how I would expunge every characteristic about me that says “Christian” to people from other cultures.  Most of these features peg me as Christian all year long, not just in December.  My name for instance – that “C-H-R-I-S-T” right at the beginning is a dead giveaway.  Also my complexion and eye color, my language, and my place of residence.  I’d be willing to bet that an awful lot of the population of Earth would call me Christian, without inquiring into my actual religious beliefs.  So what?  I’m reminded of the joke about Northern Ireland: “Are you a Protestant or a Catholic atheist?”  When you come from a part of the world that was known for quite a while as “Christendom,” people will often assume you’re Christian whether you celebrate Christmas or not.

I don’t believe in Jesus, but Christmas is part of my family tradition, and it’s a great excuse to party, give and get gifts, eat and drink with abandon, and lounge around not doing work.  What’s not to like?  Also, I don’t have to be scared that The Great Dragon is consuming the sun to give a little cheer for longer days, returning warmth, and the sun moving upward in the sky, so it doesn’t stab me in the retinas when I drive to the Y in the morning.  (Though perhaps I shouldn’t go the YMCA, since it might be perceived as supporting the Christian social hegemony.)

I don’t really understand Flynn’s particular hate for Christmas either.  I also celebrate Thanksgiving, though its origins are decidedly Christian.  I love Halloween, which wouldn’t exist without All Saints’ Day.  Like most people, any celebrating I do during Mardi Gras is totally unrelated to getting in some last partying before Lent.  If I lived in Thailand, I’d probably participate in Loi Krathong celebrations; in India, Diwali, and so on.  Parties are fun.  No further justification required.

Flynn also objects that celebrating the winter solstice is somehow incompatible with a global society.  I’m totally puzzled by this argument.  He says non-believers shouldn’t try to build any alternate celebrations around the winter solstice, because it’s only relevant in the northern hemisphere (the southern then experiencing the summer solstice, while areas around the equator experience no significant differences in weather or daylight hours in any case).  This seems like a non-sequitur.  Why does any particular celebration have to apply to every person on the planet?  Should we also hesitate to call Memorial Day the beginning of summer, and refrain from hitting the beach because it’s winter in Australia?  Is it OK to celebrate the 4th of July, given it only applies to the United States?

I would understand most of his argument if it was an answer to someone saying he should celebrate Christmas.  It doesn’t speak to him, he has no particular reason to give it special meaning, and he chooses not to partake.  No problem.  But the implication that somehow I’m not a Real True Atheist because I do celebrate it definitely rubs me the wrong way.  I’d like to read his book, The Trouble with Christmas, but I’m not coughing up $80 for it, so for now I’ll just give him the benefit of the doubt and assume the best.  He was speaking extemporaneously, and describing his inner thought process, so maybe he just meant, “I thought to myself, ‘Hey, if you’re an atheist, why are you celebrating the birth of Christ?'” and meant only to refer to his internal debate, not to comment on the sincerity or thoughtfulness of other non-believers.

If so, it’s cool.  More fruitcake for me.

Adventures in skeptical parenting

One Million Dollars!

We were watching someone do something magical on a TV show, and Chloe said, “People can’t really do magic, right?”  I told her about the James Randi Education Foundation and their 1 million dollar challenge.  When I told her that anyone who can demonstrate paranormal powers under controlled conditions gets $1M, she immediately started plotting how to fool the judges.  “You could have something in your hand, and then have a trap door down here, and you’d go like this, and it would disappear!”  For the moment, I decided not to address the ethics of this plan, but to point out the practical drawbacks.  I told her that they require controlled conditions, so do you think they would miss the trap door?  I also told her that Randi is a professional stage magician with decades of experience, so the problem would be coming up with a trick he couldn’t see through.  She allowed that that might be difficult.

Christians & Penguins

Chloe was chattering about Christmas, the carols they’re singing at school,* and, most importantly, which Beanie Ball she wanted to buy with her allowance. She couldn’t decide between the penguin and the reindeer.  As she listed the pros and cons of each, she said, “I think most of the Christians in my class like penguins.”  Nonplussed, I said I don’t think Christianity has anything to do with penguins.  I understood that Christianity kind of has a link with reindeer: Christian–>Christmas–>Santa–>reindeer.  But I assured her that there was no Christmas-related penguin lore that I was aware of.

The same week, she read the part of Bridge to Terabithia where May Belle says, “If you don’t believe in God, you’ll be damned to hell!”  Chloe was shocked that such bad words would be in a kids’ book.  So I got to explain that “damn” and “hell” have serious meanings to some people, and not just as swear words.  Then I tried to explain the basics of substitutionary sacrifice, sin, hell, and “accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior.”  It’s remarkable how hard it is to convey these concepts to a child who hasn’t been indoctrinated as she grew up.  She got stuck on Jesus being Yahweh’s son and Yahweh himself at the same time.  But as she furrowed her brow and said, “That doesn’t make any sense!” I said, “Look, it’s magic, just go with it.”  She accepted that as far as it goes, and now knows a little more about Christian doctrine.  I told her it’s important to understand the beliefs of 80% of your countrymen, and she seemed to get that too.

Luckily, she didn’t ask specifics about what hell is.  The conversation was already pretty dense with new concepts, and I’m glad I didn’t have to tackle that at the same time.  When it does come up again, I plan to use Dale McGowan’s brilliant inoculation against the fear the concept could bring: “Hell is silly.”

Science fair

When Chloe comes home from school, I always tell her to wash her hands.  Recently she countered, “Why? I’m just going to do my homework and get school germs all over my hands again anyway.”  Instead of saying, “Just do what I told you,” or “OK, nevermind,” I said, “You know, we could test whether that’s true.”

Together we’ve worked out a protocol for swabbing her hands at certain times and comparing the amount of bacteria they’re harboring.  We’re going to compare and see if her hypothesis is right.  Not only will it be a kickass science fair project (timing was perfect – the fair is on 1/23), but if it turns out she’s right, I’ll lay off her about washing her hands – at least until she’s done with her homework!

*Yes, they sing carols at her public school.  No, I don’t mind.

“Believers are stupid.”

Notoriously smart Christian, Francis Collins

Sadly this sentiment comes up pretty often in atheist circles.  Some non-believers can be downright vituperative about religious people.  Sometimes I think it’s just extreme frustration with silly arguments or hateful attitudes associated with certain religious groups.  But a lot of the time, it seems to be meant very literally.

The mistake people are making is in confusing a selective, compartmentalized suspension of rationality with stupidity. It is abundantly clear that manymany intelligent, otherwise reasonable people turn off their critical thinking when it comes to religion. Believing something without evidence and reason is pretty much the definition of “faith,” after all.  In my experience, people who believe in something supernatural didn’t come to that belief through rational review, but more due to tradition, personal revelation, or plain old gut feeling.

Intelligence and rationality are often treated as synonyms in our culture, so it’s understandable that people conflate them.  But you can be really smart, and you can systematically review most claims with evidence and reason in mind, and still cordon off an area for beliefs that don’t get that treatment.  I think for people who try to subject every single claim to rigorous critical thinking, this approach is very puzzling and frustrating.  Sometimes it’s hard to get beyond that gut reaction of bafflement to the empirical truth that lots of intelligent people are religious.

As a thought experiment, imagine some belief you consider total, obvious codswallop – whose roots and causes are clear to you as mistakes of observation or well-known foibles of human perception. Perhaps alien abduction stories, the healing power of crystals, astrology, or bigfoot sightings. Now, don’t you just have a visceral reaction along the lines of, “How could anyone believe THAT? How could someone be so blind as to what is actually going on?” If you know a believer in this stuff who is otherwise bright and sane, don’t you boggle at how they can carry both of these personality aspects in the same brain? That mystified disbelief is just how non-believers tend to feel about smart believers.  Hell, I don’t understand how I could have believed the things I did when I was Catholic – there’s not a lot of hope of me really grokking the religious beliefs of other people!

But really I think we should examine this meme in our community and dispose of it.  Of course some individuals or some particular arguments may be stupid, and there’s no need to obscure that fact.  But if we could forge ahead with the idea that we all have more in common than religious labels would imply, I think we would do more for acceptance of atheists and for bettering our society in general.  We also need to remind ourselves that we’re not 100% rational either, because emotions are necessary for reasoning.  I guess it all boils down to a simple idea.  While I do think any equal rights movement needs a few firebrands, for the vast majority of us, Phil Plait’s famous advice is the best way to make cultural and interpersonal headway: “Don’t be a dick.

So for my part, I don’t think believers are stupid.  I have lots of friends of different beliefs, and generally it doesn’t even come up.  We all have a lot more to talk about, like work, kids, budgets, good books, favorite movies, relationships, health issues, family issues, jokes, housekeeping, procrastinating housekeeping, and on and on and on.  As long as you’re not spewing hatred or trying to use government force to indoctrinate my kids, your beliefs are no skin off my nose.  I wish more believers and more non-believers would get on board with that.