Links and Comments: The Duggars, and other Religious Matters

I’ve been only vaguely more aware of the Duggar family, who apparently host a reality show to show off their 19 children and their piety, than I was aware of the Duck Dynasty family a year or more ago when they were in the news, but haven’t paid any close attention to them. With the scandal in the past couple days of their oldest son having been charged with molesting several girls (including his own sisters!), it seems they’re just another in a growing list of sex scandals among far-right fundamentalists. So, hypocrisy from the right; yawn.

But what’s especially interesting about the Duggars is not just that their pious zeal leads them to actively campaign against gay rights (and impugn that gays are despicable people in general — given to molesting children!), but they apparently are an extreme example of the folks — examples come from all around the world — who shield their children from the outside world, from modernity in general, and one can only suppose anything scientific that would undermine or question their faith-based worldview.

Mark Joseph Stern at Slate pities Josh Duggar. (With a photo of the family having lunch with Rick Santorum…)

A boy grows up in a controlling, cultlike family that rejects Enlightenment values and closes off much of the outside world. He is deprived of any conception of morality separate from a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. His intellectual and ethical development is stunted by reactionary, dogmatic views about gender and sexuality. He is told that women were made to be subservient to men, to be obedient to their masters. How should we react when it comes to light that this boy repeatedly molested young girls?

Although TLC goes to great lengths to mask this fact, the Duggar family is a cult. They forbid their children from exploring outside ideas and expression, carefully monitoring every word and image they are exposed to. They forbid them from wearing shorts. They homeschool them in order to indoctrinate them with backward beliefs. They refuse to let their adult daughters kiss or hold hands before marriage and demand to read every text between their daughters and their suitors. They adhere to a fringe Christian movement called the “Christian patriarchy,” which commands total female submission to men and limited education for women. The Duggars do everything they can to control their children’s minds, then brainwash them with misogynistic dogma.

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Jerry Coyne, who just published a new book, did an interview with fivebooks.com recommending his five favorite books on “the incompatibility of religion and science” (which is the theme of his book). I’ve read one of these (Dennett), and have two others.

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Catching up with several articles last weekend at Salon.

  • The end of religion as we know it: Why churches can no longer hide the truth. Daniel Dennett has updated his book about closeted religious clergy… who go through the motions without anymore believing.

    Religions have thrived in part because they were able to keep secrets. They were able to keep secrets about other religions from their parishioners, who were largely ignorant of what other people in the world believed, and also keep secrets about their own inner workings and their own histories, so that it was easy to have a sort of controlled message that went out to people. Those days are over. You can go on the Internet and access to all kinds of information. This is going to change everything.

  • Richard Dawkins doesn’t “give a damn”: The big mistake he’s making about religion. The writer claims it’s more than about whether religious claims are ‘true’ (Dawkins’ mistake); it’s about

    Religions make all sorts of claims about the empirical world, almost all of which are false. Atheists are right to criticize these claims wherever they appear. But denying the truth claims of religion won’t suffice, because religion is about much more than truth; it’s about meaning, values, tradition, consolation, community, and transcendence. Dawkins flew right past this point in his response. That’s unfortunate.

    I disagree; this actually is the theme of Coyne’s book; it does matter, because in their zeal to cling to meaning and tradition, many faithful actively deny the reality of the world in which we live, to the extent of hobbling their own offspring (cf. the Duggars), but also actively imposing these views and blinders on the rest of society. Even if many religious people don’t take scriptural claims literally, it’s the minority who do who cause all the trouble, and who are a threat to the ongoing progress of an enlightened society.

  • And then Jeffrey Tayler takes on not just the Republican presidential candidates, who all pander to some degree or another to the faithful who form their base (though some of them — Cruz? Santorum? actually believe it all)– but also President Obama, for similar, if milder, pandering. This doesn’t surprise me; as I’ve said here, no politician gets elected to office anywhere, in any society, without appealing to the beliefs and prejudices of the common people. But it’s nice to see Tayler spell things out: Obama, Bush and Carson believe this nonsense? Our faith-addled, God-fearing leaders need to put superstition aside.

    But I won’t deal with the faith-imbued cretinism of the Republicans in this essay.  What concerns me now is what President Obama has just wrought to insult that most aggrieved (yet steadfastly growing) American minority, the advocates of reason, those who insist on evidence before accepting the truth of a given proposition, especially grand propositions about the origins of the universe and our species.

    Tayler takes apart Obama’s National Day of Prayer proclimation, in detail. The essay concludes:

    Religion is not some metaphysical conceit concerning only those who profess it; it menaces our national well-being and is dumbing down our people.  Faith has always stood on the wrong side of the quest for truth, starting most egregiously with Christian theologians objecting to “heresies” that posited nature following laws (an infringement on God’s “omnipotence”), the earth orbiting the sun, or humankind sharing kinship with other primates.  The last two “heresies” are alive and well: one out of five Americans believe the sun circles the earth, four out of 10 think God created humankind less than 10,000 years ago, and only 28 percent of teachers consistently teach evolution.  Surely a generation of heavily faith-polluted home-schooling plays into this, but so does God-friendly prattle proffered by politicians – including, of course, our Panderer-in-Chief and his Prayer Day Proclamation – an outrage to rationalists everywhere who expect the United States to set an example.

    It’s long past time for Obama, and the pack of faith-mongering pols clambering to replace him, to realize this, and help America join the rest of the civilized world.

    H. L. Mencken once wrote of the “graveyard of the dead gods” and listed all those deities, from Resheph to Baal, Tezcatilpoca to Huitzilopochtli and dozens more, now forgotten.  Yet in their day, “To doubt them was to die,” noted Mencken, “usually at the stake.  Armies took to the field to defend them against infidels: villages were burned, women and children were butchered, cattle were driven off.”

    It’s time to dig one more grave – and fill it.

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