Bread. December 2006
Neither honesty nor religious tolerance needed
The week between Christmas and the New Year is usually a slow news period,
particularly on the political front. Governments try not to put out
initiatives during this period perhaps because they deem their citizens
too preoccupied with having fun, or more likely, ministers themselves are
on holiday. At home, there's nothing coming out of our own government
except bland holiday greetings from the Prime Minister's Office.
Expecting a slow period, I have saved up some political news for Yawning Bread from earlier in December. Admittedly, they are not earth-shaking events, nor are they even Singapore-related -- they're from America -- but in the spirit of Christmas, they are news bits generated by the religious right's wingnuts.
* * * * *
We all know James Dobson, don't we? He gets a small paid advertisement daily in 'Today' newspaper, meant to elevate his image as some sort of guru on family relationships. Dobson (left) heads the Colorado-based Focus on the Family, a fundamentalist Christian organisation that goes around destroying families that happen to have gay members. It does this by telling parents that their gay sons and daughters are sinners, or by telling gay boys and girls to hate themselves. The resulting tension in personal relationships is so destructive, some vulnerable teens run away from home or commit suicide.
Earlier this month when Mary Cheney, the daughter of the US Vice-President, announced that she was expecting a child with her partner of 15 years, Heather Poe, Time magazine invited James Dobson to comment. Somehow that invitation grew into a guest column in the US edition of the magazine.
Rather than adopt a condemnatory tack -- it wouldn't do because Dobson couldn't afford to antagonise Dick Cheney and the Republican Party -- Dobson couched his position in terms of "concern". He was "concerned" that Mary Cheney was being irresponsible by bringing a child into this world without a father and that the child's growth would be compromised.
Dobson claimed that "the majority of more than 30 years of social-science evidence indicates that children do best on every measure of well-being when raised by their married mother and father."
To back up his argument, Dobson cited 2 highly-respected researchers in the field of child psychology.
"The unique value of fathers," wrote Dobson, "has been explained by Dr. Kyle Pruett of Yale Medical School in his book Fatherneed: Why Father Care Is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child. Pruett says dads are critically important simply because 'fathers do not mother.' "
Further on, Dobson said, "According to educational psychologist Carol Gilligan, mothers tend to stress sympathy, grace and care to their children, while fathers accent justice, fairness and duty."
To round off his essay, he said, "Traditional marriage is God's design for the family and is rooted in biblical truth. When that divine plan is implemented, children have the best opportunity to thrive." (See box).
Then a funny thing happened. Both scientists, Pruett, professor at New York University School of Medicine, and Gilligan, who had previously taught at Harvard and Cambridge, objected to Dobson trying to cite them.
"You cherry-picked a
phrase to shore up highly, in my view, discriminatory purposes,"
Pruett told Dobson in a letter. "This practice is condemned in real
science, common though it may be in pseudo-science circles. There is
nothing in my longitudinal research or any of my writings to support such
conclusions (about same-gender families)."
Gilligan was "mortified". She sent him an email demanding that he "cease and desist from quoting my research in the future."
"Not only did you take my research out of context, you did so without my knowledge to support discriminatory goals that I do not agree with," she said in her letter. "What you wrote was not truthful and I ask that you refrain from ever quoting me again and that you apologize for twisting my work."
There is nothing new in Dobson's attempt to put scientific gloss on his religiously-motivated claims. As noted by Wayne Besen on the website of his organisation Truth Wins Out , the very same week that the Time magazine issue broke, Angela Phillips, author of The Trouble With Boys and professor at Goldsmiths College in London, said she was "incensed" to find she was misquoted in another Dobson article.
In June this year, Dr. Elizabeth Saewyc, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia, said Focus on the Family twisted her study on lesbian teen suicide. "The research has been hijacked for somebodyís political purposes or ideological purposes and thatís worrisome," Saewyc told CBC news.
Faced with stark evidence
that Dobson's guest column was way below journalistic standards of
integrity -- never mind Christian exhortations to be truthful -- Time
magazine invited Jennifer Chrisler to write a
counter-essay . Chrisler is the Executive Director
of Family Pride, the largest LGBT family advocacy group in the US, and the
mother of twin boys with her wife Cheryl Jacques. You'll see an except of
the essay in the box on the right, where Chrisler addresses the claim that
30 years' of research has shown that children "do best" with
"It is true that there is 30 years of research," Chrisler wrote, but it showed the opposite of what Dobson claimed. "The fact is that research findings on these issues overwhelmingly testify to the success of gay families as nurturing environments for children's growth and development." 
Well then, what kind of Christian organisation is this that wallows in such dishonesty?
* * * * *
On 28 November 2006, a radio show host and syndicated columnist, Dennis Prager (right) vented his spleen at the prospect of Ellison taking his oath of office upon the Koran. "He should not be allowed to do so," said Prager, "because the act undermines American civilization."
"Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress."
In a nutshell, Prager told Ellison, "America, not you, decides on what book its public servants take their oath."
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) took issue with Prager's stand, calling his views "intolerant" and "ugly". In its public statement, the ADL pointed out that,
I shall, however go back to quoting Prager. The ADL's statement is too sober; it isn't as much fun as Prager's words.
"Ellison's doing so will embolden Islamic extremists and make new ones," Prager continued, "as Islamists, rightly or wrongly, see the first sign of the realization of their greatest goal -- the Islamicization of America. "
He demanded Christian conformity: "When all elected officials take their oaths of office with their hands on the very same book, they all affirm that some unifying value system underlies American civilization."
Then invoked the Al-Qaeda attacks on New York: "If Keith Ellison is allowed to change that, he will be doing more damage to the unity of America and to the value system that has formed this country than the terrorists of 9-11."
My word! Such catastrophe from having the Koran at an unofficial ceremony.
It may amaze you, but Prager is not Christian; rather, he's an Orthodox Jew. However, his political views are based on seeing America as the safekeeper of (what he believes are morally-superior) Judeo-Christian values, an exceptional country meant by his god Yahweh/Jehovah to fight off everybody else. Thus, he sees a clash of civilisations upon the slightest pretext.
He and others like him imagine themselves besieged by people of other religions, atheists, secular humanists, scientists, feminists, gays, Asians, Africans, communists, socialists, gun-control proponents...
Before we laugh too loudly at the madness that erupts from fevered minds of rightwing America, Singaporeans should also know that such people can be found here too. There is a branch of Focus on the Family here. We have charismatic mega churches here. We have pastors (and letter-writers to the Straits Times) who also play fast and loose with science and who declare to their congregations their intention to change Singapore from a secular state and a multi-religious society into "a nation of righteous Christians". 
As a popular hymn goes,
© Yawning Bread