There is nothing that is too obvious of an absurdity to be firmly planted in the human head as long as you begin to instill before the age of five by constantly repeating it with an air of great seriousness.

– Arthur Schopenhauer

Followers of the riveting “Zachary’s Brain” series of posts will know that the narrative is not a gothic horror tale…but something that is just as disturbing: resisting the religious programming of a child.

His step-mother, belonging to a vanilla-Jesus sect, got Dad involved, of course, because he wants to be on the right side of her, though while married to my wife, he was a lapsed Catholic, a confirmed skeptic/deist who refused communion and mocked the Pope.

So now there’s a lot of church in Zachary’s life – church activities, services, quite a bit of Christian BS. My wife weeps over the cruelty of making a child believe lies. And she acts. There is no WAY this boy is going to grow up into a Christian.


(1) We’ve engaged in reframing and in anticipatory information and argumentation. We told him of the cruelty and insanity of the Noah and Binding of Isaac stories. We’ve told him that one day, when there’s been lots of warm, fuzzy Baby Jesus, they will tell him about hell. And this is exactly what they did.

Because of our efforts, he already knew there was no such place. And even now we’ve been able to tell him that religious people’s preoccupation with death leads them to do all sorts of nutty things. He gets that, even at 7.

He notes that he gets in trouble by asking questions at church, whereas he learns by asking questions in school. Big difference.

Atheist Bible studies

(2) We also read the Bible to him: passages that describe how the earth swallowed people up or a mountain belched fire – and how these poor, ignorant shepherds thought it was God.

But there’s more: grownups STILL believe it! We give him examples of what they are required to believe.

We read him Deuteronomy 25:11, which says that a woman interfering in a fight and touching the other man’s genitals is to have her hand cut off. “Show no mercy.”

We told him about the Torah’s death penalties for adultery, homosexuality, practicing other religions, and disrespecting your parents.

We showed him the agreement between God and Abraham, in Genesis 17: loyalty in exchange for foreskins, including slaves. Owch!

God and penises

We asked him what a nutjob God would want with so many foreskins. And why he was so obsessed with penises. Why not mandate the amputation of a little toe? Because God wants to show you who’s really in charge of procreative power around here. And it’s not you. (On several occasions, God punishes women with infertility – closes their wombs, as the text puts it.)

We showed him pix – not pornographic, but clinical – of children’s penises, circumcised and non-. We discussed the some of the pros and cons. So delicate are they at the Christian household that the word “penis” is not uttered.

(3) Third, we encourage his interest in science. Right now he’s into rocks and minerals, tangible, indisputable proof of the age of the earth. We went to a Rock and Mineral Show. He was enthralled and bought some nice specimens, many with ages far in excess of what the Bible says is the age of the earth. We go through the wormhole with Morgan Freeman.

And we remind him of the universe’s complexity. Zach became obsessed with memorizing Tom Lehrer’s The Element Song (and you must discover — or re-discover — Lehrer yourself; the most brilliant satirist of the 20th century, he sang, with sardonic glee, of nuclear proliferation, new math, pollution, nuclear holocaust [“we will all fry together when we fry”], illegal drug use, pornography [couldn’t get enough], and much more that was way ahead of its time).

And I asked him, wouldn’t it have been helpful if God had said, “I created with world with the following elements: antimony, arsenic, aluminum…etc.”? Always putting Bible stories in perspective.

Running from the Rag

Zach doesn‘t really understand a lot of Lehrer‘s songs (e.g., “Plagiarize,” one of my faves). But, interestingly and tellingly, there’s only one he shrinks from: The Vatican Rag, easily among Lehrer’s most brilliant creations. It makes fun of my religion, the boy said.*

Whose religion? we asked. And isn’t religion just a little bit ridiculous anyway? But to be accurate about it, tradition has always pointed to the mother’s womb as the source of Jewishness…so for Zach, born of an adopted mother raised Jewish, “my religion” really means Judaism.

(*Caveat: Zachary is a clever boy who wants to please, and it’s always possible that he’s telling BOTH sides what they want to hear, so we take whatever he says with a grain of salt. But his body does not lie. If, during a bedtime discussion of religion, the cognitive dissonance becomes too great, he’ll pull his blanket over his head.)

Clearly, the brain-washers and child-abusers had already told Zach about hell…and now, given his reaction to The Vatican Rag, blasphemy.

This brings us to our – or rather my wife’s – latest strategy:

(4) Desecration. Confront holiness head-on.

The scene was our bedroom in the Hampton Inn in Nashua, NH. Inside the nightstand drawer was the usual gift from the Gideons.

SHE: Is this a holy book?

ZACH: Yeah.

SHE: So what does that mean?

Z: It belongs to God.

SHE: Oh, so do you think God would be mad if I did anything to it?

Z (quietly and tentatively): You’re going to get killed.

[On the cover, between the words “Holy” and “Bible,” she writes” Shit,” so now it reads “Holy Shit Bible.”]

SHE: Well, is God going to punish me?

Z: I’m telling on you.

SHE: Who are you going to tell? The front desk? This isn’t hotel property.

[Begins ripping our handfuls of pages from the middle.]

SHE: So now what do you think of your God, Zachary? Think he cares about his holy book? Or maybe he isn’t there, which is why nothing will happen to me.

[Rips torn pages in half, throws them in wastebasket.]

SHE: You see, Zachary, if you use your mind, you realize that you can‘t believe in holy things because nothing really happens to people who destroy them – unless it’s by other people. Because God doesn’t care. He’s not there.

Demonstration concluded. The next morning:

SHE: See, Zachary, I’m still here. I guess God’s a wuss. Or maybe…he’s just not there.

[Zachary grins as if he’s gotten away with something, but he’s not sure what.]


Zachary told us that he related the above to his father, who did not fly into a religious rage and damn us to hell; in fact, he was quite non-committal, except to say that the entire time he was with my wife, some 20 years, he pretended not to believe. He told his son that the Bible, not the scientific version of evolution, is true.

See above caveat. But if Zach is reporting accurately…what a fucked-up way to fuck with a kid’s head! This is what religion makes people do.

9 Responses to “The Battle for Zachary’s Brain, VII: Desecration”

  1. on 06 Jul 2013 at 9:06 pmRich

    Ah loves ya, man, and I probably shouldn’t say nothin’. Mebbe I did, to say a child’s well being and healthy development is sacred to me. About as close as I can come to sacred.

    E.g., when my nephews were kids, I was a doting uncle. But I strictly restrained myself from but minimal physical displays of affection. Rationed hugs and cuddles. I was scared to influence them too much.

    Looking back, I overdid it. Their Pa was a cold sullen brooder, prone to flashes of sudden rage. Their Ma turned out to be a semi-psychopathic alkie.

    Both boys turned out fine. An MD and a banker.

    Anyhoo, from my vantage, Zach (how old?) seems like a shuttlecock in badminton. I hope he turns out fine.

  2. on 06 Jul 2013 at 9:52 pmAlan

    Your comments always welcome. Zach is about to turn 8, and he and I have a warm affectionate relationship (romping in the backyard pool together). No lack of physical affection.

    Looking ahead, Zach’s problem will be how to tactfully disengage himself from his step-mom’s and father’s (professed) Christianity. Because that’s what will happen At some point he will decide it’s all made-up BS, and he will be free. We’ve told him that anytime the religion becomes too oppressive, he can live with us. Stay tuned.

    “Turn out fine” can mean a variety of things. The most outwardly successful people have unimaginable dark sides. “Mentally healthy and free of the past” is my def. of “turn out fine.” Also, able to support oneself, which my other stepson cannot do (age 20).

  3. on 06 Jul 2013 at 11:57 pmRich

    One thing sure. Zach has good people who care about him. Not every child has that.

    I’ve read that many people anthropomorphize God from their dad. Not sure where Ma comes in. Altho dying soldiers often call for her.

    I meant fine, not megalomaniac tycoon. Hank Greenberg, 88, late of AIG, is jetting the world, founding a new Mega hedge fund. Fending off civil action by NY cops @ AIG. Rupert is deliquescing, divorcing, wheeling & dealing media in his 80s. Sen. Lautenberg, 88, transitioned from office to morgue. John Paulson, Wall St. billionaire, still wants more. What is it w/these people?

    We all have dark sides. Great success often enhances them. I saw documentary on the guy in FL who planned the biggest house in US. I think he did Time Share vacations. The Crash stopped him. He spends most of his time in a small study, surrounded by legal and finance documents.

    My ex-father in law was v handsome and charming. Robert Mitchum type. Catnip to ladies in his 70s. Divorced several times, he worked odd jobs, lived his last years in his sister’s basement.

    I suppose I’m fine, knock on wood. I’d include not getting a horrific disease or ailment.

    Commentary has a monthly Jewish joke. New one, briefly:

    Chief rabbi makes a faux pas in Temple. Falls to floor. “O God, I am nothing!”

    Two other rabbis do the same. Janitor comes by, does likewise.

    Rabbi nudges rabbi. “Look who thinks he’s nothing!”

    We are funny flawed flaky creatures.

  4. on 08 Jul 2013 at 10:25 pmAlan

    Another good Jewish joke, of which there are few.

    Boring is good. I don’t know how one becomes a Ted Turner or a Larry Ellison or a Bill Gates or a Laurence Olivier. I was never given the option. I strove but achieved less than spectacularly. I’ll never have a dinner given in my honor. Should I feel bad about that? Who really gives a shit, as Epictetus might say?

    I never had a career that would shorten my life either via stress or black lung. No serious genetic problems. Outlook is good. Must make every moment count.

  5. on 09 Jul 2013 at 6:09 amRich

    Surely you meant “A few”, which means many.

    I strove too, w/less success. Or maybe not. My speeches were used by military for 20 years. Maybe still are, but unlikely. Petraeus/Broadwell self-aggrandizing Crap is au courant these days.

    Gen P is now in his glory. “Consultant” (what BS!), public speaker, Board Member. Also Professor at Columbia U for about $3K for each hour’s “work”.

    I Never wished to be a Tycoon or Macher. I always strived to be a Good Boy & Man. Which is why I beat myself up all my life.

    But No Worries Mate. Many mitzvahs to be grateful for.

  6. on 16 Jul 2013 at 7:05 pmAlan

    No, man, I meant “few” in the derogatory sense. Most are pretty stupid, don’t reflect well on Jews, or depend on shared culutral background, so only Jews get it. 99% of all Jewish jokes I hear are told to me by gentiles. A way to ingratiate? It doesn’t work.

    One’s life is sui generis: it is not to be compared to anyone else’s, for that way lies corrosive envy, unwarranted condescension, and everything in between. Comparisons are a waste of time. After writing umpteen thousand speeches on success, I still don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s getting to 70 in good health, with all systems functioning and no parts replaced.

    Jewish superstition requires uttering an incantation - “kenna horra” - along with knocking wood. Anything to divert the evil eye.

  7. on 18 Jul 2013 at 9:24 pmRich

    Interesting perspective. A Jewish woman I worked with thought similar. She Hated Nebbishes! Woody, of course. When Eliot Gould went there, she disowned him. She wanted more Paul Newmans.

    I hate condescension. I’d hate if I turned out to be a smarmy suck up. Phony self-satisfied laughter and applause, ick.

    I’ve subscribed to Commentary since 79, read a few books & mags, picked up Jewish words & phrases. I’ve done the same w/French, which I don’t speak, but quote.

    I was 16 when I discovered Nichols & May. They Killed Me! Never gave a thought to ethnicity.

    As time passed, I discovered other comedians who got me. Some I knew to be Jewish, others not till later.

    To me, a rootless man w/no particular ethnic group to my name, I have to say … probably most of the comedians who made/make me laugh most were/are Jewish.

    Woody of course. Jackie Mason. Shelly Berman. Tom Lehrer. Oscar Levant. Off top of my head.

    The funniest writer is Evelyn Waugh. So sue me!

    I wrote speeches on Leadership a lot. Total hooey. Success? I have regrets, but think I’ve been darn lucky. I’d like to think I’ve been a decent honest man. Considerate of others’ feelings and flaws.

    93 degrees. Never had central air before. It’s wonderful.

  8. on 19 Jul 2013 at 2:39 amAlan

    Yes, there is such a thing as Jewish humor, predicated on turning into laughter the pain of a life filled with misery, prejudice, and persecution. And on the pecularities of Jewishness (e.g., Jackie Mason, who parsed Jewish nebbishness nicely: put uniforms on them [Israelis], and they’re tough as nails, the exact opposite of Italians, who are tough in street clothes — think Brooklyn — but pussies in uniform [the Italian Army]).

  9. on 19 Jul 2013 at 9:56 amRich

    Jackie’s Kissinger is Priceless. I literally fell on the floor. Gentile drinking v Jewish eating. Henpecked husbands. Jews w/maps. “I saw Israeli soldiers. I thought they were Puerto Ricans”. So much more.

    Saw documentary on Black Death, 1438 on. New estimates put Mortality at nearly 50%. Terrified peasants killed/burned K’s of Jews. Pope Clement said they were succumbing too, but was ignored.

    I just Don’t Get It. Jesus & Apostles were Jews. Now we have elite Western Jew Hatred (”anti-Semitism” doesn’t make sense to me) allied w/Muslims. Mohammed wiped out several Jewish “tribes”. Murdered a Jewish female poet.

    A friend’s 20 y/o son was murdered (by Af-Am) around the corner from me this week. Zimmerman’s entire family is in Dire danger. “The American Dilemma” will Never End.

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