Bondi Beach, Sydney, NSW c. 2002

Sat, 11 Dec 2010 12:28 AM (GMT+0000)

There's a billboard next to the Caltrain right now that manages to be wrong about at least six distinct things despite having only two sentences and some sponsorship information on it. I've also been watching Morgan Spurlock's FX series the last few days, in which the unspoken thesis seems to be that religion is on the wrong side of everything; this billboard is no exception. So between the two of them I'm again motivated to write, breaking a shocking thirteen month silence. (What have I been doing for a year?)

Dad says I'm the CEO of the House

  1. The first thing that is wrong with the billboard is "Dad says". While certainly dads can be right and certainly some things that the invisible Dad in the sky and the wandering zombie dad allegedly said are right, they are not right just because daddy says so. Things that are right require good reasons to be so, and while "because I said so" may have its place, daddy better be able to explain why he said so at some point. Non-theists have been demanding answers for years; daddy can't answer.
  2. The second thing that is wrong with "Dad says" is that nowhere else is it acknowledged that mom has any say. Daddy and future Mr. Misogynist there pretty much decide together what the rules are going to be without ever asking how they might affect mom.
  3. The third thing that is wrong with the billboard is the insinuation that the womb is equivalent to a house. There again is the not-so-subtle undertone of the "women are property" philosophy so common in the Bronze ages and still yet among the religious factions that are kicking and screaming while being dragged into the 21st-century by secular morality. Bringing a child to term (not to mention being responsible for it for the next 18 years) is not the same thing at all as letting a little cherub in a tie take charge of your house for a little while. Again, there is no consideration for affecting the life of the mother, a living, breathing, self-actualized human being.
  4. The fourth thing that is wrong with the billboard is that it equates the early term lumps of cells with that same living, breathing, self-actualized woman carrying them. Who but the religiously dim is still able to draw a moral equivalency there? The billboard makes an insidious emotional appeal with this adorable, round, pink baby, shortcutting the cerebral cortex and aiming straight for the lizard brain. The target of abortion is not the little CEO there, it's something else on the continuum from a cluster of barely differentiated cells to a partially-developed, unthinking, theoretical human life form.
  5. The fifth thing that is wrong with the billboard is the claim that life begins at conception. There isn't even any biblical basis for this claim, yet this mantra is repeated like canon. 25% of pregnancies end naturally in miscarriage, so if God thinks life begins at conception, he's the busiest abortionist in history. At some point it may be possible to sustain a human fetus outside the womb even from the moment of conception (which will only be possible because of science and rationality, not religion), but it's not even technologically possible to do so today. Is life that can't sustain itself life, let alone life that we can't even sustain if we try?
  6. The sixth thing that is wrong with the billboard is the very name "pro-life" itself. "Anti-choice" is a more appropriate name for the people on the wrong side of this issue, at least until they can publish a decent definition of what they mean by life. Forcing women into back alleys, infection, and death, forcing society to bear the consequences of generations of unwanted children who later grow up to prove how unwanted they can be, taking away freedom and responsibility, suppressing the availability of knowledge, and amplifying the horror of the event for the unfortunate women making these decisions; none of these promote any kind of definition of life I'd agree to. Most pro-life advocates also hold some pretty conflicting beliefs about war, contraception, and capital punishment, too. None of these beliefs could reasonably be called pro-life, either.

Six things wrong on a billboard with two sentences, a title, and a picture. Edit those out and you're left with just a phone number and no reason to call it. At least you'd think they'd spend their advertising dollars in a market where it might actually get the results they want. Spurlock also shows how religion is on the wrong side of abortion by putting a choice advocate in a Christian maternity home for 30 days. At least the folks in the home are volunteering to try to help solve the problem they create by giving mothers a place to stay, a little discipline, and a support group for helping to raise their kids. But it's hard not to believe they'll all be crippled by religious faith as the price these families pay for the church support. The last thing we need is another generation held emotionally hostage by religion.

In the first season, Spurlock shows religion on the wrong side of homosexuality. In the episode, a progressive preacher shows the stereotypical Midwestern homophobe the hypocrisy of his selective adherence to the bible by challenging him to pluck out his own eye for having lustful thoughts. How do the religious pick and choose which parts of their bible they are going to follow? Could it be that there is a source of morality other than their gods? It is sort of heartwarming, if you can ignore the likelihood of it being staged, how the homophobe finally sees the humanity in our homosexual brethren, but also frightening that it takes him weeks of immersion isolated in homosexual culture to finally see the world through others' eyes.

In the second season, Spurlock cuts right to the heart of this problem by placing an atheist in a religious house for a month. There's a particularly telling scene when the atheist takes the fundamentalist Texan parents of the religious household to a meeting of local atheists. The father is asked how he would feel if instead of "In God We Trust" on his money, it said "There is no God". The man reacted to the idea the same way atheists often do to their money, but not only did the man fail to empathize with the atheists, but suggested to them that if they don't like it they should leave the country - a country founded on the principles of religious freedom (including freedom from religion). Not only are religious people on the wrong side of every issue, they have almost never even considered anyone else's position or bothered to try to understand that there is even any other side to be on.

There's a great moment in when the director realizes this, that non-believers have a greater understanding of religion than even many religious people. (If you want to make a Christian into an atheist, just make him read the Bible.) The director also realizes that religious people have almost no understanding of anything outside their faith. It's easy to see why religion is on the wrong side of everything when it's never bothered to understand anything but its own little world.


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