From Abracadabra to Zombies
Mass Media Bunk
a commentary on news stories or articles in the mass media that provide false, misleading, or deceptive information regarding scientific matters or alleged paranormal or supernatural events.
Note: Mass Media Bunk is now Skeptimedia.
One Daddy Too Many
December 13, 2006. James C. Dobson's op-ed piece on Mary Cheney's pregnancy in the current issue of Time reveals his ignorance on a number of counts and says nothing that would indicate he knows enough about parenting to be the head of an organization called Focus on the Family. The motto of that organization is "Nurturing and Defending Families Worldwide." Dobson is clear that the only family he will defend is the one with a daddy, a mommy, and kids. His best family ever would be a Christian family. Some of those families are quite nice. The daddy doesn't abuse the mommy and the kids aren't whacked by the parents on a regular basis. The parents spend a lot of time with their children as they are growing up. They nurture them, teach them important values, and love them enough to stand back when they grow up and let them make their own way in the world. However, unless my local newspaper editor and the managers of every television station in America are part of a conspiracy to keep the truth from us, the fact is that having a daddy around might be the worst thing in the world for many mommies and kids, even Christian mommies and Christian kids.
What inspired Dobson to write his essay "Two Mommies is One Too Many" was the news story that Mary Cheney, the lesbian daughter of Dick Cheney, is pregnant with a child she intends to raise with her partner, Heather Poe. Dobson's sure that the child would be better off if Ms. Poe were replaced with a Mr. Anybody. How does he know this? Like anybody defending the indefensible, Dobson cites scientific studies that show how it's better to have a daddy in the home. Anyone who can't find a baker's dozen contrarian scientists to support the insupportable isn't trying very hard. However, Dobson cites the work of Dr. Kyle Pruett of Yale Medical School, who has publicly stated that "There is to date no credible research that says children raised by gay and lesbian couples are at risk."*. I guess Dobson thought he could intuit Pruett's work by reading the title of his book: Fatherneed: Why Father Care Is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child (Random House, 2001) and copping a few quotes that sounded to his liking.
Dobson also finds comfort in an unnamed article that appeared in Psychology Today ten years ago. The bottom line? "A father, as a male parent, makes unique contributions to the task of parenting that a mother cannot emulate, and vice versa." Dobson takes this to mean that science has shown that you need a penis to teach a child things like "justice, fairness and duty." Penisless people can teach "sympathy, grace and care" and "give a child a sense of hopefulness" but science has shown that you need a penis to "provide a sense of right and wrong." We know what sense of right and wrong Mr. Cheney has displayed publicly*lying and deceit are right, even if it means thousands will die, as long as your agenda is promotedbut we can only wonder what moral lessons he taught his daughter. You may need a penis to provide a child with a sense of right and wrong, but that doesn't mean that the sense of right and wrong you provide is right.
In any case, Dobson's views aren't those of most scientists who have studied the issue of raising children. Media Matters for America has noted (here, here, and here) that studies have consistently found that children raised by gay or lesbian parents suffer no adverse effects in their psychosocial development because of their parents' sexual orientation. One exception might be that such children are subject to taunting and physical abuse by the children of good Christians and others with homophobic fathers.
Anyway, Dobson believes it is important that boys learn "maleness" and they can only get that understanding from men, "ideally from their fathers." He doesn't elaborate on what "maleness" is but given his other Christian notions of how people should behave and relate to each other, we can speculate that maleness involves dominating, protecting, and providing for females and disciplining children in the tried and true methods of hitting them and threatening them with eternal suffering if they don't toe the line. Dobson might even recommend that fathers with "maleness" imitate his hero, the god of the Old Testament, who drowned people or otherwise caused them great torment and suffering before annihilating them for not doing his will. A little waterboarding or death by stoning might be just the right measure for a disobedient child.
If a child has two mommies the kid might grow up too hopeful or too sympathetic. God forbid.
Dobson also thinks that his intuition is right on this issue. Children need a mother and father, he says. No, they don't. Children need loving, caring parents who won't intimidate them with threats of eternal damnation for themselves or their friends. Children would certainly benefit from having a good mother and a good father who raise them, but they don't need either one. A single male or female can provide a better environment for a child than many two-parent households. It all depends on what the parents are like, not on whether there is at least one person with a penis and one with a vagina ruling the roost. Dobson says that he believes that "birth and adoption are the purview of married heterosexual couples." Yet, he would not hesitate to make it illegal for a married heterosexual woman to get an abortion. If it were up to him, Mary Cheney would give up her child to a married heterosexual couple. This is the kind of "maleness" that many Christians adhere to. They would and have taken children away from their mothers to have those children raised as Christians. What kind of moral imbecile doesn't recognize that it is immoral to take a child away from a mother who is willing and able to care for her child?
I'm not saying Dobson is advocating taking Cheney's child from her. I'm saying that he is implying that it would be better for the child if she were to give it up for adoption to a married heterosexual couple. He has no rational argument to defend this position so he claims it is part of "God's design" and "divine plan." He should study some other religions. Some, with as much validity as Dobson, claim that polygamy is god's plan. If he reads the Bible, he'll find all kinds of absurd notions about "maleness" and how fathers act toward children. Anyone who thinks the Bible provides a model for good family values is not worth listening to. Read Judges 19. The story is about an old man who gives up his concubine to a group of men who rape her all night so they won't sodomize him. (His host was willing to offer up his daughter to the rapists.) The next day he slices her up with his knife and "together with her bones, into twelve pieces ... sent her into all the coasts of Israel."* The man is not condemned for his evil behavior. Read Luke 14:26: If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.* Nobody takes this literally, I would think. But the message is clear: You must detach yourself from the people and things you love in this world if you are to be a disciple of Jesus. Read Matthew 10:34-37: Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Even the most benign interpretation of this passage can't twist it to reflect the kind of family values that many Christians like Dobson claim their religion supports. These are the kinds of indecent values extolled by the mob and street gangs.
Dobson makes the mistake of comparing homosexuals having or adopting children to no-fault divorce, which he notes has caused a number of social problems. Economic and emotional differences between fatherless or motherless homosexual families and single parent families resulting from divorce result in many fewer social problems with the former. When homosexual families break up, they suffer the same kinds of problems that plague heterosexual families that break up. But to compare every homosexual family to divorced families is unfair and irrelevant.
Dobson's last bit of displayed ignorance is his claim that Cheney and Poe are part of "another untested and far-reaching social experiment." Where has he been for the past half century? The experiment is over. The data is in and Dobson's missed it. He's living in a biblical dream world if he thinks that his idea of the traditional family is the "foundation on which the well-being of future generations depends."
In any case, we don't need another generation of children taught that it is good to believe in irrational stories told by moral busybodies who think they know what is best for the rest of us.
postscript: The news of Mary Cheney's pregnancy caught Fox's Bill O'Reilly's attention. Today on his television show, he rhetorically asked Family Pride executive director Jennifer Chrisler: "nature dictates that a dad and a mom is the optimum, does it not?" I can't be sure, but I think he means to use the expression "nature dictates" in pretty much the same was that Dobson uses "intuition" or "God's design." It's like the "I gotcha trump card because this is a no brainer" for these folks. In any case, even if nature did dictate how the family should be structured, that would not prove that the structure it dictated was the best for the family members. It would only mean that it was the best for nature and the only meaning I can give to that infelicitous expression is that more offspring would be produced by this structure than any other. That might be an issue O'Reilly is interested in, but it's not one that particularly excites me. There are many things that may be thought of as "dictated by nature" or "natural" that are evil. Fortunately, humans are rational creatures and are capable of recognizing that nature doesn't always know best. If we listened to nature, for example, we would probably be providing cultural support for polygyny.
(Personal disclosure: I'm heterosexual and have been married but once and to the same woman for 39 years. We raised two wonderful children together, both of whom are in heterosexual marriages that appear to be strong and loving. I suppose I should also confess that I've known a lesbian woman who gave birth to a son about 30 years ago. I've known him all his life and he's a wonderful young man with a great sense of right and wrong and a wife and two children. His father turned out to be a scumbag. I've also known another wonderful young man all his life whose mother is bisexual and whose father is homosexual. The father is a fine man whom I'd trust with everything precious to me. Likewise for the lad's mother. None of us go to church or take the Bible as a guide to anything. Only one of us, as far as I know, is spiritual.)
* AmeriCares *