Out of the mouths of babes

To: The US Commander in Thief

Today is our daughter’s 21st birthday. She flew home yesterday evening and somehow arranged for and got a COVID test at 9pm last night – she’s a force!

In honor of this big milestone birthday where our daughter’s official adult age has finally caught up with her, I’m going to tell you a tale from her childhood that I believe can provide insights into the sorry mess we’re in as a nation.

When our daughter was five, Laura reached out to another mom we knew from kindergarten to find out about the church they attended. Well, from the get-go our daughter was a skeptic. We’d debrief after church and she’d say that the Sunday school teachers were talking about made-up places like heaven and hell and about somebody we can’t see named “God” who knows everything and is all loving and powerful. Smart dear that she was and is she wasn’t buying it. We were clear with her that these are just stories that people tell to make sense of the world, but she wasn’t buying that cop-out prop either since she could tell, at some level, that making stuff up about miracles and magical places you go if you’re good or bad is not a good basis for anything.

However, she was a small child and still had to go and do what we said she had to go and do. Honestly, it took us quite too a long time to figure out that she was far better off watching cartoons on Sunday morning where it was completely, totally understood by all involved that these were silly make-believe stories than to be subjected to adults attempting to convince her that biblical fictions were capital T-true. As soon as the battles over church attendance weren’t worth the angst, I conceded and she (and Laura) stayed home. She was right, after all. It wasn’t fair to insist that she figure out how to parse the make-believe propaganda from Jesus’s radical (and righteous) social commentary when the Sunday school curricula was so focused heavily on the former. As it turns out, she’s now way better read, informed, and activated around issues like food and environmental justice than I, or any of her Sunday school teachers, will ever be.

I’m going to leave aside why I persist in my church attendance as a non-believer and jump right to how I think all this informs where we are as a country. In short, as a “Christian Country” full of people who were indoctrinated to believe the made-up stories my daughter rejected as a small child, we’re terribly vulnerable to mass hysteria.

There’s an old (totally out of fashion) psychiatric diagnosis that describes a shared psychosis between two people – Folie à deux or ‘madness for two’, which is somewhat similar and is tempting to ascribe to many millions of Americans, but handy Wikipedia sets us straight:

“When a large number of people come to believe obviously false and potentially distressing things based purely on hearsay, these beliefs are not considered to be clinical delusions by the psychiatric profession and are labeled instead as mass hysteria.”

Here I’m mostly thinking about the crazy large number of people who’ve bought into your horseshit about voter fraud and have worked themselves up into a hysterical (and potentially dangerous) frenzy that from here looks quite insane. The other major shared hysteria you’ve propagated is the idea that commonsense public health measures to protect against COVID are so wildly unnecessary infringements on individual rights that it’s cool to terrorize public health officials and infectious disease experts with death threats.

This is crazy. This is insane. This is fundamentally not ok.

I’m convinced that susceptibility to these out-there beliefs have their roots in having bought hook, line, and sinker into the fiction of heaven and hell, God and miracles, life after death, etc.

Houston, we have a problem.

May we be safe from deluded, magical thinking.
May we be willing to give children the credit they are due.
May we all have the strength to say the Emperor is butt-naked.
May we accept that we can’t compromise with people who are dead wrong.

Tracy Simpson

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