Category Archives: Children

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and the Savior Gun: The Adolescent Nonsense That Passes For Leadership In Tennessee

RamseyFinally, someone has an answer!

It’s the Lieutenant Governor of Tennessee, and it’s the Savior Gun.

“I have always believed that it is better to have a gun and not need it than to need a gun and not have it.”

That’s as far as the “thinking” goes for this man who currently holds high office in an American state. Having a firearm, at all times, in all circumstances, at the ready and fully loaded, is how Americans need to start living. All the time. Everywhere. Church. School. McDonalds. The supermarket. Back to School Night. That’s the only answer: A perpetual state of itchy readiness for gun violence.

Music this is, surely, to the NRA and it’s sugar-daddy the gun manufacturing industry. But back to Ron and his admonition. It appears to go something like this:  All of you (you who are Christians anyway, and not anyone whose religion I might not trust):

Your new savior is a firearm. Let’s call it the Savior Gun. Having a Savior Gun and being a “good guy” is all that’s needed in Ron’s brave new world. Because after all:

1. The aim of the shooter behind the Savior Gun will always be perfect and true, despite shock, stress, ricochet, the natural non-preparedness of simply living one’s life outside of a perpetual combat zone, the shooter not being a professional or a marksman, the chance of slipping on a pickle chip, and an infinite number of other factors. In Ron’s world, the “good guy” will always hit the “bad guy” and save the day, period. There’s no reason to fear that a roomful of panicked shooters will hit each other, fleeing bystanders, or actual, professional first responders. There’s also no need to worry about whether actual good guys, the professional responders themselves, will know not to shoot the now pistol wielding “good guy,” as his intentions will always, somehow, be crystal clear and apparent during the melee.

2. The Savior Gun will never accidentally discharge and kill or maim the “good guy,” a classmate, bus rider, dinner companion, toddler, or anyone else.

3. The Savior Gun will never be stolen and misused, or fall into the hands of a child.

4. The Savior Gun will never be used in a suicide, a heated argument, or a misunderstanding, given the ease of which firearms make death something that can be dealt from a sanitized distance as an extension of one’s fist.

No, sir. Where the Savior Gun is concerned, all of these inevitable and oft-seen outcomes are either impossible or unworthy of consideration for Ron. Why? I guess he believes that, as a Savior Gun purchased by a Christian, it will itself surely anthropomorphize and adopt Ron’s benevolent Christian principles.

Adults, many of them police officers, understand better than Ron that guns are swords, not shields. Adults understand that the presence of firearms almost always means more death, not less.

Adults understand that the inconvenient realities around the actual nature of firearms, particularly when coupled with human frailty, tend to complicate attractive but dangerous teenage boy fantasies.

Adults understand that the reality of how firearms will likely be used in high-stress situations by non-professionals must temper the understandable but grossly unrealistic urge to view them as infallible protecters of innocence and virtue.

Adults see the necessity of firearms for qualified individuals and understand the importance of allowing individuals to defend themselves and their families appropriately- sometimes even with firearms. But adults also appreciate the grave necessity to control the accessibility to guns, and also the public carrying of them.

Adults know these things because they’re, well, adults.

I don’t what Ron Ramsey is.



What’s to Blame for Josh Duggar? Institutionalism, not Christianity

What we know: Josh Duggar’s admission is great fodder against Duggar Family Values, which include anti-gay stances as well as assertions that “non-traditional” values endanger children.

What we don’t know: What created the awful urges in Josh to begin with. Those opposed to what this powerful family both believes and attempts to influence politically are triumphantly declaring things like home-schooling and hyper-religiosity to be petri dishes for the kind of sexual deviance Josh displayed as a teenager.

They’re probably wrong.

As deliciously tempting as it is for some on my side of the political spectrum to demonize the Duggars and their way of life as some sort of catalyst for awful behavior, there’s little psychological evidence to support that. In fact, Josh’s deviance was most likely not (in and of itself) the product of home schooling or any other religious dogma or tradition the Duggars took part in. Sexual deviance, as far we know at this point, does not generate that way. More likely, Josh was (or is) deviant for reasons we don’t understand, but that are probably innate (“nature”) and/or the product of his environment (“nurture”), but in a different way than we normally observe.

I am no soothsayer, but what I’ve come to understand after a career of dealing with this pathology is that it is simply everywhere. The conservative numbers (1 in 3 girls and about 1 in 6 boys) remain replicable, reliable and constant. Sexual abuse happens everywhere: Among the religious and non-religious. Among the rich, the poor, the city dweller, the farmer, etc., etc., etc. The sexual abuse of children, whether by teenagers like Josh Duggar or by more mature adults, happens continuously and universally.

Therefore, the question better asked is not “what made this happen?” but “what allowed it to flourish and continue in that particular situation?” In the case of the world of “19 and Counting,” we should look, as always, to an institution.

In Josh Duggar’s world, the institution of dogmatic, insular Christianity provided him two things: First, It made it easier for him not only to offend, but to get away with offending. Second, it did so in a manner that leaves him today free of legal consequences, still married, and still employable. Here’s how:

Whatever Josh was (or is), he grew up in a male-dominated world where “the father is the head of the family as Christ is the head of the Church.” Firstly, his was an environment that exalted a Christian-based order that, among other things, clamped down on any opposition or suggestion of “rebellion.” This very likely discouraged his victims from reporting his actions to other family members or anyone who might have made a difference. Rebellion, after all, can be perceived as anything that upsets the proverbial apple cart. This was a fact probably not lost on Josh himself as he chose his victims.

Secondly, this same Christian-based worldview necessitated, as it does with any religiously based orthodoxy, an “in-house” solution to conflict or deviant behavior within the environment. Why? Because it reinforces the idea that the religion itself has within it the answer to every problem- there is never a need to consult outside sources which are doubtlessly less pure and enlightened.

But even more dangerous is the insistence on handling matters of “conflict” within the religious environment so that the outside world will not perceive flaws or weaknesses within its structure. The Duggars likely perceive themselves, as many do in their circumstances, as holdouts against a world moving in a direction they neither trust nor respect. The last thing they want that outside world to perceive is a weakness within their structure.

It’s important to understand how these things explain (but do not excuse) the Duggar’s response to a heartbreaking and haunting problem, and why offenders like Josh Duggar can flourish in environments otherwise mortally opposed to behavior like his. But it’s equally important to understand what they don’t explain.

They don’t explain Josh’s deviance to begin with. That’s a question we dare not breezily discard with the easy answer of demonizing religion. Or culture. Or anything else. Because as far as we know, deviance poisons all of these equally.

Bob Jones University: Another Religious Institutional Failure Where Predators Are Concerned

In 1991, as a senior at UNC Charlotte, I held the position of governor of a statewide student legislature in North Carolina. At some point during my tenure, I had the opportunity to meet and briefly work with my counterpart who was the leader of a similar group in South Carolina. It was a relationship I should have been excited to forge. But I didn’t expect to like him, and for one foolish reason: He attended Bob Jones University.

Bob Jones, in Greeneville, South Carolina, is among the most conservative Christian and strict, biblically-based institutions of higher learning in the country. I had no issue with its basic principles, but BJU had been known for going far beyond most other Bible-based schools. Among a few other things I found distasteful, it did not admit black students until 1971 and banned interracial dating until 2000. So I assumed my counterpart would be smug, judgmental, and perhaps even bigoted.

I could not have been more wrong. He was, and remains, deeply religiously conservative. He is also among the warmest, most thoughtful, and most decent people I’ve ever met. He now lives in Maine with his wife and children, loves sailing, works as a medical professional, and continues to live a devout Christian life.

My point is that Bob Jones is hardly a place that produces uniformly bad people. In fact it produces mostly decent and honorable people, regardless of whether I agree with their politics or religious thinking.

But Bob Jones, like all formal institutions featuring strict religious dogma, an authoritarian structure and a generally insular environment, is especially vulnerable to exploitation by predatory people who infiltrate its community. This doesn’t mean BJU and places like it are more infested with predators than more liberal institutions. Predators are everywhere. But they tend to seek out and/or remain in favorable environments. As sad and unfair as it is, strict religious institutions are often excellent ones for predatory people, simply because predators can utilize aspects of them in mockery of what they’re designed for. Dogma, structure, and some distrust of outsiders are not in and of themselves bad things. Constricting things perhaps. The wrong choice for many, perhaps. But not destructive in essence.

What is destructive, however, is when religious dogma is perverted to “blame and shame” victims. When an authoritarian structure allows those in power to abuse relatively helpless adherents. And when a mistrust of outsiders is used to discourage reporting to civil authorities or even seeking professional help. Every institution with these attributes runs the risk of both infiltration by predators and then the unwitting nurturing of them once they’re inside.

It’s not what the institutions want; BJU’s leadership doubtlessly wanted its students harmed no more than the Vatican intended for there to be widespread abuse by a small but prolific percentage of its priests and nuns. Regardless, vulnerability remains because danger is always present, meaning that predatory people (who as far we know tend to appear for reasons we don’t in every imaginable situation) are always looking for places to hunt and hide. The one thing religious institutions can do to mitigate their inherent risks is to value the members of the institution more than the institution itself.

This means being utterly transparent about policies to prevent abuse, and allowing an honest assessment of how much it’s happening. It means making it publicly known that it will cooperate with civil authorities and seek help from professionals outside of its sphere of influence, even if that means risking exposure to a less Godly and sometimes unfair world outside the gates.

But like the Vatican (and many other religious institutions seeking to keep their reputations and authority intact), Bob Jones appears to have failed at this task, with a report released last week outlining widespread discouragement of reporting and in some cases startling victim-blaming by university officials. In many cases this treatment grossly exacerbated the harm done, and drove some victims not only away from BJU but from Christianity itself.

Again, this is the last thing BJU has ever wanted. But it’s what the institution has reaped, at least in some measure, and at least in part because of its brand mattering more than its students.

American Horror Story: Though the Heavens May Fall, Let Justice Be Done

Tom Hogan is the District Attorney of Chester County, Pennsylvania. He is seeking the death penalty under Pennsylvania law for the murder of three year-old Scott McMillan, who appears to have succumbed to multiple, repeated, and ultimately murderous acts of physical abuse from the defendants in the case, Jillian Tait, the child’s mother, and Gary Fellenbaum, her boyfriend.

These acts included beating the toddler with a homemade whip, smashing his head through a wall, and hanging him by his feet while beating him.

“Though the heavens may fall, justice will be done to these defendants” was Hogan’s final statement at press conference yesterday.

Capital punishment will likely end in this country as society continues to evolve, as the unalterable risks the death penalty imposes are further exposed, and as notions of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ continue to be shot through with the complex realities of mental illness and extenuating circumstances. That isn’t necessarily a terrible prospect.

Regardless, while a penalty of death is still an option, and assuming that Tait and Fellenbaum are 1) factually guilty of the pre-mediated, torturous murder of this child and 2) legally sane, I wish my brother prosecutor Tom Hogan one thing as this miserable case plays out in a court of law:

Success, all the way to the needle.




“Pet Vet” Barbie: Your Daughter is Better Than This

A few years ago I made a point to call out Mattel’s Barbie “I Can Be” series (the Barbie doll series that supposedly encourages girls to envision what they can accomplish professionally) for this depiction of a veterinarian:


Almost four years later it really hasn’t gotten much better. Then very recently I discovered through friends a reality show called The Incredible Dr. Pol which airs on the Nat Geo channel. Pol and his colleagues, one of whom is a young female veterinarian, are featured treating domestic and farm animals in Central Michigan.

Not being a veterinarian or anyone with experience in animal husbandry or farming, I can’t comment on the genuineness of what’s portrayed or how truly “incredible” Dr. Pol or his staff are. But I can say that the depiction of the women on Pol’s show, one a staff vet who is depicted training other young women who appear to be veterinary students or interns, is far more realistic and less offensive than anything Barbie suggests about how a veterinarian will dress and what her work environment will be like. The female vet on Dr. Pol’s show was identified as “Dr. Brenda.” Like most veterinarians, she appears to eschew four-inch heels and a dangerously high hemline. Instead she is seen literally wrestling distressed farm animals and stitching up injured ones in often sweat-soaked medical scrubs.

If you have a daughter who might be drawn to veterinary medicine, I’d ask you to consider introducing her to these kinds of depictions of the life of a highly educated, skilled, compassionate and tough woman who is also a doctor of veterinary medicine.

I’m not a parent myself, but this seems to me to be a better idea than encouraging your girl child to strive to be someone’s fetishized and insultingly sexist depiction of a professional. She’s better than that. Period.