"You insult your son's moral intelligence"

Salon readers blast Anne Lamott's decision to make her son go to church.

By Salon Staff
Published July 9, 2003 8:28PM (EDT)

[Read "Because I'm the Mother," by Anne Lamott.]

Anne: When I was 14 years old, I knew what relationship I was or wasn't going to have with God. I was taking driver's training and contemplating the meaning of life, which I did not find in the Episcopalian church I had attended with my parents since infancy.

He's already the man he will be. Let him decide. Treat him like an adult.

Oh, and one more thing ... I hope that some day he'll forgive you for telling the entire world that he still calls for you to come pray and rub his back when he can't sleep. I can't imagine anything more humiliating to a 14-year-old boy. I'm the mother of a 15-year-old girl and I know she'd be mortified.

-- Elodie Ackerman

I am an atheist and I couldn't disagree with Lamott more. She is just totally wrong.

I have neither the time nor the energy to explain all the historical and scientific reasons that I think the way I do, but suffice it to say that if her son doesn't want to go to brainwashing school, he shouldn't have to and she shouldn't make him.

In our family, the children are encouraged to think for themselves and never accept anything just because "I say so." They quickly tired of church dogma and nonsense. The decision to stop going was theirs, and it was for the right reasons.

-- Noah Stern

This same thinking got Susan Smith a light sentence when she watched her children drown because they belonged to her and she could do with them as she pleased.

Copy 12 pages from the dictionary for punishment encourages one to read with a dictionary nearby?

Force a child into the ways YOU decide for him, and when he is old he will gladly depart.

Only an arrogant woman would expect her wishes to be honored above all others. Son, get ready to be ruled in later life by another woman who claims to be your wife.

-- Jim Hathorn

When I read Anne Lamott, it is with a wistful smile through slow-moving tears. These are not tears of pain or even of joy but of recognition of a universal experience.

I don't have a teenage son, and I don't go to church Sunday mornings. Still, there is easy identification with the emotion of struggling with someone you love who is driving you crazy when they're not filling your life with joy. The struggle to do what is right with so few reliable signposts.

And, of course, there are the memories she calls forth: the comfort of shared relief on a Sunday morning when you sit among people you care about in a brief oasis of calm from the relentless assaults of life.

Yeah, she made me cry a little. She also made me think seriously about finding a church to attend on Sunday mornings.

-- Jay Gordon

I say this in all seriousness. If Anne Lamott doesn't want her teenage son's inner monster she so cutely names "Phil" to emerge fully as a true monster, she should stop using her son as fodder for her writing.

OK, her first book about having a child may have worked and gone beyond the personal to connect to some larger truth about motherhood, etc., but I have been concerned ever since about her habit of using her son as subject matter.

"Using," of course, is the operative word. I assume she checks out and lets him read what she's written before she submits the work. If that's not the case, if she publishes it without letting him see it, and without his permission, then she should be arrested for child abuse.

And if he does give his permission, I contend that after a lifetime of having his privacy violated and his life used by his mother to further her writing career (i.e., after a lifetime of being emotionally abused), he's not fit to judge.

Oh sure, Mom, go ahead. Write about my thoughts, beliefs, relationships, anything at all -- it is all yours.

Well, it isn't. Sam's life is Sam's and it is about time she stopped co-opting it. And it is about time we as readers stopped being complicit.

-- M. Donahue

While your son is enjoying his cocoa and pastries and warm hugs, don't forget to fill him in on the central tenet of Christianity: Join or die.

That's the "spiritual" nugget of Christianity. Non-Christians will burn in hell.

Now, you must be one of those nice, modern Christians who think, "If you're a good person, I think God will let you into Heaven." Most of the Christians I have met are very much like yourself: decent, moral people. In other words, you have a moral code that is infinitely superior to the Bronze Age, tribalistic ugliness of Christianity proper.

There are fewer and fewer young people, these days, willing to be duped by the hypocritical double-talk of "modern" Christianity. Many teenagers see quite clearly the contradiction between the common decency expected in a democracy, versus the fossilized nastiness of barbaric "holy" books. Your son just might be one of those people.

Some day your son might finally snap out his hug-induced stupor. He might figure out that the Bible is merely a stack of recycled mythology. And that for every word of wisdom in there, there are ten rationalizations for mass murder, slavery, and the general dehumanization of anyone who prays to the wrong god.

If you want your son to be a good person, teach him to be a good person. By example. By cajoling. By any means except the vehicle of fairy tales and Bronze Age cruelty. When you link ancient superstitions to the rules of common decency, you insult his moral intelligence.

If your son is not taught the difference between decency and religion, you are placing him at great risk. Because when your son finally chucks the nonsense of Christianity, he might make the mistake of throwing out the wheat with the chaff.

I hope that doesn't happen. I need good neighbors who learn morality from moms, not from gods.

-- Conrad Spoke

[Read "Italy's Sex Slaves," by Laura Fraser.]

It's easy to point fingers at other countries, but this problem exists here with American girls (runaways are enormously vulnerable) being enslaved for the prostitution trade by Americans, and being used by American johns.

I know a woman who as a runaway at age 15 had been lured by the offer of a modeling job from a stranger. She was slowly drinking a cup of coffee so she could have shelter that night. The modeling job landed her in a well-designed basement for her imprisonment, where she was tortured into submission and then spent three years as a prostitute and a subject of ongoing psychological and physical torture. The only reason she got out was because her captor was arrested on drug charges. When the police found her locked in a closet, they just let her go. No questions, no additional charges. Terrified and untrusting of the police (according to her, cops were occasional customers) she fled without trying to report him. She's still afraid he'll find her again.

Maybe this is something to write about. There's more we can do here at home, including educating the johns who read Salon.com. I imagine a few might even change their behavior if they knew they too were potentially supporting the slavery of young American girls.

-- Shannon O'Brien

Thank you, Ms. Fraser, for bringing this horror into our complacent psyches. I am a 28-year-old woman who has been given many advantages in life, although as an Asian woman in a different country, my fate might have been much, much different.

It remains difficult to be a "cultural warrior," to resist images of sexual objectification and subservience in any guise. Thank you for making this article an editor's choice, and in the future, perhaps it could be front-page material?

My heart is with these women and the innumerable legions of women prey to violence, imprisonment and rape.

-- Christina Liu

Laura Fraser's poignant, appalling article is touching and well-written. However it, like many other similar articles in the "virtual" and paper press about poor women, boys and girls forced into the sex trade by criminal groups all over the world, moved me to wonder:

Who are the men who buy these prostitute/slaves, and why do they do it? Of necessity, they have a little money; they have jobs, can read and must be aware that the hookers they frequent are not plying their trade by choice. Indeed, Fraser's article describes how some of the slave-hookers are actually helped by "clients." So they are obviously not ignorant of the situation of these women; yet they buy them for "five-minute sexual encounters" and thereby drive the market for the pimps and traffickers who lure the women into sex slavery.

What I am waiting to read is an in-depth article, well-researched and complete with interviews, on the johns who patronize slave/prostitutes, who want/need five-minute encounters in the back seat of a car badly enough to maintain the endless demand for sex slaves.

It is very clear, by now, how and why unwilling sex workers get into the "business"; I am both frustrated and fascinated that nobody seems very curious about how and why men with disposable incomes in prosperous cities (who presumably could find willing partners for consensual sex) buy enslaved foreigners. What kind of men do this? Why? I'd be most eager to read an article like Fraser's, but focused on the clients of these hapless women.

-- Name withheld

Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------