"Keep the wise, wild and courageous columns coming!"

Readers rush to the defense of Anne Lamott.

By Salon Staff
Published July 10, 2003 8:50PM (EDT)

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

It's amazing that so many of this magazine's readers found it so offensive that Anne Lamott makes her son go to church with her. It's church, for crying out loud! Let's put it in perspective before we carry on about brainwashing and future God haters!

I grew up in a very religious, single-parent household and was "forced" to go to church. I was even kicked out as a teenager for declaring Jesus wasn't God. Yet, since that time, I've come to appreciate and respect my mother's love for her religion and her struggle to do what she felt was best for me.

I recognize that same struggle in Anne Lamott and frankly, with all that love she has to give, her kid will be just fine.

-- Elana Gustavson

Now, Anne Lamott does not need a reader to write in and defend what she's written. I've read enough Anne Lamott to know this. But I'm writing anyway.

Here's why: Just about all of the critiques written in response to her last column do not address any of the points made in her last column. They are well-written tirades against the church, neatly written and dressed up as a reaction to the choices one woman makes with her son. Tossing out words like "church dogma and nonsense" or calling the church a "conglomeration of the worst barbaric impulses wrought into a paradigm of psychological manipulation" or drawing parallels between Anne Lamott and Susan Smith? C'mon.

Writing with intense, almost feral, moral indignation about a mom making her kid go to church twice a month pretty much announces to the world that You. Have. Issues.

-- Mark Huntsman

When I was a teenager I would have slept until noon every Sunday if my parents hadn't made me get up, put on a skirt, and go to church with them. But they did... and even though I whined and complained every Sunday morning, once I was at church I found a haven of peace and kindness and spirituality. Years later (and after many years of independent involvement in the church), I'm still thankful they did.

Left entirely to their own devices, wouldn't most teenagers blow off church, or school, or sports practice? I absolutely would have if it hadn't been for the guidance of my parents, which often came in the form of rules. Teenagers are smart and capable, but the truth is they often lack the life experience to make the best choices for themselves.

It's clear from those letters that readers who do not participate in organized religion just don't comprehend that for those who do, it's a very real priority to attend church or synagogue or mosque services. Please try to break out of your limited mind-sets and actually read the article! It's clear to me that Sam is in the same position I once was -- he may hate the idea of going to church, but once he's there he has a positive, enriching experience. And that youth group leader sounds like a wonderful role model.

And stop with the crazy prejudices against Christianity! I was blown away at the ignorant comments in the response letters. It drives me absolutely insane that so many people discriminate against Christians as a whole based upon a few terrible examples. If you really read Anne's columns, you ought know better already!

Anne, as usual, you're right on target.

-- Beth Lee

I remember in my own childhood attending church and feeling various degrees of resistance and boredom. But even so, there was something there I responded to, the sense of community, the stories of people confronting life and its disappointments, the promise of some kind of redemption.

In my late teens and 20s, I went away from church, but in my 30s and as a mother I came back to it, and it has offered great solace. And I make my 9-year-old son come with me because I think some of it will seep into his soul and someday give him strength when he needs it.

The people who equate church with child abuse are simply nutty. Abuse is not feeding or clothing your child. Abuse is sexually exploiting a child. Abuse is telling that child he or she is worthless. Abuse is not bringing a child twice a month to a house where God dwells and God's people show their faith in words, music and prayer.

--Vicki Broach

I disagree with most of the readers who wrote to blast Anne Lamott for taking her son to church and with those who label it child abuse to write about one's family.

The church experience for many is about so much more than the worship service or even the theological dogma. My 13-year-old certainly understands the difference between his personal relationship with the being he calls God and what goes on in a church service. The church community is about spending time with an extended "family" who upholds the ideals and moral values I have. In our case, we live 800 miles from our nearest relatives, so our church family fills some of the gap.

Anne has written frequently about her church community and the last impression I get from her is that it is some kind of evangelical "join or die" group. And, since when is writing about your family "child abuse"? Anyone slam Erma Bombeck, Anna Quindlen or Paul Harvey for relating family anecdotes?

-- D. Antoine

The letters about Anne Lamott's column made me so sad. It seems to me that all these readers were horrified that Anne acts like a parent. But, if she were making Sam worship at a Buddhist shrine or making him become a disciple of any "worthy" liberal cause, I bet there wouldn't be a peep. It's only Christianity that gets slammed as being "forced" upon our children.

-- Joni Poppitz Stimpson

My mother forced me to go to church. I didn't want to stop going because I disagreed with the teachings of my church, or because I felt I was being brainwashed. I didn't want to go because it meant getting up at 6 a.m. to get ready and I wanted to sleep in. I didn't want to go because it meant getting dressed up and putting on uncomfortable shoes. But when I got there, I went to Sunday school and learned something. I went to the service and took communion. And I communed, not only with God, but with my fellow Christians, which included my mother and my sister. And even though I had moaned and whined, I was glad I'd been dragged out of bed. But I would never have admitted it.

The letters I read suggested that Lamott was forcing some horrible punishment on her son. They spoke of Christianity as something only a fool could follow, and of Christians as fools. What I read suggested to me that their desperation to disassociate from God and Christianity has blinded them. They don't see Christianity for what it is. Instead, they focus on the worst elements and pretend that makes up the whole of an entire faith. I'd hate for them to think I was forcing my faith on them, but since they seem determined to lump all Christians in together, I'll just give this bit of advice: Judge not, lest ye be judged. (Matthew 7:1)

-- Carrie Byrd

How obnoxious of so many Salon readers to judge Anne's parenting capabilities! A child of 14 is still young enough to be subject to the parent's scheduling, and church is a completely viable activity that in many ways provides a structure and sense for childhood that is impossible to find elsewhere. I recommend they read "Traveling Mercies," in which Lamott describes her church as one I'd join in a heartbeat if I lived in the Bay Area. Should a parent not require a child to eat? To sleep? To try to prevent them from watching things on television that the parent finds objectionable? When did a 14-year-old become an adult? When living at home, a kid should do what their parents want them to do, and expecting them to go to church/synagogue/mosque is completely reasonable. If a child rejects faith as an adult, fine. But, if you pay attention to Lamott's own spiritual journey as described in "Mercies" and all of her columns, she is not a part of a crazy brainwashing!

Anne too rejected faith, and Jesus came and knocked on her door when she was most rejected, most downtrodden, and most needed faith. Exactly as He should. Lamott's Jesus is gentle, understanding, firm, forgiving, has high expectations, but is willing to wash away sin when we don't meet them. That is what Jesus is supposed to be -- a friend. I doubt seriously that Salon readers would have been so incensed if Lamott took Sam to a mosque or a temple -- why all the hostility toward Christianity? An individual's woundedness does not negate the inherent value that religion can, and does have, for the vast majority of the human race. And as to the criticism that Lamott uses Sam as subject matter, I don't think that she's "abusing" her child by writing about the experience of rearing him, something that so many readers and parents can surely identify with. Come on, Salon readers -- give Anne a break.

-- Guli Fager

Get off Anne's back! As kids get older, the rules change or, in the case of Anne and her son, are negotiated to accommodate new needs or responsibilities. Her every-other-week church rule sounds like a fair compromise to me.

Anne, keep the wise, wild and courageous columns coming. You rock.

-- Laura Raphael

I could not sit this one out. I disagree with those who think Ms. Lamott is doing her son a disservice by making him go to church. Children want and deserve to know right from wrong, structure over chaos.

Church is one of those places where parents and children can seek counsel in all matters. I was raised in the church. I believe in God and I believe that everything we need to achieve and succeed is within us. Going to church, even when I did not want to (truthfully how many kids want to wake up early on a weekend to do anything), gave me that foundation of belief. I think it is fine if parents can impart that spirituality without the institution. But most cannot.

-- Hope Sampson

I found Anne's article about Sam and church quite moving, and I'm horrified by the negative responses she received.

Perhaps the most moronic idea concocted by adults is that children can find spiritual guidance and communities of caring people on their own. Somehow, children are supposed to learn how to express themselves, how to find people who will accept them unconditionally, and how to communicate, all on their own. How do most kids try to find authentic relationships: drugs, booze, sex, Internet chat rooms, instant messaging... Oh, but I forgot, that's where most adults are looking for "love" as well.

-- Catherine

Salon Staff

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