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Matthew Rossi
Posted on Saturday, April 03, 2004 - 01:31 pm:   

(Crossposted from elsewhere since I thought it would be good to get feedback from you folks about it.)

I've been thinking about this a lot. Check out this story about Deanna Laney and think about what's going on behind the scenes here. This woman, who had already pulled her kids out of public school to home school them, hears a voice from God telling her to kill her kids. (I'm deliberately leaving out, for the moment, the possibility that God did speak to her.) Like a good Christian, she goes forth and does His will. Now her lawyer is arguing the insanity defense (and yes, I'd agree that beating your children to death with rocks is insane, but does that mean it's legally insane? You've got me) and I keep coming to the same conclusion.

She's just taking the won't someone please think of the children argument to its furthest extreme. A friend of mine (and a pretty good writer, too) wrote recently about parents that want to move into full-on government oversight (more so than they already do... imagine the TV networks Standards and Practices guy being an FCC employee) of television to, sigh, protect the children. And I think Deanna Laney's decision to kill her children comes out of the same delusional place as the people who picket CBS because of a five second (if that) image of a breast on TV. In reading Mrs. Laney's statements to her psychiatrists you see her over and over again laying emphasis on how God ordered her to kill her children to serve as a harbinger of the coming Apocalypse. She even mentions how she believed that Andrea Yates was also ordered by God to do this. (Two cases of intensely religious women in Texas killing their children does kind of make one wonder, doesn't it?)

I find this ultimate rejection of the world and all of its works as so sinful that we must kill our children to prevent their corruption and prepare for the end-times to be ultimately almost Manichean. And I do think it comes from the same mindset as the people who want to burn Harry Potter books, the people who flock to see the Passion and watch Jesus get the motherloving shit kicked out of him but who decry other films as being too violent... the strange combination of imagination and unwillingness to consider alternate words and worldviews than the one created for them by a team of redactors working on old Hebrew, Greek and Latin texts in the 1600's. The same people who worry so much that their children might have sex before marriage that they'd rather hide the information about condoms than they would prevent the spread of STD's among them, which is at a ten year high despite all that talk of abstinence. Because, I think, of the mindset that if my holy book says one thing and the world insists on being more complicated than that, then the world is wrong. There's no attempt to grasp the metaphorical power of the text, no attempt to understand what it might be trying to say under the surface, no examination of the amazing tradition of textual analysis in their own religion, just censorious attempts to bludgeon life into coming to agreement with their own limited interpretation of the only book they'll read. Personally, if someone only reads one book, I don't trust their ability to understand it. And I don't see much difference in wanting to raise your children to believe that life lacks sex, violence (aside from *good* violence, which is far-away, practised on 'evil' people and never shown on TV or commented upon negatively in the news) alcohol and drugs, etc, etc...I don't see much difference between raising your children in a sanitized bubble so that when they go out to face the world without you, they can't process or comprehend it and either recoil in horror (which may be the intent) or fling themselves into overindulgence, and killing them to keep them pure. It's a difference of degree, really: raising kids to believe that bad things only happen to bad people and that if you pray hard enough God will shield you from all harm (and the flip corrallary, which is to say that if bad things do happen to you then you must have sinned) is not only un-Biblical (since it directly contradicts the Book of Job, which argues that God may very well cause bad things to happen to good people who do not sin and that no man can know the mind of God) but raising such unequipped children is like shoving a toddler in front of a bus and then complaining when he gets plowed over.

I'm hardly arguing for super-permissive parenting, either. I'm arguing for parental responsibilty, yes, in that I want to see parents stop wasting their time trying to get the government to parent everyone, especially in a quixotic crusade to protect our children from the inherent evil of day to day life. I'm also arguing that so attempting to stifle children into bonsai trees by keeping them away from everything and anything you might find objectionable is less effective than simply explaining when it becomes necessary what you believe about things and why. (Dear God, he's imply that we reason with our children. Stone him.) And I say this with full memory of my own teenage years, when I was often unreasonable and ruled by emotion and convinced I knew better than everyone else. I'm not arguing that this is an easy or perfect approach. I just know it's better than raising kids in bubbles of lies or killing them before the world can corrupt them... especially since it always seems to me that what these people are most afraid of is that their children will become corrupt to the point of realizing that they've been lied to.

Finally, it also interests me that Mrs. Laney argues that the 'Lord' commanded her to slay her children. This is because I keep wondering if it's connected to ancient Semitic religion. As we all know, the Canaanites had their own gods, including El (who would eventually be absorbed into ancient Judaism as a pseudonym for Yahweh... hence Michael, "Who is like God") and his son Ba'al. Ba'al, of course, was demonized by the ancient Israelites because he was an enormously powerful rival for Yahweh, a god who matched many of the attributes of the sky father of the Israelites. Now, Baal was popular with the Phoenicians as well... and when the Phoenicians started the colony of Carthage, they exported Baal to said colony. This site mentions how The major gods were Baal Hammon (the name Hannibal means "favorite of Baal'), Tanit, Baal's consort, Eshmoun, and Melqart, later assimilated to Hercules. Now, since Baal simply means Lord, that's hardly surprising that Baal should have made the leap. What's interesting is to remember the old slanders of Diodorus Siculus and others, that the cult of Baal in Carthage sacrificed children in great numbers to Baal.

Perhaps the Lord that spoke to this woman was an entirely other god then the one she was expecting? After all, if he said he was the 'Lord', that would be a perfectly acceptable translation of the name Baal. It seems more in keeping with Baal's faith than with that of Christ the fisher of men to kill one's children... even when Yahweh demanded the sacrifice of Isaac, He stopped Abraham before it happened. Although that very demand does leave us back where we started, with the uncomfortable idea that God may well demand our children die. I have read commentary that indicated the aborted sacrifice of Isaac was intended to be a break with the traditional sacrifce of children in the Baal cult, but I don't have it to hand.

Well, anyway, those are the two ideas that come to hand. As you may expect, I think I'm cobbling together an essay based around the diametric opposition between the manichean worldview of some folks and their own self-imposed inability to see the world in shades which causes them to author much of the evil they decry, and so I figured I'd core dump some of my thinking here for y'all to pick at, since you're smart folks who probably will have ideas I'm entirely missing.
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Jamie
Posted on Saturday, April 03, 2004 - 09:08 pm:   

Just going off the top of my head, if there's two great and powerful Lords running around (Baal and Yahweh), one of whom demands the sacrifice of children and the other who doesn't like it, that would explain the Abraham/Isaac thing -- Baal says "Kill your kid" and then Yahweh comes along and says "No, don't" and poor old Abraham thinks it's the same Lord telling him both things.

It also makes you wonder which of these Lords might have sacrificed his own son -- or heck, maybe Baal and Yahweh were father and son?

Or... You could take it a bit further, drawing parallels to Greek mythology and the father/son conflicts between Kronos and Zeus, and Kronos' father (I'm blanking...) and Kronos. Maybe Baal is the father, concerned about his children supplanting him, and this is mirrored in the behaviour of his followers, and Yahweh is actually Shekinah (or an equivalent), the feminine aspect of God, and the mother opposed to such sacrifices.

Isn't there a heresy (or perhaps orthodoxy?) that Mary was the result of a Virgin Birth as well? In which case she could have been the Yahweh/mother figure, and Baal would have been the father who demanded the sacrifice of his only son...
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Matthew Rossi
Posted on Monday, April 05, 2004 - 02:13 am:   

Oh, and they acquitted her on grounds of insanity.

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