Child abuse

If you have not read this story yet about the girl in the closet, I warn you that it is a haunting story you may never rid from your memory. The Dallas Morning News has been running this all week, with the first story taking up most of Sunday’s front page.  If you don’t want to read it, I’ll just give you a brief summary.

Barbara and Kenny Atkinson are serving a life sentence in Texas (eligible for parole in 2031) for child abuse. Barbara Atkinson is the mother of six kids. She does not know who fathered three of her children. Her second child, Lauren Kavanaugh, was kept in a closet, beaten and sexually abused until she was found in 2001 at age 8, weighing little more than 25 pounds (the weight of a toddler). To read the horrors of what she suffered makes you wonder about humanity.  This girl lived in her own defecation; she had cigarette burns on her head and back. At age 8, she was not potty-trained; she did not even know to sit in a chair or use a pencil. It’s heartbreaking. As parents, we know that we would forgo our own meals to feed our children. To see our babies hurt, makes us hurt. How can a mother, another human even, do this to a trusting child?

It is stories like this that make me cringe when I hear people say that god has blessed them, that he has intervened in their lives and kept them safe.

It was the step-father, who had also been abusing the child, who turned the mother in. When I first read the story on Sunday, I thought that this was evidence the man was human–he had a conscience; he sought help. But later in the week, we find that, no, indeed, the step-father was not doing the right thing. He was angry at his wife for running off with another man and leaving him with six kids.

If we are only as strong as our weakest link, what does this mother and step-father’s horrible abuse reveal about us? About our society?

This girl and her siblings are forever damaged. We can hardly expect them to be functioning members of their communities without some kind of help and support from the rest of us.  You might wonder why Lauren had to suffer for so long. Yes CPS was notified, but the Atkinsons were able to elude CPS visits by moving, even though Barbara Atkinson was still receiving regular welfare checks. Apparently, the state did know how to find her. Neighbors, relatives, friends? Someone, you would think, had to know.

Every year, 6 million children are reported as abused, with 4-7 child fatalities a day due to abuse or neglect. The U.S. has one of the worst records of abuse among industrialized nations. Why do we require hair stylists and plumbers and drivers to obtain licenses, but not parents? Why is it harder to adopt a dog than have a child? Shouldn’t having children be a privilege rather than a right? Everyone has the right to life; but it seems to me that everyone should not have the right to make new life.

Does reading about these cases day in and day out help us, as a people, to know that this evil exists? Do news reports make us more aware so that we can report abuse or do they immunize us to the horrors of what people are capable of?

The scary thing is, this couple, the Atkinsons, will get parole one day. Do they deserve to be free when they have permanently damaged six children? Perhaps the most important question we need to answer is not how do we punish these people, but how do we, as a society, avoid creating these types of parents to begin with?

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76 responses to “Child abuse

  1. This is why atheists ought to be firmly on the side of the rule of law; these people won’t get the hellfire that they have coming to them. They have to be taken out of the gene pool in the here and now.

    This is a crime against humanity. Death should be the penalty.

    • Good point here, Jason Wester: “This is why atheists ought to be firmly on the side of the rule of law; these people won’t get the hellfire that they have coming to them.” Only we can make certain that justice is served.

  2. Do they deserve to be free when they have permanently damaged six children?

    Locking them up for a long time does not help the children. I don’t see any purpose, other than vengeance.

    I would much prefer that she be on permanent parole, with the parole officer reporting on whether she is pregnant again. And, if she becomes pregnant, I would want to see steps taken to immediately place the newbort for adoption.

    I’m not sure our laws would actually allow this. But, if possible, protection of any future children would be my priority.

    • @Neil Rickert Vengeance is not healthy either. Seems that if the collective is administering jail time, rather than the person(s) affected, it would be justice rather than vengeance. Is there a difference between the two?

    • @Neil, at the very least, she should be sterilized to prevent any future pregnancies. I agree with Jason that the death penalty would not be too harsh. People who commit this type of atrocity cannot be rehabilitated, similar to pedophiles. They should be taken out of the gene pool.

      • I don’t have any personal objection to sterilization, in this case — except that, as a male, I hesitate to tell women how to use their bodies.

        My main problem with sterilization is that it would be very controversial, and the circus of arguments would be a distraction from looking at the real problem. That’s why I suggested the permanent probation as a less controversial alternative.

        • @Neil That is a less controversial alternative, and permanent probation might be something that could be part of the answer. (Though very expensive in time/cost.)

          In this country, we would never allow forced sterilization, though it might make sense for both convicted.

      • @Kathy I agree 100% with a) they cannot be rehabilitated and b) they need to be sterilized. Even little pro-life me wants that in this situation.

  3. Just for a point of reference for those not in touch with children’s weight, my almost-two-year-old weighs 31 pounds (but she’s “solid”). So this 8-year-old weighed 6 pounds less than my one-year-old. That can tell you just how starved the poor girl was. Horrifying.

    Really it’s amazing, and somewhat cruel, what a human being can survive both physically and mentally. Why should she have to endure this? What did this little girl do to deserve this family that my little girl didn’t do? Absolutely nothing. That’s what is hard for me to swallow.

    I don’t know the answers about child abuse but something has to be done. There HAS to be a better system. Every day I think about the kids that must be getting abused in my own town, possibly my own neighborhood, and nobody knows about it. Or worse, nobody does anything about it. Or CAN do anything about it.

    Why can’t there be a requirement for someone to be a parent? Or some sort of follow up after sending a newborn home with parents? Why does someone get preferential treatment solely based on a DNA test? What right did this woman have to “her” child after she was removed from her due to abuse?

    Really just horrifying. I want to share this article with my husband but he won’t even be able to handle it. Our hearts truly bleed for abused children… is there a worse offense? As I typed these words, how many children got hit / beat / sexually abused in their own homes by their own parents – the very people that are supposed to protect and love them unconditionally?

    • @Molly I first heard this case over 10 years and will never forget when I first heard it and then hugging my kids, hoping they never have to even know about these horrors.

      I do think about these things, too. How many other kids are suffering? How many right around me?

  4. My parents were reported to CPS multiple times, at least once in Florida and twice in Georgia. Not one of us seven daughters was ever removed from our home, ever, not even for a night. I want to write about my middle school years to continue an earlier post of mine, but I can’t seem to find the courage. Sometimes I think what makes abuse even harder is the constant denial by the abuser of his or her wrong doing. It’s also more confusing to the child/children involved when a parent or both parents make emotional connections/friendships with their child victims. My father had a stronger bond with me than what he ever had with my mother and my mother felt that I deserved all her emotional unloading. Abusers look for pity, abusers live in a very different reality from those of us who try to be decent human beings.
    I hope these kids find peace, I hope they find hope. You’re right, they’ll always have something “different” about them and it’s sad because it’s not their fault. They can mend over time, but it will difficult. This is why we need secular counselors. Those who are not affiliated with the New Age, Christianity or any other religion. They’re just about impossible to find, especially in the South. Trust me, I’ve looked. Victims of violent crimes need to know that they have love and support. We need people with the necessary tools to help the wounded heal. Prayer and scripture can’t do that, love and understanding can.

    • CHope, I hope you have found the healing you need, too. I’m sorry that you–that anyone–has to suffer through this. The rest of us fail children by leaving them in abusive homes.

      • Thank you, Debbie. Certain things that my kids do or go through trigger things in me. What people forget about healing is there’s a starting over point when you have children. Not to say that past healing is ineffective, but a new healing has to begin once you become a parent.
        For instance, this week I’ve been making sure that my boys have plenty of clothes for the fall and winter. I am usually a season to two ahead with my boys’ clothing. I’m changing clothes out because of their growth spurts, I’m counting their pairs of underwear and I’m making sure that all of their jeans fit and are folded promptly in their drawers. I’m having them try on their jackets and coats and then suddenly, I’m back to my childhood. I remember having just three or four pairs of underwear. I wasn’t much older than Intellectual when I had to wear a one piece bathing suit under my clothes to school because I had no underwear. My parents rarely checked to see if I was warm enough during the cold months. It’s painful, but it motivates me to be a better mommy to my kids and that is actually a good thing.

        • I attribute so much of what I know and do as a parent to what my parents did for me, although I was fortunate to have very loving and wonderful parents. Of course, there are still things that I will do differently.

          I really admire you for not following in your parent’s footsteps, as I imagine that may be the easier path. It speaks highly of your character that you are able to rise above your own childhood when creating your children’s childhood.

          A quote from that article when the girl said “I am afraid to become my parents. I feel the rage my mother felt too, but I try to control it” Well the difference is that a) she recognizes the rage and b) she is trying to control it.

          Holy cow can we blame the girl for feeling rage? I feel rage for her.

          • Thank you, Molly. Your kindness is appreciated. I still have a VERY long way to go. My husband wonders why I look at the past. I tell him it’s the only “teacher” I have. Besides, it often comes up on its own.

          • Molly–I so agree with you here: “A quote from that article when the girl said “I am afraid to become my parents. I feel the rage my mother felt too, but I try to control it” Well the difference is that a) she recognizes the rage and b) she is trying to control it.

            Holy cow can we blame the girl for feeling rage? I feel rage for her.”

        • @Chope “My parents rarely checked to see if I was warm enough during the cold months. It’s painful, but it motivates me to be a better mommy to my kids and that is actually a good thing.”

          I’m sure I’m not alone saying that I feel for you. And I know I’ve told you this before, but you seem like a really, really good mom. I guess that is the good that has come from your bad experiences. I just hope that you feel the love and support around you now. I’m certainly pulling for you to find peace.

  5. In today’s paper, they had to bring god into it. Atkinson says she is a Christian, and she asked the child abuse detective to “pray me out of this place.” She asked if god would ever forgive her. What kind of god would do that?

    • I suspected that, Debbie. The merciless always want mercy. Big ass babies.

    • I didn’t like how they ended the article with the focus on the abuser “seeing the light” or something of that nature. Don’t give her any attention, and DEFINITELY don’t give her any positive attention. She isn’t reformed, she is just scared.

  6. As I read through the articles about “the girl in the closet”, I am filled with both grief and terror for this little girl. She has suffered things no person should ever have to suffer. I hope she is able to get all of the psychological and emotional support she needs to become as whole as possible after such a brutal life.

    All this goes back to a basic truth about humanity. It doesn’t matter how well educated, how much money, our position in society, because there’s a part of human nature that’s pure animal. It’s disgusting, though, to think that someone can let into such primal behavior. This goes back to an earlier discussion we had when I said that when people commit certain kinds of actions they’re literally giving up their right to be part of society permanently …. this is one of those things. I am so angry with those parents. The mother for her inaction. The father ….. I don’t think I have to say anymore.

    • @dqfan2012 I think, believer or not, these are the things we are united in. I with you–they’ve given up their rights as parents and citizens. But I’d like to at least think there is something we can learn from these situations to prevent this from happening to another child.

      When I was a kid, I heard a similar story about a child locked in a closet. I remember I was at my friend’s house, and I remember being horrified for that kid. I’m sure it won’t be the last horror story we here, unfortunately.

      • I agree with you. There should be something that we can learn from these situations to assist us prevent further incidents. Unfortunately, as long as people have insidious desires and the inability to apply self-control, I think we will keep hearing about similar events against people of all ages.

  7. Qualifications and licensing for bearing children sure seems like an overkill suggestion. Saying that there are more requirements to adopt a dog than have a child is very apples to oranges. There are also greater requirements to adopt a child. There are not, however, any requirements around mating two dogs and having a resulting litter unless you want them all AKC registered.

    When you instead say, “You must pass a test in order to engage in government approved procreation”, you have ceded too much power to the state in order to avoid a small percentage of abuses. With just under 74 million children in the US and 700,000 ( http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/resource/can-faq7 ) suffering any form of abuse, you’re looking at negatively impacting the lives of the other 73.3 million kids via direct, daily government in-the-home intrusion in order to reduce a 1% abuse rate. (The 6 million number you quoted includes all children from all reports, but that count also includes all unsubstantiated reports. In this case, it’s best to go to the actual data: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/cm11.pdf )

    But why stop at monitoring kids? Why not have weekly visits with a government approved relationship monitor to make sure your marriage is going well? That would surely reduce domestic violence incidents and would give government direct access to the home in order to monitor the welfare of children.

    In the example given in this blog post, the real failure was with CPS being unable to adequately address already reported abuse. The system up to that point worked as is, correct? So why create further burden rather than address the issue that exists within CPS?

    As an atheist parent of a child with disabilities who gets a great deal of support via the state, I know all too well what it means to be constantly reporting to an agency in order to go about daily life. And I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I would suggest that you not be quite so quick to ask for that intrusion for everyone in order to address a very small percentage of abuses.

    • Hi Travis, Thanks for your comment. I appreciate you taking the time to share.

      You said, “constantly reporting to an agency” is a burden. However, you mentioned that you “get a great deal of support via the state.” I would think monitoring is acceptable considering you are receiving state (taxpayer) funding. I know this was the case when I worked in social services. Why wouldn’t we place restrictions on money and services?

      I did not compare adopting a pet to adopting a child, actually. I know there are a lot of requirements to adoption, but there are none to just having one. So it is (as I said) easier to have a child than adopt a pet. What is so unreasonable about requiring that parents get a license? You need a license to marry. Why not make sure you are mentally stable and capable before a child is brought into this world? I don’t think that’s too draconian. It’s just common sense.

      As for the numbers, statistics are always misleading. I’m sure there are a lot of cases that never go unreported. It’s not CPS’s job to stop abuse. The burden falls on all of us.

    • I see your points about a parent’s rights, but I agree with Deb’s licensing idea and don’t think that is unreasonable. Maybe in the hospital or at some time post-birth the parents should be subjected to some sort of psychological test or their living arrangements should be assessed. I don’t see how it is any different than refusing to let the newborn leave the hospital unless they verify that a carseat is properly installed in the parent’s car? Likewise, are we certain these parents are stable? Is their home safe? As a parent I don’t like the idea of having those things checked out myself, but if it prevented situations like this then I would gladly agree.

      My sister is an OB nurse and she has seen too many newborns go home with parents that she *knew* were unfit, but her hands were tied. She has also been there when those same babies come back in 2 weeks, 6 weeks, 6 months because they are undernourished because mom is trying to stretch out formula by over-diluting it or baby is showing signs of abuse or baby is dying from shaken-baby-syndrome. Shouldn’t she be able to do something to prevent this rather than just helplessly watch it unfold? Of course now we get into profiling where maybe parents that are poor or rude or not hygienic are going to get unfairly “red-flagged”, so I realize this is not a perfect situation. I’m just saying sometimes the writing is on the wall and we pretend we don’t see it.

  8. My heart breaks when I read posts like yours on articles about this kind of abuse or any kind of abuse for that matter. I want to like your post but it just doesn’t seem like the kind of post you like but more or less comment on.
    My husband is catholic but I am not, I have been to church with him and I try to understand his faith in God when he would let something like this happen to children. Then to have the mother ask someone to pray for her and she is hoping God will forgive her… I’m uncertain why he would do that and waste time on forgiving her instead of saving those children and helping them. Things like this make me so broken hearted 😦

  9. The scariest thing about this or any child abuse case is that parenting styles, good or bad, tend to be generational. Adults are likely to adopt the parenting styles they learned from their own parents. How do we break the cycle and protect children without violating the rights of parents? The US may go too far in protecting the rights and privacy of adults/parents, given the comparison cited above, but would you tolerate more government intrusion into your life, more bureaucratic investigation of your parenting?

    I’m not defending in any way the behavior of these parents. But it is symptomatic of a much larger, very complicated problem in our society. And I have no idea what the solution might be.

    • @Piedtype It’s a good question.

      I would give up some of my privacy (and we do anyway, whether we are aware of it or not) for the greater good. Along the same lines, though, I did not have a problem with paying more for insurance (and I am) so that others may have insurance, too.

      However, I don’t know, either, what the solution is. It is complicated, as you said.

  10. I’ll read it when I steel my nerves. So troubling to know about these instances, but one we must bear witness to for the sake of prevention of more of the same.

  11. “We Pray for Children” by Ina Hughes

    We pray for children
    Who put chocolate fingers everywhere,
    Who like to be tickled,
    Who stomp in puddles and ruin their new pants,
    Who sneak Popsicles before supper,
    Who erase holes in math workbooks,
    Who can never find their shoes.

    And we pray for those
    Who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire,
    Who can’t bound down the street in new sneakers,
    Who never “counted potatoes,”
    Who are born in places we wouldn’t be caught dead in,
    Who never go to the circus,
    Who live in an X-rated world.

    We pray for children
    Who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,
    Who sleep with the cat and bury goldfish,
    Who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money,
    Who squeeze toothpaste all over the sink,
    Who slurp their soup.

    And we pray for those
    Who never get dessert,
    Who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,
    Who can’t find any bread to steal,
    Who don’t have any rooms to clean up,
    Whose pictures aren’t on anybody’s dresser,
    Whose monsters are real.

    We pray for children
    Who spend all their allowance before Tuesday,
    Who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food,
    Who like ghost stories,
    Who shove dirty clothes under the bed,
    Who get visits from the tooth fairy,
    Who don’t like to be kissed in front of the car pool,
    Who squirm in church and scream on the phone,
    Whose tears we sometimes laugh at and whose smiles can make us cry.

    And we pray for those
    Whose nightmares come in the daytime,
    Who will eat anything,
    Who have never seen a dentist,
    Who are never spoiled by anyone,
    Who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep,
    Who live and move, but have no being.

    We pray for children
    Who want to be carried
    And for those who must,
    For those we never give up on
    And for those who never get a second chance,
    For those we smother.
    And for those who will grab the hand of anybody kind
    enough to offer it.

    We pray for children. Amen.

    (We pray for Children, 1995, William Morrow publishers)

    • I had to look up the potato reference —

      When I Can’t Sleep I Count Potatoes

      One potato.
      Two potato.
      Red potato.
      Blue potato.
      Old potato.
      New potato.
      Old potato.
      Ewww potato.

  12. A close friend of mine grew up in an abusive household where Mom was the tyrant and Dad was the enabler. That wouldn’t keep her from berating Dad and smacking him around every so often, but it did keep most of the focus on the kids. From everyone else’s perspective, though, they were the “perfect family” … because Mom knew how to play the role of the loving, caring, saccharin-sweet wife / mom whenever anyone happened to be looking her direction. The rest of the family was too scared to contradict it for fear of what she’d do when no one was looking anymore.

    In short, I think that no test or supervision will be able to prevent some people from inflicting the kind of abuse depicted in that article. The kind of regulation you’d need to make sure people were truly qualified to have children (and to be clear, I can easily see the merits) would make such a government so oppressive and intrusive that the benefits derived from such a system would be overshadowed by the abuse that would result from its mismanagement.

    I would suggest sterilization and a lifetime ban on adoption / fostering of any kind as a condition for parole for people who are clearly guilty of abuse … otherwise we should keep them behind bars.

    • @Jason I know a family that was like that, but it was the dad who was the abuser yet always looked like the smiling, perfect dad. That’s why I’m always leery of people who seem too good to be true.

      No doubt a test or license would not prevent child abuse. But surely there is a better way–or something we can do now as a society….

  13. Yahweh is both non-existent and impotent. If he existed things like these would not happen. I wonder why anyone would look up to such a deity.

    I am not saying that unbelievers could not commit atrocities but what I am saying that faith and religion does not hinder them either. I know a person who got married to a Rwandan woman and they had a child. Wanna know what good xian nurses did at the maternal ward – infected both the mother and the child with HIV just because the father was both a foreigner and white. Again I am not saying that that could not have happened if the nurses had been unbelievers but them being xian DID NOT stop them.

  14. This story just makes me hug my Punky closer. I just don’t understand people who can do these kinds of things. It just breaks my heart for these children.

  15. I just saw the doc Valentine Road this weekend of a murdered LGBT teen in Oxnard, CA. It was sad that the perp had issues with an abusive father as well. It was a tragic reminder of the ripple effect such a family environment can have.

    http://www.hbo.com/documentaries/valentine-road

  16. I don’t think there’s a one size fits all solution here. I’d like to see society acknowledge that child rearing is one tough job and make greater resources available to support parents to do as good a job as they can. It should not be frowned upon by society to admit being overwhelmed and seek (and receive) help. Talkin’ anywhere from parenting classes to additional hands to providing a short respite from the child(ren).

    Seems to me in a number of extreme abuse situations, the abuser knows on some level their actions towards the child(ren) are wrong. Regardless of the reason behind the abuses, how can we get the parent(s) to relinquish the child(ren) over to safe hands? Would the child(ren) be delivered to safe hands a whole lot sooner if the parent(s) believed they would not suffer repercussions from their abusive actions?

    Understand, I’m not trying to allow abusers to go without punishment. Just thinking that if the goal was to get the child(ren) away from abuse in the shortest time possible, might we lessen any consequences for abuses? Would this result in fewer of these situations where the child(ren) is abused for years on end?

    In the girl in the closet case, the mother admits that early on she didn’t like this child. So why not hand the child over to those who could look after her properly when she first realized her antipathy towards her child? Did she sense a stigma regarding giving up her child? Was she afraid of being punished for the abuse she’d inflicted already? I’m almost willing to allow the mother to go unpunished if she would have relinquished her child early on, right after the abuse began. Course, she shouldn’t be allowed to have any other children in her life, but that might be an acceptable trade-off for her, as opposed to her spending a life-time in jail.

    There’s a mental illness viewpoint to be considered as well, and that’s a whole ‘nother thing.

    • You know I think that was the most confusing part of the story for me…. she originally gave the baby up for adoption and the baby was in a safe home, so why did she try so hard to get it back? What was the incentive there? She obviously didn’t want / like / hope to care for this girl.

      Also there is something that exists similar to what you suggest… the Safe Haven Law… where an infant can be dropped off at various locations, no questions asked. I think this is a good idea, but I’m not sure how old the child can be… from what I know the law is for babies only.

      • No doubt this mother had some deep mental issues. She mentioned that she didn’t want the $650 her relative (step-mom?) had already paid to go to waste. Hardly a good reason to remove this little girl from a loving, nurturing home. I’m betting this was her reaction to perhaps being shamed by someone (to some degree) for abandoning her child.

        Yes, yes! I’m thinking along the lines of the Safe Haven Law. I thought this law was just for newborns –to prevent them from being ‘deposited’ into trash cans and the like. Good idea-worth expanding if it can be used to prevent an abusive situation for a child.
        While I’d really like to beat the stuffing out of the mother, stepfather, etc. who abused this girl, it is more productive to find ways to prevent the abuse.

      • @Molly I think the mother originally pressure the mom to get the baby back. The judge said he had to return the baby to the birth mother because she claimed coercion. It’s just criminal….I’m thinking, too, there must have been some sort of financial incentive to keep the child.

    • @vh Some good suggestions. I’m with you–find a solution early on, even if it means forgoing any sort of punishments. It’s hard to see, but I think that some people may just be so selfish, that there is no hope. It’s one thing not to like a child, another to abuse. Just mind boggling.

  17. I read this article yesterday, and have been running through it in my head every since. I think sometimes this is why people have such a need for belief in God. They want some sort of goodness to offset such evil. These people are truly evil, and we live in a world where evil exists. We can look at and understand some of the reasons behind it, like the home life that this mother grew up in that surely made her the way she is. We can talk until we’re blue in the face about how this could have been prevented, and why no one saw it and stopped it sooner. We can bemoan the courts and our justice system, CPS’ inadequacies, family members and neighbors who seemed clueless or just turned their eyes away. This was a perfect storm of failures that all came together to leave this child completely unprotected. As one commenter stated, there are massive, complicated problems present in our society, that will not be easily corrected, maybe never. I have no solutions, no remedies for this kind of tragedy. All I can say is this makes me more resolute to be as good a person as I can be in the little circle of my life. With my family, friends, at work, and the people I cross paths with in my daily slog – try to do the right thing, go the extra mile, make the best decisions I can. Hug my loved ones, connect with my friends, smile at strangers, look for ways to bring some little bit of joy or help to others. Be mindful of what I do. I travel a lot, and am always seeing the signs in the airports – “If you see something, say something”. I think we all need to take some responsibility for what goes on around us, and speak up when something seems off. But deep down I am a pessimist at heart, and I know that one day I will read another story like this that makes me question our humanity.

  18. Thank you for inviting me to your blog Deborah. I have read a few of your posts and see that you’re very passionate about what you believe.

    Could you please tell me, how you claim this act to be evil, when you also believe that we are hard wired to act the way we do? It is irrational to claim anything to be good or evil, when you hold to beliefs that make it impossible to identify.

    If you’re hardwired to act a certain way and then attempt to reason that some of those hardwired behaviors are good or evil is quite arbitrary.

    • Hi Anthony, Thanks for stopping by. I didn’t want to monopolize the other site with our conversation.

      It’s not that simple. Yes, we are hard-wired with certain tendencies, but we are also influenced/molded by our upbringing, by societal pressures, by our ability to reason, to empathize and to control our impulses. This does not make for an “irrational” basis to morality.

      If you are claiming that only god can be our source of good and evil, and there is no “god” above him then, as I mentioned, you also have to recognize that god’s determination on what is good and evil is arbitrary. Do you understand what I’m saying?

      Where do you think your source of morality comes from?

      • The problem with that argument is that it actually justifies what that little girl’s parents did to her. If we are to be molded/influenced by our upbringing, then why condemn how that little girl was brought up? Then you include societal pressures. If a society trumps upbringing, then you can’t claim that being trapped in a closet is evil if a different society will allow children to be treated in such a way. It holds the same weight as preferring the color pink over blue. Empathy and reason are no better, because then we’re left with going along with Deborah’s emotions and limited knowledge and experience. That girl’s parents could just as easily justify themselves by their own empathy and reason.

        This is why I see this argument as irrational. In fact any secular theory on morality can be refuted. It makes no sense to call any behavior good or evil when you hold to a worldview that makes it impossible to know.

        Your reaction to this child abuse is inconsistent with your argument if taken to its logical conclusion.

        • Hi Anthony, First, let me note that you continue to avoid my questions to you, and I wonder if it is, in part, because you cannot support a non-secular claim to morality. (So, I hope you’re not just trolling here…)

          1. Let’s start with “that argument” you reference. You asked, how can you know that murder is wrong if you don’t believe in god? (I’m paraphrasing here, but basically, how do secularists define morality is what you want to know.) I don’t see our morality through the simplistic lens that you are using here. (I never said “society trumps upbringing.”) We have individual morals and societal morals and universal morals. They all overlap. How are they formed without god, without an invisible man that we can neither hear nor see? Our morals are formed through several factors, all in varying degrees depending on the person, his education, his experiences and his temperament. It is not the same for each person, clearly. One person can be more affected by certain parts of this equation.

          2. I’m not sure how you are making the leap from what defines morality to “it actually justifies what the little girl’s parents did to her.” We all agree as a society to follow certain rules. For those of us who don’t want to, if we’re caught, we are penalized. The underlying assumption is that people have some amount of free will and make can make these choices. Otherwise, what happens to those who are not capable (those who are irrational)? They are deemed insane or incompetent. Surely you can see that, even if these parents could justify their own actions, even if they believed that child abuse is acceptable, society has determined that child abuse is immoral and will hold them accountable. However, we know that these parents did not believe child abuse was moral because of what they have said in interviews.

          3. Now let’s take a look at what you claim: God provides us with moral standards. There are several problems with this. First, if you have to follow the rules that someone else has set for you, then you are no better than the parents who need society to set the rules for them. Your morality is external to you, and you remain in a parent/child relationship with the rule-maker, incapable of self-control. If you suddenly decided not to follow your god’s laws and kill your neighbor, it then falls on the rest of us to make sure that you can follow our (society’s) moral codes. Second, if God is the rule maker, then what or whom does he base his rules on? If there is no one or nothing, then God’s morality is arbitrary and capricious.

          I find your arguments to be illogical, although not irrational, of course. There is a difference.

      • @Anthony Let me use your argument just a little bit to see how it works out…

        Since god omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, then good and evil do not exist because this is what god ordained. Rather, it should be considered good by theists since god is only capable of good. Your god wanted, actually caused, this girl to suffer horribly at the hands of her adoptive parents. We are all merely meat puppets controlled by the celestial being for purposes and reasons we cannot comprehend. Thus, religion should be accepting of this kind of action because it falls within “the will of god.”

        The problem with your position is that it absolves the parents of responsibility since it was god’s will. With god, there is no morality: only god’s will.

  19. I understand you have asked me questions about my view as well, but your arguments, so far, commit the fallacies of sweeping generalization and strawman. We can get to that later, but your post claimed that what happened to that little girl was evil. So in order to make that claim, you must be able to account for what is good and evil. I’ll show you why your theory doesn’t work.

    ///I’m not sure how you are making the leap from what defines morality to “it actually justifies what the little girl’s parents did to her.”///

    In this post you are appealing to societal subjectivism.

    ///We all agree as a society to follow certain rules. For those of us who don’t want to, if we’re caught, we are penalized///

    Your society isn’t the only society around. Many other societies around the world have contrary views on what is good and what is evil. And there are societies within societies as well.
    This theory is self refuting because if one society ever disapproves of another society’s “rules”, then the theory that society decides what is right and wrong was never true. It becomes might makes right if this is settled with force.

    Also, you could never know which society ever has, had or will have the correct moral standard for all humanity past, present and future.

    The worst part of your argument is anything that any other society decides as good or evil should receive your praise and approval even if it means the approval of child abuse within that society. Why? Because you want people within a society to agree and that is exactly what is happening.

    We are forced to believe that societies are not the ultimate authority on what is good and what is evil if we are going to be rational.

    If you want to appeal to some other secular theory to explain how there are universal morals, I’d like to read it.

    • Anthony, You’ve been reading too much Ayn Rand. Of course, as a Christian you would believe in moral absolutism. And, of course, I do not.

      This statement, then, is irrelevant to nonbelievers: “Also, you could never know which society ever has, had or will have the correct moral standard for all humanity past, present and future.”

      “We are forced to believe that societies are not the ultimate authority on what is good and what is evil if we are going to be rational.”

      So, instead we are “forced to believe” that the “ultimate authority” on what is good and evil is God? Please do present your logical argument.

      • Are you saying that abusing a young child in a closet for years may not be universally evil at all times???

        Can you see where your argument falls apart and is inconsistent with the claims in your post?

        To make a claim and not back it up is exactly what you get upset about in your other posts. Once confronted you can’t defend your position and want to start talking about my view of God instead.

        I’ll post a critique of your arguments against God and clarify my position.
        I am not afraid to hold the position that the abuse you described in your initial post is universally evil at all times and in all places.

        • Anthony,

          I’m not upset just because I don’t agree with you. I don’t take what you say personally. You’re not listening, so I feel as if I’m wasting my time. It’s as if you’re stuck, and you cannot get out of your rut because you are set in your beliefs that there is one universal set of laws handed down to us by one universal unchanging creator. That may be true for you; that is not true for many of us.

          I understand exactly what you are saying. Do you understand what I am saying? It is not relevant, as I’ve already said, if abusing a young child in a closet is “universally evil at all times.” That is only for those who believe in ethical absolutism. Abusing a child is morally wrong to our society at this point in history. Is it universally immoral? Probably, but it’s of no significance. How do we know that it is morally wrong? Because we have laws that we created and enforce. Your insistence that it must be a universal moral in order to be logical, rational or true for us as a nation is not correct. Do you understand what I am saying?

          Does morality evolve? You bet. It is not god-given.

          This is a weak ruse; you know that you cannot support the claim that there are universal moral laws handed down by a god. Unless you are willing to move forward with this argument, let’s not waste more time…

        • Ahhhh. Anthony. So here it is. I just saw what you left for me on the other site. So this is it? Why didn’t you just state this earlier instead of running us around in circles? Were you afraid to tell me? You work really hard to convince yourself of this:

          “God is omniscient and cannot be wrong, and you are not. God has revealed himself in the bible and cannot lie. Most atheists try to ignore the bible or attempt to change it, because they can’t refute the bible as written.

          Atheistic arguments are littered with mistakes in reason.”

          You are right. I am not god.

          You are sort of right: Atheists ignore, they don’t try to change the bible. We don’t believe that it was divinely inspired. It is not even factual, though it may have some historical basis. Hell, you cannot even prove that Abraham existed for godssake.

          If I believe in Santa and you do not, then you are not going to believe in any of my Santa stories. The same holds true for the bible.

          This is why you and I will not get anywhere in our discussion. I do not believe in god. I do not believe that there is an omniscient man (or woman) in the sky. I find that very irrational as well as illogical. So now I understand why you were so focused on my arguments. You think that by proving nonbelievers wrong, that makes you right?

          Your logic has no underpinnings.

          Yes, nonbelievers can be moral. And we can even make logical arguments for that.

          • I think we’re making progress. It doesn’t matter if you believe that the bible is true, but you do believe that there is good and evil.

            We are critiquing your worldview to account for the evil you claim exists. Your worldview makes it impossible for the things necessary that make reality intelligible ie. knowledge, morality, etc. That’s why that street epistemology idea is easily refuted.

            Professed belief in the bible is not necessary.
            The bible is true because without it you couldn’t prove anything to be true. It provides the necessary origins of humanity and this universe that make knowledge and morality possible.

            If you claim it is irrelevant that child abuse is universally evil, then you can’t prove that child abuse is necessarily evil now because those laws are based on the arbitrary whim of a group of people you call a society. There are societies now that arbitrarily approve of this behavior. It’s reduced to “We are right and you are wrong because we say so.”

            Atheists hold the belief that we are all just stardust. What does it matter if stardust abuses other stardust in a closet for a few years? This is another problem with claiming anything good or evil, according to your worldview.

            I don’t believe my post here is a waste of time at all. I have assumed your position for arguments sake (putting aside my view) and taken it to its necessary conclusion. It’s called reductio ad absurdum.

            I appreciate that you’re taking your time to have this dialogue with me and am interested in any further thoughts you may have.

            • Hi Anthony,

              The following might be true for you and for other Christians, but it is not true for a great many of us: “The bible is true because without it you couldn’t prove anything to be true. It provides the necessary origins of humanity and this universe that make knowledge and morality possible.”

              There is nothing logical about the above statement you wrote. First and foremost, you do not know–and cannot prove–the bible to be true. This is the point you start from and on which you base all of your arguments. You have no proof for that statement. And in stating that the bible is true, you must also state that the Qur’an and the Tanakh are also true since, not only do they contain some of the same prophets and stories, they originated from the same source (Judaism).

              You are free to believe anything you want, of course, but your belief does not make your worldview valid or TRUE for everyone else. You are missing some key understandings that I cannot make you see. For example, you miss this: “If you claim it is irrelevant that child abuse is universally evil, then you can’t prove that child abuse is necessarily evil now because those laws are based on the arbitrary whim of a group of people you call a society.” I have told you several times why our morality is not an arbitrary whim, but you cannot understand because you are rooted in the belief that the only way to prove what is good and what is evil is through god. And what I have told you, again, several times, is that, if you believe god has created a moral code, and god has no one or nothing upon which to base this (in other words, he made them up), then his moral code is arbitrary TOO (“TOO” meaning “also as you are arguing,” not as in, “the rest of us make arbitrary laws as well”).

              A Gestalt shift is needed here. And, yet, if that were to happen, your faith would begin to unravel. You need to hold tight to this very key belief in order to maintain faith.

              I could ask you, as in Peter Boghossian’s video, a series of questions such as “How do you know?” But as I noted in my original comment, I do not believe it is my right or duty to ask you to question your faith (and knowledge). Note that you started this argument with me. IMO, if your faith impels you to live a moral life, if it brings you comfort, it is not for me to step in and poke holes in it. I understand that are trying to use logic to validate your belief system, but ultimately, all you have is your belief, which I do respect. I just do not believe as you do.

              I also appreciate the tone and respect with which you have argued.

  20. Hello Deborah,
    I read your post on thanksgiving so I know you’re going to get busy real soon. I have responded to your previous questions about my position and commented further on your view of things.

    ///The following might be true for you and for other Christians, but it is not true for a great many of us///

    This is the fallacy of ad populum. Truth is not determined by how many people want to believe it. This is probably the core reason knowledge is impossible according to your beliefs.

    Anyone could easily say “You’re wrong Deborah and that is true for me, you and everyone else”.
    Do you hold the belief that ALL truth is relative?

    Truth is that which corresponds to the mind of the biblical God. Truth is not a spontaneous result of a person’s willingness to believe it.
    Truth existed before material human minds, Truth is necessarily eternal just as the mind of God is eternal. It is absolute making it impossible to deny God.

    ///3. Now let’s take a look at what you claim: God provides us with moral standards. There are several problems with this. First, if you have to follow the rules that someone else has set for you, then you are no better than the parents who need society to set the rules for them. Your morality is external to you, and you remain in a parent/child relationship with the rule-maker, incapable of self-control. If you suddenly decided not to follow your god’s laws and kill your neighbor, it then falls on the rest of us to make sure that you can follow our (society’s) moral codes.///

    The statements above are irrelevant to whether or not I can know good and evil.
    The type of relationship between a Christian and God and whether or not I have self control can be discussed some other time.

    ///Second, if God is the rule maker, then what or whom does he base his rules on?///

    His infinite knowledge and understanding, there is nothing that can prove him false because he already knows all truth. You said you base your morality on many different factors, but people have very limited knowledge and can be proven false by something they do not know. God has revealed in his bible how to expose faulty reasoning, ignorance, unjustified beliefs, inconsistency, arbitrariness, etc. These are the things that make a worldview irrational.
    When Aristotle wrote the classical laws of logic, he didn’t invent them because they already existed. He only discovered them.

    ///If there is no one or nothing, then God’s morality is arbitrary and capricious.///

    God’s morality comes from the very nature of who he is and his understanding. Without him morality, knowledge, logic, our ability to reason, reliability of our senses and mind, science, etc. would be unknown to us and impossible. His word is true by the impossibility of the contrary. (I realize we have only touched on morality)

    On the other hand You’re arguing in a vicious circle. It’s called the fallacy of begging the question, because you’re assuming the very thing you’re trying to prove. You believe a group of people (society) can claim that child abuse is evil and then make laws that everybody agrees on affirming their assumption that child abuse evil. Even if you want to plug in reason, you still have to justify that your reason is valid. It can’t just be assumed as valid.

    ///And in stating that the bible is true, you must also state that the Qur’an and the Tanakh are also true since, not only do they contain some of the same prophets and stories, they originated from the same source (Judaism).///

    Many Atheists make this claim not realizing that there are distinctions in these different religions. Atheism is the easiest to refute, because it’s origins start with nothing/irrationality/nonliving spontaneously at some point in time becoming living and rational. Polytheistic and Unitarian religions can also be exposed as false. The biblical God doesn’t fall into either category. It falls into a unique category of monotheism all by itself.

    Feel free to ask any of those epistemological questions from Dr. Peter B.
    once you establish how knowledge is possible according to your worldview.
    If I don’t hear from you Have a happy thanksgiving!
    Anthony

    • Anthony,

      Wow. This is a really long comment!

      I’m sure you know that I’m not begging the question. At all. The problem is that you assume your reasoning and knowledge to be true. It may be true for you, but it is not a universal truth. You know this much. C’mon. Surely you’ve been over and over and over this with people.

      We cannot move forward–you cannot even begin to deconstruct my argument because you and I aren’t even using the same language. God is not real. There is no universal moral code delivered to us from god. I understand you believe god to be real. But that does not make it so. You are making assumptions. You have no proof. Who is begging the question here?

      Exactly how would you know the “mind” of “God”? “His infinite knowledge and understanding, there is nothing that can prove him false because he already knows all truth.”

      Atheism is not a religion.

      I, along with many of my fellow secular humanists, naturalists, agnostics and atheists, know the differences between the religions.
      “Many Atheists make this claim not realizing that there are distinctions in these different religions.”

      You make an awful lot of assumptions for a man (or woman) who tries so hard to be logical. 🙂

      • Deborah,

        You’re right, it is impossible to move on because you repeated that my knowledge about God can be true for me, but not universally true for everyone. This makes your view false by default universally. God and his word is true by the impossibility of the contrary, including atheism.

        That is also a self refuting statement and belief. If truth is relative then so is that belief and universal truth necessarily exists. Ultimately you believe truth is a consensus.

        How do I know the mind of God?
        God can and has revealed some of his thoughts to us (all people) innately and through the bible. That is why universal truth cannot be denied.

        As far as making assumptions is concerned. We all do. We assume our reason is valid, memory and senses are reliable, good and evil exist, science is possible, logic, etc. but only the the bible can account for these things that make this universe intelligible.

        You have not rejected my argument by showing me any mistakes in my reason as I have done to your arguments. If it’s not rejected for logical reasons then it’s rejected for emotional reasons.

        You should invite your family to read this exchange between us. No need to “evangelize ” your family when the arguments speak for themselves, right?

        Thanks for your time Deborah.

        • Anthony,

          You caught me. I do believe in god. She has revealed herself to us (my clan) through an ancient text. My book tells me that she (you might have noticed, my god is a she) created women, and then as an afterthought when woman was bored, took a rib from woman to create man. She then told us that we were good creatures and that we were capable of creating our own morality, just like corporations are capable of creating their own rules and moral culture. (My god’s not a micro-manager.) My god said there would be no universal moral truth so that we would create our own and take ownership. There would be times, too, when our morality would need to change. For example, observing the Sabbath is no longer important; our clan has decided it’s much better to include, “Allow people to believe as they wish as long as they are not harming others.” And, “Do not hack into others bank accounts.”

          This is what my clan and I believe. It is the truth. It is your truth, too, Anthony. My god never makes mistakes. Anything you say will be judged against what my god has written and what she thinks. (We know what she thinks.)

          Actually, I did share this with my family to show them how fastidiously some hold to irrational beliefs. That’s why I do not agree it is our place to try to coax people out of their belief systems. They have to see the proverbial light on their own.

          As I said, I respect your right to believe; and you need to respect my right to not believe in such folly.

          • I can let your beliefs that the laws of logic are not universal, and contradictions are possible, slide.

            I can’t respect the belief that keeping a child in her own feces, beating her, starving her and stowing her away in a closet isn’t always evil, just probably evil.

            It’s not healthy to be tolerant of everything. I do speak up during thanksgiving when a relative of mine holds to such beliefs.

            • Anthony,

              I’m not tolerant of everything. I’m not tolerant of those who bully or force their beliefs onto others. And that’s what they are–beliefs. Not truths. Not laws.

              If you did not have appropriate boundaries and were to criticize me during Thanksgiving, we would not be having Thanksgiving together. Fortunately, my family is a keen enough to realize that others exist, that they have their own minds and own views. When you fail to realize that you and your views are only one of millions, then you fall prey to many things, including despotism and close-mindedness. You begin to make rules for others and decide what they can and cannot do with their bodies and their minds. You burn other’s holy books.

              • We both would agree that there is a time and a place for these types of discussions. I would also agree that bullying is not the correct approach and that is why I study other people’s views and critique them based on the merit of the arguments that support them.

                Enjoy your Thanksgiving and thanks again for the discussion.

  21. The idea of civil religion is undeniably a problematic concept.? Some theologians oppose it altogether, arguing that the cooptation of religious rhetoric by the state is usually in the service of some morally suspect purpose, and rejecting the notion that nations or societies have collective moral missions and destinies.? If we are to have a civil religion at all, however, it must have some real theological roots and moral content to it.? If it seeks to be all things to all people, it will mean nothing to anyone.? It is worth asking to what moral purpose President Obama has summoned people with this new rhetoric of “civil spirituality.”? Has he moved the nation to any great sacrifice, dedication, or mending of its ways?? To what noble end could a spirituality this vague, formless, and a-theological ever inspire anyone?? If the God in the public is square has been neutered, domesticated, rendered innocuous and stripped of all judgmental attributes, then one wonders why exactly we would want him there at all.

  22. men are sick. in every case where a mother is doing something wrong with her kids, it IS the result of patriarchy. of course men don’t report it til said men are not getting all they want out of their domestic deal with a woman. that woman did what she had to. the man did what men love to do.

    look around and determine that’s not true.

    you can’t.

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