robbing the children of curiosity
Saturday, April 2 2005
It rained relentlessly, if not torrentially, all day. This would have been a good day to curl up under some blankets and read a book, but instead I had to drive around to various places on the east side of the Hudson River fixing busted computers.
East of Redhook and the Taconic Parkway on State Route 199 is the tiny crossroads hamlet of Lafayetteville. On the northwest corner of the crossroads is a country store with an attached pizzaria. Killing time before a housecall in nearby Stanfordville, I took a chair off one of the tables and sat down to eat a slice and drink a rootbeer while various mustachioed working stiffs came in to purchase their Saturday afternoon six packs. The pizzeria part of the restaurant was staffed by a Hispanic woman and one or two of her pre-adolescent children. It being early Saturday afternoon, the television was tuned to Nickelodeon for the benefit of the kids. I didn't think much of it until I saw an advertisement for a CD entitled something like "Worship for Kids." In it kids were shown swaying, shimmying, and twisting the way unselfishconscious kids do when they dance. In imitation of "designy" ads for Target and the Ipod, occasionally the contrast would ramp up and we'd see the dancing kids as dynamic silouettes. Meanwhile we were treated to the music: tired old poppy instruments bubbled and hummed while saccharine voices cooed about typical NuChristian nonsense ("God is Great," "It's better with Him By My Side," etc.) If I was a kid and had an interest in such music I probably wouldn't want anyone to find out, but the kiddy voiceovers kept saying things like "It's totally awesome!" and "It's so cool!" It was as if this was the cool new craze for kids to be into, some sort of strange hybrid of pop culture, mass marketing, and evangelical outreach. These things are disgusting enough when separated, but when brought together they're far more revolting than the sum of their parts. It shouldn't come as a surprise that consumer culture and NuChristianity go together like pizza and beer; consumerism shares with NuChristianity the idea that one must accept ideas because they make us feel good and that questioning is the path to misery, inconvenience, and ostracism.
But what made me even more ill than the commercial itself was watching the kids in the restaurant staring at it with their blank, superabsorbant faces. Could it really be that they were being sold on Christianity as the cool new thing? What a tragedy that would be! Christians are always fretting about our culture robbing children of something undefinable and dubiously useful, "their innocence," but Christianity attempts to rob children of something far more demonstrably essential: their curiosity. A child who doesn't ask questions, who doesn't perform experiments, who is not in some way a scientist, is not fully benefitting from his childhood.
The growing arrogance of anti-secular culture has me wondering how far it can proceed. As it creeps out into society as a whole, anti-secularism loses its overtly religious trappings and takes the form of institutionalized uncuriousness and an absence of concern for the future. Having made great strides in all levels of government, we see it manifesting in an ill-considered Iraq War waged more on faith than on evidence. We also see it in decisions to divert research away from the theoretical to the immediately practical. Implicit in all of this is attitude (sustained by faith) that we are in the end times and there is nothing to be gained by taking the future into account. Why worry about the environment or the effect of deficits when Rapture is nigh?
Later this afternoon I found myself shopping in the Hannaford on 9W just north of Kingston. The place was a madhouse, perhaps because of predictions of spring floods of Biblical proportions.
When I go shopping, I like to get in and get out. I maneuver quickly around dawdlers as if they were features of the landscape. And when making purchase decisions, I don't pay a lot of attention to familiar labels on the products I know because I have a hard enough time figuring out whether an unfamiliar new fruit juice is fortified with corn syrup or a soup has been adulterated with chicken stock.
I really wanted to buy some V8 juice, but the only kind offered for sale featured the new washed-out label that the Campbell's company started using when they decided to jump on the idiotic death-threat-justifying "low carb" craze. Prominent on this label is the information that the product contains "Less than half the carbs of orange juice." They mention orange juice in tiny print, making it seem at first like they're not making a comparison but announcing a change. But it's also possible they have made a change. So now I'm not sure whether there are two different varieties of V8 juice, one low in carbs and the other chock full of them, or whether they just changed their label to catch the attention of brain-dead low carb shoppers. But the effect of the label change is that I don't want to buy their product. The color of the new label makes their product look watered-down and milky, supporting my suspicions that they might have actually changed it in some way.
I had just the opposite problem with a jar of Smucker's all natural peanut butter. The label was familiar and its most prominent word read "CREAMY," so I just grabbed it and threw it in my cart. (Though I always prefer my blue cheese crumbly, sometimes I like my peanut butter creamy.) But when I got home I discovered that the peanut butter also contained honey of all things. Now it's true that the text for the word "Honey" was bigger on the label than the word "Peanut Butter." But the label had been nearly identical to the traditional Smuckers label and the biggest word on it had been "Creamy." It seems to me that it would have made more sense to highlight "Honey" and not "Creamy" in a supposedly all-natural product of this sort. This is because I don't particularly want honey in my peanut butter. The only satisfaction I can derive from the slyly placed honey in the peanut butter is the fact that this increases its "carb" content enormously without drawing any attention to that fact, thus throwing a monkeywrench into the gears of the vast low carb conspiracy.
Oh, and one more thing: ding dong, the Pope is dead. Evidently he couldn't go on here on Earth once he found out that Terry Schiavo (that fox!) is waiting for him up in heaven. Presumably St. Peter can hook them up with matching his & her feeding tubes. They'd be purely decorative, of course, since nobody needs food or water even in the exceptionally materialistic Christian afterlife. I have a feeling that God's plan is for them to be part of a heavenly threesome, but that will go unrealized so long as Chief Justice Rehnquist continues on life support.
One might normally celebrate the opportunity presented by the passing of an influential retro-medievalist figure such as John Paul II, but I see no reason for optimism. The Pope had a medievalizing influence on the church around him, and his successor is likely to be something of a Neanderthal as well. Meanwhile here in the United States we're more medieval now than we were back when John Paul II took office.
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