Thursday, April 24, 2014

Forever Prudence

The most interesting dilemmas are moral dilemmas. Today, a woman writes to Dear Prudence with a problem:

My husband and I moved from the liberal Northeastern town we both grew up in to a small, conservative Southern one several years ago. One of the biggest adjustments has been the way people very openly talk about religion and assume that everyone else should as well. We mostly kept quiet about the fact that we don’t practice any religion and politely explain (over and over) that we’d rather not come to their churches. Our elementary school daughter recently told us that her teacher led the class in prayer each day before lunch in her public school. All the children had to bow their heads and recite a lengthy prayer. My daughter said she didn’t know if she should do it, but thought maybe it was “being a good American.” We told her that no one should ever force you to pray against your will. My husband and I wrote the principal about this and asked our child not be mentioned by name. The principal said she’d send a general reminder about not praying in class, but the tone of her email made it clear she thought we were overreacting. Our child reported the praying stopped immediately with no explanation. My husband and I think the teacher should have told the students why she shouldn’t have led them in prayer. He wants to press this issue, while I feel as long as we let our child know what’s right and wrong, we should let this go and accept this is part of where we live. Our child will be in this school for several more years. We did tell a few acquaintances about this and they said “people like us” were ruining the community of faith. Sometimes, I feel like I’m being a coward not standing up for religious tolerance.

Let’s stipulate, as Prudence does, that it is unconstitutional to lead open prayers in public schools. Let’s also stipulate that these parents have likely also harmed their child.

Their neighbors do not see them as having stood up for religious tolerance. These parents have, in the eyes of their neighbors, suppressed a religious practice that presumably meant something for the other children. Members of their community see them as intolerant of the religious beliefs and practices of other people.

The couple in question is on the right side of the constitutional issue, but they are also making their child a pariah at school. Prudence recommends that they remain cordial with other members of the community, but that is not the problem. They have damaged their relationships and those of their child.

The question is not so much whether or not they are right on the constitutional question. The question is whether or not they think it was worth the price.

Prudence prudently closes her advice with a note to the effect that sometimes it's better to let things go.

Next, Prudence offers a letter from the wife of an executive, living in Beijing:

My husband and I have a wonderful marriage, a great sex life, and are very happy together, with the exception of one argument that we are continually having. Shortly after my husband and I married, he was offered “the opportunity of a lifetime” to help set up a new division at his company’s office in Beijing. This was supposed to last 12 to 18 months and was going to be our big adventure. It’s now six years later, we are still in Beijing, and I hate it. The first year I tutored, took Mandarin lessons, and made friends with other expats and some locals. We now have two lovely children and I have continued to be involved with the community: I volunteer at a charity teaching English to migrant workers, I write articles and reviews for a local English magazine, etc. But the pollution is horrendous, and I miss my friends, my family, my old life, and the U.S. My husband has no desire to move back. His career has advanced at a pace he couldn’t have dreamed of back home and he’s the youngest person in the company worldwide in his position. I think my husband is being extremely selfish by putting his career ahead of what’s best for his family and we’ve been fighting for two years over this. We’ve seen a therapist several times and that’s gotten us nowhere. I’m ready to pack my bags and take the kids back to the States and live with my parents and tell him to call us when he comes to his senses (though I would never actually do that). But what should I do?

Prudence recommends that the wife and children take a vacation away from the family. And she suggests that she do this unilaterally, regardless of what her husband thinks.

In her words:

So you need to stop talking and start acting. Summer is coming up and I suggest you and the kids spend it with your family. Please don’t do this in a punitive way, or make it into a trial separation. Instead, explain to your husband the break in the school year is the perfect opportunity for you and the children to spend some serious time with your family, for the kids to feel more like Americans, and to give all of your lungs a break. Tell your husband you hope he can arrange to join all you for a good chunk of vacation time. 

We all know that the air pollution in Beijing is horrific. We appreciate the fact that this woman is terrified to expose young children to a daily dose of poisonous air.

It is worth asking whether there are other, less drastic solutions, like weekends outside of the city.

The husband might agree that his family spend part of the summer abroad. But, if the wife picks up her children and leaves for the summer, regardless of her husband’s wishes, she will be damaging her marriage.

Of course, the marriage might already be sufficiently damaged. We do not know whether the problem is the husband’s attitude, the wife’s manifestly bad attitude, or both of them.

Note that the woman’s letter is a litany of complaints. It’s all about her. She does not see herself as part of a couple with her husband. She does not grasp that his successes are hers and her family’s. She seems not to care that he is on the fast track to corporate stardom.

Second, neither the letter writer nor Prudence shows any real appreciation of the man’s position.

I suspect that Prudence was telling the woman what she wants to hear. In truth, I suspect that the woman would be unwilling to hear anything else. I appreciate the difficulty of offering advice to people whose minds are closed. If you don’t tell them what they want to hear they will go out and find someone who will.

Obviously, the challenge lies in not telling them what they want to hear while letting them think that you are.

Prudence seems to believe that the man has many other work options. She does not know it, and neither do I. None of us knows the intricacies of his job and his career position. It is altogether possible that his acceding to his wife’s demands will be read by his employer and future employers as an act of disloyalty, an abrogation of responsibility.

When husbands step down from jobs that hold great responsibility it can often kill their career prospects.

The wife does not seem to care about her husband’s career. She seems resentful of his success. It is fair to say, as we mentioned in a prior post, that if she manages to sabotage his career, nothing good will come of it, for him or for her.


Lastango said...

Lemme try answering their missive:

"My husband and I think the teacher should have told the students why she shouldn’t have led them in prayer."

That's advocacy and activism -- just the sort of thing that's in the air in a "liberal Northeastern town".

"He wants to press this issue..."

Of course he does. Liberals aren't happy unless they're telling other people how to live.

"Our child reported the praying stopped immediately..."

That never would have happened if if the objectionable practice was a liberal one, happening in a Northeastern town. If some parent up there had objected to, say, their 8-year-old daughter being taught to put a condom on a banana, or learning what oral sex is, the school would have gone on its merry way foisting its ideology on all the kids. Pushing the point might earn the parents a visit from Child Protective Services.

"We did tell a few acquaintances about this..."

Of course you told acquaintances. You are trying to spread the word in support of your own view. Up north, that would work. Everyone there thinks the same things you do.

"...and they said 'people like us' were ruining the community of faith."

Your acquaintances certainly have your number. How does it feel to be the one on the outside? You and hubby aren't on the college campus anymore, where your liberal activism is the only protected speech and dissenters from your progressivist orthodoxy are socially ostracized while being tarred as some variety of racist and hater. Quite the shock, eh?

"...I feel as long as we let our child know what’s right and wrong, we should let this go and accept this is part of where we live."

Good for you. You wrote your letter, you won your point. Now STFU.

Lastango said...

Here's a timely snip from a blog post:

"Two Marxist theorists, Antonio Gramsci of Italy and Georg Lukacs of Hungary, concluded that the Christianized West was the obstacle standing in the way of a communist new world order. Gramsci said that Christianity had corrupted the working class and the West would have to be de- Christianized by a “long march through the culture” – starting with the traditional family and completely engulfing churches, schools, media, entertainment, civic organizations, literature, science, and the presentation (and revision) of history.

In 1919, Georg Lukacs became Deputy Commissar for Culture in the short-lived Bolshevik Bela Kun regime in Hungary. He immediately set plans in motion to de-Christianize Hungary, by undermining firstly Christian sexual ethics among children, then the hated patriarchal family and the Church. He launched sex lectures in the schools and graphically instructed youth in free love (promiscuity) and sexual intercourse while simultaneously encouraging them to deride and reject Christian moral ethics, monogamy, and parental and church authority."

Some things never change. Only the pretext shifts, according to circumstances.

Jocker said...

Pray with everybody, and always with suit.

Jocker said...

My opinion: do not teach your child lying. Say "we dont pray, because we, in our family, dont believe in God". Most people dont do something like this because of afraid of others. This same paradox like in every non democratic countries. Nobody wants, but everybody do because everyone is afraid to be the first, who say no.

Dennis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Baloo said...

Nice piece. I've reblogged it here:

Dennis said...

Unfortunately, I see the first couple almost every day. They come down to Florida from states like New York and the other "blue" states to get away from the conditions that are part and parcel of living in them. One of the first things they do is start trying to create the conditions they ran away from.
I am not sure whether it is a mental disorder or a desire to cause others to be as unhappy as they seem to be. Please I beg of you go back as quickly as you can and leave us the Hell alone. Visit and enjoy all that we have to offer. We are happy to show you a good time. I know it does seem like a really nice place to live and will stay that way if people like the first couple go back to Diblasios, et al of the world.

I believe the First Amendment states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, " and not freedom from religion. There is NO "separation of church and state" in the Constitution for anything other that Congress. It was the Supreme Court which, over the years, slowly undermined both the horizontal and vertical checks and balances that allowed the states and its citizens to do what they wanted to in this area.
Much of the interpretation now accepted came from a Jefferson letter in response to church leaders. It was mainly religious people in New England who wanted the government to stay out of religion and not the other way around. Jefferson's response was to reassure them. Jefferson was rather ecumenical and was the first President to make it possible to hold religious gatherings in government buildings and did attend some of them. Jefferson was almost always this side of penniless because he spent so much money buying bibles to distribute. Jefferson was an active member of Virginia Bible Society.
Jefferson was not a secularist or a Deist. As much as Supreme Courts have tried to make him the Father of the First Amendment Jefferson "was in Europe when the Constitution was planned and never saw it til after it was established.
"The Jefferson Bibles were written to relate the New Testament to the Native American culture. “The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth being Extracted from the Account of His Life and Doctrines Given by Mathew, Mark, Luke and John; Being an Abridgement of the New Testament for use of the Indians, Unembarrassed [Uncomplicated] with Matters of Fact or faith beyond the Level of their Comprehension” 1804. I have include the whole title here because too many historians leave it out and it denotes the purposes Jefferson had for it. In 1820 Jefferson titled the second book “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.”
A good book to read about Jefferson is "The Jefferson Lies" by David Barton. Extremely well sourced.