Sunday, January 29, 2006

Sgt. Schultz Syndrome

Nikko Tashogo Shrine, Japan from

“If we do not hear, see, or speak evil, we ourselves shall be spared all evil.”

A music teacher in Bennett, CO, is in trouble for showing 1st - 3rd graders a segment of the opera Faust. It was an unrated video meant to teach people to enjoy opera, and it was on the shelf at school. So she used it.

Now I don't doubt a production of Faust could have images that would seem scary to a little kid. My son leaves the room or covers his ears and averts his eyes when the movie preview When a Stranger Calls is on TV (which I can tell already is not nearly as scary as the original). And the teacher admits she made a mistake by showing it to kids too young for dark, scary images which apparently gave some nightmares for a week.

But the problem isn't all the teacher's. In fact, I mainly blame the parents for creating an environment of fear so intense that a short image of a singing Satan causes nightmares for a week. A week? Here's the reaction of one of the parents:
Casey Goodwin, whose 9- year-old daughter also saw it, called it a "satanic video" during a phone call. Asked about that in a later conversation, she said, "I think it glorifies Satan in some way, yes."[emphasis added]

Obviously, to some, Satan is real, not just a literary or artistic device. I was raised with a belief in Satan and demons. It's a terrible thing to teach children, because it means that they are not safe, not even in their own homes. I remember, in my fear of the dark, that it was these evil spirits that terrified me. It took a month of being an atheist at age thirteen to cleanse me of that fear. And I'm not saying my parents were constantly harping on it, but it's the kind of thing that sticks with a child, and when you have parents who don't deny the reality of an external evil out to get you, the fear intensifies.

This fear of a real Satan and demons is the reason those children had nightmares, not an image of Satan tempting an unhappy man. And instead of comforting their children, telling them they are safe, nothing will happen to them because mommy and daddy are there, or even that God is protecting them simply because they are children, they most likely just blamed the teacher for showing their children the scary "reality" in action.

Allegories are beyond literal thinkers. The same lack of advanced thought lead to the objections to The Last Temptation of Christ because it showed Christ having sex with Mary Magdalene, not understanding that it wasn't actually Christ actually having sex or even fantasizing about having sex, it was a temptation, an image given to him by Satan. And by Christ's own words, "let this cup pass," I would think a normal life with wife and children and no crucifixion would be the ultimate temptation. But he resisted it, and that's the point.

What good is a temptation, both in Faust and The Last Temptation of Christ, if it's not tempting, if it's not something you really want before Satan even enters the room? An attractive, glamorous, charming devil can convince you to do evil while thinking it's good. A scary, ugly devil will send you running back to God. Considering all the evil done in the name of good, I think Satan's m.o. would be the former.

But the people who rage the most about vices are the ones who, deep down, know they will succumb to those vices. It only makes sense that those people who shudder at the sight of Christ's temptation or a glorified Faustian Devil are the ones who are most likely to be seduced by a charming stranger who brings temptations of sin.

And that's really what this is all about, the belief that evil is an external, tangible force out to get them, and that weaknesses or vices are not really theirs, but are from an external, tangible force. It is not they who feel urges to do naughty things, it's the devil making them feel that way. If they can expunge all temptations from their surroundings -- including accurate but unhelpful information and attractive images of the devil -- they are resisting evil and being good. But it is really another abrogation of responsiblity for one's own actions, impulses and failings. Is it any wonder their children had nightmares? I've had plenty over the past several years, thinking about Dear Leader making decisions from this belief system.

But here's what's really twisted about this. They blame all evil on Satan's ability to charm and tempt, yet refuse to show Satan being charming and tempting, thus ill-equipping their children to resist actual charm and temptation, or to understand their own weaknesses. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, and evil will not find you.

Read this post by Mahablog on the nature of evil. It's very good.

You can read my Firefly geek post about it, too.

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