Saturday, July 15, 2006

James Dobson - A Look Into His Background

Morbo, over at the Carpetbagger discusses an interesting article titled And on the Eighth Day, Dr. Dobson Created Himself, which appears in the July issue of a Denver magazine called "5280". And he wastes no time capturing my attention with this opener:

Have you ever wondered why Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family is such a nutcase? Why is he so obsessed with the sex lives of people he doesn't even know? Why does he hate gay people so much? Why does he claim to love Jesus so much, and then behave in a vicious manner so unlike Christ?

Hell yes, I have wondered! I have spent many an hour pondering how a man who claims to be an advocate for the family and a good Christian could be my family and many other families’ worst nightmare. I have puzzled long and hard on how James Dobson came to represent Christianity at its finest when in my eyes he represents the antithesis of what a good Christian should be. I’ve spent long hours wondering why there are so many people who have so little trust in their own faith, their own moral compasses, their own gut instincts, their own common sense, and their own ability to be good human beings and parents that they turn to this man for guidance and answers. Are we that pathetic that we need how-to guides on so many things that should come naturally? And are we that woefully misguided that we would elevate this man to top Family Advice guru?

After reading the entire article, I am truly frightened that it is this man that has reached such a pinnacle of success and influence. This article provides a disturbing peek into the formative years of a man who believes it is his god-mandated mission to jump into the most personal and private aspects of everyday American lives and dictate and if possible, legislate his firebrand version of morality and godliness. And after reading this article I cannot think of any person more frightening to have this kind of influence and power.

So why does James Dobson believe he is The Chosen One who owns the only parcel of moral high ground with the only direct line to his version of an unforgiving, vengeful, and hateful god? This might explain some of it:

The Dobsons were members of the Nazarene Church, a denomination of evangelical Christianity that believes human beings are inherently evil but can be saved if they repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ. Followers believe fervently in Judgment Day, when the Lord will return to the earth, the dead will be raised, and the faithful will be reunited with their loved ones in Heaven. Nazarenes believe that after a person has had an initial born-again experience, the Holy Spirit will seek to perform a second work of grace called “entire sanctification” or “baptism with the Holy Spirit,” which purges all sin. Gil Alexander-Moegerle, a former Focus executive and once one of Dobson’s most trusted advisors, writes in his 1997 book James Dobson’s War on America that this “Holiness” principle is key to understanding Dobson’s worldview: “James Dobson believes that he has been entirely sanctified, morally perfected, that he does not and cannot sin. Now you know why he and moralists like him make a life of condemning what he believes to be the sins of others. He is perfect.”

And of his childhood years, the article gives us a look into what probably formed the basis for many of Dobson’s beliefs about child rearing and discipline. It may also explain why “Jimbo” (as his daddy called him) feels families like mine ended up with gay sons --- because those daddies did not do as good a job beating the tar out of their sons as his daddy did:

In the Dobson household there were “a million rules,” the son would later write, “regulations and prohibitions for almost every imaginable situation.” He was chewed out for using the expression “Hot dog!” and forbidden from uttering “darn,” “geez,” or “dad-gummit” because they were considered shorthand swear words. Yet Dobson was a rambunctious and mischievous kid. He loved roughhousing with his father; one of their favorite games was kick fighting. The elder Dobson would encourage the boy to kick him in the shins, blocking the blows with the bottom of his feet. “Jimbo,” or “Bo,” as his father called him, would fight back like a tiger, prompting his dad to “tap” him on the shins with his toe. “We would end up laughing hysterically, despite the bumps and bruises on my legs,” Dobson writes in Bringing Up Boys.

And then there is this horrifying passage, which prompted Morbo to point out: any child psychologist will tell you, this type of cruelty toward animals is a sign of a serious psychological disturbance. And I must concur. I truly believe James Dobson has some serious unresolved problems. It is truly frightening that he has become the person to which people look for answers on discipline and family values:

Once, as Dobson writes in The New Strong-Willed Child, Jimbo provoked a fight between a pug bulldog and a “sweet, passive Scottie named Baby” by throwing a tennis ball toward Baby: “The bulldog went straight for Baby’s throat and hung on. It was an awful scene. Neighbors came running from everywhere as the Scottie screamed in terror. It took ten minutes and a garden hose for the adults to pry loose the bulldog’s grip. By then Baby was almost dead. He spent two weeks in the animal hospital, and I spent two weeks in the doghouse. I was hated by the entire town.”

And what about Jimbo’s momma?

Myrtle Dobson was an amiable and social woman, but she didn’t hesitate to whack her son with a shoe or belt when she felt it was required. Consequently, Dobson writes, he learned at an early age to stay out of striking distance when he back-talked to his mother. One day he made the mistake of mouthing off when she was only four feet away and heard a 16-pound girdle whistling through the air. “The intended blow caught me across the chest, followed by a multitude of straps and buckles wrapping themselves around my midsection.” The girdle incident did not dampen his defiance, however. One evening, after Dobson’s mother forbid him from going to a dance, the recalcitrant teenager told her that he was going anyway; she picked up the telephone and called her husband. “I need you,” she said.

“What happened in the next few days shocked me down to my toes,” writes Dobson. His father canceled the next four years’ worth of speaking engagements, put the Oklahoma house up for sale, and took a pastor’s job in San Benito, Texas, a small town near the Mexican border. Dobson had two years of high school left, and when he started classes he found himself the target of a couple of bullies. Rather than turn the other cheek, Dobson wheeled around and threw his schoolbooks in the face of one annoying youth. “By the time he could see me again I was on top of him,” Dobson writes. Dobson also tried a little bullying himself, targeting a boy whom he sized up as a “sissy.” But the boy gave him such a thrashing that Dobson concluded bullying wasn’t for him.

So Jimbo concluded “bullying wasn’t for him”, and yet to this day he still attacks laws aimed at preventing the bullying of gay and lesbian students. And in spite of his professed opposition to bullying (except for gay children of course), the article goes on to describe a classic example of bullying in its most heinous form: Dobson vs. Siggie, or more specifically: 200 pound bully vs. 12 pound helpless dog:

A fifth member of the household, a stubborn little dachshund named Sigmund Freud, added to the chaos. When “Siggie” refused to go to bed one night, Dobson got out a belt and whacked him. The dog bared its teeth and Dobson gave it a second whack. “What developed next is impossible to describe,” writes Dobson in The New Strong-Willed Child. “That tiny dog and I had the most vicious fight ever staged between man and beast. I fought him up one wall and down the other, with both of us scratching and clawing and growling. I am still embarrassed by the memory of the entire scene.”

For someone who is embarrassed by the memory, he sure has a funny way of showing it. He includes an even more detailed description of this man vs. dog altercation in one of his child rearing and discipline books. I simply cannot imagine any good reason for including this in a book about discipline nor can I figure out what lesson he was trying to convey. For me it simply reinforces the fact that the man has some really deranged ideas about discipline and he is the worst kind of cowardly bully.

But wait, why limit beatings to helpless small dogs when there are helpless toddlers just begging for a beating too:

In his first book, Dare to Discipline, published in 1970, he tells parents it’s OK to spank their little ones as long as it’s done in a loving, careful environment. The best place to spank a child is on the buttocks, he writes, recommending a “neutral object,” such as a switch or a paddle. The physical discipline can begin with a thump to the fingers “just enough to sting” when the toddler is 18 months old, and it should stop by the time the child is 10 or 12.

And now that we have a generation of grown children raised on Dobson’s sage advice, what are we hearing:

Some children who were on the receiving end of spankings still resent him. Writing about The Strong-Willed Child on, a Florida woman said that the Dobson-inspired spankings administered by her mother created scars that have lasted a lifetime. “I have spent my entire adulthood attempting to re-parent myself and overcome the psychological damage my mother created,” she writes. “My mother admitted to me several years ago that had she known spanking would have produced the long-term effects I live with and destroyed our relationship, she would not have followed Mr. Dobson’s advice. Unfortunately, her timing was too late.”

But apparently there is no shortage of people who still turn to this man for guidance:

Today, Dobson’s organization so dominates Colorado Springs that the two have become synonymous. The city, which has been called the “ground zero” of the Christian Revolution and the “Vatican” of the Religious Right, has become a mecca for more than 100 evangelical organizations. Every year, 260,000 people make the pilgrimage to the Springs hoping to glimpse the man they consider a family friend. And every election season, candidates, both state and national, genuflect at Focus on the Family’s brick citadel on the hill, hoping for a campaign boost. Dobson’s pronouncements from the political pulpit have grown more combative, more divisive, and more frequent. Hate mail and death threats are piling up. He often travels with four bodyguards, including a retired Delta Force commando; his kids have worn bulletproof vests. Though the battle is largely one that Dobson’s initiated, associates say he’s the one who feels embattled…

So let me end this rant with Morbo’s closing paragraphs since he says it so well:

So Dobson got smacked around with shoes and belts — for the heinous crime of exclaiming "hot dog!" His parents were uptight fanatics who mistreated him, and his mom even threw intimate undergarments at him. He got abused at a new school and lost a fight to a smaller kid. On at least one occasion, he was mean to a dog.

This is all a shame, and now I think I better understand why Dobson constantly tries to use the raw power of the state to cram fundamentalist Christianity down our throats: He had a lousy childhood.

There is a better way, Jim. Admit that these childhood demons still haunt you. Get help. Find a counselor. Talk it out. You have issues, dude. There's no shame in that. Get the help you need and quit trying to gloss over your crummy upbringing by messing up the entire country.

Let this be a lesson to all of us as well. I've complained on this blog before about parents who use corporal punishment on children. Children certainly do misbehave at times, but nothing excuses physically assaulting youngsters. If the moral arguments against beating kids do not persuade you, consider this: As you spank your child, you may be shaping the country's next James Dobson.


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