The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

Making Up

January 11, 2006 | 11 Comments

The Penthouse Letters, like all pornography, are founded upon lies. They’re made up. There’s no real humanity behind them. They do not describe true relationships. They’re nothing but the expression of the basest fantasies of the lonely, paid hacks who churn them out.

So whatever I else I may say about the God Squad, they at least deserve credit for entertaining the problems of actual people and attempting to resolve them to the best of their limited abilities. They invite questions from their readers and provide post office and e-mail addresses for that purpose. They would never engage in the dishonesty of making up the letters and pretending to their readership that they were authentic. That would be an unforgivable fraud — particularly considering all the money they receive from their nationally syndicated column, not to mention the $12,500 they get per appearance.

What’s particularly touching is the individual attention they give to each letter, no matter how similar it may seem to others they have received in the past. This struck me when reading the second letter in their column last week, which reminded me of a column I reviewed in October 2004. With the assistance of the Wayback Machine I was able to retrieve the full text of the the earlier Squad entry. The similarities are striking, demonstrating that no matter how different from each other we all may seem at times we’re all ultimately confronted by the same challenges. Here’s a line-by-line comparison (the earlier letter is in boldface):

I am Jewish and have been dating a Catholic man for about five months.
I’m Jewish and have been dating a Catholic man for about five months.

Neither of us is very religious, but I’ve always followed Jewish traditions.
Neither of us is very religious. However, I’ve always followed the Jewish traditions.

I attend synagogue on the High Holy Days and was a bat mitzvah at 13.
I attend temple on the high holidays and have been bat mitzvahed.

My boyfriend celebrates Christmas, Easter, etc., but doesn’t attend church. However, his family is religious.
My boyfriend celebrates the Christian holidays but does not attend church, though his family is religious.

As our relationship grows more serious, my boyfriend’s not being Jewish has been bothering me a lot.
As our relationship grows more serious, the fact that my boyfriend is not Jewish is beginning to concern me.

We’ve discussed it and he said that if we have children, he’d like to bring them up not necessarily in either religion but just enriching them with traditions and cultures of both.
We did discuss this issue, and he said that if we get married and have children together, he’d like to bring them up not necessarily practicing either faith but enriching them with the traditions and cultures of both.

Then, when they’re old enough to decide for themselves, they could choose what faith to practice — if any.
Then, when they’re old enough to decide for themselves, they could decide which faith they’d like like to practice — if any.

At first, I agreed, as it sounded fair, but now it’s bothering me. For example, I can’t imagine not being able to have a bris or bar or bat mitzvah for my children. I’m also nervous that when they’re older, they might choose to be Catholic. I’m in love with this man, but now I’m questioning whether we should continue our relationship due to this serious issue. What do you think?
At first, I agreed to this, as it sounded like a fair compromise, but now it bothers me.

Originally, I thought the latest letter might simply be a reprint, but if the Squad were doing that they would clearly label it as such rather than try to pass it off as something new. Additionally, there are small but significant difference in the wording of the letters. So obviously they were written by two completely different readers — otherwise we’d have to assume that the Squad deliberately made the changes to the first letter, or fabricated both, as part of a campaign of deception. Any suspicions I might have had disappeared once I noted that the original letter-writer was very attached to Jewish ceremonies and was “nervous” about her children choosing Catholicism, a fear that did not consume the first writer. Also, she uses contractions more than than the other woman. Those are the kind of little details that you just can’t invent.

Plus, the Squad gives two different answers. If they were trying to save time by making stuff up they wouldn’t go to to all that trouble. Here’s their answer to the first letter:

The only thing worse than having a tough choice in your life is having a tough choice and not facing it. We’re proud of your courageous honesty in facing a problem that may destroy an otherwise perfect love.

What we do when counseling interfaith couples contemplating marriage is to learn the “ruler rule.” We ask the couples to rank their likes and dislikes and their values and beliefs on a scale of 1 to 12, with 1 being ” don’t care at all” and 12 being, “This is at the very core of my being.”

We practice with favorite ice cream flavors (usually ranked down around 1) to favorite sports teams (usually low on the list for women and up near 12 for men).

Our point in graphing all these different likes and dislikes is to help couples see what they have in common and what they value differently. In general, the simple and obvious truth in solid relationships and marriages is that the person with the higher-ranked belief or preference ought to have his or her way.

Of course, sensitivity to the loser in the ruler rule is important, but it’s hard to avoid the simple justice of a person who cares less giving way to a person who cares more.

You and your boyfriend need to figure out where you both really rank religion in the ruler rule. If you’re a 10 or 11 and he’s a 3 or 4 (which is our guess), then you ought to be able to raise your kids as Jews because religion means more to you.

However, if after understanding exactly what it means to your boyfriend to celebrate Easter and Christmas you discover he’s really more religious than you, then you should raise the kids as Catholics.

If neither of you can face being the loser in the ruler rule, then, sadly but inescapably, your relationship should end.

We consider his suggestion that you raise your kids as both Jewish and Catholic, or as nothing until they’re old enough to choose to be spiritual, a parenting cop-out. You wouldn’t let your kids decide on their own bedtime, so why make them decide about their own religion? Parents have a simple and inescapable obligation to teach their children their street address — and their religious address.

You have an obligation to give your children the religious roots that nurtured and shaped both you and your boyfriend. Though conversion is always possible, a person has the right to emerge from childhood able to walk into a church or a synagogue and feel at home in one or the other place.

One final word about making promises about raising children in a religion that is not your own, particularly if you’re the mother who promised to raise your children in your husband’s faith: This is a bad promise, no matter who makes it, because you just can’t know how you’ll feel until you are actually faced with denying your child a baptism or a bris, a first communion or a bar mitzvah.

You’re making this promise when you are not yet engaged and you’re childless. What you promise now you may not be able to emotionally or spiritually deliver. The best way out of problems is through them, not around them, and we’re proud that you’re willing to go through this dilemma now.

And here’s their response to the second letter. Note that because the reader didn’t suggest she was considering breaking off the relationship, the Squad limits its advice to the childrearing issues:

From the book of the prophet Jagger, we read, “You can’t always get what you want.” You want this guy to be Jewish, and he isn’t. The next move is yours. You can have a tree and a menorah, a basket of colored eggs and a plate of matzoh, but once you go beyond and beneath the surface of religious rituals and customs, you find the hard truth: Jesus cannot be the messiah and not be the messiah.

A choice must be made, and that choice cannot be made by your children. It must be made by you and your future husband. You must educate your children, and you can’t educate them in both a church school and a synagogue religious school.

Having conflicting religious symbols in the home is confusing to a child, who basically wants an answer to a very simple question: “What am I?” It’s your responsibility as a parent to make the answer to that question a one-word reply. We both pray that the word that will describe the religious identity of your child is not “nothing.”

I was a bit harsh on the Squad when I critiqued their first column, but now I see their point. Yes, perhaps it’s somewhat odd for basically non-religious parents to require a definite answer to the “what am I” question, but by definition anything is better than nothing. And while talking bushes and water-into-wine make perfect sense, a Jew believing in Jesus is just impossible Either He’s the eternal-life-giving messiah or not. It doesn’t matter which position you take, or if it’s dictated to you by others, so long as you understand that there’s no in-between. To claim otherwise would just be making stuff up.


11 Responses to “Making Up”

  1. franky
    January 11th, 2006 @ 10:08 am

    Hmmmm….I’m having a hard time deciding if you are being sarcastic or not. I guess that’s the problem with print vs. verbal communication.

    I’m going to have to go with sarcastic…final answer.

  2. severalspecies
    January 11th, 2006 @ 10:22 am

    Sarcasm is also my final answer….well, not the absolute final answer.

    I guess this can prove that the gospels were also written completely independent from each other…none had knowledge of what was written from the other….


  3. coyote1284
    January 11th, 2006 @ 10:42 am

    Wow, so according to TGS, as a man, my favorite sports team totally defines who I am (something I’d personally place around 1 on their belief scale, but who am I to argue, I’m just a godless heathen). Maybe it’s true since my only favorite sports team is the New Jersey Devils.

  4. Viole
    January 11th, 2006 @ 10:49 am

    Those last few sentances, especially the bit about there being no middle, reminds me of Ayn Rand. You still mocking your friend, RA?

  5. thomas
    January 11th, 2006 @ 3:46 pm

    i think those latters are a little too similar. It’s not that there the same situation in both letters but that the letters are worded almost identically.

    “We’ve discussed it and he said that if we have children, he’d like to bring them up not necessarily in either religion but just enriching them with traditions and cultures of both.”

    “We did discuss this issue, and he said that if we get married and have children together, he’d like to bring them up not necessarily practicing either faith but enriching them with the traditions and cultures of both.”

    These use almost identical words and phrases.
    While i doubt that the squad forges letters( if they did why would they not make a completely new letter up) i dont think this could be a coincidence. Perhaps, one of the squads reasers decided to test the squad to see if their advice would be the same

  6. Choobus
    January 11th, 2006 @ 3:57 pm

    or maybe the squad make up all their letters, and they were particularly proud of these ones. After all, if you spend an hour or so writing something then by golly, you want to use it as much as you can to make it worthwhile. Given that these are god[b]idiots[/b], they may well have thought they could pull a fast one and reuse the same latters.

  7. chris
    January 11th, 2006 @ 5:36 pm

    That stuff about the prophet Jagger is from House. At least the squad watches good tv shows

  8. mike
    January 11th, 2006 @ 5:47 pm

    it’s important that when your child asks “what am i?” that the parent make clear “you are a bigot like your parents.”

    the alternative, after all, according to the sqalid, is to tell the child he is “nothing.”

    wait until adulthood to decide about biblical prophecies regarding armegeddon and the messiah? why? these are clearly issues for a six-year old mind!

  9. Realityhack
    January 11th, 2006 @ 6:11 pm

    Thats an intentional alteration of the first letter. There is not a significan diffrence in the nuber of contractions and the “– if any” is a prity dead giveaway.

    They probobly think the deception is entirely justified.

  10. ts
    January 12th, 2006 @ 4:41 am

    pious decepcion has a long history in both religions. Just think of the torah and thd bible being passed off as the word of god.

    The book of moron has a better provenence, we know there was a Josepeh Smith, we have the court records.

  11. Branko Collin
    January 13th, 2006 @ 12:59 pm

    As someone who’s worked for several magazines, I can tell you that a) letters do get edited in order to make them vaguely resemble the English language, and that b) sometimes stuff already printed ends up at the bottom of the wrong pile, from where it can resurface unremembered months later. All very embarassing I am sure, but not necessarily fraudulent. If this is all an atheist blogger can come up with in a world where Christian fundamentalist Americans kill millions of muslims in a period of twenty years, he is getting pretty bored.

    The different answers must be equally disturbing to true believers: “We practice with favorite ice cream flavors (usually ranked down around 1) to favorite sports teams (usually low on the list for women and up near 12 for men).” And: “A choice must be made, and that choice cannot be made by your children.” In other words, in matters of faith you get to pick whatever you find most convenient. If there were a vengeful God, I am not sure she would appreciate having the rules she set out be compared to ice cream flavours. Actually, there are some pretty strong words in the Bible and Kuran about those who pick and choose their religion as if all items came from an Ikea catalogue (without specifically mentioning Ikea … yet).

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