Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Right and wrong and sphere of influence

This may be a rant. I had been considering a blog post about a recent "teachable moment", and the perfect counterpoint story has dropped into my lap. So out it comes.

The Friendly Atheist blog recently discussed a commentary on the Christian site called WorldNet Daily. The blog and the commentary address the recent vandalism of a billboard in North Carolina that originally said "One Nation Indivisible". The vandalism added the words "UNDER GOD" and an insertion arrow.

Chrissy Satterfield's commentary on WorldNetDaily is titled, "My kind of vandals". She calls the anonymous vandal a hero, and thanks others who have vandalized "atheist" billboards. But I don't have to cherry-pick her post for its approving, nay, admiring tone to shine through. Please click to it and read it.

Now, here's my story of another vandalized sign:

Driving from Kinsley to Spearville one morning, we saw that someone had vandalized a campaign sign for congressman Jerry Moran. A bright orange "o" had been sloppily sprayed over the "a" on the simple "Moran" sign. I blush to admit that in the first moment, our reactions were as though someone had made a joke. But immediately I realized that I didn't really find the altered sign funny, and I owed my kids the truth. I apologized for my crass example, and then we talked about vandalism, making fun of someone's name, and creating ugliness.

Vandalism = stealing
Someone paid for that sign. Ruining the sign puts the owner in the position of having to replace it, repair it, or accept its alteration. In effect, the vandal has stolen the sign from the owner (and likely trespassed on the property where the sign is displayed). Stealing, as we all know, is illegal and morally unacceptable. Vandalism is equally illegal and wrong.

Making fun of someone's given name
It is mean to make fun of people's names. Our names are personal, we have them for a long time (usually our whole lives), and we identify closely with them. Hurtful wordplay on someone's name helps no one, and only reflects poorly on the teaser. The same is true of any ad hominem attack. We grew up in a culture that allowed and encouraged that kind of nastiness. We try to curb it in ourselves and in the kids by talking about it every time it comes up and reiterating that it has no place in a civil society or in a mature personality.

Leaving an ugly mess
The original sign was nicely done. The vandalism made it ugly. Even if the person who vandalized it had originally purchased and erected the sign, and even if it hadn't used malicious humor playing on a person's name for its message, it would have been trashy looking! This may seem like a minor nitpick, but I think it is important, after the other points. If you're going to make a statement, make a beautiful statement, not an ugly one! Make a classy statement, make something to be proud of. Ugly gets attention, but it eats at our happiness. Don't litter!

If you want to express your disagreement with a politician, buy your own dang sign, express something with substance, and do it with a speck of art. If you choose this vandal's method, you're being a clumsy, childish criminal.

Finally, we highlighted the irrelevance of Jerry Moran's importance and our opinion of him. The crime was a crime regardless of politics. The offense was an offense against society.

I'm just a mom. I made a point of using this crime to teach my kids something about right and wrong.

Chrissy Satterfield is a commentator on a huge Christian news and information site, and this is how she uses her position of influence:
Never would I encourage vandalism, but in this case I think I'll let it slide.
I would like to extend my deepest thanks to the man or woman responsible for this vandalism. I appreciate the action you took. 

How many of Chrissy Satterfield's readers will feel encouraged to commit and condone crimes against atheists and their property? How many will extend that "logic" to crimes against gays, muslims, jews, or any other group or individual that dares exist, that dares speak? Perhaps she will belatedly apologize for her crass example. But at her volume, the damage is already done.

I'm teaching my kids morality and ethics. What are you teaching yours?

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