Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ben Stein, Chain Emails, & "Happy Holidays" (Part 1)

Let me apologize in advance for the length of this post and of Part 2 (which I'm actually posting at the same time). Unfortunately, to do justice to the subject, I found that I had to write even more than my usual relatively-lengthy posts. Sorry. And with that, away we go...

First a little background. I'm sure that you've received numerous chain emails on a whole host of different topics. Usually, I just hit the delete key and move on, but every now and then one of these chain emails either interests me or offends me or both. I participate in a number of mailing lists related to various subjects. One of these mailing lists pertains to certain health care matters and is supposed to be limited to that topic. Nevertheless, one particular poster frequently feels the need to send cute little jokes and inspirational messages that I ignore (the jokes aren't funny and the messages aren't inspirational). She has also been prone to sending chain emails to the mailing list and, on more than one occasion, these chain emails have been untrue (hoax virus warnings, the crying baby on the doorstep urban legend, and other similar things that have been debunked by Snopes and others). When I receive these messages, I often send her (or others from whom I receive similar messages) a private email noting that the chain email is a hoax or urban legend and offering some suggestions on how to identify hoaxes in the future. Again, this may be an annoyance, but it isn't really harmful.

But then one day, she posted a message that got me angry (I'll discuss the subject matter in a minute). After reading the message several times, I started doing a little online research of my own. I found that part of the message was an mostly accurate transcript of an original commentary but that it had been combined with a number of other bits and pieces without proper attribution and which were incorrect. Moreover, even ignoring the numerous errors in the message, I found the subject matter and the conclusions reached by the authors to be highly objectionable. So I decided to write a response. Over the course of a number of lunch hours I drafted my response. I wrote and tweaked and edited until I was happy with my response. My only real concern was that the tone of my response was much harsher than the tone I usually use, but I felt that the circumstances warranted that tone. Finally, before I posted my response, I sent it to my wife to review. She told me that it was a well-written message that did an excellent job of addressing the issues; however, she told me that if I posted the message she would have to kill me. All I would accomplish, she explained, would be the creation of a flame war on the mailing list (in which she is a frequent participant). We argued, but eventually I relented and decided to hold my tongue. I tucked my post away in my drafts folder where it has stayed for quite some time.

In the two years following, I received that same email several times. A few months ago, when the election was heating up, I received the objectionable email from a close family friend (who I think secretly hopes that he can drag me over to the political right). And then, unsurprisingly, here shortly before Christmas, I've received yet another copy of the message. Each of the versions of the email that I've received are virtually identical with only little bits and pieces changing from one to the next. An online search will reveal several versions of the same general chain message. However, all of the versions of the chain email have warped and expanded the original commentary on which they are based and which they quote.

So finally we get to the actual content of the original commentary and the chain email that it spawned. In late 2005, actor/game show host (and now advocate for creationism and the position that belief in evolution was a root cause of the Holocaust) Ben Stein gave a commentary on CBS Sunday Morning about Nick & Jessica and Christmas (sorry the video cannot be embedded). Mr. Stein posted a version of that commentary on his website (it is worth noting that the commentary on the website is subtly different from that which he gave on CBS Sunday Morning, but the differences are essentially non-substantive). Here is the full text of the commentary as posted on Mr. Stein's website:

Herewith at this happy time of year, a few confessions from my beating heart:

I have no freaking clue who Nick and Jessica are. I see them on the cover of People and Us constantly when I am buying my dog biscuits and kitty litter. I often ask the checkers at the grocery stores. They never know who Nick and Jessica are either. Who are they? Will it change my life if I know who they are and why they have broken up? Why are they so important? I don't know who Lindsay Lohan is, either, and I do not care at all about Tom Cruise's wife.

Am I going to be called before a Senate committee and asked if I am a subversive? Maybe, but I just have no clue who Nick and Jessica are. Is this what it means to be no longer young. It's not so bad.

Next confession: I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are: Christmas trees. It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, "Merry Christmas" to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a creche, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution and I don't like it being shoved down my throat.

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship Nick and Jessica and we aren't allowed to worship God as we understand Him?

I guess that's a sign that I'm getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are wondering where Nick and Jessica came from and where the America we knew went to.

I disagree with some of Mr. Stein's thoughts (though not about Nick and Jessica or Tom Cruise...), but don't really care what he has to say. If those comments were the extent of the chain email I would probably have just hit the delete key. Unfortunately, someone, somewhere, decided to embellish Mr. Stein's comments and tried to make them into much more than they really were. As embellished, Mr. Stein's comments are then used to try to advance both the simple position that Mr. Stein was commenting about but also to advocate on behalf of prayer in public schools and to attack those of us who support separation of church and state. And, as I mentioned previously, not only are many of the additional points not from Mr. Stein; they are also factually inaccurate. Yet because they appear to have the imprimatur of being spoken by an "expert" (or at least a third-rate celebrity; some people seem to have trouble telling the difference), they are taken at face value. (I find it troubling that Mr. Stein has not added and addendum to the page with his originally commentary noting that he is not responsible for the additional thoughts attributed to him that are so readily found floating around the Internet.) Moreover, and more importantly, because Mr. Stein is Jewish (and "confesses" as much in his commentary), his comments (including the embellished additions) are used as a club against Jews (like me) who have a different viewpoint.

So, below is the full text of the chain email that caused me to become so exercised in the first place. As you will see, it is fairly lengthy. Thus, my response (the one that I've kept in my drafts folder for two years now), with some minor corrections and edits, but with the original tone largely intact, will be in Part 2 of this post. It is also worth noting that some versions of the chain email completely omit the portions that I've posted in green (and change the subsequent reference to "Nick and Jessica" to "celebrities") while others add the portion that I've posted in blue.

Something not to laugh about.

If they know of him at all, many folks think Ben Stein is just a quirky actor/comedian who talks in a monotone. He's also a very intelligent attorney who knows how to put ideas and words together in such a way as to sway juries and make people think clearly.

The following was written by Ben Stein and recited by him on CBS Sunday Morning Commentary.

Herewith at this happy time of year, a few confessions from my beating heart: I have no freaking clue who Nick and Jessica are. I see them on the cover of People and Us constantly when I am buying my dog biscuits and kitty litter. I often ask the checkers at the grocery stores. They never know who Nick and Jessica are either. Who are they? Will it change my life if I know who they are and why they have broken up? Why are they so important?

I don't know who Lindsay Lohan is either, and I do not care at all about Tom Cruise's wife.

Am I going to be called before a Senate committee and asked if I am a subversive? Maybe, but I just have no clue who Nick and Jessica are.

If this is what it means to be no longer young. It's not so bad.

Next confession: I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don' t feel discriminated against. That's what they are: Christmas trees.

It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, "Merry Christmas" to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a creche, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution, and I don't like it being shoved down my throat.

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship Nick and Jessica [alternately: celebrities] and we aren't allowed to worship God as we understand Him?

I guess that's a sign that I'm getting old, too.

But there are a lot of us who are wondering where Nick and Jessica came from and where the America we knew went to.

In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different: This is not intended to be a joke; it's not funny, it's intended to get you thinking.

Billy Graham's daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her "How could God let something like this Happen?" (regarding Katrina)

Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response. She said, "I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives.

And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?"

In light of recent events...terrorists attack, school shootings, etc. I think it started when Madeleine Murray O'Hare (she was murdered, her body found recently) complained she didn't want prayer in our schools, and we said OK.

Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school. The Bible says thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself. And we said OK.

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn't spank our children when they misbehave because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr. Spock's son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he's talking about and we said OK.

Then someone said teachers and principals better not discipline our children when they misbehave. The school administrators said no faculty member in this school better touch a student when they misbehave because we don't want any bad publicity, and we surely don't want to be sued (there's a big difference between disciplining, touching, beating, smacking, humiliating, kicking, etc.).. And we said OK.

Then someone said, let's let our daughters have abortions if they want, and they won't even have to tell their parents.. And we said OK.

Then some wise school board member said, since boys will be boys and they're going to do it anyway, let's give our sons all the condoms they want so they can have all the fun they desire, and we won't have to tell their parents they got them at school. And we said OK.

Then some of our top elected officials said it doesn't matter what we do in private as long as we do our jobs. Agreeing with them, we said it doesn't matter to me what anyone, including the President, does in private as long as I have a job and the economy is good.

Then someone said let's print magazines with pictures of nude women and call it wholesome, down-to-earth appreciation for the beauty of the female body. And we said OK.

And then someone else took that appreciation a step further and published pictures of nude children and then further again by making them available on the Internet. And we said OK, they're entitled to free speech.

Then the entertainment industry said, let's make TV shows and movies that promote profanity, violence, and illicit sex. Let's record music that encourages rape, drugs, murder, suicide, and satanic themes. And we said it's just entertainment, it has no adverse effect, nobody takes it seriously anyway, so go right ahead.

Now we're asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don't know right from wrong, and why it doesn't bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves. Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with "WE REAP WHAT WE SOW."

Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world's going to hell.

Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says.

Funny how you can send 'jokes' through email and they spread like wildfire but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing.

Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.

Are you laughing?

Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because you're not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it.

Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us.

Pass it on if you think it has merit. If not then just discard it... no one will know you did. But, if you discard this thought process, don't sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in.

Before moving on to my response (in Part 2), take a moment and comment on Mr. Stein's original commentary and the embellished thoughts attributed to him.

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share


1 Comments:

At Sunday, February 03, 2013 10:41:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it in any way strange that the first comment is now 4 years after the article was posted?

 

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older