Comic Book Vindication: Werthram a Fraud

If you know who Frederic Werthram is already then you will have a smile on your face as you read the New York Times article: “Scholar Finds Flaws in Work by Archenemy of Comics.” It is a wonderful indictment of a man, much like others who have stirred up useless panics in the past, who lied on his research on comic books and their effects on youth. Is “fraud” too strong of a word? I don’t think so considering Frederic Werthram’s book Seduction of the Innocent set the art of comic books back by about thirty or forty years until mainstream comic books were being written for adults again. Comic books still have to overcome ignorant notions that they are only for kids and that violent comics will destroy young minds.

Back in the fifties, Werthram used his position as a psychiatrist to convince the American people that comic books were corrupting young people: drugs, sex, violence, bad language–you name it. One of the big targets was E.C. Comics which gave us the wonderful Tales From the Crypt and a slew of horror and crime series which we still enjoy. The good doctor used test examples to prove his point and that’s where he has been recently reexamined. Carol L. Tilley, from Illinois’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science, went through Werthrams papers. She found what she referred to as manipulations and fabricated evidence.

Werthram claimed to have a thousand test subjects, Tilley says it was more likely in the hundreds. Their ages were not stated correctly and they appeared to all be talking as one voice. He excised vital information on these individuals which would explain their abusive behavior in order to place blame on reading comics. It’s not surprising that these disturbed youths came from broken homes, domestic abuse and drugs being used by the parents.

Even worse, Werthram tried to insinuate that comic books turn you gay. (Gasp!). In one study he cited the pairing of Batman and Robin as a homosexual fantasy even though his notes actually record a young homosexual couple that may have preferred Tarzan and the Sub Mariner–another odd manipulation of the truth. Apparently, Werthram thought the public knew more about the dynamic duo than the prince of the sea and the lord of the jungle.

The sad part about realizing what Werthram did as a dishonest psychiatrist and author is that the public still buys into these scares. We blamed porn in the seventies. We blamed horror movies and heavy metal in the eighties. We blamed video games and Marilyn Manson in the nineties and recently we have been blaming all guns. While there may be a need for a ratings system or even regulations on the distribution of guns, the politicians, parent committees and religious leaders who endorse these panics never answer the simple question of: If a million or more people are engaging in this activity, why are only a few individuals causing the problem?

In other words, why doesn’t every person who watches a porno turn into a rapist? Why doesn’t every kid who plays a violent video game shoot up their school? Why doesn’t every gun owner resolve their disputes with bloodshed? As a society, we seem to be prone to bad conclusions for incidents that have much deeper and more complicated explanations than just one thing. If we could limit our scapegoating and work on real change we would see these problems disappear.

SIDENOTE: I know some may object to including the “gun panic” in here, but I believe it fits as another panic. You can’t compare a real gun to the pretend gun violence found in video games, but you can ask why we do not have more gun violence with all the guns out there? Is it the guns that are the problem or are there other underlying issues we need to address such as psychiatric disorders, poverty and social injustice? Certainly, we can consider regulating who gets a gun (sorry, but if you have to have a driver’s license for a car, a license for a deadly weapon is not unreasonable) and we can regulate the sale of guns, but Newtown was about a disturbed kid who slipped through the system and lashed out. I don’t know what the answer is, I’m just skeptical that all this talk about gun control is going to prevent shootings like this.

SIDENOTE 2: The irony of the gun control proposals is that it has boosted gun sales and gun owners are hoarding their firearms for fear of them being taken away. One panic causes another irrational panic.

 

 

Lincoln Book and Movie Inspire New Talk on Atheism

From Spielberg’s Lincoln to Fox News to Stephen Mansfield’s book Lincoln’s Battle with God, our 16th president is stirring up more conversation on atheism than when he was considered to be the village atheist.

Fox News of course has jumped on the angle from atheism to faith, as always catering to their base. They interviewed Stephen Mansfield and I’m surprised there wasn’t a comments section below which is disappointing. In contrast, The Huffington Post ran an entire article by Mansfield on Lincoln’s atheism and beliefs in god during the civil war and they allowed for comments. What you get below the article is a nice back and forth debate by readers.

I don’t think anyone is disputing that Lincoln believed in god or invoked god during his presidency. The question is more what kind of god we are talking about? Mansfield does say after wrestling with his faith over the course of many years Lincoln did embrace Christianity. Lincoln is quoted about visiting the Holy Land and plans to go abroad to “…see those places hallowed by the footsteps of the Savior.” The key word being savior which would be more telling than just “Jesus” or “Christ.” “Savior” is a recognition of Christ as one who brings salvation.

Others have suggested that Lincoln embraced the Christian faith for political reasons in order to rally the denominations of The North. After all, most abolitionists tied their anti-slavery beliefs with their religous beliefs. Faith or Politics? It may be a bit of both–honest faith and the need for expediency in war–but it does seem evident that Lincoln had a mental  or spiritual (if you like) journey from disbelief to belief and turned to Christianity after the pain of losing his son Eddie.

What I find surprising, though, in the comments is that both Christians and atheists think that conversion one way or another has any bearing on actual truth. Yes, numerous Christians were atheists once and, yes, numerous atheists were Christians once.  We all seem to like our testimonies (myself included as I was once a Christian). But truth itself is found in the debate, not in the conversion. People can convert to a host of different beliefs and even nonbelief for the wrong reasons, be it emotional or be it because of a logical argument that turns up to be fallicious.

I like seeing the debate though. The more conversation the better.

Superbowl 47, Ray Lewis Delusional

Superbowl 47 with the Ravens versus the 49ers was a close game with the 49ers coming on strong in the second half. Admittedly, I went in looking to see the Ravens win but was rooting for the 49ers in the end.

In the pregame, as someone who doesn’t regularly follow football (the Superbowl is about all I will watch, just being honest), I got a taste of Ray Lewis’ beliefs when the focus was put on O.J. Brigance’s ALS story and then a later interview with Ray himself. The questions were steered towards the double murder he was entangled with, but ultimately not convicted of. In that interview, part of his defense was, and I’m paraphrasing, “How could God be on the side of a killer?” After doing a little catch-up reading, it’s pretty well known  in pro-football that Ray is the equivalent of a “baptist preacher,” as suggested by the Atlantic Daily World. In their article we hear that, while this is Ray’s last year playing football, he isn’t disappearing from the game. He may be receiving a position with the NFL as an adviser.

Then at the end of the Superbowl, with the Ravens celebrating, we get to hear Ray Lewis say (and I wrote this one down word for word), “If God is for you, who can be against you?” Meaning, this mentioned god was for Ray Lewis and the Ravens and not the 49ers. How does that make any sense? God is a fan of Baltimore because of Ray Lewis’ faith?

Ray Lewis’ sports superstition of a god being on his side is a cliche, but I also find it scary that he believes the way he does and has such an influence on his teammates, the fans, and young people. Especially after the double homicide and other reports of violence against women. He is a fundamentalist football player using his charisma and fame to win people (or maybe bully people) for Christ. If you’re gullible enough, you’ll buy into his spin. I, for one, can see through his shit as he comes off no better than the preachers on TBN. Talented, yes, but questionable morals.

SIDENOTE: I don’t know the name, but I did see that one of the NFL commentators wasn’t buying into Ray Lewis’ innocence and god-talk. It was an awkward moment among the commentators (I felt) but the suggestion was made that Ray Lewis wasn’t being forthright with what happened with the double homicide and that all the god-talk was just a way to avoid answering directly. At least someone in the media had the guts to be skeptical on game day.

 

Guide to the Littlest Atheist Comic Strip

GUIDE TO THE LITTLEST ATHEIST COMIC STRIP

“Adventures in Unbelieving” by cartoonist Jeff Swenson

The Littlest Atheist comic strip goes back to 2007 when I was starting to see a lot of repetition in one shot panel cartoons on subjects of religion and an unbeliever’s viewpoint. In other words, I felt that we were starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel because religion doesn’t present new ideas, only reformulated ideas based on the same old beliefs. What we needed were strong and interesting characters who questioned faith in god. I also, for the sake of interest, wanted to see flawed characters who learn and discover because the one thing that Christians and other people of faith do not understand about skeptics and atheists is that we’re not static. We take note of our errors and reexamine our thinking almost on a daily basis whereas faith doesn’t demand that you think–you just accept.

Bertrand is that character. He’s influenced by a couple of traditional comic strips I grew up with from The Peanuts to Calvin ‘N’ Hobbes as well as the many manga digests I read and to top it off I would throw in Saturday Morning Cartoons. He’s an arrogant little kid trying to assert himself with a minority viewpoint and his mistakes are numerous BUT he makes some very valid points with his skepticism and doubt. The idea of a character driven comic strip on unbelieving is not necessarily to be an editiorial for atheism and say I’m right, sometimes it is simply to explore or have a character make errors and see what happens.

The strip itself started out as a more traditional comic strip with one shot gags or quips and has progressively turned into a mystery adventure to find out how Bertrand’s dad died, why his mother went from atheism back to Christianity, and who are the shadowy figures known as The Restorationists. Thus far there have been two main adventures: Goodie The Gospel Peanut and The Babysitter Lurks, each with a central villain. Previously, there were one shot gags and holiday storylines. I am planning to start working on collections soon for tablets and even a specially sized collection for smartphones. Even after 6 years the strip is still in its infancy and there is so much to tell. I figured we needed to track our characters and situations with this guide.

Characters:

 

Bertrand Wells – Our unbelieving hero is inspired by his deceased father’s freethinking ideals, but protective of his Christian mother. Bertrand starts each day pointing the finger at the accepted fairytales of modern times. It certainly does not make him popular. Because of his mother, he still has to go to church, but that only gives him a chance to test his debating skills with his youth pastor and peers. He’s got a big mouth and a tiny body. It’s bound to get him into trouble.

Bertrand’s Dad – There’s a mystery surrounding the death of Bertrand’s dad. The police report says “car accident” but then why do these villains keep popping up that want information related to him and why do they want to influence and ultimately convert Bertrand? Are they concerned for his soul? Or is something more insidious going on?

Kari Wells – Previously, she claims she was an unbeliever, even branding herself an atheist. Now she is a devout Christian and wants Bertrand to be one too. Is this faith real because her husband’s death woke her up spiritually or is it done for the purposes of stability and comfort within her community? She dates Bertrand’s youth pastor (Youth Pastor  Fred) which drives Bertrand nuts. Overall, she appears to be a loving figure with the best of intentions, but why the radical conversion?

 

Youth Pastor Fred – Bertrand’s nemesis, though he really isn’t a bad guy. They just argue all the time and Bertrand doesn’t like the idea of him dating his mom (gasp, what if his youth pastor becomes his father?). Fred is your typical youth pastor engaged with pop culture and attempting to keep up on what’s happening with his kids. Besides Bertrand, his other conflict is with his daughter Tina who is resentful of his divorce. In one storyline she literally states she “hates God!” which is not an atheist position (have to believe in something you hate). Tina is cynical and resentful in stark contrast to Bertrand who, while always questioning and arguing, has a more positive outlook on life as he is a science enthusiast and burgeoning humanist.

Guy In Shadows – All we know about this shadow figure is that his name is Robert and that he is one of the leaders of The Restorationists. He has contacts everywhere, within religion, media and government, and yet his plans never go “as planned” when it comes to Bertrand. For whatever reason, he has a strong interest in Bertrand–not exactly malevolent as he doesn’t want any physical harm to come to the younster, but he does want to convert him. Apparently Bertrand may also be inheriting some secrets from his now deceased father which The Restorationists want.

The Park Monk – First introduced in a short storyline about a snowman and then an appearance in Goodie the Gospel Peanut, The Park Monk is a mentor of Bertrand, only Bertrand doesn’t understand this yet. More will be revealed about his origins in upcoming adventures.  He literally lives in the park and spreads his humanist philosophy with whoever wants to talk. He’s hardly what you call homeless though as he has revealed to Bertrand a hidden bunker underneath the city park where he lives when he’s not contemplating the universe.

 

Devil Boy – (also known as Jonathan). Devil Boy certainly doesn’t belong at church but he ends up there anyways as his parents force him to go. He is a practicing Satan worshipper or rather an incompetent one. He doesn’t understand that the official Church of Satan is allegorical and philosophical and if there is true Satanism it is found amongst people who are delusional and not quite right in the head. Devil Boy tries to be evil; at best he’s a delinquent who never harms anyone but himself…and possibly Bertrand by accident.

Demon Dog – Named by his owner Devil Boy, Demon Dog is a small pug with a pug curiosity. His name is derived from a sudden change of behavior when he is sicked on someone and attacks. This happened in Goodie the Gospel Peanut when Demon Dog went crazy on everyone and helped save Devil Boy, Lori and Bertrand. Devil Boy says it is because his dog is possessed, but Bertrand just rolls his eyes. Dogs can be very reactive with commands, there’s nothing Satanic about it.

Lori – Bertrand’s Christian school mate. Bertrand and Lori have had their run-ins with each other but for the most part they get along, especially after Goodie the Gospel Peanut. Lori is a literalist, however, she’s learned to steer away from being too fanatical after witnessing Goodie’s behavior as he demanded everyone convert to his way of thinking.

 

Bouncer – Introduced in The Babysitter Lurks, Bouncer is an advanced toy designed by Bertrand’s father. He was left to Bertrand as a guardian against some of the more fanatical members of The Restorationists. While giving the appearance of being a cute teddy bear, Bouncer is as tough as a Navy Seal. Unfortunately, he tends not to get the respect he deserves because of how he looks. Bertrand thinks he’s too pushy and grumpy.

Goodie the Gospel Peanut – Goodie is two persons, or rather one person with a split mind. No one knows what happened, but the puppeteer behind Goodie is a radical fundamentalist and can’t seem to function without his alter ego “Goodie.” Goodie, himself, is a proselytizing peanut puppet. He has been on TV and on the road telling kids the gospel. He has also been used to beat people to death.

Mother T – The self-proclaimed babysitter in The Babysitter Lurks. We don’t quite know who she is, only that she works for The Restorationists and reports to a person named Professor Gizzle.

 

Adventures

As mentioned there have been two main series (at the time of this writing, the second is still completing):

Goodie The Gospel Peanut – Bertrand’s mom makes him go to Youth Pastor Fred’s sleepover at church. When the entertainment arrives, the youth group gets more than they bargained for. Bertrand has to use his mental prowess and his little kid fighting skills against puppets to survive the night.

The Babysitter Lurks – Bertrand receives a gift from his dad, even though his dad passed on years earlier. It’s a toy which he thinks he is too old for. He tosses it aside. Then he is watched by a strange bald man who eventually gets too close and someone gets hurt. Later, Bertrand’s mom goes out on a date with Youth Pastor Fred and hires a babysitter. The only problem is that two women show up claiming to be the babysitter and only one of them is telling the truth. The other works for The Restorationists.

Upcoming adventures with tentative titles:

The Nativity War (Christmas with The Park Monk) – Bertrand finds out who The Park Monk is and has to face down an army of baby Jesus figures from Nativity displays across his neighborhood.

Island of the Dead Apologists – Bertrand discovers one of his dad’s pet projects, an island amusement park with toy figures that challenge him on his beliefs. What starts out as fun turns deadly as the controls for the island are taken over by someone who thinks it would be better if Bertrand dies before he can spread his atheism.