In my opinion, psychologist and presidential advisor, the Rev. Dr. James Dobson is a very dangerous man.
I have been following his career for many years, from the time in the late 60s while I was teaching at Fairfield University and doing research on the relationship between physical discipline and delinquency. His odd little book, Dare to Discipline caught my eye, and I was astounded to later find that it eventually became a runaway best seller. Unfortunately, it launched his career as a darling of the far right.
Although the book does seem to have a folksy, common sense approach to childrearing, its stealth message is far more disturbing. In short, going against all research then and now, Dobson advocates the “judicious” spanking of children. One is immediately struck with the vivid descriptions of the brutality of his own mother, in Dare to Discipline, who he doggedly insists “taught me right from wrong”—and I might add, in very short order. Unfortunately, that was not all it taught him. Extreme discipline produces anger, and Dr. Dobson is one angry man.
Dobson is now seen as the primary spokesperson for the Christian right. Recently Bush prevailed upon him to speak out for the Harriet Miers nomination to the Supreme Court. Clearly the man’ s currently one of the most influential persons in Washington.
Dobson’s influence in regard to the administration’s decision to go to war may be far greater than anyone realizes. While Bush was wavering on the war, Dobson counseled him to pray and “look for a sign from God.” Apparently Bush followed his advice. According to news reports Bush told Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas, “God told me to strike al Qaida and I struck them, and He instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did.” I suspect God failed to realize what a mess this would get us into.
Dobson has characterized gay marriage as “a looming catastrophe of epic proportions.” He has described late trimester abortion as a procedure where “the brains are sucked from a baby’s head” and insists that all abortions are murder. He has called the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants a leftist effort to promote homosexuality, and the concept of “diversity” as a liberal catchword which is really a disguise for encouraging the acceptance of gay unions.
Closer to home, Dobson’s organization the Family Research Council, at the urging of radio host Dr. Laura, spearheaded a vicious attack on the APA for publishing what his organization considered an endorsement of pedophilia. These attacks exacted a protracted emotional toll on the administration of the APA. This extreme reaction was in response to a scholarly article published in the Psychological Bulletin that acknowledged many victims of pedophilia are minimally damaged. In April of 1999, Rep. Tom DeLay denounced the APA on the floor of the House of Representatives, claiming that our association and all of its members were supporters of pedophilia. Nearly all of the March, 2002 issue of the American Psychologist is devoted to this historic volcanic upheaval to our association.
In spite of the utter absurdity of the theory of Intelligent Design, Dobson is one of the primary advocates of teaching this anti-science, faith based nonsense in the classroom. If he is successful (the president thinks it is a good idea), America could well become the laughingstock of the world’s scientific community. The ability to attract the best and brightest to a scientific career could be compromised.
I wonder how many innocent Christian children will be physically mistreated today, because of his sanctioning of physical discipline? My own research suggests that many of these “spanked” children will grow up to be bullies, delinquents and criminals.
If, indeed, Dobson contributed to the war when he encouraging the president to take unilateral action against what he termed an “axis of evil,” he will have to take some measure of responsibility for all of those young Americans, and innocent Iraqis who have died in this senseless war. As the readers of this newsletter know, I was against the war before it began, and am sorry that my predictions of it being a disaster came to pass. In admonishing other nations to join his war, Bush cautioned, “He that is not with me is against me (Mathew 12:3); this is vintage Dobson.
James Dobson does not believe in global warming; his Family Research Council is a darling of big business. It’s a good thing his Focus on the family is quartered in Colorado. The rising oceans, burning of the rainforests, and increased ferocity of hurricanes will probably affect him less there than if he was in Florida.
Feeling emboldened by his White House connections, Dobson has keyed specific Democrats for his wrath if they try to hold up presidential appointments Dobson considers vital to his cause, and has even threatened the political life of Bill Frist for taking a less extreme stance on the stem cell issue. How many people will die because of the life saving research that has been scotched because of the stem cell partial ban?
I find it odd that my fellow psychologists have been so quiet about this man’s growing power and influence in the inner circles of Washington. He needs to be exposed for the charlatan he is, and I am ashamed to call him a colleague-- someone so visible in our profession who has strayed so far away from his scientific roots. On his website one can read these words by Dobson: “Science can be a wonderful instrument of good as long as it respects the bounds of moral principal?” This one brief statement exemplifies his total lack of understanding of what science is all about. Faith based science is an oxymoron.
Psychology is a science based on empiricism and careful theory building. When a psychologist operates outside of the parameters of fact gathering, non-sectarian, objective, slogging science, he/she has lost his/her credibility with our collective scientific community. More importantly those who ignore objective reality in favor of “subjective faith” run the risk of reality jumping out and biting them—including all of the innocent people who that non- reality has affected.
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