The Washington Post‘s Gene Weingarten is one of the best journalists in the country. He jumped onto my radar screen five years ago, with a truly gut-wrenching feature article about distracted parents who leave their young child in a hot car without realizing it, with tragic consequences.
Another story of his, a lovely tribute to aging dogs and how they process their memories, is equally unforgettable.
Others value his talents at least as much as I do — Weingarten is the recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes. Today I learned that he is also an atheist (although that particular “secret” was out years ago; I just missed it). More importantly, he says he isn’t going to take the incessant Christian drumbeat in the U.S.A. lying down anymore. After Weingarten noticed the ocean of religious books for children, and the paucity of atheism-themed kids’ books, he penned Me & Dog, a riff on power and religion. Here’s the Amazon description:
[T]o Murphy, Sid’s faithful dog, Sid is the whole world. Murphy thinks Sid is the absolute best — and that he’s in charge of everything. Sid loves Murphy right back, but he can’t help but wonder what Murphy would think if he realized the truth: Sid’s just a kid, and Murphy’s just a dog, and neither one can control the world.
This deceptively simply picture book is the perfect start to a discussion about a subject seldom seen in children’s books — the nonthreatening feel of a world based on fact and reason, and not faith.
Weingarten was interviewed on the NPR show On the Media on Friday, and opined that his book is gentle, not hostile or subversive.
The central message, he says, is this:
What if this world of ours is not based on presumptions of magic? What if this world is really ‘What we see is what we get’… Would that be so bad? … There is a secular magic in everything around us. The world is beautiful, we have love, we should take care of each other. That is not a frightening concept for any parent to deliver to a child.
He told a Washington Post interviewer last month that the idea for the book came to him when he stepped on his dog’s paw.
The whole book was created in four seconds of insight. My dog — like the one in the book — is named Murphy. I stepped on her foot, she howled and then asked me, clearly: “What have I done wrong? What did I do? I won’t do it again.” The whole idea flashed in my mind: I am her God! …
This is a book that is a sweet little book. It’s not hectoring anyone, but it’s trying to start a conversation with a very young person: What if things happen just because?
Weingarten explains that, while he isn’t an anti-theist, religion strikes him too often as
… exclusionary, prescriptive, and, well, superstitious.
Murphy the dog will never realize that… but with a little help, the Sids of this world just might.