Lead us not into temptation...
Yes indeed, folks, this website literally sells pajamas for boys and girls that are styled to resemble some sort of weird crusader armor, but with less blood and bile smeared across the front. The pajamas even include a shield for the child to carry across one arm- presumably for warding off evil spirits in the night who also happen to be terrified to stuffed pillow-like objects. Since this whole idea is just too... um... unique for me to describe, allow me to reproduce the website's own explanation below:
Now, I could get well and truly snarky here but I'm going to attempt to refrain. This is at least in part because, when I was a child, I wore some truly ridiculous shit to bed,** and so don't feel like I'm in a position to criticize. More importantly, however, I hold back because I think I see a connection between this and something else I've been looking at recently- a book on evangelical christianity.
I refer to James Ault, Jr.'s book Spirit and Flesh: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church. At this year's ASA meetings I obtained a copy of this book and have been reading it rather eagerly since- a fairly easy thing to accomplish given how many delays I've suffered during air travel of late. Ault has done something remarkable in this book- he has managed to produce an intriguing ethnography of a fundamentalist congregation that shows them, and their views, with nuance and no small amount of sympathy. As it happens, it appears that Ault's experiences in this project led him to develop religious belief. Be that as it may, he still does an excellent job of comparing and contrasting secular viewpoints with religious viewpoints, all within the context of lived experience. As such, I think his book warrants reading.***
One of the points that emerges from his narrative, however, is that these tight fundamentalist congregations seem to derive much of their strength not from the doctrine, per se, but rather from the social system. Congregants certainly develop strong doctrinal views, but in many cases what seems to produce the real commitment is the social support network. Of course, as Ault notes, this support network is a mixed blessing as the same tools that allow the congregation to work for you also permit it to work against you. So, the same tight social relationships that can help members over emotional and economic hurdles can also be used to enforce a substantial degree of conformity. Still, in an uncertain world, it's easy to see why people might want to take refuge in such tight relationships. It seems only natural, and most sociologists will not be terribly surprised.
It is this ability of congregations to provide a refuge that makes Ault's book and the godly p.j.'s stick together in my mind. It has more and more appeared to me that some branches of christianity- indeed of many different religions, but christianity is our focus du jour- thrive on nurturing fear. I don't mean fear of the world here, either. Being concerned that you might not make rent, or that you may get sick, or that your marriage might fail, is something many people have to deal with. A religion that can help people overcome such challenges isn't all bad, and is indeed serving a useful purpose in people's lives. No, I mean that some branches of various religions seem determined to actually create fear. Don't have enough material issues to worry about? Your personal life going good? Feel secure at home? Well, you shouldn't! There may be demons trying to steal your soul via the heinous power of the New York Times! The Devil is creeping into your bedroom window and poisoning your wife with ideas about equality! Your soul could, at any moment be damned by some inconsequential act and your only recourse is to pray as hard and as often as you can that god will forgive your sorry ass.
I exaggerate,**** but the point is valid. Much of religious rhetoric is saturated with efforts to create a need for the religious product, to create fear of things that are unobservable, unknowable, and whose effects largely won't be felt UNLESS there is an afterlife of the precise type spoken of by religious authorities themselves. It's almost like local news coverage***** but vastly more effective. As a former salesman, I really have to respect the success of this enterprise. We've long been amazed that product marketing can convince folks that they won't be popular if they don't own a particular thing, but popularity is in some way a real phenomenon. High schoolers and sociologists both understand the potential consequences of being unpopular. The fear bred by some religions, however, is a different and even more impressive animal because the faith is "sold" as protection from a threat that only exists if you believe in the religion in the first place. That's almost equivalent to buying hip waders to wear around the house to protect yourself from the venomous snakes that get delivered with the waders.
And I guess that's what is so fascinating to me about the pajamas. What is the real purpose of these things? To comfort children as they sleep? Or to remind them that they are in constant peril without the protection of the One True Faith?******
I'm afraid I know the answer to that already.
* Sorry Bookmobile, someone else beat you to it.
** Doubtless my Sainted Girlfriend would argue that I still do, since my sleepwear commonly includes shirts that are so old and frayed that they're an embarrassment to textiles everywhere.
*** Though, I must confess, I have not yet finished it myself.
**** The hell I do.
***** "Want to know about the common household product that can destroy the entire western hemisphere? What about devices your children use to see porn? Tune in at 8:00 and find out about this risk to YOUR family!"
****** Pick your own "one true faith." Don't worry, I'll wait. There are an awful lot of them, so take your time.