I originally reposted these two book reviews on books by James Dobson on May 4, 2014. They were both written for Epinions.com in 2006 and 2007 respectively. I am reposting them again, as/is. Bear in mind that these reviews were written for a review site, rather than a personal blog. I probably would have been much snarkier on my own space. I also didn’t have the gift of wisdom that comes from years of living. I used to get a kick out of buying books from Fort Belvoir’s thrift shop… stuff I would never buy on my own!
Note from 2014
I’m inspired by another blogger to repost these book reviews I wrote of books written by James Dobson. I actually had some fun reading and reviewing these books several years ago and don’t want to lose them to the Internets… so here they are.
Written in the 1980s, this book promotes values of the 1950s…
And I’m not sure how I feel about that. Truth be told, I’ve never been much of a fan of Dr. James Dobson’s very conservative viewpoint when it comes to counseling married couples and children. Nevertheless, I was curious when I spotted his 1983 book Love Must Be Tough: New Hope For Families In Crisis at Fort Belvoir’s Thrift Shop. My husband Bill and I are not in a crisis, but I am his second wife. The reason I’m his second wife is because he and his first wife got a divorce. At this point, we’re nowhere near having marital troubles, but it’s not lost on me that second marriages fail more often than first marriages do. My husband sadly knows about that firsthand, since he was his first wife’s second husband. The book was priced at $1 and it’s still on the market today, over twenty years after it first appeared in bookstores. I figured I’d read Dr. Dobson’s sage words of advice for couples in trouble.
It doesn’t surprise me that I was taken aback from the very first pages of Love Must Be Tough. Dr. Dobson starts his book with an introduction. In the introduction, Dobson presents a scenario that would outrage most married people. A jerk of a man tells his wife that he’s been having an affair with another woman for the past eighteen months. He wants a divorce. He apologizes, telling his wife that he never meant to hurt her, but he’s in love with the other woman and wants to marry her. He asks his wife to “make it easy on him and the kids”. Then he says everyone will be better off when the whole thing is taken care of once and for all.
My immediate reaction to that scenario was disgust and offense on behalf of the wife. I read the scenario aloud to my husband and told him that if he ever approached me in such a way, I’d knock his block off. Then I gave him a hug, because I know my husband will never approach me that way because he loves me. He also respects me; likewise, I respect him. According to Dr. Dobson, mutual respect is very important in a marriage; in fact, it’s every bit as important as love is. Then Dobson explains why mutual respect is so important to maintaining a successful marriage. I agree with James Dobson on that point. No one can be happy as another person’s doormat. Likewise, it’s hard to love and appreciate someone you don’t respect.
Dobson goes on to outline disastrous scenarios in which a spouse doesn’t show respect… or on the other hand, scenarios in which a spouse who is not getting respect engages in nagging, pleading, or sniveling behavior in a desperate bid to save the relationship. I like the fact that Dobson didn’t aim his book just at women. In fact, I thought it was refreshing that even back in 1983, this psychologist recognized that women are not the only victims of disrespectful spouses. I also think Dobson made sense when he advised spouses who were feeling desperate and clingy to take a step back and give the other spouse a chance to breathe.
What I didn’t like as much was Dobson’s extremely conservative viewpoint concerning homosexuality and divorce. I knew from reading his newspaper column and his work with Focus on the Family that James Dobson is a very well known proponent of Biblical values. Love Must Be Tough is liberally sprinkled with Bible verses. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But then, toward the end of the book, Dobson rants about the evils of homosexual behavior. He includes a letter in his book from a woman whose marriage is on the rocks because her husband is gay. She writes in her letter to Dobson that homosexuals are very self-centered people. When they have sex, it’s only to please themselves. Dobson commiserates with the woman’s sentiments and takes the opportunity to bash homosexual behavior. Of course, he quotes the Bible… and then much to my amazement, he advises the woman NOT to divorce her husband. He insists that homosexuality can be cured and gays and lesbians can go on to enjoy fulfilling lives as heterosexuals if only they’d seek treatment.
I know that some people agree with Dr. Dobson and his stance on homosexuality. I’m not one of those people. I found his anti-gay sentiments offensive. I was especially offended by the graphic section he included (along with a warning disclaimer) describing homosexual behavior in a gay bath. I have no doubt that some of the more lurid sexual acts he describes do go on in some places in the world, but I doubt it’s the norm. Even if it is the norm, as long as it goes on between consenting adults and I don’t have to watch it, I don’t think it’s my business. A couple of times in Love Must Be Tough, Dobson goes on to insinuate that AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections are God’s way of punishing those who commit sins of a sexual nature. I can’t help but wonder how Dobson explains children who are born infected with HIV. Moreover, he describes homosexuals as if they are vermin. I caught an undertone of disgust as Dobson acknowledged that gay people are everywhere in society, working in hospitals, drilling teeth, and gasp– teaching children. I have to say that Dobson comes across as pretty ignorant at times.
Remember, though, this book was written in the 1980s. Dobson uses a few song lyrics from popular songs of the 1970s and early 80s that will no doubt remind readers that this book was written in the 1980s. You know the book is old when the author quotes the song “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield and claims that it’s a recent release! For those who don’t know, “Jessie’s Girl” was a big hit in 1981!
As I read this book, I couldn’t help but think that some of Dobson’s insight was good. I wasn’t around when my husband was married to his ex wife, but he did tell me some of the things that went on in their marriage. I know that my husband’s views about what went wrong in their marriage are bound to be distorted from the truth, as are his ex wife’s. It’s rare that people can be objective when they talk about things that have gone on, especially when they’ve gone wrong, in life. Furthermore, no one is ever totally innocent when relationships fail because no one is perfect. Nevertheless, as I read Love Must Be Tough, I could see my husband’s situation. I’m not sure who played what role in the demise of my husband’s first marriage, but a lot of Dobson’s anecdotes were very familiar to me because they sounded a lot like my husband’s stories about his time with his ex wife.
But Dobson believes that people ought to stay married, especially for the sake of the kids. He offers very few reasons why people might not stay together. On the surface, I’m inclined to agree with him. Divorce is an ugly business; I hope it never happens to me. It’s been bad enough dealing with the aftermath of my husband’s divorce from his ex wife. On the other hand, I think that divorce is sometimes very necessary. Sometimes, it’s not worthwhile to try to save the relationship, even if kids are involved.
Dobson mostly focuses on the evils of infidelity, but he also delves a bit into alcoholism and domestic violence. I wish he’d devoted a little more attention to these two areas. I also wish he’d acknowledged that men can be victims of domestic violence, too. I know that some will say that women are more often the victims, so the focus should be on them. I will agree that statistically speaking, it does look like women are more often beaten up by their spouses than men are. But I also think that most people don’t consider that men tend to be very reluctant to get help in a domestic violence situation. I’m sure it happens a lot more often than we’d like to think. It would have been very enlightened if Dobson had figured that out and included it in his book instead of just focusing on female victims.
I was expecting to read a lot of Christian rhetoric and Biblical doctrine when I picked up Dr. Dobson’s book. I’m not surprised that he’s against homosexuality. But I was not prepared to read what amounts to blatant bigotry. Dr. Dobson is not a theologian, but he does a lot of judging in his book. A couple of times, he even writes that sinners, whether they be adulterers, drunkards, or homosexuals, will have a hard time when they meet their maker on the day of accountability. Many Christians will agree with Dr. Dobson. Suffice it to say that those who don’t believe in conservative Christian viewpoints probably won’t like this book much.
I don’t necessarily disagree with a lot of what Dr. Dobson writes in Love Must Be Tough. On the other hand, there’s a lot in this book with which I do have serious disagreements. And because it’s so dated, I’m inclined to believe that there are better books out there for couples in trouble.
Focus on the Family’s Web site: www.family.org
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James Dobson thinks your kids are going to Hell…
I must be a glutton for punishment. Last week, while I was searching Fort Belvoir’s thrift shop for cheap shelves for our new home, I found myself in the book section. My eyes landed on the 1990 book, Children at Risk: Battling for the Hearts and Minds of Our Children by Focus on The Family’s Dr. James Dobson and his friend, Gary Bauer. Having already read and reviewed a book by James Dobson, I already knew what to expect from him. I had a feeling Children at Risk would outrage me. I was right. But shoot, the book was priced at just $1.75 and I figured that was a cheap way to get my adrenaline flowing.
The premise behind Children at Risk is that today’s youth is at a serious risk of heading down the tragic path of immorality thanks to what Dobson considers overly liberal laws, too much freedom of speech and religion, homosexuality, pornography, and abortion. Dobson contributes the first few chapters of this book, which mostly consists of his own ranting about the aforementioned subjects. Then, he introduces attorney Gary Bauer, who was once Ronald Reagan’s Domestic Policy Advisor and the Senior Vice President of Focus on the Family. Bauer contributes his own slightly less rabid ranting about the path our country is supposedly taking toward Godlessness. The two authors continually accuse the U.S. government of being taken over by heartless secular humanists.
I have to say, having read Dobson’s earlier book, Love Must Be Tough, I used to think Dobson was a bit overly conservative but capable of some rational thinking. After reading Children at Risk, I don’t think I feel that way anymore. What changed my mind about Dobson is the following sensationalist passage, which appears on page 28.
… I should mention one more monument to the humanist movement that came straight out of hell. A father dying of kidney failure artificially inseminated his 16 year old daughter with the help of her physician. Seven months into her pregnancy, the child was taken from her uterus by cesarean section its kidneys were removed sugically and transplanted into the father (grandfather). The infant was then left to die of uremic poisoning.
Yes, you read that passage right. I read it aloud to my husband when I suspected that it was BS. My husband concurred with my assessment. Dobson presents this anecdote as if it’s a fact. I don’t know… maybe it did actually happen somewhere. But Dobson does not offer any sources that would allow readers to find out the actual details of the account. Dobson is credited as having spent 14 years as an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Southern California’s medical school and a 17 year veteran on the Attending Staff of the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles in the Divisions of Child Development and Medical Genetics. Perhaps in his medical capacity, he did have occasion to witness or hear about such a case. But he doesn’t reference the case so that readers can verify the veracity of his account.
I suspect that in today’s litigious society no doctor in his or her right mind would ever consent to taking part in such a scheme. Even if a doctor did willingly participate, I doubt the outcome would be the way Dobson describes it. I’m no doctor, but as I understand it, there’s a lot to organ donation. I can’t believe that a seven month old fetus would be a viable candidate for organ donation to a full grown man. And again, I just can’t believe that any doctor, let alone the large number of doctors and other medical professionals required to carry out both an organ donation procedure and an artificial insemination procedure would touch that case with a ten foot pole. That leads me to believe that Dobson’s anecdote as it’s written in Children at Risk is complete and utter hogwash.
But enough about the seemingly half baked portions of this book. Dobson and Bauer go on and on about the evils of homosexuality and the way it’s causing people to change the way the public defines family. Dobson and Bauer are convinced that families are ONLY mommies, daddies, and their children. There is absolutely no room for any other configuration. And what’s more, women have no place in the work force if they have children. According to Dobson and Bauer, mommies belong at home, raising their young. Personally, I agree that it would be nice if parents could spend more time at home raising their kids instead of putting them in childcare. I even agree with Dobson’s and Bauer’s assessment that our society unfairly judges people who choose to stay home to raise their kids or maintain their homes instead of having a career. But I don’t believe that mommies are the only ones capable of being good parents. I don’t believe that daddies always have to be the breadwinners in their families. I also don’t believe that all homosexuals are bad people simply because of their sexual preferences, nor do I think that they can will themselves to be straight. I don’t know what it’s like to be gay, but I also don’t think that most people choose to be gay just because they want to be sinful. Above all, I don’t think that simply being gay makes someone an unfit parent or undeserving of family or marriage.
Dobson and Bauer are also very unapologetic about their objections to abortion. But personally, I don’t think that abortion is always a bad thing even though I doubt I would choose it as an option for myself. I’m glad that for the time being, it’s still a safe, legal option for women in this country. According to this book, Dobson and Bauer believe that a lot of doctors don’t want abortion to go away. Why? Because abortion is supposedly a “money maker” for them. But again, this assertion doesn’t ring true to me. First of all, I don’t think that many doctors are performing abortions. A lot of them have personal objections to the procedure and I suspect that many of them fear for their own safety. After all, abortion clinics have been bombed and doctors have even been killed by pro-lifers intent on saving fetuses, no matter that when they bomb clinics, they endanger the lives of people who are already born, women who are considering having abortions, and those unborn fetuses that they are trying so hard to save. Yes, I understand that many people think of abortion as murder and I give credit to Dobson and Bauer for not suggesting that readers bomb abortion clinics (they want them to picket them instead). But the whole disgusting notion that doctors who perform abortions are “simply in it for the money” is repugnant to me. And once again, the authors also do not provide any kind of real proof of this notion that abortion providers are just looking to make money, which they present as a fact.
I guess therein lies my problem with Children at Risk. I’m probably not one of the people Dobson and Bauer were trying to reach. I’ve already made up my mind about most of the issues they are ranting about and their approach does nothing to sway my opinion the other way, even though I can see their points about some of their concerns. For example, I agree that too many kids are having sex too young. I agree that in some situations, our society is too politically correct and lacks common sense. I agree that sometimes the government exerts too much power when it comes to letting people choose how they want to raise their children. But Dobson and Bauer want us to go back to the way things were in the 1950s. Throughout this book, these two authors continually harp on how much more family oriented we were back in “the day”. They conveniently ignore the fact that the 1950s were far from a perfect time period. They present cultural awareness and racial equality is if they’re bad things. And it seems Dobson and Bauer believe that any religion that doesn’t follow the Judeo-Christian ideal is not right and should be excised from American culture. They offer ideas to their readers on how they can counter society’s negative influences on their children.
Dobson and Bauer write this book in a way that conveys sorrow and disdain toward American culture. And I agree, that some of their concern has merit. Too many of today’s children do have too much access to harmful media influences and not enough supervision from their parents. Too many children today are growing up having to deal with difficult situations including divorce, abuse, and suicide. But I find the authors’ tactics for reaching their readers to be offensive and insulting to their intelligence. The passage I quoted above was an immediate turn off for me and made it hard for me to consider their ideas in the rest of this book… some of which were not that unreasonable.
What’s more, I don’t think the situation today– or even back in 1990 when this book was published– is as bad as Dobson and Bauer seem to think it is. For example, these two authors seem to think that every teenager is having rampant sex, getting high, and dropping out of school. But I can assure them that while there are a lot of kids doing those naughty things, not all of them are. I sure wasn’t back in 1990 and I definitely had the opportunity. And even those who are doing those things as teenagers don’t necessarily grow up to do them as adults, nor do they always find their lives ruined forever just because they experimented when they were kids.
I don’t think I can recommend this book to anyone, even those whom I think might like its message.Children at Risk was published a long time ago, so it’s a bit dated. Some of the information Dobson and Bauer present is highly suspect and the authors don’t always cite their sources of information. They ask their readers to believe what they write simply because they are presenting themselves as authorities. But they didn’t convince me that they were worthy of being called authorities. And again, I think their shrill tone undermines their message to the point that it becomes unbelievable and downright offensive. I don’t know how available this book is nowadays, but I will advise most of my readers not to go looking for it unless they want to be outraged too.
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