The virtuous vs. SpongeBob

Posted: Jan 27, 2005 12:00 AM

Among the many blessings I have failed to fully appreciate is my exemption - thanks to my children's advanced years - from having to know much about SpongeBob SquarePants.

Until recently, I've been only blandly aware of the cartoon character and his underwater cohorts, but now learn that SpongeBob - an otherwise blithering sea sponge - is really a covert operative for The Homosexual Agenda.

For those otherwise distracted, SpongeBob is the protagonist in both a movie and a television series. Hugely popular among the kindergartner-second grade set, he sometimes holds hands with his starfish friend Patrick, which supposedly accounts for SpongeBob's reputed popularity among gays.

And hence the notion that his appearance in a new video, "We Are Family" - aimed at teaching schoolchildren about diversity and tolerance - is really a subterfuge for the pro-homosexual agenda.

The SpongeBob saga has gained plenty of attention - what with gay activists on one side and Heaven's gatekeepers on the other. Focus on the Family's James Dobson has said the video promotes a pro-homosexual agenda. The American Family Association's Ed Vitagliano wrote in the organization's journal that the project's subtext is celebrating homosexuality.

The video, which is scheduled to be aired next month on networks and distributed to some 61,000 schools, was conceived shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a way of teaching tolerance in a hate-filled world, say its creators. The idea was that teaching children in their tender years to respect differences would pay off in the long run, leading to a cheerier world in which, presumably, Middle Eastern religious nuts wouldn't fly planes into buildings.

Somehow, I think they've missed their target audience, but never mind. Making the video doubtless made many grownups feel better about their own sorrows and helped move them toward that utopian finale so favored by the bracelet-and ribbon-wearing population - Healing 'n' Closure.

There's now a We Are Family Foundation, a Web site (, a letter-writing campaign urging that March 11 be declared national "We Are Family Day," and, of course, ways to contribute money.

In fact, SpongeBob plays a minor role in the video and seems to have been unfairly impugned. While I vigorously favor protecting children from phase-inappropriate discussions of sexuality, I don't see it here. That said, there's still plenty to cringe about if you're more sympathetically inclined toward Randle Patrick McMurphy than Nurse Mildred Ratched.

What Dobson, Vitagliano and others really are objecting to is that kids viewing the video might be inspired to visit the "We Are Family" Web site and happen upon the Tolerance Pledge, by which one promises to respect all people, even those whose "abilities, beliefs, culture, race, sexual identity or other characteristics are different from my own."

Respecting all people is hardly a radical idea for Christians, but Dobson says on his Web site that inclusion of sexual identity in the pledge "crosses a moral line." Personally, I'm still puzzling over "other characteristics." In any case, the pledge seems unlikely to traumatize children, who probably won't find it interesting, if they find it at all. It isn't mentioned in the video and is available only on the Foundation's Web site.

If teachers decide to incorporate the Tolerance Pledge into their class curriculum, then that's a matter for closer scrutiny and Dobson is right. In the meantime, there's no coercion here. We're unlikely to witness droves of brainwashed tykes reciting diversity pledges to the annoyance of their beer-swilling parents.

And it would be annoying, let's be clear.

What the SpongeBob controversy has revealed is that pledging allegiance to diversity and tolerance is religion by any other name - just as irksome to the devout as Dobson and Vitagliano are to the secular. The purveyors of Feel Good Vibes can be just as dogmatic and unyielding as those who condemn from the pulpit. Whether defending literal scripture or advancing bumper-sticker virtue, the self-anointed protectorate are essentially cut from the same cloth.

And they're likely bound for similar rewards. For what we know about human beings is that people tend to resist that which is imposed from on high. By some natural law that we might call "SpongeBob's Ironic Rule of Reverse Effects," channelers of piety usually exact the opposite of what they intend.

There's nothing like a preacher railing against sin to whet one's appetite for iniquity. And there's nothing like force-feeding children a diet of dogma to turn the little darlings into intolerant totalitarian tyrants. Or angry renegades who will seek an outlet for their rage.