What Do You Do with Captured Terrorists?

An unrepentant terrorist’s wife in a prison camp in Syria who wants to go back to live in London?   This is the riddle of Shamima Begum, the UK citizen who at 15 was groomed to be part of the Caliphate so with two girlfriends took off for Syria.  There she willingly married a jihadist and had two children. The Caliphate has disappeared now, she and her Dutch husband is a prisoner, her two children are dead of malnutrition, and she’s about to give birth to another child. She wants to return to the UK for her baby’s sake, but apparently shows no remorse for taking up the cause of ISIS.  Should the UK let her back in?  Is she fit to be a mother?  Is she going to keep on supporting ISIS, maybe set off a bomb or two in Victoria Station? This is someone who said life was “normal” in Raqqa, who claims she shrugged off seeing the heads of those who were decapitated tossed into rubbish bins.

Sentiments around her repatriation range from “let her rot in hell there in Syria” to “let’s think of a way to save her brainwashed soul and that of her child.”

Here’s what we should say to her:

You have been seeking the sacred in life, and were told by people you trusted that it can be found in a new society where everyone will live according to the wisdom delivered to us ages ago through a Divine agency. 

You and they have misjudged the Divine. 

We are surrounded by experiences that can bring us a sense of the Divine, of the Sacred, of God—whatever word you give It is always inadequate, but we know It when we experience It because the gauge is something every human being has within them: compassion. Even tragic experiences like witnessing the death of a friend or facing your own demise can bring us this sense of awe, of a transcendence  that defies description as compassion for the suffering of others overwhelms us or their compassion washes over us in our hours of trial.   

But without compassion death becomes the vehicle for the darker forces that still lurk beneath the veneer of civilization.  The savagery of our animal natures can erupt at any moment, and if reinforced by those preaching a gospel of hate, claiming a vengeful god told them the secrets of the universe or wrote it in a book thousands of years ago and the secret is to mercilessly enslave some of the unbelievers and cut the throats of others—well then, they have been blinded by a desire for power over others rather than compassion for them.  They pervert the Sacrament of Death.

The road to God is through compassion. 

The world now has its hands full of thousands of radicalized (read: delusional and dangerous) men and women, together with their offspring who will also fall under the spell of this doctrine unless something is done about it.  What that something will be has yet to be determined, but if there is any hope for a better world, the need to teach that the Divine begins with our humanity to others is the key.


What Pope Francis Should Say to the Arabs


Thank you so much for the invitation to take part in this inter-faith conference on the Arabian Peninsula, on land sacred to the prophet Mohammed and all those who follow his teachings.  At this time in history, dialogue between those of different faiths is needed as never before.  All over the world religious unrest, violence, and wars are destroying families and villages, driving people to leave their communities and seek safety elsewhere, but these waves of migration are creating new problems wherever they occur.   No place in the world is untouched by these tragedies.

How can we stop this faith-based violence?  A devout Catholic might say it is simply a matter of everyone turning to God, our God, part of the Trinity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and when all people in the world have recognized the blessed fact that Jesus died for our sins,  that all you need is to believe in Him with all your heart, then at last we will have peace on Earth, good will to all men and women.

But that is not going to happen–


anymore than all the world is going to turn to Islam or Judaism or Hinduism for their spiritual guidance.

So in the absence of a single religion conquering the world, how are we to stop people from killing each other in the name of religion?

By finding the common ground between all religions.   That common ground is there for all to see.  It begins with the birth of a child—a holy moment if ever there was one—and continues in the nurturing of that child as we shower it with parental love. As the child grows the common ground shifts to the other holy moments of life: sexual awakening, seeking a loving partner, finding friends, the joys of nature and the arts, the loss of those we love through death.  How do we know these are holy moments?   It’s in our hearts as we experience them—we can feel them bursting! It’s the Divine coming to rest inside of us as we forge deep connections with others and with the natural world. Call it God, Allah, or the Holy Spirit—it’s what elevates us to our higher selves.

To find this higher plane we need to talk to each other, and that’s what this conference will begin, I hope. And since we will never agree on all things having to do with our various religions, let us seek those sacred things we can agree on first, and see where it leads.  The first step should not be to build any more churches or mosques or temples.   Instead, let us walk out of this conference, take a moment to acknowledge the beauty of the world around us, and then go hug a baby.  The child’s smile will show us the way.

The Transcendentalists Were Brilliant, But There Are a Couple of Problems…

Read up on the Transcendentalists of the 19thcentury–they were an amazing group.  Many of them started out in the Unitarian Church, a powerful force within the Christian community at the time, but they rejected the churchy-ness of the Unitarians in favor of what Emerson called “self-reliance.”  This did not mean what you might think: self-sufficiency, individualism.   No, what he meant was getting in touch with God by looking into your own heart and trusting your instincts, your daemon as Socrates would have said.  He believed that intuition would teach us the way, that each of us has God within us, and by relying on that God, that Guide, that Moral Compass we will get in touch with the “Oversoul,” the Universal Spirit.  This Spirit is God, and by getting in touch with it, each individual will connect with all other individuals who have gotten in touch with it, and will become part of a new world, a world of peace, a world where we all share in a morality free from the hidebound strictures of organized religion, and instead are part of a brotherhood and sisterhood of humankind, devoted to the Spirit.

That is exactly what the Universal Sacraments are about, and Emerson’s impatience with traditional Christianity is mirrored today with the rise of the Nones, those spiritual seekers who can’t seem to find God in a pulpit or pew and are looking elsewhere–or have given up.

Don’t give up! The Transcendentalists have some good suggestions for Seekers, but let’s talk about the hard parts. There are two.  One is to convince people, especially those who have grown up with a faith in their traditional religion that it’s possible to walk away from the customs and rules and– let’s say it–superstitions  they grew up with in favor of Emerson’s self-reliance.   If you’ve been told since birth that God is out there, a father figure with a pat on the back or a good sound whipping at the ready depending on how you’ve marched to his commandments, well, then it may not be so easy to open your mind to another view.

The second thing is even trickier: how do you look within and know that what you’ve found is the real deal, and not some misguided, youthful misreading of the moral compass?  Are you finding true north or are you off the path, the result of some magnetic interference from an attractive slag heap of nonsense?  Sexual intimacy is one such instinctive attraction–but that could lead to promiscuity. Is that OK?  We are instinctively drawn to groups, and that’s a good thing, but are all groups equally good?  A group like the white supremacists would likely say their intuition tells them they are on the right track.  How do we know they’re not right?

The transcendentalists believed that the whole point of using intuition was to “transcend” our animalistic tendencies and find our higher selves. But Nature was one of the transcendentalists’ great teachers and if we look there for guidance, we find the most horrible examples of predators and prey.  Should that be our guide or would it instead be that awful feeling many of us get when we think about slaughtering an animal for meat?  Should we all be vegans?

To take this question to its most extreme, how do you distinguish a good instinct from insanity?   There are men out there who claim that God told them to murder someone.  Members of ISIS committed what most of us would call atrocities, but they could find justification for it. Some Christian in this country believe it is right to kill a doctor performing abortions.  We could go on and on.  The point is, intuitions, which produce beliefs, aren’t all alike.  Is there any way to generalize and find points in common with every human being? This is where the idea of the Seven Universal Sacraments can be helpful.   More on that next time.



Humanists vs. Christians or What Does the Cross Mean to You?

The American Humanist Association has a case coming up soon before the Supreme Court.   A forty-foot cross in Bladensburg, Maryland sits on state land at a busy intersection as a memorial to 49 local men who died in World War I.   It went up in 1925, and was re-dedicated in 1985 to honor everyone who died in that war. Why is this before the Court? The Humanists say it’s a Christian symbol and can’t honor non-Christians.  It would be like putting up the Star of David to honor those who fell in the war.   Because it’s on state land, they argue, the taxpayers are footing the bill for a religious symbol, violating the establishment clause of the Constitution that keeps church and state separate.

Another group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, raised a similar issue in Knoxville, Iowa in 2015 when residents erected a silhouette war memorial with a prominent cross in a public park.   To avoid an expensive lawsuit, the City Council voted 3-2 to remove the silhouette to some private property nearby. This got the Knoxvillians mad.  A few months later, two of the councilors who voted to remove it were ousted at election time.

What are we to make of this battle over the cross?  The pro-cross people will argue that it has transcended its meaning as a Christian symbol and now is a generic memorial symbol. That’s what Justice Scalia claimed in Salazar v. Buono, a Supreme Court case where a 5-4 ruling said that a California cross memorialized all of the fallen, not just Christians, implying that the cross was the equivalent of “Rest in Peace” on a gravestone.  Most Humanists reject this argument vehemently and so the fight moves on to Bladensburg.

I can’t help feeling that this case is a bad thing for the country. It’s not that I disagree with the logic, it’s that it’s the wrong battle to fight.  The result will not be a better world, it will be an angrier world, and for what?  The damage done if the crosses stay up around the country is not significant.  Will non-Christian vets and their families really be so dishonored if a memorial with a cross goes up?  Maybe they would, and that would be a convincing argument.  The way to answer this question would be to conduct a poll and ask the questions directly: “is the cross to you a generic symbol of death?”   “would a cross on a war memorial offend you?” and come up with some percentages of affronted atheists, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc…  A poll would be a lot cheaper than legal fees in a Supreme Court case.

On the other hand the harm done to the Humanists is very great indeed.  By making a big deal of the cross, staunch Christians, and even tentative Christians are going to direct an enormous amount of anger at them, increasing the Great Divide that exists in our country right now.   Is it worth it?  Many Humanists would argue that it is, that the cross is just one step leading to a Christian theocracy and the next thing you know we’re in the middle of The Handmaid’s Tale. 

I don’t agree.  The Humanists goal should be to increase their profile in a positive way, leading to an increase in their ranks. This is not how they’re going to do it.   What if the Humanist Association dropped the case and instead used its resources to think of ways to find common ground with Christians, showing they are not just ornery litigants, but men and women you could get to know and like.   Perhaps through their good works and a polite exchange of ideas, they could even influence some people to reconsider their beliefs.

The final point to make is this:  meanings do change in any language over time, and symbols are a type of language.   The word “silly” originally meant “blessed” and while “sacred” began as a reference to something devoted to a deity, today it can also be divorced from religion, meaning anything highly valued or of the utmost importance, such as “a sacred duty.”  I got in an argument with some Humanists once about this second meaning of “sacred” : they claimed it was impossible to divorce it from religion.  This brings to mind the Confederate flag controversy where the sons and daughters of the South see it as a symbol of their love for their homeland, plain and simple, but for blacks, it’s the symbol of oppression, racism, slavery, and all that goes with that horribly ugly period.

Maybe for non-Christians the cross is just as volatile a symbol as the Stars and Bars is for blacks.  Or does it just signify “in memory of those who have died.”  Let’s conduct that poll and find out.

Mocking Your Neighbors: the New American Pasttime

Remember back in 7thgrade how much fun it was to tape a sign on someone’s back without them knowing it, a sign that said something like “kick me” or “kiss me”? Remember how it would make everyone laugh? Well, everyone except the poor guy who was being made to look like a fool.   Those were the days! Well, we now have a taste of what the adult version of this looks like.  In one of the most depressing articles ever to appear in print, the Washington Post reports that a guy in Maine named Christopher Blair has recreated himself as a variety of outspoken, online conservatives in order to dupe other conservatives into believing the most outrageous lies about liberals.  Why would he do this?  So that he can elicit nasty comments from the unwitting conservatives so that a posse of his liberal followers can then swoop in and laugh at the dupes, mocking them, calling them names, telling them they’ve fallen for fake news and that they are, in short, idiots.

For example, when he posted the “news” that Michelle Obama would be selling her book at George Bush’s funeral, someone with a longstanding dislike of Michelle fell for it, and wrote in the comments, “Like I said, no class what so ever [sic]” which elicited a torrent of abuse from Blair’s gang, telling her how stupid she was for not realizing it was satire, telling her she shouldn’t be allowed to vote—and those were the nicest comments.

This is nothing new.  Steve Colbert played this kind of role on Comedy Central for years, Samantha Bee’s crew does it regularly, and Borat has made a lot of money tricking people into taking his various personae at face value so that we can laugh at them and feel superior.

But, what do we think will be the result of these kinds of shenanigans?  Do we think everyone will have a hearty laugh and then repair to the nearest cyber-pub for a convivial online drink?   Humiliating your opponents is going to do nothing but create more anger, more digging in of heels, more vituperation, and eventually violence.  As it turns out, Blair is also adding to the problems of fake news and trust, since so many who receive these messages don’t realize it’s satire.   Mr. Blair would be doing the world a favor by ending his crusade to make conservatives look stupid and think of a healthier way to get the ideas he favors across.

One such healthier way is a project called “Hands Across the Hills.”  In 2017 Paula Green, a progressive in Western Massachusetts, was trying to figure out how anyone could have voted for a guy like Donald Trump, so she came up with the idea of contacting a community in Western Kentucky that went solidly Republican.   They were total strangers, but a group from Massachusetts eventually met a group from Kentucky twice, once in each others’ communities, and something amazing happened.  They bonded. They became friends.  They found that they understood each other better. They did not change their political beliefs, but they could see each other as real people, as human beings, not someone to try to humiliate, excoriate, or eviscerate, but someone who was pleasant and fun to be with, someone you could get along with despite the differences.

This illustrates the most important part of the Sacrament of the Group: of course we all need to feel like we belong to a family, a community.  But ever since we moved into multi-cultural cities we’ve needed a Good Neighbor ethic to survive—treat all of your neighbors, not just your in-group, like you’d like to be treated, and today “all of your neighbors” includes the entire world.   To make it your mission to trick people in order to humiliate them will not only destroy trust, it will invite retaliation, the prelude to full-blown war.

The Sacrament of the Arts: Theatre at its Best

If ever there were a perfect illustration of the Sacrament of the Arts it would be  found up in White River Junction, Vermont where Northern Stage’s recent production of the play Oslo blew the audience away.   That is, blew them away by gathering them in.  Let me explain.

This award-winning play by J.T. Rogers tells the story of two Norwegian diplomats who, on their own, decided to try to make peace in the Middle East.    It was the 1990s — Israel and the PLO were at war, civilian deaths were mounting and the official government peace talks were dead in the water.  Secret, back-channel talks began in Oslo, and against all odds, after nearly insurmountable difficulties, the Norwegians did it:  by the end of the play the leaders of Israel and the PLO had signed the Oslo Peace Accords.  How did they do it? Through a humanist approach.  Up to this time, some of the Palestinians had never even met an Israeli. The Norwegians insisted that there be time each day to eat together, relax together, to call each other by their first names—in short, to get to know each other as real people.    They met at the human level and the business of negotiation was conducted in a separate room.  Once the human connections had been forged, things began to change in their deliberations. There was more trust, more willingness to compromise, more empathy.   The final result was a victory for Humanism

And then the Dark Side had its innings.  Rabin, the leader of Israel was accused by conservatives of selling out.  The Bible, they said, gave all the land to the Jews. Period.  Rabin was assassinated.  Everything fell apart.  So here we are, still in a never-ending cycle of death that feeds all the war and unrest in that region: Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan—so much hate directed at Israel and the United States, and when I ask my students why they hate us, they have no clue or come up with something as off-the-mark as George Bush’s comment that they resent our freedom.

Let’s come back to the play.  The great thing about theatre is that by its very nature it reminds us of our humanity. All these people come together—the cast, the writer, the tech crew, the audience—and they bond for a couple of hours. The audience is drawn into the lives and passions of the characters on stage. They see the world through their eyes, they share their joys, they sympathize, they suffer with them in their defeats.  It wouldn’t be the same if they were alone in a room streaming a film on Netflix, or even if they were in a crowded movie theatre, though that can come close.  No, it’s the fact that the spectator is there, shoulder to shoulder with others, taking in the drama together and being transformed by it.

At the end of Oslo, after it all goes to hell, the Norwegian protagonist turns  directly to the audience and says “My friends, if we have come this far, through blood, through fear—hatred—how much further  can we yet go? There on the horizon, The Possibility. Do you see it? Do you?”  and each night of the run someone answered “Yes.”  It gives you chills.

One final note:  this kind of theatre experience doesn’t happen by accident.   It takes a certain kind of person at the top to create the atmosphere that can bring out the best in everyone. Creativity is strangled under dictators and thrives in a climate of warmth and support.  Northern Stage is blessed to have Carol Dunne as Artistic Director, Eric Bunge as Managing Director, and for Oslo, Peter Hackett as director.   It’s a happy place to work.

The Thirty-Years War and the War in Afghanistan

For those of you who slept through World History in high school, listen up now: there was no war more brutal and dehumanizing than the 30-Years War that ravaged Central Europe in the early 17thcentury. The number of deaths, the displaced persons, the burned villages, the mayhem, chaos, cruelty–foreign armies pillaging and raping their way across the countryside—the stories surpass the horrors of any modern war.

Why did they fight?  Religion. The Emperor of Austria, raised by Jesuits, couldn’t bear the idea that so many of his subjects had rejected the Catholic Church and become Protestant. He gathered his armies and sent them out to bring the True Religion back, even though it meant destroying much of his empire. The Protestants, knowing that theirs was the True Religion, fought back furiously and both sides were equally un-Christian—it would be more accurate to say inhuman.

Is there anyone today, from the smallest child to the Pope himself, who looks back on that time and thinks that particular war was justified?   Of course not.  We shake our heads in disbelief and ask ourselves how could anyone professing to be a follower of Jesus Christ turn “love thy enemies” into “Onward Christian soldiers”?   The blindness of the participants is shocking to our modern sensibilities.

And yet that’s exactly what is happening once again in Afghanistan and in the Middle East.  Soldiers have been killing each other for decades, civilians have been slaughtered and raped, entire towns destroyed, and all for what?  So that Islam, the “true religion”, may reign supreme, with the Taliban or ISIS or Al Qaeda calling the shots on what the practices of that religion are.   To be honest, the Western World could most likely live with whatever practices these guys came up with if they would just stay in their homelands.  Let them treat their women however they want, we’d say, and let them pray in their mosques, if it were not for the threat those groups pose to our security.   They are determined to launch terror attacks on us, largely because of the United States’ support for Israel vs. the Palestinians, and even if they promised in a peace conference that they would leave us alone, who would believe them?  The road out of this morass is not yet clear.

But if anything is written in the stars, it is that one day our descendants will look back on this era and once again shake their heads in disbelief at how blind people were: “Our forefathers were sure they had found the true religion and must convince everyone of that at gunpoint.  Madness!  We now know there is no true religion other than that based on the sanctity of our humanity and all of its sacraments.”


Will the Catholic Church Break in Two?

Remember the Great Schism from your world history class?   No?  Well there were actually two Schisms (pronounced /SIZ em/ by the way) that go by this name. The first one was when the Eastern Orthodox Churches split with the Catholics back in the 11thcentury, but the one I mean was in the 14thcentury.  Here’s what happened:

The cardinals elected a new pope in 1378 but they later regretted it—he had a bad temper and was a bit of a crank.   Most of the cardinals snuck off to a neighboring town and elected a new Pope, but–!  the old one wouldn’t go quietly, so there were now two popes.  All the countries of Europe chose sides, there was anger and fighting and a very unhealthy situation for Catholic Europe for 21 years, so finally some of the Church leaders held a council and elected a reconciliation candidate to take over as pontiff.  The church bells were ringing to celebrate, but that quickly changed to wringing of hands when the other two popes refused to recognize the new guy. Now there were 3 popes! –all calling each other “the antipope”.  Fortunately, 5 years later two of the three decided to resign for the good of the Church, and a brand-new pope was elected. The third antipope who would not resign was excommunicated and the Great Schism was over.

Sound familiar?  Today there is a similar rebellion underway. Over in Italy Archbishop Vigano and a faction of prelates who are fed up with Pope Francis have called on him to resign.  Francis says he won’t dignify it with an answer.  The battle lines are being drawn, and the first pot shots are being fired.

And what is the reason they say Francis should resign? It’s all driven by the priest sex scandals that continue to grow faster than you can say mea maxima culpa.  Vigano et al. claim that Francis knew about allegations of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s sexual abuse but despite that made him “his trusted counselor”. Vigano believes that there is a subculture of homosexuality among priests and within the hierarchy of the Church and that Francis is allowing it to flourish.

So there it is. Vigano and the traditionalists see Church teachings as immutable. Homosexuality is evil.  Priests must be celibate.  Why? Because that’s the way it’s been for a long, long time.  The Bible’s words are clear on homosexuality. Not so clear on celibacy, but still it’s canon law.   Others believe it’s time for the Church to change. The Church is hurting. The number of people wanting to become priests is dropping precipitously, churches are losing members and attendance has fallen off in most countries.  Maybe, this group of reformers says, maybe we should let priests marry, or let women become priests.  Celibacy ain’t easy if you’re not St. Paul.

My question is: if you think priests should marry and/or that women should be priests, why not just make it easy on yourself and admit you are on the road to becoming an Episcopalian (Anglican if you’re outside the USA).   They fought that anti-celibacy battle back in the 16thcentury, and women were allowed into the priesthood in the 20th.

Or let’s go even further: If you had to back either Vigano or Francis, who would it be? And why? If you’re on Vigano’s side are you saying that literally every single word of the Bible is God’s word?  Every single decision made by a Pope in the past or by a Church council was correct?  If you’re on Francis’s side and think the Church should lighten up, what’s your authority?  Is it because you trust the Pope because he IS the Pope? or do you sense some feeling in your being that is directing you toward a different understanding of the way the world works than what was handed to you in a catechism in your impressionable years.  If that is the case, you are a humanist, and you are in a position to weigh decisions in an entirely different way than the Catholic Church, or either of the two future Catholic Churches, would dictate.

Priests and Sex or How Do You Solve a Problem Like Religion?

The Pennsylvania Attorney General has put out a video in conjunction with the report on sexual abuse by Catholic priests.  In that video three survivors talk about how the horror of their experience as children has affected their lives.   One man said it left him with no desire to have children, and he never has. Another elderly gentleman says that he was never able to show affection to his wife and kids.

But the most important comment in the video is, “we were taught that the priests and nuns are God.”    A young woman in tears explains that no one would believe her: “it’s your word against God’s.”

This brings us back yet again to Socrates’ question in Euthyphro:  is something right because God says it is, or is it right because it’s right? In other words, could God, through a priest or through scripture, say something is right that we feel deep inside us is wrong?  And if we agree that it is possible for a priest or scripture to be mistaken, can we figure out what’s right without reference to God?

The problem with the Catholic Church or any organized religion should be clear:  men and women are not God.  Nor are they the voice of God, at least not of a God who is all-knowing and the sole authority on right and wrong.  All human beings are capable of wrong-thinking and wrong-doing.  Further, since human beings wrote all of our holy books, there is lots of room for error in scripture as well.

So where does that leave us in our quest for living an ethical life?  It leaves us thinking, not following blindly.   It leaves us first with the admission that what we think we know now might be wrong.  It leaves us prepared to weigh what someone else, even priests, even our parents tell us is the right way to think.

If we are willing to agree about these basic ground rules for moving forward, it leaves us open to answering important questions without referring solely to past traditions and age-old scriptures, questions like:

–Is it healthy for priests and nuns to take a vow of celibacy?

–Is anything wrong with homosexuality between consenting adults?

–Should contraception be outlawed?

–Is abortion wrong?  When does a growing Homo sapiens become a human being with a guarantee to the right to life?

How will we answer these questions without a Pope or Bible?  Through Reason, relying on human experience and by weighing the effects of our actions on other human beings in the age we live in, as opposed to the experiences of tribes of people who lived thousands of years ago.

Mr. Rogers, Christianity, and Jordan Peterson

Let us pause a moment and sing in praise of Fred “Mr.” Rogers.   Having now seen the documentary that just came out on his life and his work, I think there can be no hesitation in conferring upon him the mantle of secular sainthood.

What a guy.

Mr. Rogers was a Christian.  In fact, he was an ordained minister.  But he didn’t talk much about Christianity, or the Bible, or Christ.   His was the kind of Christianity that is so desperately needed today, not the holier-than-thou kind, not the in-your-face kind, or the pound-the-pulpit kind, but the human kind that ministers to humankind.   For him it was about making heartfelt connections with children—part of what I call the Sacrament of Birth.  Child rearing is an extension of  that holiest of moments when a new soul enters our world and Mr. Rogers was a man who instinctively knew how to reach out to children in a  way that drew them to him.  He didn’t need to mention Jesus to get the message across.

Critics, among them Jordan Peterson, have castigated those who promote the “everyone’s special” plan of childrearing, finding in it the root of a slacker culture that doesn’t know how to get off its duff and do some real work to earn a living, dammit!   But as his friends in the documentary explain, for Mr. Rogers  “you’re special” simply meant letting a child know that he or she was loved and accepted.  That acceptance would create a secure foundation in children to help them face the challenges and confusion and anxiety of growing up.  I don’t know if Peterson specifically mentions Mr. Rogers in his many hours of video online, but to my thinking their messages are in synch.   A good dose of Mr. Rogers would help you stand up straight and face the world, which is the first rule of Peterson’s Twelve Rules of Life.

I never saw Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, having grown up in the earlier Captain Kangaroo era, but my father-in-law knew Fred Rogers and told us, he was the real deal, a man whose TV persona was exactly the same as who he was day in, day out, at home, or testifying in front of Congress.  Watch that scene in the film of the congressional hearing where the very existence of Public Television is on the line and a belligerent Senator Pastore is about ready to pull the plug on the funding. When Fred Rogers begins to speak, there is an almost immediate change in the atmosphere.  There is a power in him, a power that fills the chamber. It’s awesome in the original sense of the word.

He was a guy who could look you square in the face and talk sincerely about feelings, and problems, and all kinds of important things, and whether you were a child or a hard-boiled politician, you listened and knew you could believe him and trust him.

He was the kind of guy you’d want to have as your neighbor.