Brainwashing (or Why I’m a Terrible Christian Parent)

Praying Angel Girlphoto © 2009 Jo Ann Deasy | more info (via: Wylio)
Yesterday, my friend Matthew Paul Turner posted a video on his site. It appears (thankfully) to be a satirical piece, but nevertheless, one of the comments got me thinking. And after my response to him turned into a 300+ word missive, I thought perhaps it would be better to go ahead and blog about it.

Someone mentioned the age of this young woman and was talking about how this was directly related to the garbage that she likely hears from her immediate family and her church family. Granted, if this is a Poe, there’s no one feeding her anything, but we’ve likely all seen pictures of the young children from Westboro who carry the same hate-laden signs as their parents, so this kind of attitude isn’t unheard of among people, even children, who claim to be of the Christian faith. If you’ve ever cussed in front of a toddler, you know that kids are watching us and remember everything that we say and often repeat it back. (Ask me how I know that is true.)

Where this really knocks me out is that it reminds me that I tend to be very cautious about what I want my kids to learn regarding the Christian faith. On one hand, of course I want them to know and love Jesus. What Christian parent doesn’t want that for their kids? On the other hand, Christianity is pretty diverse in its beliefs. Like, really diverse. People can get very dogmatic about their beliefs, even with that diversity. And children, with a far more black and white approach to the world, can be some of the most dogmatic among us. I’ve seen it in myself (12 year old me would be appalled at the adult version of me), I’ve seen it in my own children (my kids have no grace for a movie that scores below the “we’ll go pay to see that in the theaters” percentage on RottenTomatoes.com), and I’ve seen it in other children (my kids have had more lectures from other kids about Harry Potter than they have from adults). So I try to be very aware of what my children learn about faith from other sources.

Some of this is, of course, due to the fact that I’m in a mixed faith marriage and I want to be respectful of my husband. But truly? I’ve had my doubts about really dishing out much faith-y stuff for years, since I first saw Jesus Camp. While there is something inspiring about seeing a child who is a “true believer” there is also something terrifying about seeing a child who is a “true believer.” The kid who does what we think is beautiful (like praying with arms raised and tears streaming down her face) can just as easily be the kid doing something that we think is abhorrent (like holding a sign that says “God Hates You” or “Thank God for Dead Soldiers”). If a child can be so easily manipulated to think that it’s okay to do the latter, why do we assume that it’s not manipulation when they’re seen doing the former?

I cringed yesterday when I thought the video was a young woman being influenced by her church to say that God caused the earthquake and tsunami to bring atheists to Jesus. Words like “brainwashing” and “conditioning” and “indoctrination” flashed through my mind. But I’ve heard that same sentiment at least occasionally from people I interact with regularly. People share the “whatever it takes to bring them back” stories that end in some kind of tragedy and somehow that is supposed to be good and of God, so it’s not that big of a stretch to me to see a kid take that one step further and assume that something like the tsunami is a wake-up call from God to a nation that doesn’t follow him. And honestly, that just scares the crap out of me.

At the end of the day, I want my children to come to know God, not because of some self-righteous feeling of superiority that it gives them knowing that they’re “in,” but because they experience compassion and grace that can’t be explained any other way. Not because it’s simply a family tradition that they feel compelled to follow, but because they’ve studied it and found there to be enough truth that rings in their minds and in their souls. Not because of a threat of hell, but because of the unfathomable love that their heavenly father has for them.

If he’s the one doing the brainwashing, I’m good with that.

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