Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Michael Spencer: How Religious Parents Royally Screw Up Their Children

I just discovered a wonderful article written by Michael Spencer called How Religious Parents Royally Screw Up Their Children.

At the outset, I want to make it very clear that I couldn't disagree more with those who believe that a strong devotion to religion automatically curses your children for the rest of your life. In spite of thousands of angry Catholic novelists, hundreds of weeping Oprah guests and a few dozen "Fundamentalist Anonymous" groups, there are millions of us who came through a rigorous religious up-bringing with normal sex lives, no desire to be serial transsexuals and only a moderately high guilt level. I have watched secularists go about the parenting process, and I cannot see any real difference. Having a rigid code of right and wrong did not eliminate wisdom, moderation and mercy. Those who attempt to raise non-violent, politically correct, vegetarian children seem to have the same problems as the rest of us. So quit your whining.

I do believe there are hazards that many religious parents do not navigate well. Some of them are simply matters of realism, while others are particular bizarrities endemic to particular religious groups. Evangelical Christianity has bred a plague of experts, many of whom are grinning idiots, bearing the mantle of religious authority. Don't think me ignorant of their game. Desperate people buy books. Observe the traffic near any diet or self-help or parenting shelf in your local Barnes and Noble. But I would urge everyone to realize that we preachers are stupid like everyone else, we just know how to sound like we know what we are talking about. The guys preaching the twenty part series on "Foolproof Biblical Parenting" have a household like Malcolm in the Middle, too.


Great introduction. Early in my parenting, I bought all the "Christian" parenting books our meager budget could afford or I stood in the Christian bookstore and read as much as I could without buying the book. Thankfully, by the teen years, the Holy Spirit has shown me that all parenting advice begins with facing that fact that you and your children are sinners, born into sin and remaining sinners while living on this earth. Christians have the advantage of faith in the gospel, summed up in John 3:16. So knowing we are sinners who live in the promise of our salvation helps to put the daily challenges of parenting into perspective. Michael Spencer writes:

.. How do religious parents royally screw up their children?
1. By trying to raise sinless children. There are several particular beauties to Christianity. One of the most attractive is the Christian worldview's commitment to tell us that we are created in God's image, capable of wonderful things, but now we are fallen and rebellious towards God, and capable of the most heinous kinds of evil and wickedness. And despite some theological quibbling, the majority of Christians agree that we are born with this situation, and will always be sinners, until such time as Christ glorifies these bodies and transforms us for eternity. So our children are sinners, and this should be no surprise. We know why Johnny lies. He is, in his heart, a liar before he knows a word to speak. We know why Johnny is violent, disobedient and lazy, or at least how the whole ball gets rolling.

Now I am not trying to stop anyone from restraining their children from evil, but I am going to say it is darned foolish to operate on the assumption that junior's sin nature can be eradicated through Christian books, Christian videos, Christian school, Christian friends, Christian toys, scripture memory and obsessive Christian parenting. Junior is a sinner. Tell him so, so he can understand himself, and better understand why you are more interested in his conversion to Christ than in his obedience to you. Then show him the Gospel please, a message that does not apply to perfect children. Just ask that rich, young ruler in Mark 10.


He goes on to give a list of eight mistakes Christian parents make. Personally, I think that strong confessional Lutherans won't have trouble with #1, but they might fall prey to #8:

8. By ignoring culture, and isolating your children from it. I am not suggesting you get the Playboy channel for Junior's room or introduce him to the joys of marijuana yourself. I am saying parents who attempt to build a bunker and hide their children from culture make two mistakes: First, you probably make secular culture more appealing than it really is, and second, you lose a lot of good influence. I am certain that I have accomplished more by discussing the inanities of MTV with my kids than by forbidding it. It is now a regular laughing stock in our parent-child interactions. My kids have learned to think "Christianly" with my help. I think they will be the better for it. We see movies together and talk about them. My daughter introduced all of us to CSI, and it brings up lots of discussions. And we ridicule TBN together.

We also take in Shakespeare as a family, listen to one another's music, kick around the last sermon we heard and discuss politics. Should we be doing longer devotions instead? Should Shakespeare and MTV give way to the 700 Club and CCM? Should we give up those TV shows for reading the latest scintillating Christian fiction? Not as far as I am concerned. Life outside the bunker is more interesting and more beneficial.


Hat tip to Hapax Legomena who appears to have lived firsthand through Michael Spencer's list, or at least most of it, ironically with very loving, giving, caring, and well-meaning, Christian parents. He has recently been sharing his life, so far, on his blog. His experiences should be read by all parents.

1 comment:

ghp said...

Good info & a nice post, Theresa.

It speaks to the dangers of thinking that we can actually bring something to the table, in terms of our salvation. If we have any power whatsoever (even if it's "only" in sanctification...) then it only makes sense to try and achieve such an end result. In the end, however, such works righteousness will grind you to dust, and leave you hopeless.

I prefer to look at the inevitable results of my own fallen state (i.e., sin) as something that continually drives me to the foot of the Cross, where Christ's blood has already set me free from the tyranny of sin.

-ghp