Sunday, January 19, 2014

Get Them While They're Young

There is a famous Jesuit phrase, generally attributed to Francis Xavier:
"Give me the child until he is seven, and I will give you the man."

Powerful words, and an even more powerful indictment. For even back when these words were written (the early 1500s), the great thinkers and luminaries of the church knew that of all of the methods available to them for spreading the gospel and creating converts, none of them--even conquering and converting indigenous people at the point of a sword--held a candle to being able to indoctrinate young children. Raise them in, or at least with, the church, and most likely, the church will have them for life.

This country's evangelical contingent has doubled down in this strategy of late, and it isn't difficult to see why. Church attendance is at an all time low. Recent surveys show that the "nones"--that is, those who claim no specific religious affiliation (not necessarily atheists)--are now upwards of 20% of the US population. The Information Age has done to Christianity (and religion as a whole) what centuries of crusades, jihads, holy wars, reformations, enlightenments, and the rise an fall of empires could not: it has armed people with information outside of the church, and allowed them to thoughtfully investigate the claims of religion on their own with resources for research that make the fabled library at Alexandria look like a children's pop-up book.

To the evangelical, this is an unparalleled crisis and an enormous challenge. To meet it, they have taken
Xavier's words to heart. They know that in a free Western society with free access to a world of knowledge, they cannot rely upon the fear, superstition, ignorance, societal pressures, and other traditional forces that have always kept people coming back to the church. They also know that they are losing ground badly in the marketplace of ideas. So they are focusing an enormous amount of energy and money where it will have the most effect: children.

This all seems familiar somehow...
To me, this is beyond heinous. We are biologically hard wired to trust our parents. We have to be; we'd never survive otherwise. Few would dispute the right of parents to raise their children as they see fit, short of abuse. But if the parent uses their position, even with the best of intentions, to fill their child's head with nonsense, is there some point where that itself becomes a form of abuse? This is something that could literally impede their ability to achieve success in life. If your religious teachings cause you to reject science, how can you get an education in the sciences, or a job in the lucrative STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields? How does society undo this damage? Where do a parent's rights end and the child's begin?

All questions worth considering as you watch this excellent video from Seth Andrews. Andrews--a one-time evangelical Christian talk radio broadcaster who hosted one of the largest Christian broadcasts at one of the largest Christian radio stations in the US--now hosts a podcast and a rapidly growing online community called, "The Thinking Atheist." In this video presentation from the 2013 "FreeOK" convention in Oklahoma entitled "Get Them While They're Young," Andrews talks about the various ways that the evangelical movement is targeting and attracting children into the fold. Seth is a compelling speaker, and I hope you enjoy the video!

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