Monday, July 26, 2010

Regarding the 'Left Behind' prequels

For reasons I can't really explain, I've just listened to all three of the 'Left Behind' prequels in audiobook form.

These books hold a strange fascination for me. I'll freely admit that it's largely because I was reading the original series when I became a born-again Christian. These stories are deeply embedded in my memory. But when I first read them, I was just thinking about how glorious the future was going to be - as if the books were not just fictional descriptions of future events, but actual works of prophecy. The lines between fiction and prophecy were totally blurred for me.

Now, when I listen to them as a nonbeliever, I can't help but be struck by how trite and silly they seem. The characters are totally unrealistic, the plot lines are predictable and full of pointless delays, and the dialogue is stilted and utterly unlike any kind of dialogue that real people have. Everyone seems to speak the same way, eschewing contractions for the full versions of words (in what seems like an attempt to conform with the formal, Victorian English of the KJV of the Bible).

The whole thing is ridiculous, and it's packed with straw man versions of the arguments that atheists actually use. It's amazing that I was ever so drawn into something like this...

And that doesn't even begin to describe just how stereotypical the non-white characters are in this series. Jenkins and LaHaye actually portray the only explicitly African American characters as being stereotypically 'sassy' and obsessed with barbecued ribs. They could really only have been more racist if they'd gotten into a discussion of watermelon and chitlins... I mean, come on! Their straw man black people even started talking about how white people don't know how to cook ribs! What the fuck?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Can Child Indoctrination Be Child Abuse?

Recently this video popped up over on Hemant Mehta's blog:

Hemant polled his readers:
I know the poll question is simplistic, but the idea is a broad one: What do you think about the use of the child in the video? Is this a form of child abuse?

Essentially, the question is whether or not it's abusive to involve a child in the act of indoctrinating others, as a part of the process of raising them to believe the parents' dogma. It's a sticky question. Without a doubt, there are certain lies that parents can tell their kids without it being considered child abuse.

But religious dogma - especially that of the woman in this video - is entirely different. When you teach a child that the world works in an entirely different way than it actually does… and teach them social skills with the intent of getting them to make friends in order to get people saved… and teach them to fear and be repulsed by their human nature… and teach them that their body is shameful and can lead then to eternal damnation… and teach them that it’s a virtue to believe in fantastic things on little to no evidence… and set them up for a future where they’ll either never really think for themselves or spend many painful years getting over the various mental blocks their indoctrination put in place… yes, I would call that child abuse.

It's especially insidious when these people take their children along as props to disarm their marks. The kids are being told that they have to spread their beliefs to others, and I doubt they've been given much opportunity to determine whether or not they actually want to believe those things.

I indoctrinated myself into fundamentalism, and I’m still digging the poisonous nonsense I learned out of my brain. I can only imagine with horror just how much more difficult that would be if you spent your entire life being told it was true and being encouraged to constantly express your belief in it.

People at Hemant's blog compared this to telling kids that there's a Santa Claus, or raising them with an atheist worldview (whatever that may mean; it's about as meaningful as the term "gay agenda").

It does not compare with telling kids about Santa Claus, because eventually you tell them it was a myth. It also doesn’t compare with raising them as atheists, because you don’t have to lie to them to do that. Some atheists do tell their kids things that aren’t true about what other people believe, but you won’t find them telling their kids that they’ll suffer an eternity of burning torture if they dare disbelieve their parents.

This woman is raising her daughter under a belief system that tells her that she and every other human being on the planet is deserving of eternal punishment for the crime of being born human, and that we have to submit our will and give up much of ourselves to the control of the very being threatening us with said torment. And she's raising her daughter to believe that it's not only good, but admirable to spread those beliefs to other people. She is raising the poor girl in a dogma that teaches that no degree of work that you do to help people live more comfortable or satisfying lives can ever amount to anything meaningful if you don't believe that you're doing it at the command of an eternal judge who finds your essential nature unworthy of redemption.

Yes, this form of evangelicalism is, in fact, abusive. It denigrates everything that makes human beings human and spins it as sinful and offensive to their god. Certainly there are other forms of Christianity that are less damaging to a child's ability to function as a rational member of society, but only inasmuch as they have taken on secular values such as critical thinking and the rejection of eternal punishment for finite crimes. Moderate Christianity is more palatable because it has seen and removed the worm at the center of the rotten apple that is the dogma, but by and large it still attempts to sell you a rotten apple, polished and painted to look more appealing.

Can child indoctrination not be child abuse? Sure - when the dogma is as watered-down as it possibly can be, and everything that impugns the value of humanity (i.e., the entire concept of original sin, sinful thoughts, sinful natural behavior, the need for redemption, etc.) has been removed. This is essentially what I was raised with, and looking back on it I'm struck by just how little I actually bothered to think about God when I was a kid. Yes; when indoctrination is basically content-free, I don't consider it abusive. I just consider it an odd use of time.