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fearthought

I’m up to my eyebrows in background reading for the sequel to Parenting Beyond Belief (possible names: Still Parenting Beyond Belief; Parenting Beyonder Belief; and Parenting Beyond Belief: The Empire Strikes Back). Likely release date is around December ’08.

In addition to reading huge amounts of useful stuff, I’m doing a bit of reading on the other side of the fence: religious parenting books. Some are very good, like the work of Christian parenting author Dr. William Sears. Some are mixed, including (to my admitted surprise) James Dobson, who serves up some quite sound advice along with his nonsense. Then there’s complete lunacy and even unintentional self-parody, for which we turn to author and televangelist Joyce Meyer.


fearthought

meyer
Joyce Meyer

Here’s a passage from Meyer’s “Helping Your Kids Win the Battle in their Mind“:

Satan will look for your child’s weakest area and attack at that point. He will attempt to fill your child with worry, reasoning, fear, depression and discouraging negative thoughts.

Don’t laugh at what she’s placed between worry and fear in the devil’s toolkit unless you turn straight to tears. According to her website, Joyce Meyer (who lives, interestingly, about three miles from my parents) has television and radio programs in “over 200 countries” — a truly remarkable achievement on a planet with 195 countries. Slightly less amusing is the fact that she has sold over a million copies of a book for which this passage can serve as an encapsulation:

I once asked the Lord why so many people are confused and He said to me, ‘Tell them to stop trying to figure everything out, and they will stop being confused.’ I have found it to be absolutely true. Reasoning and confusion go together.
from Battlefield of the Mind, p. 99

Last year she issued a version of Battlefield of the Mind “For Teens,” which I’m reading at the moment.

meyerbook

You can tell it’s intended for teens because of the cool dripping paint on the front cover, and the use of words like “wanna” and “gonna” and phrases like “where your head is at” (which teenagers use all the time, along with “groovy” and “hang ten.” If nothing else, Joyce is clearly hep to the jive.) My favorite sentence: “If you’re like most teens, you’ve probably seen the movie The Karate Kid.” Karate Kid was released in 1984, several years before today’s teenagers were born.

Fewer giggles were forthcoming from passages like this:

I was totally confused about everything, and I didn’t know why. One thing that added to my confusion was too much reasoning.

That’s right: it comes back again and again in her advice, in millions of books and throughout her broadcasting empire. Don’t even start thinking. Most troubling of all is the desperate attempt to make kids fear their own thoughts, right at the age they are supposed to be challenging and questioning in order to become autonomous adults:

Ask yourself, continually, “WWJT?” [What Would Jesus Think?] Remember, if He wouldn’t think about something, you shouldn’t either….By keeping continual watch over your thoughts, you can ensure that no damaging enemy thoughts creep into your mind.

flock

I will defend to the death her right to put these opinions out there, and the rights of her millions of devoted readers to read it and to think it is something other than sad, ignorant, unethical, fearful sheepmaking. I’m just all the more motivated to put out a message precisely opposed to Meyer’s fearthought, one that advocates building up critical thinking and moral judgment in tandem, then inviting ideas into your head without fear that one of them will somehow jump you when you’re not looking.

Now I just need a word for the opposite of fearthought. I’m sure one will occur to me.


Freethought

This excerpt from a post of mine last June (“Rubbernecking at Evil”) shows how different are the planets Joyce Meyer and I occupy — even beyond the number of countries. Compare the bolded passage below with Joyce Meyer’s advice:

About a year ago, [my daughter Erin, then 8] went through a brief period of self-recrimination, literally dissolving into tears at bedtime, but uncharacteristically unwilling to discuss it. The morning after one such nighttime session, we were lying on the trampoline together, looking at the sky, and I asked if she would tell me what was troubling her. “Did you do something you feel bad about, or hurt somebody’s feelings at school?” I asked. “There’s always a way to fix that, you know.”

“No,” she said. “It isn’t something I did.”

“Something somebody else did? Did somebody hurt your feelings?”

“No.” A long silence. I watched the clouds for awhile, knowing it would come.

At last she spoke. “It isn’t anything I did. It’s something…I thought.”

I turned to look at her. She was crying again.

“Something you thought? What is it, B?”

“I don’t want to say.”

“That’s OK, you don’t have to say. But what’s the problem with thinking this thing?”

“It’s more than one thing.” She looked at me with a worried forehead. “It’s bad thoughts. I think about saying things or doing things that are bad. Like…”

I waited.

“Like bad words. That’s one thing.”

“You want to say bad words?”

“NO!!” she said, horrified. “I don’t at ALL!! But I can’t get my brain to stop thinking about this word I heard somebody say at school. It’s a really nasty word and I don’t like it. But it keeps popping into my brain, no matter what I do, and it makes me feel really, really bad!!”

She cried harder, and I hugged her. “Listen to me, B. You are never bad just for thinking about something. Never.”

“What? But…If it’s bad to say a bad word, then it’s bad to think it!”

“But how can you decide whether it’s bad if you don’t even let yourself think it?”

She stopped crying in a single wet inhale, and furrowed her brow. “Then…It’s OK to think bad things?”

“Yes. It is. It’s fine. Erin, you can’t stop your brain from thinking – especially a huge brain like yours. And you’ll make yourself crazy if you even try.”

“That’s what I’m doing! I’m making myself crazy!”

“Well don’t. Listen to me now.” We went forehead to forehead. “It is never bad to think something. You have permission to think about everything in the world. What comes after thinking is deciding whether to keep that thought or to throw it away. That’s called your judgment. A lot of times it’s wrong to act on certain thoughts, but it is never, ever wrong to let yourself think them.” I pointed to her head. “That’s your courtroom in there, and you’re the judge.”

The next morning she woke up excitedly and gave me a high-speed hug. Once she had permission to think the bad word, she said, it just went away. She was genuinely relieved.

Imagine if instead I had saddled her with traditional ideas of mind-policing, the insane practice of paralyzing guilt for what you cannot control – your very thoughts. Instead, I taught her what freethought really means.

I’m more than a little proud of myself for managing to say the right thing. That’s always a minor miracle. I don’t blog about the three hundred or so times in-between that I say the wrong thing.

In the year since that day, Erin has several times mentioned that moment, sitting on the trampoline, as the single best thing I ever did for her. As with most such moments, I had no idea at the time that I was giving her anything beyond the moment itself. I just wanted her to stop crying, to stop beating up on herself. But in the process, it seems, I genuinely set her free.

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This was written on Wednesday, 02. January 2008 at 12:33 and was filed under belief and believers, critical thinking, My kids, nonbelief and nonbelievers, Parenting, values. You can keep up with the comments to this article by using the RSS-Feed.

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  1. “Don’t think” pretty much sums up the mantra of religious wackos doesn’t it? Doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about parenting or education (oh, the irony!) or foreign policy.

    As a parent, I want many things for my kids – health and happiness and safety from harm – but beyond all that, indeed at the very foundation of all that, I want my kids to be INDEPENDENT THINKERS. I don’t care if it’s my daughter figuring out that 10 times 10 equals 100 (“Daddy, it’s like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Except you go 10, 20, 30….”) or if its her asking “If babies come from people, where did the first people come from?”. I’ve seen many parents (religious or not) that seem to foster dependence in their children. My goal is the complete opposite – I am fostering independence in my children – intellectually as well as socially.

    This perhaps explains why my son refuses to go to bed when we tell him too. Everything has its price, right?

    Comment: Jim Lemire – 02. January 2008 @ 2:10 pm

  2. Frightening stuff. I think we’ve talked before about Ted Tripp’s books as well. The popularity of these authors shows how strongly some people refuse to use reason and intelligence in raising their kids.
    -Kelly

    Comment: matsonwaggs – 02. January 2008 @ 2:17 pm

  3. Ugh. This makes me want to cry. My mother has latched on to Joyce Meyer like a shy child on its mother’s apron. I fear for the wellbeing of the minds of my sisters (who are preteens at the moment).

    I managed to escape with my rationality and stubbornness in tact, but in the years since, and perhaps due in part to my finding my own path that is so different from hers, she and her husband have become quite more conservative and, well, fanatical.

    My mom’s a non-confrontational, don’t rock the boat type. She HATES argument and debate, and I think would much rather just be told what to think. I truly hope my sisters can somehow hold onto the ability to think for themselves, even with my mother’s fire being fueled by this woman.

    Comment: joley – 02. January 2008 @ 4:48 pm

  4. Now you’ve made me sad, too.

    I really feel for kids who are taught to fear their own thoughts and to seek “forgiveness” for them. It’s a hellish spiral. No wonder they reach for the proferred hand of Jesus. Christianity invents the disease, then offers itself as the cure. It’d be brilliant if it weren’t so sinister.

    Comment: Dale – 02. January 2008 @ 8:36 pm

  5. Thank you Dale for sharing that story about you and your daughter. One of my biggest struggles living the Christian life was how vilified I felt for having simple thoughts that were deemed un-Christ like or worse sinful. What a great answer you gave to your daughter.

    Why have I not ordered your book yet??

    Comment: Rex79 – 03. January 2008 @ 12:12 am

  6. Hi Dale – Happy New Year. =)

    I can’t stand that woman… and it makes me sick that my (now fanatical) christian friend told me that she thought I would “LOVE” this lady because she was strait forward and funny. I had to watch her when I was flipping channels one night to see if my friend had a point. I was immediately insulted. Was my friend completely off her rocker? The woman is a moron. Reminded me waaaay too much of my own radical mother. No thank you.

    Unfortunately, I WAS a child that was subject to that kind of BS on a way more than average level. And, it WAS firghtening…. and confusing… and I feel like I was damn lucky to have an atheist father – who after years of my mother and I trying to “save” him… was really the one that saved me.

    “Don’t think. “….???

    Ugh. Is that really the best they can come up with?

    I am, however, glad to hear that you are writing another parenting book. =) Yay! How about – “Parenting. To Infinity… and BEYOND!” =)

    ~smj

    Comment: samanthamj – 03. January 2008 @ 12:51 am

  7. I work for a firm in Illinois that did some of the work on Joyce Meyer’s headquarters. She has armed guards at the entrance, and is currently under suspicion for monetary reasons (she spent something like $23,000 on a toilet). Not that any of this really has much to do with the topic, but I just can’t understand how people can continue to believe the rubbish that comes out of her mouth and continue to send her money when they see her in the newspaper under investigation for such things. All you have to do is drive by her place and know that she is spending “god’s (taxfree) money” on herself in a very lavish manner. And then to see that this is what they love her for???? for poor advice and teaching you that you are a bad person???

    It sounds to me like she is not taking her own advice. She is thinking plenty. She is thinking on how best to manipulate the public for personal gain. She is the “devil” that knows their weaknesses and she convinces these poor people that they need her. It is very sad indeed.

    Why is it so obvious to us? And how can it not be to them?

    Comment: Cassandra – 03. January 2008 @ 2:06 pm

  8. Partly because of this new televangelist twist: the Prosperity Gospel. Meyer (along with Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, and others) figured out how to deflect criticism of their accumulations of wealth: by the tried and true technique of cherry-picking a Bible verse to suit your needs. In this case it’s Deuteronomy 8:18:

    But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.

    The wealthier you are, you see, the more evidence of your faithfulness to God. And the poorer you are…well, you get the message. It is an obscene doctrine, especially when you consider that Meyer’s wealth resulted from millions of small donations from people who, by Meyer’s logic, are lacking in God’s blessings through some fault of their own. The answer to your question is that they give her the money in hopes of gaining God’s favor and lifting themselves out of poverty. It is intensely sad.

    The doctrine also requires ignoring the many biblical prohibitions on the accumulation of wealth, including Matthew 19:24:

    I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

    Comment: Dale – 03. January 2008 @ 2:19 pm

  9. I am a brand new mother, and look forward to having these conversations with my son some day. Thank you so much for providing a guide for us freethinkers. I bought your book early in my pregnancy and plan on reading it many more times.

    Oh, and this line made me snort.
    “Joyce Meyer (who lives, interestingly, about three miles from my parents) has television and radio programs in ‘over 200 countries’ — a truly remarkable achievement on a planet with 194 countries.”
    Look what happens when you don’t think!

    Comment: Jamie – 03. January 2008 @ 2:39 pm

  10. I used to think Dr. Sears was a nut job. It seemed like his idea of Attachment Parenting meant mom’s should be a 24/7 milk bottle for their babies, and do nothing all day except nurse. I’m hearing more and more good things about him now though.

    Comment: Ryan – 03. January 2008 @ 4:29 pm

  11. Oh, and this line made me snort.

    Oh, excellent! I live to make people snort. There’s a running gag in our family to that effect. Whenever we have dinner with my mother-in-law, and a funny comment occurs to me, I wait until she takes a drink. I’ve sent her into a coughing fit hundreds of times (after carefully checking her will).

    Comment: Dale – 03. January 2008 @ 4:53 pm

  12. Just a thought: For a crash course in this stuff, Christian Homeschooling Conventions are great. Lots of materials and speakers that influence many.

    Comment: boremetotears – 03. January 2008 @ 4:53 pm

  13. Good tip, thanks. I will look into that. And you’re right — the Christian homeschooling movement is hugely influential.

    Comment: Dale – 03. January 2008 @ 4:59 pm

  14. Parenting Beyond Belief: At World’s End
    A tip of the tricorne hat to Johnny Depp’s 3rd installment.

    Comment: leslie – 03. January 2008 @ 10:13 pm

  15. I’ve seen a few minutes of this woman on TV, and afterwards I felt all creepy and icky inside. Is this how she garners such mass appeal? Yuck!

    I detest her child-rearing practice of thought policing. It’s easy enough for a kid to get into a guilt complex, but for a parent to force “thought crimes” onto their child…makes me so mad. Discourage thinking? Sheez, yeah, great way to raise a sheep.

    Thanks for bringing back Erin’s story, it’s truly, truly lovely. She was thinking about thinking! Metacognition is beautiful, and it’s what makes us human

    Comment: bornagainheathen – 04. January 2008 @ 10:33 am

  16. Parenting Beyond Belief: At World’s End

    Ooo, PBB goes apocalyptic. I like!

    Thanks for bringing back Erin’s story, it’s truly, truly lovely.

    Thanks. I was glad for an excuse to bring it back. It is one of my favorite parent-child moments.

    Comment: Dale – 04. January 2008 @ 10:52 am

  17. Have you heard of “The Blessings of a skinned knee:”? It’s a Jewish parenting book – another perspective. A good one, so I’ve been told.

    Comment: Ryan – 04. January 2008 @ 2:41 pm

  18. While I was reading about that horrible woman’s views, I was thinking of that story with your daughter and how you are completely different. So I was glad when you added it for emphasis. (Of course, my favorite is “I want to be those hands.” )

    Comment: Kshack536 – 04. January 2008 @ 3:28 pm

  19. HA! Nothing will ever beat “I want to be those hands.” I hope!!

    Comment: Dale – 13. January 2008 @ 5:10 pm

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