© Glendon Mellow, The Flying Trilobite

drips under pressure

Christian parenting expert John MacArthur

I have no use for experts. An “ex” is a kind of has-been, and a “spurt” is just a drip under pressure.

That was one of my favorite jokes for several weeks in junior high. Ahh, such sophisticated wordplay, thought my be-pimpled self, something Gene Kelly’s wise-ass Hornbeck might have said in Inherit the Wind, cigarette bouncing at the corner of his smirk.

I’m up to my own smirk in experts right now — mostly parenting experts — as I continue the writing and research for a second book on parenting without religion, tentatively titled Building Satan’s Army, One Lil’ Soldier at a Time. I rarely read something that isn’t useful. Sometimes it’s solid and smart — I promise I’ll give you some excerpts from those eventually — but there are also the howling whoppers, terrifying nonsense from top-selling parenting authors, useful in a kind of don’t-let-this-happen-to-you way. I mentioned Joyce Meyer’s million-selling Battlefield of the Mind a few weeks ago— the one that warns us that reasoning can be harmful or fatal if swallowed:

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.

I’ve run across some similarly ridiculous advice recently. The theme this time is the inherent depravity of our children. I’ve come to call this “boiling pot parenting” — the notion that, unless sat upon with great force, our kids will tend toward murderous psychopathy of the Lord of the Flies variety, and that our primary job as parents is to clamp the lid on the seething kettle of evil that lurks in our spawn.

You think I’m exaggerating. I can tell by your expression.

Here’s evangelical superauthor (170+ books) and radio minister John MacArthur from Successful Christian Parenting (Thomas Nelson, 1999):

The truth is that our children are already marred by sin from the moment they are conceived. The drive to sin is embedded in their very natures. All that is required for the tragic harvest is that children be allowed to give unrestrained expression to those evil desires.

In other words, children do not go bad because of something their parents do. They are born sinful, and that sinfulness manifests itself because of what their parents do not do.…There’s only one remedy for the child’s inborn depravity: The new birth — [to be ‘born again’].

More in this vein turns up in Reb Bradley’s innocuously-titled Child Training Tips: What I Wish I Knew When My Children Were Young (Foundation for Biblical Research, 2002):

Every baby starts life as a little savage. He is completely selfish and self-centered: he wants what he wants, his bottle, his mother’s attention, his playmate’s toys, his uncle’s watch, or whatever. Deny him these and he seethes with rage and aggressiveness which would be murderous were he not so helpless. He is dirty; he has no morals, no knowledge and no developed skills. This means that all children, not just certain children, but all children are born delinquent. If permitted to continue in their self-centered world of infancy, given free reign to their impulsive actions to satisfy each want, every child would grow up a criminal, a killer, a thief, and a rapist.

I wasn’t entirely surprised to learn that Reb, a “biblical parenting” enthusiast, is also wild about hard and frequent spankings, with paddles and other weapons. I don’t know if his subtitle (“What I Wish I Knew When My Children Were Young”) is meant to imply that his kids have turned out criminals, killers, gypsies, tramps or thieves. I rather doubt it. But if they did, I also doubt that insufficient thrashing was the cause.

Okay. Next time, I promise I’ll bring you some of the good guys — intelligent, insightful folks like Lucy Calkins and Chris Mercogliano. But for now, lemme just register my vote for the unintentional sad comedy of John, Joyce, and Reb:




This was written on Monday, 18. February 2008 at 22:53 and was filed under belief and believers, Parenting, reviews. You can keep up with the comments to this article by using the RSS-Feed.

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  1. ew. It really is amazing that people can spend so much energy on crap theories. I mean it’s just based on what these guys think, no research whatsoever. No wonder they have time to write 170+ books. They don’t have to spend any unnecessary time discovering facts or doing any research. blech.

    Comment: KristenMary – 19. February 2008 @ 1:38 pm

  2. Ugh. Both of those quotes sound exactly like my in-laws! Jeff has been passing letters back and forth with his father ever since our atheism came out and children having ‘sin natures’ and being inherently selfish has come up numerous times.

    I LOVE the proposed title; not sure if it was said tongue-in-cheek or not, but I still love it!!! How shocked my MIL would be to find it on my bookshelf…


    Comment: ondfly123 – 19. February 2008 @ 7:06 pm

  3. I LOVE the proposed title; not sure if it was said tongue-in-cheek or not, but I still love it!!! How shocked my MIL would be to find it on my bookshelf…

    Heh heh. I’ll bet she would! I was kidding.

    Comment: Dale – 19. February 2008 @ 8:32 pm

  4. I’m going to tread lightly here…While I think those authors are driven to hyperbole, I think their is some truth behind the foundation of their ideas. I tend to be of the Hobbesian mold in terms of human nature. Rather cynical, I know, but I’ve seen/heard/read too many awful things to think otherwise. So, I do think that there needs to be some sort of “social contract” to adhere to so as not to fall into a “Lord of the Flies” type situation. However – and here is where I completely disagree with the “experts” you cite above – I think the type of “social contract” constructed by hard-core Christian parents is not conducive to a truly civilized society. Instead, I think raising your children to adhere to a “social contract” that is open-minded, inquisitive, free-thinking, independent, compassionate, accepting, and questioning is.

    So, I don’t think these author’s starting premise isn’t too far off. But, where they go with that premise is 180 degrees opposite from where I choose to go.

    Comment: Jim Lemire – 20. February 2008 @ 8:03 pm

  5. Your position — the need for a social contract, but one that is “open-minded, inquisitive, free-thinking, independent, compassionate, accepting, and questioning” — is right in line with social science research of the past decade (Larry Nucci, Marvin Berkowitz, etc). Reduced to its essentials, the current position is this: Given a reasonably supportive (or as Berkowitz puts it, “pro-social”) upbringing and structure, children will develop a reasonably sound moral identity. The old dorm room discussion of human nature is thus slightly nuanced by taking it out of the abstract. Given sound basics, we tend toward the good.

    I do have more to say about Lord of the Flies — another day.

    Comment: Dale – 20. February 2008 @ 11:12 pm

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