Broken Children

The next time someone gives you the old line about how belief in evolution leads to bad behavior – “If you teach kids that they’re animals, they’ll behave like animals” – introduce them to pastor Steve McCoy and remind them that there are worse things than being an animal:

Via Stuff Christian Culture Likes

Reformed Christianity just doesn’t seem to handle children well. There’s no concept of innocence. In the words of John Calvin, little children are frequently “little serpents full of poison, malice and disdain.” So I suppose teaching them that they deserve Hell from the very beginning makes sense.

I’ve read thoughts on “brokenness” from a number of Christians. Even some liberal Christians seem to like this language of human brokenness.

I guess it gets to the common feeling among people that they somehow don’t measure up. We all have regrets and memories of times when we’ve caused harm. Frequently our less pleasant emotions swamp our more social emotions.

But the language is a problem. “Broken” implies that we were once whole. “Fallen” implies we were once above where we are. When was that? What was it like?

Darwin may or may not have killed God, but he did a number on Adam and Eve. Even without that, I’m a modern reader and I can’t accept that a story about person named “mankind” and a woman named “life” is anything but a mythic reflection on human origins. And there’s nothing in the text that implies that Adam and Eve were somehow flawless, merely innocent or ignorant.

So Genesis is out as a way of understanding brokenness. The idea of a golden age is a common romantic trope and should be viewed with suspicion anyway.

One of the things that I like about atheism is that you just chuck the whole notion of “brokenness”. We are as we are. “Fallenness” becomes “human nature,” a reminder that the descendants of apes from the African savanna are not going to be naturally suited for civilization. It’s a shame that we so rarely live up to our ideals, but the fact that we even have ideals is pretty impressive.

Atheists in the Evangelical Mind
Bob Cargill on the Holy Grail
Hallquist on Eich
Meet The Wife
  • Lurker111

    Christianity is a self-flagellating psychologically-sick philosophy. A Guiltnado. Enough said.

  • The Other Weirdo

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The only difference between so-called “liberal” Christianity and “fundamentalist” Christianity is one of degree, not of kind. We should have learnt that lesson during the Harold Camping fiasco, when perfectly respectable, non-fundamentalist Christians were coming out of the woodwork to tell Camping–and the rest of us–that Harry had the wrong of it, that no man knows the day or the hour. Fundamentalist, whatever other label you may want to assign to them, say and do what the others merely wish they could. We know this to be true because, in general and with few exceptions, nobody except the atheists seem to be standing up to them.

  • Noelle

    Teaching anyone, especially a child, that they are broken is a Bad Idea. It’s mean. It’s not true. It’s sadistic and wrong. It sets one up for failure, the whole self-fulfilling prophesy and learned helplessness and all that jazz we know from psychology and child development gives us plenty of evidence to back that up. It excuses one from the responsibility of questioning morality and doing what is right, even when right is difficult. When you are the only one responsible for your thoughts and actions, when you know you can do what is right and good, when you are not a fractured weak person looking for magic god-glue to hold you together and god-strings to pull you along, then you can live your life in full.

    • JohnMWhite

      Or, you can claim children’s status as broken is a great excuse to mentally and physically abuse them to your heart’s desire, or excuse that behaviour in others. For some reason this appears to be more tempting to Christians than living life in full.

      • Noelle

        This is unfortunately all too true for many religious families raising children. Christians are hardly the only group guilty of it, though they certainly do their share. Many will tell you it’s not the breaking of a child’s spirit they are going for, but rather a molding into the person they and god want the child to become. I can’t say say as I see the melt and pour imagery of molding to be any more palatable than the break and rebuild version. Neither meshes with what we know about childhood development and behavior modification.

    • Jayn

      If nothing else, I worry about self-esteem issues from being raised in this mindset. It’s one thing I’m not totally comfortable with when we attend church, because I’ve spent years trying to actually have some self-worth, and this idea of being broken or being nothing without God feels like I’m being asked to jump back into that abyss of not having any self-worth. I feel like they’re setting up an ideal and then telling people it can only be attained with outside help, and…just…GAH! (This clashes a bit with my understanding, which is that God might point out the way but we’re the ones who need to do the work of self-improvement)

  • Brian

    I got on Twitter and snarled at him, and to my surprise, he actually responded to my points. He was kind of smug and annoying, though, with that whole “but I’M a sinner too” thing. Finally I snapped and called him Harold Hill, telling people there’s a problem they didn’t notice and conveniently, he gets paid to fix this sudden problem. At that point, he got surprisingly into the conversation. Apparently he’s a musical fan. I doubt I convinced him of anything, but I did enjoy myself.

  • Kenneth Polit

    Original sin is a phony disease meant to sell you a phony cure. No more, on less.


    Based on my own experience, the first thing the churches try to teach children is self hatred.

  • evodevo

    “I yam what I yam.” Popeye the Sailor
    Most of the mainline sects start out with “jesus loves me”, and don’t segue into hell until later in a child’s life. Original sin, grace and the Trinity are tortuous theological concepts that are difficult enough for an adult to explain (?), let alone a child.

    And this is the great problem with their claim that “morality” is only associated with Christianity….. most children are taught the values of their culture before they are 3. They don’t really comprehend who jeebus/God is, and they certainly can’t understand theological concepts, so where does the morality come from? It comes from our evolutionary background (empathy, a distrust of cheaters/liars and an innate sense of “fairness/justice”) and learning rules regarding treatment of ingroup/kin and outgroup members picked up from parents and family.

    Sorry, Xtians, you don’t have a monopoly on “moral values”.

  • Mick

    That’s typical preacher schtick:

    If the congregation is talking about how naughty the children have been, the preacher will remind his flock that the children are beautiful gifts from god.

    But if the congregation is talking about how wonderful the children are, the preacher will say they are broken – deeply broken.

    Preachers make their money by keeping the congregation on the back foot at all times. They push the line that they hold secret truths and, for just 10% of your wages, they will share that truth with you.

  • Pofarmer

    “One of the things that I like about atheism is that you just chuck the whole notion of “brokenness”. We are as we are. “Fallenness” becomes “human nature, “-

    Have been having this argument a little with my wife lately. It’s almost like it’s just how we are. Amazing.

    • DavidMHart

      I think it was Christopher Hitchens who phrased it something like “we are evolved primates, not fallen angels” – a good way of looking at things.