Hemant Mehta over at Friendly Atheist has written about a rather shocking situation in which an atheist dad allegedly caught his Christian sister using a trip to get ice cream to proselytize to his two young daughters behind his back.
The dad thought it was just a normal (read: secular) trip for ice cream, so had no misgivings about sending the girls along with their auntie. Once at the shop, though, the girls were met by their aunt’s pastor, threatened with hell, told that they might be able to keep their dad out of hell IF they accepted Jesus and prayed hard enough, and then told them not to tell their parents about the conversation.
“It’ll be our little secret, ok, girls?” Jesus, it grosses me out just writing that! I means seriously, who expects their fun day out for mint chip to be accompanied by sleazy threats of hellfire and child-molester grossness?
I don’t have much to say on this that hasn’t been said already (check out Hemant’s Facebook post on this to see what I mean), but I did think it might be a good time to rerun my list of 8 Things Secular Kids Can Say to Dispel Religious Evangelism At School — only, you know, with some alterations to fit the new, totally ridiculous circumstances.
- “It’s okay to have different beliefs.” Some
kidsaunties literally don’t know, because they haven’t been told, that it’s okay for people to have different beliefs about the world. Maybe your kid can help change that.
- “I’m still figuring out what I believe.” Even young children have beliefs about how the world works, but those beliefs will probably change multiple times before they reach adulthood. Remind kids that developing a worldview is a journey, and they have only just begun.
- “I can’t promise you that I will agree with your beliefs, but I can promise you I will listen to what you have to say.” When kids show they are interested in what their
friendsaunties have to say — about anything, really, including religious beliefs — tensions have a way of cooling.
- “I don’t share your religion, but look at all the things we have in common.” For most secularists, it’s not about beliefs; it’s about values. And for children it’s even simpler. If they like the same toys or games or books, that can go a long way. (Longer, hopefully, than bigotry or irrational fear.) [Unfortunately, while I think this one works well on the playground, I’m not so sure you can divert attention away from religion so easily with full-grown relatives with an agenda to push.]
- “The Golden Rule is that you should treat people the way you want to be treated. If you wouldn’t want me to tell you that your beliefs are wrong, you shouldn’t do that to me.” Sometimes even the most Christian of the Christians need to be reminded of Jesus’ most famous teaching; but remember, every major religion and worldview touts the ethic of reciprocity as being central to morality.
- “I’d rather not talk about that.” Talking about faith
at schoolin ice cream shops is something that kids can do, but that they don’t have to. A lot of people think beliefs about God are personal and private. Kids are well within their rights to just change the subject — or just walk awayask the nice teenagers who work in the ice cream shop to call their parents for a ride home.
- “My parents say we can’t discuss religion
at schoolin secret.” One of the greatest gifts we give our kids is the ability to use us as excuses to get out of awkward/dangerous situations with their peersrelatives. “My mom will ground me if I drink alcohol” or “My dad won’t let me go to that party” or “My parents don’t like it when my relatives ask me to meet with strange men in private because THAT’S WHAT CHILD MOLESTERS DO.” Invoke away, kids! Even roll your eyes at us, if you want. That’s what we’re here for.
- “This feels like bullying to me.” Thankfully, “bullying” is a word that most kids are extremely attuned to these days. Schools are doing an increasingly good job teaching kids to notice bullies, report bullies and stand up against bullies. Putting
another child’syour auntie’s evangelism in that context may send the message that their actions are hurting someone; it also lets them know that they could face consequences from an adulther brother and his very pissed-off wife. And, hopefully, if all else fails, they will.