Hi and welcome back! As you likely know, Christians these days are quite distressed over how quickly teens and young adults are leaving the faith. One guy’s written what he claims will absolutely help parents keep their kids Christian for life. It amounts to instructions for the deliberate construction of a faith pool in a child’s mind. Today, let me show you those building plans — and then let’s see if it could actually work.
(Spoiler: It won’t work any better than anything else Christian parents do to try to deconversion-proof their kids.)
Everyone, Meet First Things.
Today’s story comes to us from the right-wing Christian blog First Things. Their “About” page claims that they’re nonpartisan and “interreligious.” However, they immediately torpedo that claim by telling us that they think their religious ideas (meaning, their authoritarian desires) should be allowed to take part in “shaping public policy” (meaning, enshrining religious privilege into law). Then, they move on to (carefully, dogwhistle-y) declare their allegiance to various right-wing culture-war political platforms — especially abortion.
They sound about as “nonpartisan” as a Young-Earth Creationist pep rally. They could only be considered “interreligious” in the Horseshoe Theory sense.
Don’t miss their “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” subgroup, either. As I often mention, that’s a deeply worrisome merging that usually involves a lot of extremist political maneuvering.
Ultimately, First Things can call themselves whatever they want. However, if they seek to destroy human rights and civil liberties and enshrine their religious demands and perks into law, then they get put in the sack with the rest of the Christian Right.
(When the pandemic started, the First Things guys even completely shocked the other right-wing extremists in the Christ-o-Sphere. Rod Dreher even offered up a writeup of the situation.)
In short, First Things represents a sign of Christianity’s decline — as well as a solid explanation of why it deserves to decline.
The Faith Pool, Reviewed.
I conceptualize faith in any one idea as a pool of water. The more important that idea is to the person, the bigger and deeper the pool is. Many faucets feed water to that person’s most important faith pools. Each faucet represents a source of belief, and the water is the belief itself.
When the level of the water in the faith pool hits a certain depth, then faith in its idea sparks to life. It happens without the person’s even willing it to happen; in fact, it really can’t happen any other way. Even if the idea itself isn’t true, it can still merit incredible levels of deep faith — if the person believes that the faucets pouring water into the pool represent valid and credible reasons to believe in the idea.
A person believing in something that isn’t really true goes through their day constantly buffeted by contradictions to that idea. But the faith pool’s level of water remains high because the faucets are always flowing into it. The new water replaces whatever water drains away
As long as the pool’s water level doesn’t get too low — draining too quickly to be replaced in time — that person’s faith won’t waver.
Draining the Faith Pool.
But let’s say someone finds out that one of the faucets represents poor reasoning or a false claim. Whatever it is, that faucet doesn’t actually support the belief at all.
In the case of Christianity, let’s say a believer realizes that prayer doesn’t do anything in the real world. Or that there is not one bit of contemporary writing (meaning between the years 30-35 CE) that mentions Jesus at all.
If those two beliefs were faucets that fed into that Christian’s faith pool, then those two faucets will turn off. Their flow of water ceases.
Of course, all those other daily contradictions are still there, and they’re still draining water too. But the pool now has that much less water coming in to replace what’s already constantly draining.
Once the pool’s level drops too low, the belief it represents flickers out. If all the faucets have turned off by then, the pool remains dry for good.
What Does a God Need With a Faith Pool?
In the First Things article we’re discussing today, writer Christian Smith advises parents how to indoctrinate their kids so thoroughly that they’ll never, ever lose faith.
In every way, it’s the usual blahblah we see out of desperate Christians. What interested me wasn’t the advice itself, no. That part’s quite lackluster and done-to-death.
Rather, I found myself drawn to the writer’s constant slips.
I mean, gosh, y’all. For someone who outwardly believes sooooooo much in wingnut-level Christianity, Christian Smith sure does push parents to perform a lot of multi-layered, nonstop manipulation on their kids.
It’s almost as if he realizes deep down that his god isn’t real and his religion’s just a cultural affectation.
Cuz let me tell you this: If Christians’ twaddle was true and real, nobody would need to manipulate toddlers into believing it or risk them never being able to believe it in adulthood. Childhood indoctrination wouldn’t even be necessary.
But here we are, all the same, friends: about to learn how to conduct psychological warfare on toddlers so members of the Christian Right can keep their gravy trains running for just a bit longer.
Putting More Pressure on Right-Wing Christian Parents.
Christian Smith assures parents that their children’s faith depends most on them. Yay, parent blaming! I knew that’d show up. He writes:
The good news is that, among all possible influences, parents exert far and away the greatest influence on their children’s religious outcomes. Stated differently, the bad news is that nearly all human responsibility for the religious trajectories of children’s lives falls on their parents’ shoulders. The empirical evidence is clear.
No pressure, though! Don’t worry! He’s here to tell parents exactly how to fulfill their tribal obligations — after giving himself a quick out in case his advice doesn’t work:
Successfully passing on faith is by no means guaranteed. Outcomes vary widely. Children choose their own lives. But setting aside exceptional cases, what is nearly guaranteed is that American parents who are not especially committed, attentive, and intentional in passing on their faith will produce children who are less religious than they are, if they are religious at all.
I’m laughing in Ex-Christian right now.
How Toxic Christians Build a Faith Pool.
So to build a young child’s faith pool, parents just have to Jesus the Jesus Jesus as hard as they possibly can. They’re not allowed to put on a performance, because kids see right through that. As Christian Smith writes, “They see reality.”
Laughing so hard. Oh, this guy. They see reality, y’all, which is why they totally will buy into Christianity if their parents absolutely blast them with indoctrination 24/7 — but from a place of utter, total, complete sincerity, y’all.
Real talk: From what I can tell, a lot of children do clearly perceive reality. It’s a big part of why more and more of ’em realize that Christianity is just a Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game, then opt out. But I doubt Christian Smith would appreciate us pointing out that his religion does not reflect reality at all.
He goes on to describe the many, many multi-layered and interconnected points of indoctrination that parents should immediately put into effect to keep their dear children out of their loving god’s Hell. (But SINCERELY, parents. SINCERELY.) It amounts to him showing parents all the different potential faucets on their kids’ faith pools, then showing them how to activate those faucets so the pool is always overflowing with water.
In effect, he wants parents to bombard their children with faucets blasting them in the faces all the time.
A Painful But Funny Admission.
Christian Smith ends his post thusly:
It bears remembering that nothing about this process is guaranteed. Life is complicated, and children are finally the agents of their own development.[. . .] What parents can do—really, all they can do—is practice in their own lives the faith they hope their children will embrace.
Of course nothing about “this process” is guaranteed, if by “this process” he means the hardline indoctrination of an innocent child in a network of false beliefs about reality. Even after all the measures he suggests, there is still a very good chance that a child raised in his tribe-approved way will still realize what the truth is. At that moment, their faith pool will have drained away for good.
And once his emotional bombardment of indoctrination has dissolved, Christian Smith has nothing more to offer parents. He can’t offer reality. His religion contains exactly none of that. He’s just got a lot of emotional manipulation.
Best of all, I guarantee you this:
Christian Smith has no idea in the world what he’s accidentally revealed.
So here’s to more good news, friends. Christianity — especially that odious flavor seeking to usurp our rights and liberties — may still hold much power, but this is the level best they can do with regard to their very own children. Eventually, if we stay the course, we will be free.
NEXT UP: The strange ins and outs of callings in Christianity. See you tomorrow!
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I took four years of French in high school and had the same teacher for the last three of those. Often, he’d skip telling us about some advanced detail of grammar or usage because we weren’t at all ready yet to absorb and integrate that knowledge. But somehow, I didn’t have any trouble at all believing that rare verb forms and idiomatic uses of irregular verbs exist — even though I learned about their existence in like 11th grade. Maybe that’s because those are real, so nobody must be indoctrinated in toddlerhood to believe in them or they just sound weird.
So if Christians are panicking that they can’t make lifelong Christians unless they bombard children hard and fast and early with wraparound, constant indoctrination, that really should make them stop and think about how true their claims really are. Because the pluperfect subjunctive really exists, I don’t need to be carefully indoctrinated to believe it does when I’m 5 or else I’ll never accept it!