Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
…Your children are not your children…And though they are with you yet they belong not to you…You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you, For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday…
Hoping to one day get it right, your narrator, in his day job, practices law. In this capacity, he, as do others of this too often justly vilified and too often unjustly maligned vocation, sees much others do not want to notice or know. Lawyers, like clerics, prosper on the misery of others. What would lawyers do if everyone became peaceful, honorable, and just? What would the preachers do if the Devil was saved? Among the insights attained in trying to help people get out of their self-made problems is the realization that messed up kids become messed up adults—and that messed up adults create messed up kids.
While the bible may say the sins of the fathers (in a politically correct world read “parents”) are to be visited upon the children, we can be better than those bronze age nomads who thought the earth was flat and that pi equals 3. The godless Constitution of the United States forbids “bills of attainder.” Look it up—don’t have space to explain it—it’s some more of that legal “mumbo-jumbo” that define our freedoms (if you don’t understand it, be thankful someone does and don’t glory in your ignorance). It means the sins of the parents are not to be visited on the children, no matter what the bible says.
So what are children anyway and what does one do with them? The English romantic poet Wm. Wordsworth prosaically opined “The child is father of the man.” This meaningless observation is found in his much overrated poem, tightly titled “Ode on the Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Earliest Childhood,” a name befitting the poet’s musings and ramblings on reincarnation and other supernatural nonsense therein contained, and meriting recognition in your author’s contemplated “Secular Humanist Anthology of Eupraxophy and Other Plain Speaking.” Wordsworth thought children came from god in purity and innocence, uncorrupted by adult thought, and “trailing clouds of glory…,” whatever that means. Others of his time thought storks brought them. Wordsworth had not read “Lord of the Flies.” Neither he nor the others had read Dr. Ruth. Either view of human children—arriving in glory or by stork—is a blueprint for architecting screwed up kids. There are ways of thinking about rearing (not raising—one raises horses) children that avoids petty piety, banal barbarism, and pretentious psychobabel.
Children can be taught (shown) the power of inner strength that permits self-control and empathy. They can come to think of themselves as worthwhile human beings who are entitled not to be hurt and who do not wish to hurt others. They can grow up knowing they are loved unconditionally. Young human beings can learn not to be afraid, that life involves taking certain risks, and that the meaning of life is to live it. Children can be taught to be competent.
Children are little people, not possessions. Regrettably, children do not come with instructions. Generally, big people learn how to deal with children from the behavioral examples of those who dealt with them as children. And lawyers and therapists continue to prosper, as faith in biblical teachings cause their professions to thrive as growth industries. If you think beating a kid physically or emotionally hurts you more than your victim, there are ways one could test this theory on you, if such treatment was not considered unlawful when applied to an adult. In blasphemous indifference to the moral teachings of the bible, humanists have made such violence unlawful when applied to defenseless children—at least in this country. In some countries infected with Mother Teresa morality, surplus kids are shot as vermin. But for god’s sake don’t abort them. Keep repeating the mantra “god loves little children.” Who are you to let reality get in the way of religious imperatives?
If holy writ says to beat the kid to save his soul, who are you to argue? You could wind up no better than those secular humanists. If the child asks your reason for some unreasonable command, simply say it’s because you said so. Questioning is bad. The important thing is to obey. That’s god’s way, isn’t it? And don’t forget to constantly remind the child that in your view he or she is unattractive, burdensome, clumsy, lazy, incompetent, selfish, and stupid. That liberal self-esteem nonsense can come later.
It is said that if you want to make god laugh, tell him your plans. If you want to make him laugh harder, tell him your plans for your children. You will almost certainly be wrong, and if said child or children follow your dreams for them, they will not follow theirs, and they will probably live miserable unhappy lives. You can then have a whining pity party for yourself and wonder wherein you failed, and what you did to deserve this, when it was your own neurotic needs that caused you to teach dependency and to foster insecurity. How, you might wonder, did you fail? Bernard Shaw observed that there is no worse villain than the person who tries to mold a child’s character. You did not teach your children to be competent.
There is another way—the humanist parenting way. One can teach children they are people of worth and able to make sound decisions, that they are not inherently bad and in need of salvation, that morality is not based on authority or absolutes or decree, that morals are manners and manners are subject to change, and that authority changes its mind. We now learn from Roman Catholic authorities there is no Limbo. Belief grounded in authority must now figure out whence went all those little unbaptized souls that the same authority had for centuries taught were in fact in Limbo. Teach your children to see absurdity and not be destroyed by it. Teach them to laugh.
Tell those whose ideas of proper moral conduct involves the use of the bible as authority for forcing Christian prayers, and other aspects of their private belief systems, on public school children to tread carefully. Let them know intelligent adults trying to raise competent children have read their book, and will resist, and will teach their children the morality of knowing how to defend themselves with knowledge, weapons, and will. And that such people will know that Jesus forbade public prayer, and that there is no biblical evidence a single apostle, including Paul, ever prayed at all. Let them know their own weapons can be used against them in defense by those who decline to be their victims. Reading the bible, Mark Twain noted, gives one a sinfully unfair advantage over those who believe in it.
Righteousness and self-righteousness are different words representing very different things. Teach this to your children. Let them know it is sometimes more moral to waive the rules than to wave the rules. When someone tells you they are a born again Christian, thank them for the warning. Such people are often even more distasteful and dangerous the second time around. Teach your children the bible for their own safety’s sake and as inoculation against its venom.
Let your children know that morality did not originate with the bible or any holy writ, no matter what believers believe. They should understand that the strength of a belief has nothing to do with the correctness of that belief. Morality developed and evolved as human beings learned that the consequences of certain actions are so awful that the behaviors should be avoided, forbidden, and sanctioned. Humans had noticed some good while before the bible was put together that it is not a good idea for people to murder one another with impunity. Teach your children we have gotten a good deal beyond bronze age biblical morality, or your son may worry that, if you find him to be rebellious, biblical morality requires that he be stoned to death as god ordered. Before becoming moral, people create gods in their own image.
The bible is the stuff of nightmares, not a work to which children should be exposed. It is filled with depraved behavior and fails to provide examples of moral conduct worthy of emulation. God was either wrongly quoted or is not a moral god. He sanctions things a just society abhors and punishes with prison. We have a right to expect our teachers of morals to be at least as moral as we are. If you would not drown all the little children of the world in a flood because their parents did things you didn’t like, how could you possibly teach your children that a god who did just that should be seen as a good moral compass? Teach them to distinguish between logic and fallacy, between science and superstition, between things believed and things proved. They should learn how to tell the difference between a horse chestnut and a chestnut horse.
Your children will be competent when they can survive, thrive, create, empathize and interact justly with others, free of pain, fear, and guilt—without gods, without religion, and without you. If they can be thus brought to self-reliant adulthood, they will not need the gods or the religion, and they will not miss them. If you have done it right, they won’t need you either.
But they will miss you.
New Year’s Eve
December 31, 1997.