kidnapping of edgardo mortara illustrates toxic christian predation
Reading Time: 10 minutes The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, 1862. (Info here.)
Reading Time: 10 minutes

Hi and welcome back! We’ve been talking lately about Christianese — which abounds in Joe Battaglia’s book Make America Good Again. The past week has been leading us to this exact place. Now, we’re ready to look at exactly how toxic Christians (like Joe Battaglia) plan to regain their former dominance over America. They seek nothing less than the iron-fisted indoctrination of any children they can possibly get their hooks into — by fair means or foul. And they’ve got a plan to achieve that goal that parents need to know about.

kidnapping of edgardo mortara illustrates toxic christian predation
The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, 1862. (Info here.)

(Previous posts in this series: Book Overview; Conviction; Biblical; A Biblical Worldview; also check out this post about Christians’ shoddy research. For an explanation of toxic Christians, see this post. For more info about the 4-14 Window, check here. Lastly, the product that Christian salespeople peddle is active membership in their own groups.)

Gosh, Who’d’a Thunk That Evangelizing Adults Would Be So Much Like Fighting Iron Chariots?

Toxic Christians have a lot of trouble selling their groups to adults. Nowadays, most people just don’t have the emotional makeup needed — nor the vulnerability — to make their hard-sales techniques work.

So their sales tactics don’t just fail with those adults.

They fail hilariously and spectacularly. 


In order to sell Christianity to adults, their targets must be capable of believing claims because of emotional manipulation. They must be easily driven to fear and self-preservation, desperate (or greedy) enough to grab for any promise of aid from imaginary friends. Of course, they must be rather authoritarian in outlook, gullible as well, able to forego critical thinking at least some of the time, and also very sad that they can’t be taken-care-of by parent-figures anymore. They must wish that the world were more fair and be very afraid of their own mortality.

In short, toxic Christians seek recruits who are authoritarian in outlook.

However, fewer and fewer people fall into that mindset with every new generation.

So instead of finding authoritarians to recruit, in recent years toxic Christians have begun focusing on shaping their prey into the authoritarians they need. And that means focusing their marketing on children.

Advertising to Children.

Of course, most people disapprove strongly of child-targeted marketing these days. I wish more people did, in fact. A number of countries have sharply limited business’ ability to prey on children in this way. And similarly, I wish more countries did.

Advertisers might target children as if they were full adults, but they know quite well that children are poorly-equipped to fight the intense manipulation these companies bring to the table.

When I say intense, I’m not kidding, either. Advertisers spend millions of dollars in research to fine-tune their campaigns’ manipulative powers. And their representatives fight tirelessly to keep governments out of their hair so they can gain access to their victims.

Thankfully, more parents are becoming aware of these tactics. Children’s advocacy groups like Common Sense Media and Alana Foundation speak eloquently of the dangers of child-targeted advertising. From fraying kids’ relationships with their families to sexualizing children to pushing unrealistic body standards to encouraging children to adopt unhealthy habits (like self-soothing through eating or shopping) and many more, these risks are mind-bogglingly bad.

But there’s one business whose advertising almost entirely flies under parents’ radar — especially that of Christian parents.

Evangelism = Hard-Sell Marketing.

Yes, many adults don’t recognize that evangelism operates along the same exact lines as secular advertising.

Y’all, “Jesus” doesn’t keep children safe from advertising’s laundry list of harmful effects just because the product for sale is church membership instead of junk food or plastic toys.

Evangelism is, if anything, far more openly predatory and manipulative than secular advertising. Worse, very few laws limit what evangelists can say or do to children to sell them church membership. In absence of those laws, the sky’s the limit.

Indeed, many adults fully approve of religious marketing, or at least find it innocuous. They not only allow their kids to engage with it, but they even push it onto their children — and onto anybody else’s kids they can wrangle close enough.

As their membership declines further and further, as their credibility unravels more and more, toxic Christians in particular have turned more and more toward children as evangelistic targets. These Christians get outraged if anybody dares to suggest that they stop preying on children.

(See also: “A Thief in the Night: Mega-Fest-A-Bonna-Palooza Review!”)

The 4-14 Window: An Overview.

A few years ago, some toxic Christians came up with the idea of the 4-14 Window. First conceived around the 90s and refined in 2013, this is an age window when children are thought to be most vulnerable to evangelism. But it’s much more than that.

Before they turn 4, goes the idea, children can’t understand the concepts involved with conversion. After 14, however, it’s too late. The children have gone too long without mastering the antiprocess habits they will need to maintain Christianity’s crazymaking, untrue beliefs throughout adulthood.

During this window, then, Christian hard-sales advertisers must instill in children “a biblical worldview.” In addition, these advertisers seek to get kids between those ages fully entrenched in their groups through rigid indoctrination of the correct doctrinal beliefs and dysfunctional interpersonal dynamics.

Should that age window close without a complete sale, then that child probably won’t ever become Christian — or will reject the religion later in life.

(If the child does convert after 15, then the conversion will always, it’s thought, be just a bit precarious.)

The idea of the 4-14 window caught on very quickly with toxic Christians. Now they take for granted that it’s true. As a result, they think they must act to convert and completely indoctrinate children between those ages. Failure means losing them forever

To take advantage of this short window, they’ve developed entire marketing campaigns based around it.

Remember always, please, that we’re talking here about hard-sales advertising campaigns aimed at young children.

George Barna’s Evolving View of Decline.

As we discussed yesterday, George Barna and the marketing company he started, Barna Group, have evolved in how they view Christianity’s decline.

Back in 2005, when evangelicals enjoyed the height of their cultural dominance, Barna Group conducted a shoddy survey of adults to measure their worldviews. They were quite distressed to discover that most adults lacked what they called “a biblical worldview,” which they defined extremely narrowly as a super-duper-ultra-conservative, hyper-politicized, culture-war-addled, completely fundagelical worldview. (Amazingly, Barna Group’s researchers held this exact same worldview. Gosh! What are the odds?)

So to call back to the faith pool concept, “a biblical worldview” might be seen as a slowing of the drain of water from the pool. It’s antiprocess: negations, reframing, compartmentalizing, and thought-stopping. These techniques somewhat slow the draining-away of faith.

At the time, Barna Group thought that “a biblical worldview” would lead its holder to behave according to the tribe’s rules. Lacking this worldview, by contrast, would lead to misbehavior, lawbreaking, and societal chaos.

(I guess nobody ever told them about Japan, Europe, Scandinavia, etc.)

Also, a Christian lacking “a biblical worldview” wouldn’t stay Christian — according to King Them. Nor could such a Christian be counted upon to support the toxic Christian culture wars.

Back in 2005, George Barna thought that pastors could instill “a biblical worldview” in congregations through Jesus-approved leadership and sermons.


Now I want you to brace yourself.

This story’s about to get worse.

I am not exaggerating.

Always Be One-Upping.

George Barna recently did some interviews with other toxic Christian leaders. In those interviews, he revealed that he’s combined his notion of the importance of “a biblical worldview” with the 4-14 window. Then, he amped both up to 11.

The results spewed out of his Bizarro-Land Jesus Gonkulator:

Gosh, y’all, 4 is way too late to wait to hard-sell children toxic Christianity.

No, toxic Christians must start much younger than 4.

In fact, they must start hard-selling the underpinnings of toxic Christianity to children in their infancy.

If they fail to do this, then they can’t hope to regain their former cultural dominance.

Words fail me. I am absolutely aghast.

OMG, What Cretin Even THINKS This Is Okay?

Here’s how that went down.

Raw Story tells us (here, and you can find more info here too) that George Barna went on the radio show of another utterly repugnant toxic Christian culture warrior, the conspiracy theorist and fake historian David Barton. (We’ve mentioned him before.) The two of them condescendingly tut-tutted about stuff for a while.

At one point, George Barna laid out his no-fail plan to reverse Christianity’s decline and save America from heathens. Prepare yourself. If I could spoiler this text, I absolutely would. It is grotesque.

On pseudo-historian David Barton’s ​“WallBuilders Live​” radio show Wednesday,​ Barna continued his argument and said Americans must start imprinting the proper “worldview” on children 15 to 18 months old.

“It really does start with our children,” Barna said. “We know that a worldview, no matter which one it is, a person’s worldview is going to start developing at 15 to 18 months of age, and it will be almost fully formed by the time they reach the age of 13, might be reshaped and refined a little bit during the teens and 20s.”

“By the time they hit 30, and what we found is that most people will die believing what they believe at age 13. So we really do have to invest heavily in our children, be very intentional and strategic about that,” Barna said. “It’s got to come from the family, as well as the church. But we have to pay attention to the fact that the culture of America is the biggest shaper of people’s worldview right now. So, we’ve got to turn that around us.”

Barna Group’s been hammering at these same ideas for years, but they’ve always tried to make it sound friendlier and more innocuous than it really is. But no, here’s George Barna out there advocating for the hardcore indoctrination of toddlers.

Who Is George Barna Even Talking To?

The thing is, fundagelical parents — the true-blue kind anyway — already do this stuff.

They raise their kids in a really authoritarian way. This style of upbringing hijacks normal childhood development, stunting growth and limiting potential. At the same time, this upbringing impresses upon children a worldview that makes fundagelicalism look like the only safe option to take.

Their kids still deconvert anyway, of course. But we’ll get to that situation tomorrow. I’ve got a lot of things to say on that count and we’re already into overtime play.

So who is George Barna talking to? What parents could he be addressing here?

An Answer You Won’t Like.

It’s clear to me that he’s got in mind all those parents who aren’t hardcore indoctrinating their kids from infancy.

In other words, he’s got non-fundagelical parents in mind.

But those parents are very unlikely to get with his program. It’s very unlikely that they’re going to pursue ultra-authoritarian flavors of Christianity in the hopes of slightly increasing their kids’ chances of remaining Christians for life.

Of course, I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. The Duggar parents said they got into Bill Gothard’s sick teachings to keep their family safe (which worked just great for their daughters). So sure, there might be some Christian parents somewhere who are so worried about their kids’ deconversion that they join toxic-Christian groups and put toxic teachings into daily lived practice.

But that’s a lot of effort — and cruelty — for an uncertain reward. I don’t see too many parents doing this unless they were teetering on that edge anyway.

So if parents don’t bring their kids to these fundagelical salespeople, how d’you reckon they think they’ll get ahold of all those non-fundagelical babies they need to take back their dominance of America?

Hide Yo’ Kids.

Suddenly, I’m thinking about Christian summer camps. Obviously-Christian daycares and private religious schools. Church-sponsored youth programs of all kinds. The free daycare offers and Mom’s Day Out — just drop ’em off and go have fun for the day!

I’m not counting the programs that churches run themselves as part of their youth ministries — their Sunday Schools, “bus ministries,” and the like. Parents might reasonably expect those programs to sell Christianity to their kids. Maybe they wouldn’t know the extent of that marketing or the exact nature of it, but they’d sorta expect it to happen at least.

But I don’t think even Christian parents would expect a basic Christian day camp to go really far. Nor a daycare or school, even if it used a lot of religious imagery on signage. And definitely not one of those fakey-fake “free concerts” and “free movie nights” that churches put on as a so-called “bridge event” to lure in the unwary.

For many years, I’ve heard horror stories of parents not realizing their kids would get hard-sold toxic Christian beliefs. As well, I’ve heard horror stories of the children who were hard-sold-at in such venues — and traumatized by their experiences.

Those horror stories will not only continue to happen but amp up in number and WTF-level severity as toxic Christians get more and more frantic to reverse their decline.

Seriously: This Is Why They Have to Evangelize Toddlers.

For my own part, I think the 4-14 Window — and even more so George Barna’s chilling amplification of it — illustrates better than anything else ever could that the Christian god doesn’t exist and that Christians’ supernatural claims are completely untrue.

Toxic Christians can dress up their predatory marketing up however they want to make it sound super-Jesus-y — and they definitely do. But the fact that they have chosen to focus on very young children speaks to the fact that there’s absolutely nothing about their product that would induce a thinking adult with free choice to adopt their ideology and join their tribe.

It’s completely reprehensible that they’re okay with preying upon children.

I mean, on the plus side we could see George Barna’s desperate Hail Mary pass for the last gasps of a dysfunctional group that realizes it’s about to lose all hope of regaining dominance. Regardless, though, we must understand this thing above all else: these wingnuts are in it to win it.

Nothing stops the greedy hands and overreach of toxic Christians.

Not even the innocence of a child.

When terrible people show us who they really are, as George Barna has here, we need to listen. Parents, please think very, very carefully about where you obtain short- and long-term childcare.

NEXT UP: A very special episode of Lord Snow Presides.

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Last note: Not long ago, my little sister revealed that she’d joined the same Southern Baptist Convention megachurch I had! She joined them some time earlier than I did and was gone long before I joined up. See, she was crushing hard on a cute boy at school. She learned he was a member of this church — and even volunteered with their bus ministry. So immediately, she joined that church and began volunteering there too, in hopes of catching his eye. But the boy Jesus-zoned her very quickly. YOU know. “Jesus just isn’t leading me to date you.” After this rejection, she dropped out of that bus ministry, and soon after left the church itself. I didn’t know this when I joined it later on. She was too mortified to tell me, and I was really busy with the Drama Club at the time so I didn’t notice it happening.

ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...

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