Reading Time: 3 minutes

Christian parenting expert John MacArthur

I have no use for experts. An “ex” is a kind of has-been, and a “spurt” is just a drip under pressure.

That was one of my favorite jokes for several weeks in junior high. Ahh, such sophisticated wordplay, thought my be-pimpled self, something Gene Kelly’s wise-ass Hornbeck might have said in Inherit the Wind, cigarette bouncing at the corner of his smirk.

I’m up to my own smirk in experts right now — mostly parenting experts — as I continue the writing and research for a second book on parenting without religion, tentatively titled Building Satan’s Army, One Lil’ Soldier at a Time. I rarely read something that isn’t useful. Sometimes it’s solid and smart — I promise I’ll give you some excerpts from those eventually — but there are also the howling whoppers, terrifying nonsense from top-selling parenting authors, useful in a kind of don’t-let-this-happen-to-you way. I mentioned Joyce Meyer’s million-selling Battlefield of the Mind a few weeks ago— the one that warns us that reasoning can be harmful or fatal if swallowed:

Satan will look for your child’s weakest area and attack at that point. He will attempt to fill your child with worry, reasoning, fear, depression and discouraging negative thoughts.

I’ve run across some similarly ridiculous advice recently. The theme this time is the inherent depravity of our children. I’ve come to call this “boiling pot parenting” — the notion that, unless sat upon with great force, our kids will tend toward murderous psychopathy of the Lord of the Flies variety, and that our primary job as parents is to clamp the lid on the seething kettle of evil that lurks in our spawn.

You think I’m exaggerating. I can tell by your expression.

Here’s evangelical superauthor (170+ books) and radio minister John MacArthur from Successful Christian Parenting (Thomas Nelson, 1999):

The truth is that our children are already marred by sin from the moment they are conceived. The drive to sin is embedded in their very natures. All that is required for the tragic harvest is that children be allowed to give unrestrained expression to those evil desires.

In other words, children do not go bad because of something their parents do. They are born sinful, and that sinfulness manifests itself because of what their parents do not do.…There’s only one remedy for the child’s inborn depravity: The new birth — [to be ‘born again’].

More in this vein turns up in Reb Bradley’s innocuously-titled Child Training Tips: What I Wish I Knew When My Children Were Young (Foundation for Biblical Research, 2002):

Every baby starts life as a little savage. He is completely selfish and self-centered: he wants what he wants, his bottle, his mother’s attention, his playmate’s toys, his uncle’s watch, or whatever. Deny him these and he seethes with rage and aggressiveness which would be murderous were he not so helpless. He is dirty; he has no morals, no knowledge and no developed skills. This means that all children, not just certain children, but all children are born delinquent. If permitted to continue in their self-centered world of infancy, given free reign to their impulsive actions to satisfy each want, every child would grow up a criminal, a killer, a thief, and a rapist.

I wasn’t entirely surprised to learn that Reb, a “biblical parenting” enthusiast, is also wild about hard and frequent spankings, with paddles and other weapons. I don’t know if his subtitle (“What I Wish I Knew When My Children Were Young”) is meant to imply that his kids have turned out criminals, killers, gypsies, tramps or thieves. I rather doubt it. But if they did, I also doubt that insufficient thrashing was the cause.

Okay. Next time, I promise I’ll bring you some of the good guys — intelligent, insightful folks like Lucy Calkins and Chris Mercogliano. But for now, lemme just register my vote for the unintentional sad comedy of John, Joyce, and Reb:


Avatar photo

Dale McGowan is chief content officer of OnlySky, author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies, and founder of Foundation Beyond Belief (now GO Humanity). He holds a...