Reading Time: 5 minutes

I’m up to my eyebrows in background reading for the sequel to Parenting Beyond Belief (possible names: Still Parenting Beyond Belief; Parenting Beyonder Belief; and Parenting Beyond Belief: The Empire Strikes Back). Likely release date is around December ’08.

In addition to reading huge amounts of useful stuff, I’m doing a bit of reading on the other side of the fence: religious parenting books. Some are very good, like the work of Christian parenting author Dr. William Sears. Some are mixed, including (to my admitted surprise) James Dobson, who serves up some quite sound advice along with his nonsense. Then there’s complete lunacy and even unintentional self-parody, for which we turn to author and televangelist Joyce Meyer.

fearthought

meyer
Joyce Meyer

Here’s a passage from Meyer’s “Helping Your Kids Win the Battle in their Mind“:

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.

Don’t laugh at what she’s placed between worry and fear in the devil’s toolkit unless you turn straight to tears. According to her website, Joyce Meyer (who lives, interestingly, about three miles from my parents) has television and radio programs in “over 200 countries” — a truly remarkable achievement on a planet with 195 countries. Slightly less amusing is the fact that she has sold over a million copies of a book for which this passage can serve as an encapsulation:

I once asked the Lord why so many people are confused and He said to me, ‘Tell them to stop trying to figure everything out, and they will stop being confused.’ I have found it to be absolutely true. Reasoning and confusion go together.
from Battlefield of the Mind, p. 99

Last year she issued a version of Battlefield of the Mind “For Teens,” which I’m reading at the moment.

meyerbook

You can tell it’s intended for teens because of the cool dripping paint on the front cover, and the use of words like “wanna” and “gonna” and phrases like “where your head is at” (which teenagers use all the time, along with “groovy” and “hang ten.” If nothing else, Joyce is clearly hep to the jive.) My favorite sentence: “If you’re like most teens, you’ve probably seen the movie The Karate Kid.” Karate Kid was released in 1984, several years before today’s teenagers were born.

Fewer giggles were forthcoming from passages like this:

I was totally confused about everything, and I didn’t know why. One thing that added to my confusion was too much reasoning.

That’s right: it comes back again and again in her advice, in millions of books and throughout her broadcasting empire. Don’t even start thinking. Most troubling of all is the desperate attempt to make kids fear their own thoughts, right at the age they are supposed to be challenging and questioning in order to become autonomous adults:

Ask yourself, continually, “WWJT?” [What Would Jesus Think?] Remember, if He wouldn’t think about something, you shouldn’t either….By keeping continual watch over your thoughts, you can ensure that no damaging enemy thoughts creep into your mind.

flock

I will defend to the death her right to put these opinions out there, and the rights of her millions of devoted readers to read it and to think it is something other than sad, ignorant, unethical, fearful sheepmaking. I’m just all the more motivated to put out a message precisely opposed to Meyer’s fearthought, one that advocates building up critical thinking and moral judgment in tandem, then inviting ideas into your head without fear that one of them will somehow jump you when you’re not looking.

Now I just need a word for the opposite of fearthought. I’m sure one will occur to me.

Freethought

This excerpt from a post of mine last June (“Rubbernecking at Evil”) shows how different are the planets Joyce Meyer and I occupy — even beyond the number of countries. Compare the bolded passage below with Joyce Meyer’s advice:

About a year ago, [my daughter Erin, then 8] went through a brief period of self-recrimination, literally dissolving into tears at bedtime, but uncharacteristically unwilling to discuss it. The morning after one such nighttime session, we were lying on the trampoline together, looking at the sky, and I asked if she would tell me what was troubling her. “Did you do something you feel bad about, or hurt somebody’s feelings at school?” I asked. “There’s always a way to fix that, you know.”

“No,” she said. “It isn’t something I did.”

“Something somebody else did? Did somebody hurt your feelings?”

“No.” A long silence. I watched the clouds for awhile, knowing it would come.

At last she spoke. “It isn’t anything I did. It’s something…I thought.”

I turned to look at her. She was crying again.

“Something you thought? What is it, B?”

“I don’t want to say.”

“That’s OK, you don’t have to say. But what’s the problem with thinking this thing?”

“It’s more than one thing.” She looked at me with a worried forehead. “It’s bad thoughts. I think about saying things or doing things that are bad. Like…”

I waited.

“Like bad words. That’s one thing.”

“You want to say bad words?”

“NO!!” she said, horrified. “I don’t at ALL!! But I can’t get my brain to stop thinking about this word I heard somebody say at school. It’s a really nasty word and I don’t like it. But it keeps popping into my brain, no matter what I do, and it makes me feel really, really bad!!”

She cried harder, and I hugged her. “Listen to me, B. You are never bad just for thinking about something. Never.”

“What? But…If it’s bad to say a bad word, then it’s bad to think it!”

“But how can you decide whether it’s bad if you don’t even let yourself think it?”

She stopped crying in a single wet inhale, and furrowed her brow. “Then…It’s OK to think bad things?”

“Yes. It is. It’s fine. Erin, you can’t stop your brain from thinking – especially a huge brain like yours. And you’ll make yourself crazy if you even try.”

“That’s what I’m doing! I’m making myself crazy!”

“Well don’t. Listen to me now.” We went forehead to forehead. “It is never bad to think something. You have permission to think about everything in the world. What comes after thinking is deciding whether to keep that thought or to throw it away. That’s called your judgment. A lot of times it’s wrong to act on certain thoughts, but it is never, ever wrong to let yourself think them.” I pointed to her head. “That’s your courtroom in there, and you’re the judge.”

The next morning she woke up excitedly and gave me a high-speed hug. Once she had permission to think the bad word, she said, it just went away. She was genuinely relieved.

Imagine if instead I had saddled her with traditional ideas of mind-policing, the insane practice of paralyzing guilt for what you cannot control – your very thoughts. Instead, I taught her what freethought really means.

I’m more than a little proud of myself for managing to say the right thing. That’s always a minor miracle. I don’t blog about the three hundred or so times in-between that I say the wrong thing.

In the year since that day, Erin has several times mentioned that moment, sitting on the trampoline, as the single best thing I ever did for her. As with most such moments, I had no idea at the time that I was giving her anything beyond the moment itself. I just wanted her to stop crying, to stop beating up on herself. But in the process, it seems, I genuinely set her free.

Avatar photo

Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.