Ready for Real Life: Part Nine, Concluding Thoughts

Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 1.15.43 AM

Ready for Real Life: Part Nine, Concluding Thoughts

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. Part Nine of this series was originally published on November 25, 2013.

*****

Also in this series: Part One, Botkins Launch Webinar | Part Two, Ready for What? | Part Three, Are Your Children Ready? | Part Four, Ready to Lead Culture | Part Five, Science and Medicine | Part Six, History and Law | Part Seven, Vocations | Part Eight, Q&A Session | Part Nine, Concluding Thoughts

*****

After receiving a tip from one of my readers, I purchased access to the “Ready for Real Life” webinar, hosted by the Botkin family of the Western Conservatory for the Arts and Sciences. After listening to the seven-part webinar, I was struck by how paradoxical the content was.  On one hand, Christians are to teach their children to take dominion of the world and assume positions of leadership, according to the Botkins. On the other hand, their instructions on how to raise homeschooled children would make this next to impossible.

The Botkins place little value on college degrees or certifications, but without degrees, advancement to leadership positions in most fields would be difficult if not impossible. Geoffrey Botkin speaks coldly about the so-called “slave economy” in which most mainstream jobs are situated, discouraging homeschooled youth from working at such jobs. The Botkins’ distrust of secular academia, the mainstream scientific community,the modern art and music scenesthe military, and the secular state (evident in Geoffrey’s hostility toward so-called “statism”) precludes young people from working in those fields as well.

How can youth raised with the Botkins’ ideology be leaders in the world if advanced educational opportunities and multiple career fields are off limits?

Furthermore, leadership involves understanding and working alongside the people one intends to lead. The Botkins, however, are wary of people and ideas outside of their immediate subculture. People who think differently than them are viewed at best as “sheep” in need of a shepherd, and at worst as enemies. In the Botkins’ day to day lives, such people are largely avoided. How can Botkin-aligned youth lead other people if their ideology prevents them from interacting with others at length or learning about them?

It goes without saying that in the Botkins’ vision, such leaders will be men.

The Botkins’ ideology relegates women to the home, where they are assigned the tasks of homeschooling children, keeping the house in order, possibly running a home business, and accepting the blame when things go wrong. College and careers outside the home are off-limits, and gifts are to be put aside in favor of marriage and motherhood, as in the case of Geoffrey’s daughter-in-lawWomen can help their men, but not serve as leaders in their own right. How do the Botkins expect their fundamentalist Christians to rise up as leaders when half of their number are barred from meaningful participation in the outside world?

In conclusion, the Botkins’ webinar encourages Christian homeschooling families to take dominion, but fails to provide realistic instructions for doing so. The ideology they preach is not only inadequate for achieving the dominion they crave, but inadequate for preparing young people for real life.

Life in a fundamentalist bubble simply isn’t good training for leadership in the real world.

Ready for Real Life: Part Eight, Q&A Session

Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 1.15.43 AM

Ready for Real Life: Part Eight, Q&A Session

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. Part Eight of this series was originally published on November 19, 2013.

*****

Also in this series: Part One, Botkins Launch Webinar | Part Two, Ready for What? | Part Three, Are Your Children Ready? | Part Four, Ready to Lead Culture | Part Five, Science and Medicine | Part Six, History and Law | Part Seven, Vocations | Part Eight, Q&A Session | Part Nine, Concluding Thoughts

*****

This part of “Ready for Real Life” was devoted to answering listener questions about Christian homeschooling. In the final installment of their webinar series, the Botkins responded to listener questions about family vision, interactions with outsiders, support systems, tensions with relatives, and children’s’ role in the family.

First, in response to a question about what guided his vision for his children, Geoffrey replied that he wanted his children to be “mighty” leaders, not merely surviving or living in “Christian ghettos”. After citing Psalm 127:3-5 (“Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth; blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them”), he outlined his vision for the Botkin children at the 4:57 mark.

“I want them to be able confront their enemies, the enemies of Jesus Christ at the highest points of the land, the places in the country where decisions are made. The gates of nations happen to be where leadership happens, where decisions are made on law and jurisprudence, medicine, literature, the arts, science, business, agriculture, many of the things we’ve spoken about here on the webinar, military affairs, family culture, politics, public policy. I wanted my children to be able to grow up and stand in the gates, so that guided the kinds of things that we told them, but foundational to all of it was understanding that they needed first to begin with a fear of the Lord and an attitude of respecting and delighting in the Lord’s commands.”

At the 6:08 mark, Geoffrey explained how he warned his children that they must serve God and transcend “worldly success”. 

“I wanted them to know they were growing up to serve a living God who had a will for them, an ethical system he wanted the entire world to live by. I wanted them especially to realize if they lived in the United States of America, they could not give their lives to serving wealth, not worldly success, not the traditions of men. And so, we steered them by trying to define for them the Kingdom of God, and then thinking about how to strengthen the Kingdom of God, and said, ‘Children, this is your responsibility. This is what you’ll be doing all your lives. This is what you are called to do in the Great Commission, to to make disciples of the nations.'”

One listener submitted a question about what to teach children about people in the outside world. 

Should they be on the lookout for potential threats and ministry opportunities? In response, Geoffrey claimed that he taught his children to recognize other people as “eternal souls” and to help them interpret those they encounter. At the 7:37 mark, he had this to say.

“When we go into the world, let’s say we’re on a trip to Wal-Mart and we’re surrounded by people from many different backgrounds. What are we teaching our children to think about these others that they’re seeing? How do they look at these people who are around them? Well, number one, we teach them theologically that these people are eternal souls. Every single one has an eternal soul. We need to interpret the world for them when we’re talking about people, when they’re looking at people. Many parents say, ‘Well, we homeschooled our kids to keep them away from bad influences and the rabble that are out there, and so we just put little blinders on our children, we march into the store, do our business, and get out.’ Well, we never had that attitude toward people. We wanted to interpret what was going on, and if we saw a guy covered with tattoos, we’d probably talk about it.”

Geoffrey stressed the importance of teaching children to love people, help others, and share truth. At the 8:54 mark, he warned that homeschooled children could grow disdainful of outsiders without good parental guidance.

“If we’re not careful, our children will develop very confused ideas about what they’re seeing in the world, and in fact, if we don’t help them, they will tend to be proud and arrogant and have a naturally contemptuous attitude toward other people because, of course, they’re perfect little homeschool kids who are upright and not like those other people. We don’t want them to have that kind of prideful attitude. We don’t want them to be hostile or disdainful to people.”

Soon thereafter, Geoffrey shared a story about how he responded when his sons met people who were different from them. On a hot day when he and his sons were visiting the University of Monterrey in Mexico, they noticed several young women in “Mexican chic undress”. “They didn’t have many clothes on”, Geoffrey complained. Later, he instructed his sons to pray for the women and their future husbands and children.

“They’re like sheep without shepherds,” Geoffrey told his sons. “They need someone to look after them, to protect them, to lead them.”

The irony was not lost on me. Geoffrey condemned judgmental attitudes toward people who are different, but a few seconds later, he judged women whose clothing choices he disliked. I found it unfortunate that the Botkin sons were taught to see women outside their subculture as lost “sheep” who needed a (presumably male) shepherd to tell them what to do.

Another listener was concerned about those who exhibit outward Christian conduct without inward transformation. In response, Geoffrey lamented the “conformist theology” in many churches that encourage “friendship with the world”, as well as the influence of “America’s materialistic culture”. At the 16:14 mark, he dismissed the idea of going to college, getting a good job, and joining a “comfortable church” in favor of serving God’s law.

“If the entire goal of life is getting a good job and then just affiliating with a comfortable church on Sunday, then life is about pursuing the American Dream and not seeking first the kingdom of God, and so you don’t really need holiness, righteousness, knowledge of the scripture, knowledge of the law of God and the commandments of Jesus Christ … There is a dominant cultural trend in the churches and in the homeschooling movement to get into a worldly college so you can get a bigger salary and then bigger benefits. This will not lead your children into holiness, righteousness, and fruitfulness and fulfillment. This is serving Mammon, and when people pursue security through Mammon, Jesus Christ will be dishonored.”

One listener asked what advice the Botkins would give to homeschooling families without support systems. Geoffrey encourages husbands to encourage and assist their wives. However, he seemed distrustful of support systems outside of the family that could potentially hold different beliefs. He admonished listeners to avoid any homeschooling groups that are (1) overly focused on “trends”, (2) tied to “state organizations”, which he accused of being “humanistically oriented” and obsessed with the “college agenda”, and (3) associated with churches that have strong youth groups with large numbers of public school children.

This insularity, it seemed, was to shield fundamentalist families from outside forces that could introduce undesirable influences.

Victoria offered commentary, explaining that while it is nice to have support from other Christians, homeschooling families shouldn’t lean on other people to support them. With less support, the Botkins were in a better position to monitor the ideas that their children were exposed to, she explained. Also, if the Botkin children wanted friends, they had to be friends with each other and work though sibling quarrels. The family didn’t spent time driving to homeschool activities that weren’t productive, she said, allowing the children to use that time for productive activities.

One listener asked the Botkins for good strategies for encouraging children’s gifts while cultivating a “cohesive family identity”. Geoffrey replied that too many parents feel that they’re obligated to identify children’s gifts and do something special for each child. Over time, this approach causes the “cohesive family identity” to disintegrate because each family member is something different. He reminded listeners that gifts are tools bestowed by God to advance his kingdom, not as sources of personal aggrandizement.

The Botkins had much to say in response to a listener question about how to respond to “hostile” in-laws and relatives. Citing Deuteronomy 13, Geoffrey reminded listeners that no earthly relationship can trump one’s relationship with God, and that believers can’t indulge or “subsidize” a relative’s rebellion against God. Christians can love their relatives, but always on their terms, he explained, adding that Christians must let family members know what the rules are in their home.

At the 41:20 mark, Geoffrey told the audience that they have no moral duty to honor or care for relatives to reject God’s law.

“Don’t surrender your principles. Practically, you don’t have to have any moral responsibility to honor or subsidize relatives, including parents, who reject the law and righteousness of God. Your duty of honoring them would be very different, and you can explore scripture to find out what that would be. You don’t have to care for them and take care of them if they will not submit to the rules of your household.”

Victoria added that believers can still express love and honor to nonbeliever relatives, but from a distance. It’s acceptable to pray for such relatives and send them cards and gifts, even if one cannot spend time with them anymore. By doing so, parents set a good example on how to respond to nonbelievers with love, she said.

Geoffrey turned to family roles, outlining expectations placed on children. For example, fathers must make it clear that their children are never to disobey or dishonor their mothers. If a child disrespects their mother, the father must quickly and firmly defend the mother’s honor. Not only does the Bible command this, but the children need to respect their mother if she is to teach them effectively, he argued. Even a child is a few months old, it will lash out and try to hit its mother, but for an older child “than can become a capital offense”, he said.

What!? I thought. Your talk of children and “capital” offenses is making me very uncomfortable.

To boot, Geoffrey’s insistence on respect for the mother was ironic, given that his teachings and those of the Christian Patriarchy Movement are inherently disrespectful to women. Treating women as men’s subordinates, denying women a voice, and barring women from meaningful life paths are not respectful to women.

Regarding the role of daughters, Geoffrey relegated girls to subordinate roles.

At the 1:05:34 mark, he instructed parents to train their daughters to help their parents and brothers. He warned that if the men around them do not strive for meaningful lives, girls will reject their helpmeet role.

“What you’re training your daughter for has a lot to do with what you think you are for, okay, and what you think your sons are for. Your daughter’s biggest job is to help you in the direction you set for your whole family, dads … This really is her scriptural, biblical job, to help you dad, helping the family. And she will help her mommy, you know, learning to be a mother by helping her mother, and this helps you and it helps your family. She helps her brothers. As she helps her brothers and learns to respect her brothers, she’s learning the skills and attitudes she’ll need to be a wonderful wife. So, her role will be as big or small as you set it to be, and if your role as a man is to have just a very quiet, insignificant existence, and to be a pew warmer at church and not really do anything for the kingdom, then she’s going to see–what good is a woman if men are not doing anything and there’s nothing to really help a man do, then being a helpmeet hardly even makes any sense. And so they will be exasperated by that, and they’ll be thinking of other things to do. If the men aren’t doing anything, how are we going to reform society? ‘I guess I’ve got to go out there and be prime minister or something!'”

At the 1:06:58 mark, Geoffrey instructed parents to raise sons as leaders and daughters as followers and helpers.

“You should be raising daughters to be the female counterparts of what your training your sons to be. That’s what you need to be doing. Training your sons to be leaders, dominion men, and training your daughters to be helpers of men like that.”

Anna Botkin fielded a listener question on what a girl’s role should look like after high school if she does not marry. Anna asserted that marriage isn’t a given for a woman, and that singleness isn’t outside of God’s plan for women. Women lives include more than wife and mother roles, but can also include serving the church, caring for the poor, and assisting with the home economy.

Elizabeth Botkin fielded a question on whether parents should teach their daughters a trade, or only teach them vocational tasks such as cooking and cleaning. In response, Elizabeth argued that all girls should contribute to the family economy, citing Proverbs 31. While men are responsible for providing for their households, wives who strengthen the household economy are important, she said. At the 1:13:14 mark, she explained how daughters are to balance entrepreneurship with submission to men.

“How does one balance being entrepreneurial and being a submissive daughter who has a family vision? Well, a girl will actually be able to be a much more helpful submissive daughter and be more beneficial to the family vision if she does have an entrepreneurial spirit. The conflict comes when a daughter has her own independent entrepreneurial agenda and that comes first, and is more important to her than helping her family. But if she has the heart of a servant and she has the best interests of her family at heart, and she’s making that making that her top priority, she can cultivate just as much initiative and diligence and creativity and resourcefulness and business savvy as she wants, and it will be nothing but an asset to her family. See, right now, a lot of our fathers are trying to figure out how they can leave the workforce and come work at home, and a lot of our brothers are trying to figure out how do they start off on the right foot instead of getting stuck in a system they don’t want to be stuck in. And I believe that right now, all of we unmarried daughters who are still at home are the secret weapons of this movement to rebuild the home economy. A daughter can be her father’s greatest asset while he’s trying to make his transition from working a job to starting a home business … or maybe she can focus on just helping her brothers get started in whatever businesses they’re trying to start.”

One listener asked how women without college degrees could support themselves after divorce, abandonment, or the death of their husbands. Elizabeth admitted that parents should train their daughters on how to be economically productive in good times as well as bad times.  “Doing economically profitable work from home should be part of every woman’s life, obviously more in some seasons than in others,” she said.

Churches often offer support to women facing difficult times, but what if a woman doesn’t have that support system?

Elizabeth dismissed the idea that a woman would need a college degree so that she could get a job in such a situation.

Rather, she claimed that a lone woman without a support system could support herself (and homeschool her children) by working at home. At the 1:16:25 mark, she had this to say.

“In the event that you were stranded as the only breadwinner with a house full of little children, practicing for this kind of situation by spending four years and 40 or $50,000 training exclusively for a job and getting the qualifications for a job that you could only do outside the home would be exactly what you don’t want to do. So instead, if you took that time and used it to learn marketable skills that you could use from home or start a business that you could be running on the side and to invest that $40,000 into some thing else, it would be a much better situation if you were at home and suddenly had a lot of little children that you don’t want to suddenly put in public school so you could go out and get a job.”

The problems with Elizabeth’s approach were numerous. Where would the capital come from? Where would a woman learn the business knowledge and specialized skills she would need for a home enterprise? If her children aren’t in school, day care, or the care of her support network, where would she find time to carry out business tasks, such as production, marketing, and networking with other entrepreneurs? How on earth could a woman make enough money to support a large family and set aside enough time to raise and homeschool her children while running a full-time home business? What if the home business fails?

The Botkins’ ideology makes emergencies harsher than they need to be, and in failing to prepare young women for real life, may precipitate those emergencies in the first place.

Geoffrey Botkin concluded the webinar by quoting Titus 2:11, encouraging listeners to serve God and live godly, sensible lives. At the 1:32:15 mark, he told listeners that if they follow God, they will benefit the surrounding world.

“The grace of God is benefiting even those who are still in darkness. If you are doing what you need to be doing in your family, your community, and in your churches, you are helping bring peace and order and stability to your nation, and other people are benefiting from it because of the grace of God in your lives. This grace of God has appeared, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age.”

*****

This part of the “Ready for Real Life” webinar featured the following themes:

  • Family identity over personal identity: Geoffrey placed great value on “cohesive family identity”, warning that excessive attention to children’s gifts and individual identities could undermine this cohesion.
  • Vacillation between love and contempt for outsiders: One one hand, the Botkins instructed listeners to show love toward”hostile” relatives and other people outside their belief system. On the other hand, Geoffrey spoke of outsiders (such as scantily-clad women) with condescension, and outright stated that believers have no moral duty to honor or care for relatives who “reject the law and righteousness of God.”
  • Insularity: The Botkins’ attitudes toward connections outside of the nuclear family were mixed at best. They did not place great value on support networks, and outright rejected support networks (i.e., homeschool groups, relatives) who espoused beliefs that differed from theirs. Girls were encouraged to funnel their talents into the home, rather than seeking university educations or jobs outside of the home.
  • Unrealistic economic expectations for women and girls: Women and girls were expected to make economic contributions to the family that did not involve employment outside of the home. Elizabeth Botkin encouraged widowed, abandoned, or divorced women to sustain their households with home businesses (all while keeping their kids at home), oblivious to how onerous this task would be without a support system.

Stay tuned for the conclusion, in which I’ll reflect on the webinar series as a whole.

*****

To be continued.

Ready for Real Life: Part Seven, Vocations

Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 1.15.43 AM

Ready for Real Life: Part Seven, Vocations

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. Part Seven of this series was originally published on November 11, 2013.

*****

Also in this series: Part One, Botkins Launch Webinar | Part Two, Ready for What? | Part Three, Are Your Children Ready? | Part Four, Ready to Lead Culture | Part Five, Science and Medicine | Part Six, History and Law | Part Seven, Vocations | Part Eight, Q&A Session | Part Nine, Concluding Thoughts

*****

In this part of the “Ready for Real Life” webinar series, the Botkins discuss the transition from homeschooling to adult life, offering advice on work, education, and adult leadership. As with prior webinars, the Botkins give this a separatist spin, discouraging young people from entering traditional workforces, the military, or universities that could “exploit them to their ruin”. Maintaining Christian dominion is paramount, as usual. Unfortunately, the Botkins fail to understand the relationship between impractical homeschool teachings and homeschooled youth who are ill-prepared to take on the world.

Geoffrey began by praising Christian homeschool families, asserting that parents pulling their children out of schools was one of the most significant movements in history. However, he lamented the “nationwide fragility” of the Christian homeschool movement, claiming that a “lack of a dominion pattern of thinking” has weakened homeschooling. Many children remain confused as to why their parents homeschooled them, failing to see the “Biblical purpose” or “urgent reasons” to propel the movement, he claimed. “Some of them are even confused about marriage,” he added.

Who do the Botkins blame for anemic homeschooling and disappointing results? Mothers.

Victoria Botkin claimed that the homeschool movement’s biggest weakness is that it’s “mommy-driven”. At the 4:06 mark, she elaborated on how homeschool mothers allegedly stunt their children.

“We have to be honest and say that the weakness is that it’s mommy-driven … I know that what homeschool mommies like me love most is to gather our chicks together and snuggle up together on the sofa with our cups of cocoa and just have a wonderful time reading together. This warm, cozy mothering style is very good and it’s very nurturing when the children are little, but we have to face it, as they get older, this is simply not a good formula for training up cultural leaders. So, as our children grow up, the way we interact with them and the way we mothers discipline them has simply got to grow with them.”

Geoffrey Botkin agreed, claiming that homeschooling is stunting children’s development in part because “mommies” are driving the process and fathers are insufficiently involved. At the 5:04 mark, he criticized homeschool mothers for cocooning their children in a safe, sheltered environment for longer than necessary.

“We notice that parents’ teaching styles and techniques and priorities really are not growing with the children. We’re keeping the children young. We’re keeping the children undeveloped, and part of that is because mommies who are still driving the process, and because so many dads are not as engaged as they should be, mommies would like that warm, cuddling, secure, sheltered life to continue far into life as adults, as adulthood. And so too many young men, young boys are growing up being dwarfed or emasculated by the world and its real-life issues.”

My jaw dropped at all the sexism, scapegoating, and flawed thinking I just heard.

First, repeatedly referring to stay-at-home mothers as “mommies” was condescending. Second, the Christian Patriarchy Movement demands that women stay in the domestic sphere and nurture their children, so why were the Botkins blaming women for doing what they’d been instructed to do all along? Christian Patriarchy women who were listening to this webinar must have felt frustrated as the Botkins accused them of failing at their demanding, unending duties. Third, Geoffrey Botkin focused on young men, ignoring the possibility that his version of homeschooling might stunt young women as well. If this particular branch of homeschooling is failing to prepare children for adult life, its leaders need to reexamine their methods instead of blaming mothers as a knee-jerk reaction.

Geoffrey Botkin complained that many 17-19 year-old homeschool graduates are not the “dominant minds” in their environments, but rather find themselves being dominated by others. Such young people either strive to fit in with the outside world, or hide from the world out of fear, staying home and indulging in wasteful activities that aren’t “dominion-oriented”.

Christian faith requires Christians to have the “dominant mind” of each generation, Geoffrey reiterated.

That is, Christians are not to dominate others “like the Islamic world teaches,” but to be leaders. Christian homeschooling families are to instill this goal in their children, rather than training them to withdraw into a “sheltered” or “agrarian” lifestyle.

First, I was puzzled by Phillips disapproval of “agrarian” lifestyles. What’s so un-Christian about farming? Second, if the Botkins are so perturbed by homeschool graduates shrinking away from the outside world, shouldn’t they worry that their education model has poorly equipped students for adulthood? Finally, since some branches of the Christian homeschool movement live in their own bubbles as a way of shielding families from “the world”, aren’t withdrawn adults the natural result of this ideology?

As with previous webinars, Geoffrey expressed his distrust of universities. Too many homeschool parents discover that their 16-18 year-old offspring have no social skills or capabilities, he claimed. He warned parents that if their children do not have university-level knowledge by the time they turn 18, their children’s character will be deficient. If such young adults go to college, that poor preparation will “only exploit them to their ruin”.

Geoffrey fielded a listener question about how to make sure children don’t “crash and burn”, that is, lose their faith or degrade their character after leaving home. In reply, Geoffrey warned that children can “crash and burn” even before they leave home if they’re ill-equipped to cope with moral challenges. He condemned country music as one example of a moral challenge in Christian culture, accusing country music of promoting a “very destructive, counter-Christian theology”.

Another alleged source of moral corruption lies in homeschool support groups, he argued, where insecure children can become “peer dependent” and succumb to “peer-dependent compromise”.

Translation: Don’t you dare compare notes! Don’t let those other homeschooling families suggest non-insane ways to homeschool your kids, I thought.

Parents need to talk with their children and understand their minds, as a strong family life can instill vital maturity and responsibility in young people. Parents need to test their children as they would “arrows“, giving them opportunities for moral tests outside of the home.

The Botkins shifted gears to talk about careers and vocations. Immediately, Geoffrey dismissed parents’ concerns about their children’s financial well-being. Parents, especially “mommies”, focus on how their children are going to make a solid, stable living as adults. Geoffrey frowned upon his focus on jobs and validation from the “elite oligarchy”, reminding listeners that a supposed fixation on money, pensions, and “carnal security” isn’t Biblical. A Christian’s highest priority is their mission for God, not their job, he asserted.

Geoffrey’s words left me stunned.

Young adults should be thinking about how they’ll support themselves, because work and bills will be part of their adult lives.

Thinking about benefits and wages isn’t about “carnal security”, it’s about making sure one has food, housing, and medical care. Financial reflection is even more important if one is trying to escape poverty, survive in an economically depressed region, pay for an education, or start a family. To ignore money matters in adulthood is to be dangerously immature, which Geoffrey fails to understand.

At the 18:22 mark, Geoffrey dismissed the American dream as “the pursuit of Mammon”, arguing that society need a Biblical paradigm for worship, education, and career.

“The 21st century needs a completely new paradigm for education … We need a new paradigm for worship. We need a new paradigm for work because the school model, the church model, and the career model are obsolete. They haven’t worked. That’s why there’s so much confusion about going into the 21st century. The church has been endorsing this idea of the American dream since the 1950s, and people have really fallen for it. It’s the pursuit of Mammon at the expense of Biblical obedience. So these models are obsolete because they were wrong, number one, Biblically, but they haven’t worked, have they? That’s why our culture is so broken and people are so confused about what to do. The culture that they created in the 20th century simply cannot and must not be sustained. So here’s the solution. Let’s move our children and the entire culture to the Biblical paradigm. We’ve lived too long in a humanistic paradigm, the paradigm of secular humanism.”

Parents should teach children that being Christ’s ambassador and occupying the world until Christ’s return in their only calling, Geoffrey said. Christ’s civilization must be planted and preserved in every society as part of the Great Commission, he instructed. Ominously, he reminded listeners that America is a “massive spiritual battlefield” and they must not be “taken captive”.

Coldly, Geoffrey discouraged children from following “self-centered dreams” and giving themselves over to Mammon at the 24:17 mark. 

“Parents, you need to help your children aspire to something far different than one career based on self-centered dreams to achieve carnal security by accumulating Mammon.”

Benjamin Botkin, Geoffrey and Victoria’s son, echoed his father’s thoughts, stating that not every dream is worth fighting for. Sadly, by labeling dreams as “self-centered”, the Botkins refused to countenance dreams that could result in progress, enrichment, and joy. As in previous webinars, the Botkins’ advice boiled down to “do what God says, and don’t you dare think, feel, or evolve”.

Geoffrey assured listeners that if they obey Christ, they will have both money and viable occupational opportunities throughout their lives. This prosperity gospel nonsense struck me as dangerous, as it could cause Christians to neglect sound careers, financial planning, and budgeting.

In the real world, God does not always provide, as those who have endured unemployment, poverty, and hunger know too well.

Benjamin discussed the feeling of being overwhelmed, when one’s work, family, and church responsibilities seem overwhelming. His advice for uncluttering one’s life was to excise everything that did not contribute to goals, including “worthless” activities and the desire to engage in worthless activities.

Geoffrey emphasized that the Botkins were not advocating careers (which they defined as lifelong jobs), which they considered part of a broken paradigm. Rather, he encouraged listeners to devote themselves to four chief priorities — family, business, church, and civic duties — which must be integrated and pursued simultaneously.

On the topic of using talents in one’s future jobs, Geoffrey discouraged parents from excessive focus on children’s gifts. Using gifts to determine one’s future job merely plays into the “statist security state”, where a “slave economy” assigns job roles based on one’s talents. At the 46:15 mark, Geoffrey encouraged leadership and decentralized business over work in the “ant colony”.

“Keep the correct, new 21st century paradigm in mind. For the 20th century, people grew up thinking about just becoming part of this statist security state, a workforce state, and it was really a slave economy, very similar to what was advocated by Plato in all his writings. An oligarchy is in charge, and everybody else just kind of fits in as servants and slaves based on abilities, gifts, and talents. You don’t want your children even to be thinking that way … You still can go to a so-called career counselor, and they’ll say, ‘What are you good at?’. Well, they’re helping to to sort people into little cubby holes as servants, not as leaders, as those who serve the planned economy, not those who create it and do something totally different. That’s why we don’t want you to be caught up in thinking about ‘well, what are my children good at’, so they can take their little place in the pyramid, in the ant colony. We want them to be the leader of tomorrow who create the entire new business climates all over the world that are so different, a decentralized state system, a decentralized economy where there’s so many more independent businesses and business people.”

Geoffrey Botkin’s monologue reflected a certain ignorance about how employment works.

Do some businesses behave in unethical ways? Of course. Do wealthy oligarchs wield disproportionate power? Sadly, yes. Does the world need new models of business? Yes. However, helping a young person plan for their future is not “sort[ing] people into little cubby holes”. Plenty of jobs serve meaningful roles in society, and performing such jobs does not render employees “servants and slaves”. Finally, some fields require employees to work their way up to positions of authority, so we cannot expect everyone to take leadership positions immediately. Leadership and paradigm shift take time, and they require years of training and experience.

All young adults, homeschooled or not, need to understand this.

Geoffrey’s poor grasp of work realities was apparent in his advice about degrees and credentials. The Botkin family did not practice graduations, he said. Children are ready to move forward in the world when they’re able to lead their generation with confidence and “cultural discipleship”, he stated. Assessment of young homeschoolers should focus on whether they understand the kingdom of Christ, and how they will spend their lives seeking it. None of his children got credentials, he explained, but that hasn’t stopped them from getting job offers. For example, he bragged that his son Isaac received job offers to be a college professor at age 19-20, dismissing his lack of credentials, but Isaac turned them down.

Wait. What? I thought. Universities. Don’t. Work. Like. That. Competition is fierce for new faculty positions, and degrees are essential requirements for applicants.

No college worthy of the title is going to hire a 19 year-old kid with no degree or credentials.

On the topic of degrees, one listener asked what to do if their state required homeschooling parents to have degrees. Geoffrey scoffed at the idea, encouraging listeners to “stop complying with unlawful laws” and warning them against submission to the state at the 57:06 mark.

“What kind of degree? What if they tell you you need a PhD in education, or a Masters from a teachers college? Would you bow the knee to the state just to get that so you could homeschool your children, or would you give up and throw your children back into the government system? Christians have to stop complying with unlawful laws, especially without challenging the idea behind that law before they’re ever passed. We should be articulating and declaring our independence as parents to have the freedom to educate our children, because this freedom comes to us as a command from God Almighty. I mean, the state does not regulate this … No, we don’t have to go chasing these degrees just because we’re afraid something is going to happen. What would you do if they passed a law outlawing spanking? Would you just simply stop spanking your children? You can’t do that. You have to continue to obey God first more than man. You have to obey God first.”

David Botkin tackled the topic of military enlistment after homeschooling, listing and critiquing four reasons why some homeschooled youth choose the military. First, some people want to earn degrees after their service, but David claimed that degrees weren’t desirable ends. Second, some people want to establish a long-term military career, to which David replied that while short-term work for the military was acceptable, long-term work was not. The Constitution doesn’t allow for a long-standing army, and that the Founding Fathers disagreed with the idea, he insisted. Third, some people want to reform the military from within, which David claimed was a positive but misguided intention. A private would have very little impact on the military as a whole, and many people don’t even know what needs to be reformed. Fourth, some people want to protect and serve their country, but David argued that the government (including “unconstitutional” departments such as the IRS and EPA) are a much greater threat to Americans than any foreign aggressor. David, it seemed, had absorbed much of his father’s disgust toward alleged “statism”.

David discouraged military enlistment, citing the U.S. military’s flaws.

For example, he argued that many of the U.S. military’s actions have been unconstitutional and unbiblical, and that it has involved itself in inappropriate tasks (i.e., nation building) that should not concern the U.S. government. He also complained about the presence of “sodomites” and women in the military, which he blasted as an “abomination”. The supposedly declining moral standard in the military, such as current tolerance for fornication, also disgusted him.

David, if you think “fornication” in the military is something recent, think againI thought. And I can think of far more serious moral outrages in the U.S. military than gay or female soldiers.

David emphasized that while joining the military would be a bad decision in most cases, Christians would be obligated to uphold the law and the Bible if they did enlist. Specifically, they would be obligated to disobey any unlawful orders, which would result in a court martial and possible dishonorable discharge.

Geoffrey Botkin addressed a listener’s question about whether parents should prepare their sons for social and economic collapse. At the 1:11:41 mark, Geoffrey claimed that the U.S. is already in the throes of collapse as a result of God’s “chastisement”. 

“America has been in an economic and social collapse now for two generations. This is by direct intervention and the will of God, and it’s part of a chastisement of God that’s promised in Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26. And so, yes, you should be preparing them to live in this time of economic and social collapse. We have lost so much social fabric, and the value of the dollar, and the freedom to even conduct business. They need to be fully aware of these things and the direction–they need to know that the direction for the future–yes, it’s very, very fragile. The good news is that things are so bad now that there could be such a collapse that it’s time [for a] great opportunity to begin rebuilding when things stumble and fall clear to the ground. And this has happened at so many different times in history. You can look at history and you can see the trends and you can see  when things actually collapse and totally fail. What a phenomenal opportunity that is for Christians who have wisdom and knowledge to rise up and take the lead and begin the rebuilding process and lay the foundations together again.”

Geoffrey sounded almost gleeful as he spoke of the opportunities Christians will have to rebuild society after a collapse, as if he were excited about the prospect of fundamentalists forming a new world in their image. The fact that a real societal collapse would be terrifying, and that millions of people would face deprivation and death in the ensuing chaos, did not seem to perturb him.

I found Geoffrey’s insistence that America is collapsing to be ridiculous.

While America has many problems, it is not experiencing a wide-scale collapse. Look at war-ravaged countries. Look at failed states. Look at societies that disintegrated due to genocide or ethnocide.

That is what collapse looks like.

Geoffrey’s apocalyptic warnings echo those of other fundamentalist Christians, who see America disintegrating when it really isn’t.

*****

This part of the “Ready for Real Life” webinar exhibited the following themes.

  • Little respect for degrees and certifications: The Botkins do not see college educations, degrees, or other certifications as necessary for success. Geoffrey also sneered at the idea that parents should have degrees before they homeschool their children, seeing this as an act of unnecessary intrusion by the state. The idea that a college degree could make young people more competitive in the workplace, or bestow knowledge otherwise unavailable to them, was not considered.
  • The workplace as the tool of an oppressive oligarchy:  Geoffrey spoke of the traditional workplace as an oppressive, deadening environment in which workers are rendered “slaves” by a callous oligarchy. He compared workplaces to pyramids and ant farms, refusing to consider that not all workplaces oppress their employees. Geoffrey could have discussed serious problems facing some workers, such as low wages, unsafe working conditions, and job discrimination, but preferred to warn listeners about a supposed “statist security state”.
  • Dismissal of monetary matters: Geoffrey discouraged people from focusing on money matters when contemplating young peoples’ futures. Money matters were dismissed as an obsession with “carnal security” and Mammon.

Which leads to my last observed theme . . .

  • Homeschooling failing to prepare children for adulthood: Geoffrey and Victoria complained that too many homeschooled children were unprepared for adult life. Instead of questioning their impractical beliefs about degrees, money management, careers, or raising children in a fundamentalist bubble, they blamed over-nurturing “mommies”. The irony would be hilarious if real children’s futures weren’t at stake.

Stay tuned for the next part!

*****

To be continued.

Ready for Real Life: Part Six, History and Law

Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 1.15.43 AM

Ready for Real Life: Part Six, History and Law

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. Part Six of this series was originally published on November 3, 2013.

*****

Also in this series: Part One, Botkins Launch Webinar | Part Two, Ready for What? | Part Three, Are Your Children Ready? | Part Four, Ready to Lead Culture | Part Five, Science and Medicine | Part Six, History and Law | Part Seven, Vocations | Part Eight, Q&A Session | Part Nine, Concluding Thoughts

*****

In this part of the Botkin’s “Ready for Real Life” webinar, the Botkin family discusses the role of history and law in homeschooling curricula. Much of the webinar focused on teaching children a fundamentalist Christian interpretation of history and law, with obedience to God as a seminal virtue.

At the beginning of “Ready to Lead in the Gates”, Geoffrey Botkin encouraged parents to raise children to be leaders, to “stand at the gates” without shame. At the 1:22 mark, he once again warned homeschooling parents about alleged “enemies” who rage against their efforts. 

“Your children have enemies today. There are a lot of children out there who have enemies they know nothing about. You parents have enemies. The very fact that you’re homeschooling your children is a remarkable statement against the current status quo, and there are people who have special interests in that status quo who really dislike what you’re doing, a lot, and not just a little bit. They’re very vigorously and viciously opposed to what you’re doing.”

Christian homeschoolers have the freedom to give their children a free, generous, and fully-rounded education, according to Geoffrey. A home education should prepare children to serve as leaders in politics, the judiciary, business, media, religious communities, and other realms.

Geoffrey Botkin clearly believes that fundamentalist homeschooling families will have a massive impact on society.

On the 4:39 mark, he shared his vision for Christian homeschool families establishing a thousand-year Christian civilization. 

“Ten, fifteen, twenty years from now, what will history say about the homeschool families of the 21st century? What will they say a hundred years from now? This is my vision, and I want you parents to share it with me. I want historians to say those parents who took the risks, made the sacrifices, laid the foundation for the building of Christian civilization, and that foundation was used by families for a thousand years, that’s what I want them to say. The foundation that you come up with, the things you teach your children, the subject matter, the generous education you give them will be used by families for a thousand years because it showed everyone what the kingdom of Christ looked like and what the tools of civilization were.”

Sadly, he fails to understand that society isn’t morphing into a “Christian civilization”, and that many Americans would reject his dominionism outright. Time for a reality check, Geoffrey, I thought.

Geoffrey celebrated Isidore of Seville, a 7th century archbishop who compiled the Etymologiae, an exhaustive encyclopedia and curriculum Kings, princes, & statesmen who studied from the Etymologiae became nation-builders, Geoffrey said. However, the Etymologiae is out of date, so homeschooling families should reflect on what books and subjects make up their homeschool curricula.

In the Botkin home, Geoffrey explained, children are taught a range of subjects with a scriptural foundation: scriptural literacy, dominion, patriarchy, theonomy, the five solae of the Protestant Reformationand applying scripture to life. As extensions of this scriptural foundation, the Botkin children are also taught about family life, multigenerational visions, history, the scriptural foundations of civil society, and the free market as an expression of scriptural liberty. To my amusement (and consternation), the Botkins also teach young earth theology and the great flood as a historical event, as Geoffrey explains at the 12:46 mark. 

We want them to have historical literacy, beginning where history begins in the Bible. Genesis is incredibly important. All through their life, your children are going to run into people who are being tested morally by what they really believe about a young earth and an old earth, and those who side with the old earth theory are moving away from Biblical truth and a Biblical foundation. They’re on shaky ground. The earth is young, and the Bible explains why. They need to know about the worldwide flood, that it really did happen and when it happened.”

At the 14:56 mark, Geoffrey urged parents to teach their children about the relationship between scripture and civil society. America has “walked away” from liberty and justice because it has abandoned the Bible, he claimed. 

“Teach them about civil society and its scriptural foundations and find in the Bible where it talks about this, the law and its scriptural foundations … Liberty — and that doesn’t mean libertinism, which just means every man just gets to do what’s right in his own eyes — and its scriptural foundations, liberty. Liberty and justice are the foundations of the United States experiment, and we’ve walked away from it. Why? Because we’ve walked away from scripture.”

Biblical law serves as the foundation for everything in their homeschooling curriculum, he emphasized, arguing that obedience to Biblical law is the key to all happiness and success in life.

Tell that to ex-fundamentalists who were desperately unhappy, I thought. Tell that to countless people who are happy without Christian fundamentalism.

Biblical law is a delight rather than a burden, he claimed, adding that children will find rest for their souls if they take up the “yoke” of God’s law. On the other hand, if one’s children reject God’s law, they will become “outlaws” and find themselves on the side of the wicked, he warned.

Geoffrey’s son Isaac spoke next, categorizing all law as either natural law, positive law, or God’s law. Isaac claims that Jeremiah 17:9 (“The heart is deceitful above all things”) shows natural law to be insufficient, and that Romans 13 (“the authorities are God’s servants”) shows that positive law is insufficient because civil authorities have a responsibility to God. Ultimately, the purpose of any law is to honor God, and obedience to God’s law will bestow more happiness than any legal system humans could design, Isaac insisted. He elaborated on this at the 19:29 mark.

“Christians need to be able to understand that the purpose of law, whether it’s civil law of a government, or the rules of a church, or the rules of a household — the purpose of those laws are to honor God and his standards so that we can obey him, and we’re not pursing our own happiness, we’re not doing what we think is orderly, we’re actually trying to pursue God’s standards since we know that his law is perfect. And we also know from Psalm 119 that adherence to his law will result in far greater happiness and order than we can ever define on our own sinful human terms.”

Isaac split all law into a false dichotomy between “man’s law” and “God’s law” at the 20:13 mark.

Outrageously, he made no distinctions between democracy, dictatorship, and sharia, arguing that all are “fallen and destructive” vis–à–vis divine law.

“At the end of the day, there’s only two kinds of law. There is God’s law, and there is man’s law. A dictatorship is one man making up his own law. A democracy is a whole bunch of men making up law.Sharia law is one man making up law and ascribing it to a false God. Only God’s law in his revealed word is going to be any different from man’s law … Human law is fallen and destructive, and it’s destructive to the principle of theonomy, which is pursuit of God’s law.”

This kind of oversimplification is dangerous. Dictatorships, Islamic theocracies, and representative democracies are not the same thing! They do not hold their leaders to the same levels of accountability, and they do not afford citizens the same rights.

Isaac Botkin’s oversimplification betrays his ignorance about the ways that governmental systems operate in the real world.

In their haste to glorify laws based on the Bible, the Botkins ignore barbaric laws in the Bible (which themselves were man-made, ironically). I would rather live in an America under the Bill of Rights than one under ancient laws condoning slaveryforced marriagehonor killingreligious persecution, and draconian punishments for trivial offenses. I would rather live in a country that acknowledges the Geneva Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights than one that reduces people to chattel or expendable vermin. This is not to say that the U.S. human rights record is perfect, or that its ideals have been fully realized, only that its secular democracy is far superior to the state outlined in Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

Furthermore, the Botkins’ blind praise for “God’s law” ignores just how dysfunctional Christian theocracies have been throughout history. The European wars of religion following the Protestant Reformation, Savonarola’s Florence, and the Salem witch trials are but a few examples of the flawed results of such ambitions.

David Botkin offered Nazi Germany as an example of a country that did not honor God’s law. He claimed that because Germans feared a communist takeover of Germany, they brought the Nazis to power. When the German people did not want to take responsibility for the results of that election, and thus the Nazis turned the country into a “single-state democracy”. Covetousness lead the Third Reich to invade neighboring countries, while evolutionary thinking resulted in their attempted extermination of other races, he argued. These “national sins” had devastating consequences for Germany, given that God’s laws “will not be mocked”, David reminded listeners. God uses war as a tool of judgment, and World War II cost Nazi Germany dearly.

David Botkin’s history of the Third Reich was littered with problems.

First, I find it ironic that a regime that practiced offensive war and ethnic cleansing would offend a deity who commanded both in the Hebrew Bible. Also, by depicting Nazi Germany as a country in rebellion against God, David ignored the fact that Germany was solidly Christian during the Third Reich, and that some Nazis wove Christianity into Nazi ideology. Nazi racism, not evolution, produced the Holocaust, with earlier Christian anti-Semitism setting the stage for Nazi racial policy. Finally, David’s notion of “national sin” is problematic, as not all Germans were equally accountable for the Third Reich’s atrocities. What about Germans who actively resisted the Nazis? What about the White Rose activists, the Rosenstrasse protesters, the German “Righteous Among the Nations”, and other Germans who struggled against the Nazis? The idea that World War II was the Botkins’ God punishing innocent and guilty alike is one I reject.

Geoffrey Botkin echoed his son’s statements, telling listeners that all people and nations are subject to God’s law. At the 25:33 mark, he warned that terrifying cosmic judgment awaits those who disobey God. 

“All men in all nations are equal before the law of God, and it’s binding. It’s binding on the Jews, it’s binding on the Christians, it’s binding on the gentiles, it’s binding on every single nation. The Lord held Nineveh accountable, and Tyre and Sodom. They were all accountable to God’s law, and that’s why he ultimately had to judge them because they wouldn’t turn, they wouldn’t repent, they wouldn’t submit themselves and make themselves subject.

Now, one reason that the Lord allows you to have several years with their children is so they can understand this fact. They are not allowed, and parents, you’re not allowed, and your children need to see that the parents are not allowed to go their own way. They have to obey the Lord in the way that they raise up their families. Daddies, you have to submit to the authority of God Almighty, and wives are required, yes, to submit to the husbands, and this is why husbands, you really need to set this example and show that you literally, you are willing to lose your life in submission to the Lord’s authority, and you’re willing to lay your life down for your wife.”

Geoffrey returned to the study of history, slamming education reformers such as Harold Rugg and John Dewey as “historical revisionists”.

At the 29:00 mark, he poured his wrath on Rugg and Dewey, accusing them of hating history, time, and eternity (!?).

“Rebellions men like Harold Rugg and John Dewey and the other men who were getting the funds together to rewrite all the textbooks, they hate the past because it is providential. That means God was in charge. God was decreeing everything. Because of that, it’s full of meaning. And rebels hate the future because it is unpredictable and uncontrollable. They hate time because it’s limited and it reminds them of their appointment with death, and they hate eternity because they cannot control it or they can’t access it on their terms. And so rebellious men like Harold Rugg seek to make God and Christ remote from the present by abstracting them from the past and the future. That’s why they mess up history. They seek ways to manipulate history by denying Providence and manipulating other men. Your children simply need to know this.”

David Botkin chimed in, stressing the importance of finding sound, accurate history books. At the 34:13 mark, he claimed that some books sugar-coat history, but he provided no examples of books that do so. 

“History also teaches us about the sinful nature of men apart from Christ. As we read sound histories, we learn about what the real world is really like … There’s some historians that try to clean up history and remove some of the wickedness. They paint the world as a happy place where there’s no real bad guys, or at worst, just confused people that make some bad decisions, and if you fall victim to this theory of history, it will warp and destroy your ability to really understand the world we live in. I’d like to give you an example. Stalin, in some history books, becomes a nice man with a mustache that’s just trying to save the Russian peasants and stop the mean Germans.”

Victoria Botkin offered guidance on teaching history to homeschooled children, arguing that parents and children learning about history together is the best strategy. She claimed that she knew nearly nothing about history when she began homeschooling, a result of her public school education.

To be fair, Victoria had some positive advice for parents teaching their children history.

For example, she reminded listeners that all history authors have their own perspective, and since none are perfectly objective, it’s important to read several books on a particular topic in history. Unfortunately, she also espoused her family’s beliefs about God in history, ascribing historical events to God’s will. For instance, she claimed that the retreat of “pagan” Mongol invaders in Europe and the failure of the Spanish Armada were God’s judgment against them and a deliverance for Christians.

The Botkins spent the remainder of the webinar discussing the role of economics (complete with a defense of the free market and jabs at the federal reserve) and military history in homeschool curricula. Geoffrey recapped with a discussion of God’s authority, a father’s authority within the family, and the importance of teaching the Bible to children.

*****

This part of the Botkins’ “Ready for Real Life” webinar contained the following themes:

  • Hierarchy and obedience: The Botkins’ understand the world as a hierarchy, with children submitting to parents, wives submitting to husbands, and governments submitting to God. 
  • God’s law as the ideal root of all law: The Botkins believe that all valid law must honor God and stem from scripture. Governments and legal systems not rooted in the Bible were framed as inferior at best and defiant at worst. Unjust elements of scriptural law were ignored.
  • History as a cosmic story: The Botkins, like other fundamentalist homeschooling voices, attribute historical events to divine intervention. History, in their eyes, is a record of divine intervention, as well as how humans obey or reject God across civilizations. In doing so, they shoehorn history into a narrow narrative, oversimplifying history and ignoring the complex causes of historical events.

Stay tuned for the next partI!

*****

To be continued.

Ready for Real Life: Part Five, Science and Medicine

Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 1.15.43 AM

Ready for Real Life: Part Five, Science and Medicine

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. Part Five of this series was originally published on October 26, 2013.

*****

Also in this series: Part One, Botkins Launch Webinar | Part Two, Ready for What? | Part Three, Are Your Children Ready? | Part Four, Ready to Lead Culture | Part Five, Science and Medicine | Part Six, History and Law | Part Seven, Vocations | Part Eight, Q&A Session | Part Nine, Concluding Thoughts

*****

In this part of the “Ready for Real Life” webinar, the Botkin family discusses the roles that science, nature, and medicine play in Christian homeschooling. While the Botkins spoke warmly of these fields, their words betrayed a distrust of evidence and scientific communities at odds with their beliefs.

Geoffrey Botkins encouraged parents to share things that delight them about science and nature with their children, such as a close-up of an owl’s eye that he saw in National Geographic.

Children must not be afraid of studying science, he said, celebrating parents who encourage children to think about science.

He cited a prayer attributed David in Psalm 28:3-5, which condemns those who “have no regard for the deeds of the Lord and what his hands have done”. The passage warns that God “will tear them down and never build them up again” as punishment for their “wicked” ways. Geoffrey warned that God will similarly punish those who are indifferent to creation at the 3:18 mark.

“If you’ve noticed people in this culture that we live in in the United States who literally have decided that they will not trouble themselves to think about the works of the Lord, including themselves, they don’t want to admit that they’ve been created by the Creator, and so they don’t want to think about the implications of the works of the Lord all around them being of the Lord, nor the deeds of his hands. And what we see here from scripture is that the intimate Lord God almighty does deal with people on a very personal basis. He will tear them down and not build them up.”

As with his previous webinar, Botkin threatened impious people with divine wrath. For all his warm words about learning, his ideology is firmly rooted in fear of divine retribution. A fear-based ideology is unlikely to produce critical thinking skills or genuine wonder, which makes Botkin’s words all the more ironic.

As with previous webinars, Geoffrey Botkin began the talk with a prayer. He beseeched God to help them recognize God as the creator and humans as the created, to avoid worshiping the creation over the creator, to understand the truths in creation, and to comprehend God’s will so that humans can take dominion.

I paused when I heard Geoffrey pray that people avoid worshiping the creation over the creator. An inaccurate fundamentalist myth about environmentalists is that they allegedly worship Earth and neglect God.

Was Geoffrey taking a veiled jab at environmentalism?

Studying the sciences gave the Botkin children mental agility and breadth, Geoffrey proudly told listeners. Study of the sciences equips children with tools for life, including honed powers of observation and mental acuity, he said.

Noah Botkin, one of Geoffrey and Victoria’s sons, stressed that the sciences are a tool to aid humans in obeying God and exercising dominion. At the 8:16 mark, Noah disparaged scientists who allegedly see their craft as a means of glorifying the human mind.

“You read a lot of secular sources … you’re forced to read a lot of papers by men who aren’t Christians, and a lot of these scientists believe that the study of science is simply an exercise in glorifying the human mind. The attitude of them is just, ‘let us see how far we can go to exercise our own intelligence and see just how good we are.’ And that’s wrong. Christians need to understand science as a tool. It needs to be thought of as a tool. The purpose of science is to assist us in obeying God’s commandments, and the study of science is an avenue that we can take in order to learn about the glory of God’s systems, the systems that he’s designed. The world is a system that he’s created and designed. And so, the application of this scientific study augments our ability to obey God’s commandments, to fulfill the dominion mandate and the great commission.”

Geoffrey Botkin emphasized that Jesus exerts dominion over all things, so humans should learn about their creator by studying everything he has created. Parents are to remind children that they will not take dominion someday for themselves, but for Jesus, Geoffrey reminded his audience.

Christians are to take dominion in Jesus’ name so as “to bring order to the world the way he wants it to be ordered,” he said.

Geoffrey waxed poetic about cells as miniature galaxies unto themselves, and about the movement of nutrients from the soil into plants into humans and back to the soil. The world is a harmonious global ecosystem created by God, he explained, not a hostile setting that humans must struggle against.

Doesn’t he mean a harmonious global biosphere, the sum total of Earth’s ecosystems? I thought. As for Earth not being hostile, a few million survivors of hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides, floods, volcanic eruptions, epidemics, and famines would disagree!

Geoffrey’s wife, Victoria Botkin, caricatured public school science classes as meaningless courses that depict the universe as random and meaningless. At the 15:57 mark, she painted an ugly picture of public school science courses.

“Those of us who went to public school often have a hard time knowing how to think about science because to us, it’s a school subject, right? It’s like band and gym class, science class. Well, most kids in public school hated science class, and that’s because in public school, we learned that science was bunch of facts about stuff that happened at random and for no reason. And we public school kids may have not been very smart, but we were sure smart enough to realize that stuff that happened at random and for no reason was meaningless and therefore boring and a waste of our time. We could see, maybe, that there were patterns in nature that were amazing, and maybe we could see things under a microscope that were beautiful and astonishing, but if we could see this, it was really frustrating because it didn’t mean anything.” 

This was emphatically not my experience of sciences classes in public school.

I look back on my high school chemistry and Earth sciences classes with fondness, because the teachers made science both fun and relevant. For example, my Earth science course did not present the natural world as a pandemonium of random occurrences, but an intricate web of cause, effect, and interconnection. To boot, students learned about the real-world consequences of environmental policies, fossil fuel use, overpopulation, and shrinking resources, so our class content was anything but meaningless. Victoria Botkin may have drudged through class because of a poor science teacher, an inadequate science curriculum, or her own indifference, but her experiences are not representative of all public school students!

Victoria claimed that mothers who attended public schools are often ill-equipped to teach their children science. At the 17:42 mark, she discouraged mothers from using mainstream textbooks, lest they “infect” their children with the same “faulty” thinking.

“Moms who went to public school have a hard time understanding how to teach science, and in fact, we have a hard time even understanding what science is. And so, if our state’s laws say that we’re supposed to do a unit of science this semester, we think, ‘well, okay, now what?’, and we buy a science textbook, and if we do that, we’re going to infect our children with the same faulty way of thinking.”

Victoria defined science at the study of the created world, how it works, and how the creatures therein interaction. Deuteronomy 6 commands parents to teach their children to love God and honor his ways, she argued, and that command should be at the core of everything homeschooling parents teach, including science.

The Bible states that teaching science can help children love God, she insisted. Victoria quoted Deuteronomy 30:19, in which heaven and earth counsel humans to honor God, as well as Psalm 19:1-6, in which the skies reveal knowledge in the form of astronomy. The fact that the books of the Bible were composed centuries before the advent of modern science, and thus do not embody scientific principles, seemed to have escaped her.

At the 21:32 mark, Victoria lambasted non-fundamentalist scientists as “enemies of God” because they are allegedly trying to disprove God’s existence.

She gave no examples of scientists who are allegedly trying to do so, however, condemning them en masse as warriors in the “war for men’s minds and hearts”.

“I guess it should come as no surprise to us — since we know that there is a war of ideas on, a war for men’s minds and hearts — that scientists have taken that which testifies that God is, and that he is good, and they have twisted it to try to prove that there is no God, and in a way this makes sense that the enemies of God would do this because the study of God’s creation, which is what science is, is one of our best tools and one of our best allies for teaching our children to love and revere God.”

Geoffrey Botkin addressed a listener question about teaching science on a budget. He replied that he’d known families who realized that public school wasn’t an option, and who strove to give their children a better education than what “government schools” could offer. Libraries, access to books, and talking with children about science were vital in those families, Geoffrey explained.

Isaac Botkin, one of Geoffrey and Victoria’s sons, discussed Christian homeschooler’s reticence around evolution, stressing the need for Christians to fight evolution through science. What fundamentalists were supposed to do if science supported evolution was not explored.

Considering that scientific evidence supports evolution, good luck with that, I thought.If fundamentalists cite the pseudoscience they’ve relied on so far, I’m not worried.

In true fundamentalist form, Isaac trotted out tired stereotypes about evolution, eugenics, and racism at the 28:40 mark.

“There is a lot of skepticism in the homeschoolers’ approach to science in a lot of ways, and I think a lot of that is reactionism. It’s fear of studying books or resources that mention evolution, and this is a really good fear to have, because the evolutionary thought, the concept of Darwinism is itself incredibly destructive, and it’s something that we need to fight by studying science well. You can’t fight bad ideas with no ideas. You can’t fight bad information with ignorance. And it’s incredibly important that children understand that they can see God’s hand in God’s creation by studying science, but it’s also important that they understand that they need to be able to refute the enemies of Gods who will deny God’s work in creation, and there’s dozens of reasons for this. There are reasons in scripture that describe that, but there’s also the practical reason that evolutionary thought is incredibly destructive. It’s one of the many driving forces between the eugenics movement. It’s something that supports racism, that supports social Darwinism, that supports socialism.”

Geoffrey Botkin elaborated on his son’s statement, encouraging listeners to take a “bold stand” against “false science and pseudoscience”. He mocked Charles Darwin as “not a real naturalist, he was a a fantasy naturalist, really, and came up with fantasy theories for his own personal theology that was just readily received by everyone.”

Elizabeth Botkin spoke at length about science education for girls, arguing that both sexes are responsible for dominion and thus require a science background. At the 31:33 mark, she claimed that girls and women can help men exercise dominion.  

“It’s very easy to think that these are guy things … and to think that our role will never require us to know any of these things. That’s because often, we girls have actually assigned ourselves a role as women that’s a lot smaller than the role the Bible gives us, and we think, ‘Oh, well we’ll never have to be involved in invention or engineering or exploration, because our job is to do the dishes and the sewing’, and we let ourselves off easy. And it’s because, I believe, we’ve forgotten the dominion mandate, which involves invention, exploration, classification, cultivation, and discovery, was assigned to the man and the woman, and the great commission of discipling all the nations was assigned to men and women, and though there are very definitely differences between the Biblical role of man and the Biblical role of women, the lines between those roles are not drawn so much by activity as they are by jurisdiction and hierarchy. And so, yes, there are certain roles and jobs that are off-limits to women, the Bible says very clearly, but when it comes to what we’re allowed to help our men do, the field is really as wide as the earth itself.”

Elizabeth elaborated at the 33:57 mark, arguing that girls need science education to help men and teach children.

“If we never have to do more than wear modest clothes, cook good meals, keep the house clean and decorated, then it’s true. That doesn’t require a super-vigorous education. But if a girl is going to grow up to help a man make disciples of the nations and teach her children to do the same, and be a highly skilled and productive Proverbs 31 woman, she needs a very vigorous education, including in all the sciences.”

I was stunned. The Christian Patriarchy Movement restricts women to confined roles, but Elizabeth accuses girls and women of assigning themselves a small role. Furthermore, as much as Elizabeth tries to obscure it, she cannot avoid the fact that her subculture denies women career opportunities in the sciences. The best a woman can hope for is being “allowed” to help her men with scientific pursuits (between cooking, cleaning, homeschooling a huge brood of children, and recuperating from repeated pregnancies, of course). That’s assuming that the men in her life have any interest in science. The idea that a woman could be more than a subordinate helper to her father or husband, that a woman could be a science leader in her own right, did not occur to Elizabeth.

Elizabeth should learn more about female scientists in recent history.

The world has made great strides thanks to the efforts of women like Rachel CarsonJane GoodallWangari MaathaiVandana ShivaGrace Hopper, Françoise Barré-SinoussiGertrude B. ElionNancy RomanVera RubinRosalind FranklinChristiane Nusslein-Volhard, and Elizabeth Blackburn, just for starters. These women changed the world by breaking barriers, striving for excellence, and working alongside their male colleagues as equals. Had these scientists been content to be men’s subordinate helpers, the world would have never benefited from their genius.

Anna Sophia Botkin praised female scientists of the past such as Ada Byron and Marie Curie, describing how they worked alongside their fathers, husbands, and male friends. At the 35:30 mark, she wondered why more homeschooled girls don’t pour themselves into science and technology.

Because your subculture grinds their self-esteem into dust? I thought.

“You’ve got to wonder why is it that homeschool girls today are not doing any of these things. We see a lot of girls who are pursuing small handcrafts but not these bigger, dominion-oriented things. But there’s really no reason why they couldn’t be using their gifts for design and fine detail processing, for example, to do web design or graphic design instead of scrapbooking and kitting. There’s nothing in the Bible that says that we have to use a sewing machine and not a skill saw. There’s nothing that says that you have to make hand-knitted tea cozies and not furniture or robotic arms. There’s nothing that says that the woman’s job is to clean the house but not to build it.”

Anna Sophia’s comments troubled me, and not just because of her mirthless chuckles sprinkled throughout.

Anna and Elizabeth seem to believe that females in their subculture deliberately limit themselves to lesser roles, ignoring how Christian Patriarchy suppresses females through sexism. They also seem to think that girls and women have boundless time and energy for scientific pursuits, ignoring ways that endless household chores, child care, homeschooling, and health problems from repeated pregnancies can constrain girls and women in their subculture. In the Christian Patriarchy Movement, females can’t win.

Geoffrey Botkin offered advice to families with sons looking into careers in medicine. (The idea that daughters might do so was not considered.) He warned that modern medicine is a broken system, having been hijacked by “special interests”. For example, Sen. Ted Kennedy advocated for “nationalized medicine schemes” in the 1970s, he lamented, with Hillary Clinton and President Obama continuing those efforts in the decades after. “Doctors are now agents of the security state system,” Geoffrey claimed, in keeping with his prior statements about alleged “statism”. Society need doctors, but it also need to reform the medical system, and thus sons may need to work outside the system as reformers or independent professionals. Geoffrey encouraged an independent, self-policing medical system with its own private licensing, private insurance options, and private medical education.

All this struck me as problematic. Self-policing isn’t a reliable way of keeping organizations accountable. To address and prevent wrongdoing, policing needs to come from without as well as within an institution. Furthermore, if Geoffrey Botkin believes that the mainstream medical establishment is corrupt, how would an alternative medical establishment avoid the alleged pitfalls of its predecessor?

The Botkins’ disdain for the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) was evident.

Geoffrey took delight in new technology and its potential for helping people detach from the Obamacare system. His son Isaac blasted Obamacare as well, claiming that it would give patients fewer opportunities for care. In such a world, people need to be informed about medical care, requiring scientific knowledge.

Finally, I was confused by Geoffrey Botkin’s contradictory advice on how to approach the science community. At the 1:08:47 mark, he urged listeners to “engage this century” by being leaders in science.

“We have to engage our generation. We have to engage this century. We need some students who really go far in these sciences so that they can be leaders, and they can understand the science. They don’t have to be followers. They can be leaders.”

On the other hand, he disparaged higher education as a “setback” for homeschooled students. At the 1:09:05 mark, he warned that college could alleged set students back, and that higher science professions could “compromise” or “enslave” them.

“You have to be so careful about throwing your children into a university environment to get certain qualifications that literally could trap them. For most people who go to university for other non-scientific, non-engineering pursuits, college is a real setback. You don’t really want to be training your children or getting your children ready for that. It will truly set them back for the 21st century. But what about these more precise, heavy science obligations that we’re facing? The students need to be extremely careful not to compromise themselves to be enslaved to any of these higher professions — bioscience, in medicine, in medical research. They have to be very careful.”

The contrast between the two statements baffled me. He encouraged young people to become leaders in their fields, then warned them against university educations and high-powered science professions.

Did Geoffrey Botkin want young professionals to engage the world of science or not?

*****

Despite their ostensible respect for science, nature, and medicine, the Botkins’ ideology prevents them from fully engaging with those fields. (This meme comes to mind…) Part IV of the “Ready for Real Life” webinar contained themes of poor science, sexism, and disdain for the scientific community at large.

  • Flawed approach to science: The Botkins assume that their inerrant interpretation of scripture is true, using science to justify those faith-based assumptions. Evidence that could undermine their beliefs is ignored or scorned. This is a mockery of legitimate science, which tests hypotheses against observed evidence, rejecting or modifying hypotheses not supported by evidence.
  • Science and medicine careers as male domains: In the Botkin’s eyes, leadership roles in science and medicine are reserved for men. Geoffrey Botkin spoke of sons (but not daughters) seeking our medical careers. Elizabeth Botkin relegated females to subordinate roles as men’s helpers. In doing so, the Botkins discouraging females from becoming leaders in science and medicine.
  • Distrust and disengagement from the scientific community: For all his talk of engaging the 21st century world, Geoffrey Botkins advocated for disengagement from higher learning and the science community. Geoffrey Botkin discouraged students from attending universities, calling university education a “setback”. Furthermore, he encouraged Christians to work outside the mainstream medical establishment, ignoring the cutting edge research and promising careers it offers (for all its flaws).The Botkins also mocked and caricatured non-fundamentalist science professionals. For instance, Victoria Botkin derided non-fundamentalist scientists as “enemies of God” for allegedly trying to disprove God’s existence. Noah Botkin also dismissed non-Christian scientists for “glorifying the human mind”. Geoffrey Botkin sneered at Charles Darwin, attacking him as a “fantasy naturalist”.

Stay tuned for the next part of the “Ready for Real Life” webinar series!

*****

To be continued.

Ready for Real Life: Part Four, Ready to Lead Culture

Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 1.15.43 AM

Ready for Real Life: Part Four, Ready to Lead Culture

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. Part Four of this series was originally published on October 14, 2013.

*****

Also in this series: Part One, Botkins Launch Webinar | Part Two, Ready for What? | Part Three, Are Your Children Ready? | Part Four, Ready to Lead Culture | Part Five, Science and Medicine | Part Six, History and Law | Part Seven, Vocations | Part Eight, Q&A Session | Part Nine, Concluding Thoughts

*****

In this part of their “Ready for Real Life” webinar, the Botkin family discusses the role of the arts in homeschooling, contending that parents must train their children to appreciate Christian-friendly art and music instead of worldly arts. The webinar amused me in its disdain for Bratz dolls, jazz, ragtime, Picasso, the Frankfurt School, and Jimminy Cricket, but disturbed me with its advice on constraining children’s tastes.

The Botkins’ approach to the arts struck me as a constricted and passionless, focused more on supposed Biblical principles than creativity, expression, and expansion.

Geoffrey Botkin began the webinar with a prayer asking for God’s wisdom, reminding his audience that they were living in “such a dark and crooked and confused and perverted and twisted generation”. As with previous webinars, Botkin depicted the modern world as a depraved place that Christians must resist.

A listener submitted a question regarding how much school work to do with children versus how much time to spend on skill-building for real life. Geoffrey Botkin replied that as young Christians, he and Victoria quickly realized that homeschooling parents cannot make a distinction between academic and real-world studies. If academic materials do not prepare children for the real world, parents should discard it, he said. The Biblical paradigm teaches that all of life is training for living in the world, he claimed.

Victoria Botkin chimed in, encouraging homeschool mothers to be flexible and take advantage of opportunities for their children to learn. Anything a mother does with children can be education, she claimed, as long as a parent is talking with them about it. She explained that real life offered her children learning opportunities that were sometimes better than the academic tasks she’d planned for the day. For example, one day she and the children found an injured lamb that fell off of a truck, and they spent the day butchering the lamb.

Geoffrey Botkin spoke at length about culture from a fundamentalist Christian perspective.

He defined culture as the “secondary environment” superimposed on nature by “man’s creative effort”. Another definition of culture he offered was activity by man (the image-bearer of God) that fulfilled the mandate to exercise dominion over the earth. Dominion involved bringing order to the world as God designed it, Geoffrey Botkin explained, adding that human activity must reflect a relationship with the divine. “Man’s essential being is expressive of his relationship to God, or it will be expressive of his relationship to rival gods like Satan,” he said at the 11:38 mark.

The purpose of humanity is to teach all the nations and obey everything Jesus commanded, thereby bringing order to the world and glory to God. He quoted Isaiah 9:7 (“Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end”), citing it as the essence for teaching culture to children.

At the 13:24 mark, he envisioned a goal in which God’s government and peace were everywhere, with no “enemies” to get in the way.

“If we’re doing our duty to obey Jesus Christ because we love him, and we’re seeing the increase of his government, we’re extending the reign of the king, then we are enculturating the world in a way that it need to be enculturated. Your children need to know how to do this. How do we increase his government and peace so that there’s no end of it, no interruption to it, no enemies who get in the way?”

Christians are called to impose order through culture, even while living in a “disorderly generation”, and even to the most “disrupted, degenerate places and corners on planet earth”. Children must develop zeal for their father’s business and for Jesus Christ, he insisted

All culture is religiously oriented, Geoffrey Botkin claimed. We can “dress” culture according to what God wishes, or conform to a world which “disintegrates” culture. Christians must “dress” culture with meaning, he stressed, rather than inject culture with meaninglessness or madness as many poets, musicians, and filmmakers do.

“Culture is being formed by people who are either on God’s side or working against his will,” he said at the 17:54 mark, dividing cultural contributors into godly and ungodly. Geoffrey Botkin described his son Isaac’s visit to Egypt, where he found “an irreligious people worshipping a false religion, and they’re tearing the order of the world down by what they do.”

Egypt’s Islamic religion shaped Cairo’s culture, he claimed, including its women’s dress and its dirty streets (!).

Culture is not neutral, he emphasized, nor is culture the mere “flavor” of a place or time. Words such as “diversity” and “multiculturalism” frame culture as different flavors of living, ignoring the role of culture in exercising godly dominion. He contrasted the art of Johannes Vermeer with that of Picasso, a “truly a degenerate man, an impure man” who cursed his father, ran away, and lived in a brothel which “deranged his mind”, Botkin insisted.

Victoria Botkin stressed the importance of talking to children about what they see and hear in the world. For example, Victoria sees a little girl feeling drawn to a Bratz doll in Wal-Mart as a “red flag”. Something in a child’s heart causes them to gravitate to the messages that a Bratz doll communicates, she explained, and parents must redirect their children’s hearts. Victoria added that the Botkin household had a constant running commentary on the outside world, and if one of her children gravitated toward the “wrong” parts of culture, the parents had a duty to redirect their tastes.

Geoffrey Botkin argued that a battleground exists in every discipline, including science. In every discipline contains people who worship and obey God, alongside others who present new, unbiblical theories. At the 30:22 mark, he elaborated on such battlegrounds, lamenting that Christians lost the battles for control of political science and government. 

“One of the great dramas that our children have really loved talking about is when we as parents … say here is a subject we’re going to study, biology or astronomy or chemistry. What is the battleground in this science and in this discipline? What is the battleground in the queen of the sciences, theology? What is the battleground on political science? Every single one of these disciplines, there has always been a raging battle, which is called the antithesis … It’s a battleground. There are people who will worship and serve the creator, and try to organize things and study things and proclaim things that are correct and true, and there will be others who say, ‘no, we have a new theory on biology, the origin of man. We have a new theory the way society should be run. Our political science is scientific secular statism, for example. It’s a new authoritarian organizational method that we’ve come up with and we think it’s better.’ And so, one of the greatest battles of the 20th century was in this sphere of political science and government and governance, and Christians truly lost this culture battle in America, in the 20th century.”

Geoffrey Botkin reserved special ire for Wilhelm Reich and the Frankfurt School, depicting them as ungodly forces that wanted to win battlegrounds in academia.

“They worked very hard, these Frankfurt school revolutionaries masquerading as academic to insert what they called … a complete social revolution to overthrow Christianity with decadence and cultural disintegration,” he said at the 34:21 mark, caricaturing Frankfurt School thinkers as anti-Christian libertines. Botkin preached that an overthrow of Christianity would culminate in tyranny. “”It’s such a simple formula. If you can eliminate the knowledge of God, then you have a perfect opportunity for tyrants of totally centralized regulatory government to rule,” he insisted at the 33:38 mark.

His depiction of Wilhelm Reich was equally hysterical. He accused Reich of wanting to rid the world of Christianity and replace it with behavioral control via mass psychology. At the 35:20 mark, he claimed that Reich wanted to reduce society to permanent adolescence by promoting “polymorphous perversity”.

“That’s what your children have been born into, and this polymorphous perversity means you just do what you want when you want to. You justify it any way you want, any kind of misbehavior but especially sexual misbehavior. You justify and rationalize according to the tools this modern culture is giving to young people.”

On the topic of music, Geoffrey Botkin caricatured early American music as devout, in contrast to modern music that he decried as chaotic and debauched.

At the 35:51 mark, he pined for an earlier era characterized by songs of God and nation-building

“For three-hundred years, Americans wrote music about nation-building, bringing order to a culture, building culture the way it should be built, honoring the Lord’s design, his architecture for it. The very first music sung in this country were Psalms … We fought a war over the freedom that we wanted to have so that we could continue building the foundations around proper Biblical culture, and we sang about them. We built music around it. We had lyrics around the Christian foundations of culture, both black and white. For four-hundred years, Americans have expressed themselves through music, and until the 20th century, the lyrics and instrumentation was very orderly and very Biblical. And so, you need to teach your children that music is theology, both externalized and internalized, because music is one of the most theologically influential arts there are.”

Music allegedly declined in the 20th century, Botkin claimed, when American culture succumbed to an “antithetical urge” that drew its music away from nation-building themes. As young people had more free time and disposable income to buy sheet music and records, music houses experimented with “uninhibited immaturity” in their craft.

Geoffrey Botkin held 20th century music styles such as jazz and ragtime in utter contempt.

He dismissed jazz and ragtime as “discordant, unplanned collisions of harmony”, calling them “sloppy” forms of “covert protest” against older European music traditions. Jazz in particular was “infantile”, he argued, as it allegedly celebrated moral dissipation and misbehavior.

Ragtime and jazz both emerged from the African American community, I recalled. Is Botkin making a veiled race commentary here?

Such music was part of a larger “dissipating culture”, Geoffrey Botkin maintained, arguing that Hollywood too was contributing to a changing moral tone in America. For instance, he cited the song “When You Wish Upon a Star” in the 1940 animated film Pinocchio as an example of the “superstition theology” taking over America.

Really? Duke Ellington and Jimminy Cricket contributed to America’s decline? I thought.

Victoria Botkin told listeners that she and her children listened to classical music at home, listing “Peter and the Wolf”, “The Nutcracker”, and “The 1912 Overture” as examples of pieces that her children enjoyed. Victoria trained her children to appreciate music that was good and “orderly”, she explained, discouraging any taste in “bad and ugly, chaotic, discordant music”.

This broke my heart.

By restricting her children’s exposure to different musical styles, Victoria Botkin denied them so many tastes of innovation and beauty.

I couldn’t imagine my youth without heavy metal, or summer vacation trips with my father without classic rock playing in the car. Not only were the Botkin children fed revisionist history and a rigid, fundamentalist worldview, but they weren’t even allowed to explore their own musical preferences. How can someone blossom as an emotionally mature person — fully alive, fully self-aware, fully engaged with the world around them — if they aren’t even allowed to explore their own tastes, to savor many kinds of paintings, photos, and songs?

Benjamin Botkin, son of Geoffrey and Victoria Botkin, argued that the world should come to Christians to learn about music, not the other way around. The assumption, it seemed, was that Christian values and aesthetics would create superior music. The idea that musical talent takes many forms, and that people of all belief systems can produce quality music, was not considered.

Geoffrey Botkin used the music discussion to expound on children’s gifts, arguing that gifts can become obstacles to serving God.

He argued that gifts are entwined with service to God, and that some gifts have to be put aside sometimes so as to best serve God. Botkin cited his daughter-in-law Audrey as an example, telling the audience that Audrey had been a gifted cellist, but understood that marrying Benjamin Botkin was far more important that playing cello.

How many other women in your movement have been forced to put aside gifts and dreams? How many were pressured into nigh-mandatory marriage and motherhood while their gifts atrophied? I thought.

At the 49:07 mark, Geoffrey Botkin warned against children using undesirable gifts, or allowing gifts to instill too much pride. His comments about cheerleading were very revealing.

“The two greatest spiritual battles that you and your children will face between the ages of 10 and 20 are related to parental authority and how your children respond to that, and the emerging gifts. And this is one of the widest gateways to sin in our generation, because of the gifts they think they have. And you know, little girl thinks she’s totally, absolutely gifted in the ability to be a cheerleader. That may not be a gift that qualifies her to conform to the ugly conventions of our time. It may not be a God-given gift. It may just be a lustful desire on her part to be seen and noticed as a performer. And so the ability to mimic fools and show off foolishness is not a gift, it’s a vice.”

Botkin transitioned from music to art, complaining that modern art is supposedly atrocious.

At the 51:21 mark, he divided art into Christian and anti-Christian categories, arguing that bad art instills vices.

“Your children are so completely surrounded by really bad art, and the ugly art in our generation, like Picasso, like the art they see on billboards, the art they see surrounding them all over the place, on taxi cabs, on the sides of buses, it inspires men to rebellion. Selfish art inspires men to childishness. Undisciplined art destroys standards of discipline. Meaninglessness, meaningless art robs men of hope and vision … Art will be either Christian or anti-Christian.”

The Botkin daughters discussed artistic standards at length, critiquing artworks. Anna Sophia and Geoffrey Botkin discussed different pictures, criticizing pictures that struck them as unrealistic or stylized.

At the 1:10:43 mark, Anna Sophia Botkin scoffed at the idea of art as a vehicle for emotional expression or spontaneity, calling works that draw upon these forces “sloppy” and “mediocre”. 

“The art world and the music world are both infected with the idea that the highest artistic expression is one that just comes from inside us, from our hearts, from our emotional impulses. They think it’s better if it’s more spontaneous, and less planned and worked out … Christian artists have taken this to a worse extreme by thinking that those emotional impulses are from the Holy Spirit, which makes their art inspired, and above rules and above criticism. And I believe this is why there is so much poor art and music and film-making coming out of the Christian community, and I believe that we take the Lord’s name in vain when we say that he or that his holy spirit is responsible for our sloppy, mediocre efforts.”

Elizabeth Botkin elaborated on her childhood, during which their parents frowned on “chaotic” forms of creative expression. At the 1:13:18 mark, she discussed the “discipline” and “good attitude toward reality” that her parents instilled in the Botkin children. 

“Mom and Dad knew that whether we became artists or not, all of our lives, we’d be building a culture of art around us. We’d eventually be creating art anywhere we went, which is actually exactly what’s happened … They wanted to be really, really careful that they were guiding us toward more disciplined efforts and better taste in all of our creative endeavors, from the little people we made out of Play-Do, to the pictures we drew. And so, if we did something in a sloppy way or with a bad attitude, they wouldn’t say ‘Oh great job! You are so talented!’ Or if we seemed attracted to things that were ugly …  or things that were smarmy or chaotic or had a bad view of reality, they wouldn’t say, ‘Oh, you’re just so unique, such a free spirit!’ They would keep trying to disciple our attitude back toward God, give us a Good attitude toward God’s created order, a good attitude toward reality, a good understanding of reality.”

Isaac Botkin joined the conversation from offsite, discussing photography as an art form. He used the photography discussion to preach against hobbies.

He warned that any activity performed purely for self-expression or self-gratification is selfish. 

At the 1:17:24 mark, he had this to say.

“At the moment, photography is a very easy hobby to get into because cameras are so cheap. Pretty much every phone has a camera on it now. And so, photography is an easy way to very selfishly pursue self expression … This is a good opportunity to talk about the concept of hobbies, and the idea that Christians really shouldn’t have hobbies. And I’m not saying that they shouldn’t do work for free, but the idea of having a hobby that you do purely for self-gratification or for self-expression is not something that a Christian should be doing. Christians should be learning skills and desiring to express their creator.”

Isaac Botkin’s comments floored me. Is the Christian Patriarchy Movement so resistant to individuality that purely personal hobbies are considered sinful? Enjoyment and self-expression are necessary parts of life, not sins, and denying oneself these healthy outlets is a recipe for repression.

In typical fundamentalist fashion, the Botkins transformed natural human impulses into sins.

*****

This part of the “Ready for Real Life” series contained many of the same themes as the previous two episodes, such as distrust of the outside world, binary thinking, and control over what information children absorb. However, this part also contained several themes related to the arts.

  • Art as servitude to God. In the Botkins’ eyes, artistic expression should always serve God. Art for self-expression, emotional outpouring, or pleasure was frowned upon, as was any aesthetic that deviated from Botkin-approved principles.
  • Antipathy toward anything deemed “ugly” or “chaotic. Art that deviated from the Botkins’ aesthetics was rejected as “ugly”, “chaotic”, or “sloppy”. First, such ad hominem attacks ignore the merits of art and music that the Botkins happen to dislike. In essence, the Botkins failed to recognize that art need not be realistic and perfect to express truths about the human condition. Second, real life contains things that are unpleasant and chaotic, and a refusal to countenance these things in art is a refusal to acknowledge all of reality.
  • Parents molding children’s artistic preferences. The Botkins repeatedly told listeners about how Geoffrey and Victoria trained their children to like certain paintings, music, and film. The Botkin children were discouraged from showing interest in the “wrong” kinds of toys, music, and art. While there’s nothing wrong with parents teaching their children about high culture, children also have the right to explore their world and develop their own preferences. Many art forms capture beauty and convey truths about life, and to deny people these art forms is to deny them new perspectives.

Stay tuned for the next part of the “Ready for Real Life” webinar series! In the meantime, I’ll be reading Alex Grey’s Transfigurations while listening to goth metal, out of spite.

*****

To be continued.

Ready for Real Life: Part Three, Are Your Children Ready?

Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 1.15.43 AM

Ready for Real Life: Part Three, Are Your Children Ready?

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. Part Three of this series was originally published on October 6, 2013.

*****

Also in this series: Part One, Botkins Launch Webinar | Part Two, Ready for What? | Part Three, Are Your Children Ready? | Part Four, Ready to Lead Culture | Part Five, Science and Medicine | Part Six, History and Law | Part Seven, Vocations | Part Eight, Q&A Session | Part Nine, Concluding Thoughts

*****

I am reviewing the “Ready for Real Life” talks, a webinar series on Christian homeschooling hosted by Geoffrey Botkins of the Western Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences. In the previous part, the Botkin family celebrated religious homeschooling as a means of exercising Christian dominion and resisting a supposedly sinful culture. In this part, “Are Your Children Ready for Real Life?”, Geoffrey Botkin and family laid out how Christian homeschoolers should approach the surrounding culture and establish Christianity as their foundation.

Botkins began the webinar with a prayer, thanking God for children and for the way God has designed their lives. He prayed for wisdom and joy in raising children, reminding listeners that they were raising offspring in a supposedly perilous time. “They’re being launched into a very difficult, trying, uncertain century, and we’re living in a country that’s no longer as steady and solid and righteous as it once was,” he said at the 1:17 mark.

Botkins stressed that the best way parents can teach their children to think is to begin with the science of the mind. All science is theological, he insisted, because all things are theological.

“True” scientists in past eras knew that they had to look to theology for a true understanding of reality, he claimed.

God created the mind and personally develops the minds of children, Botkin said. However, the same God can also inhibit the minds of people with poor attitudes and render them mentally slow. “God sharpens the ability to think … or he deliberately deranges the ability to think depending on the attitude of the child or the adult,” he told listeners at the 2:50 mark. At the 4:28 mark, he admonished parents to teach their children well, lest their children behave unrighteously and bring down the wrath of God on themselves.

“Parents, you need to realize that your children and all those children who suppress the truth in unrighteousness personally receive the wrath of God … You cannot let your children suppress the truth that you’re teaching them. You can’t suppress any part of it.”

God’s inflicts his wrath on unrighteous people by instilling them with “moral stupidity”, he claimed. In other words, God causes “moral rebels” to lose their minds, resulting in people who are both intellectually and morally stunted. “All sin makes people intellectually as well as morally stupid,” Botkin asserted, correlating moral clarity with mental clarity.

Botkin’s comment about God “deranging” people’s minds stunned me. Was his statement meant to instill fear in listeners? Believe and have a good attitude or God will scramble your brain! Or was he blaming learning impediments on impiety? If the latter, Botkin’s words essentially blame people for any learning challenges they might face. The idea that learning impediments or problems focusing could have emotional roots (depression, anxiety, trauma) or physiological roots (ADHD, dyslexia, nutritional deficiencies) seems to have escaped Botkin, who prefers to blame the sufferer.

In addition to being fanatical and brazen, Botkin’s comments were incorrect.

If Christian fundamentalism brings moral clarity, which in turn yields mental clarity, one would expect fundamentalist Christians to be brilliant and everyone else to be malfunctioning. However, intelligent people and slow people are to be found among Christians and non-Christians alike. How could Botkin ignore this simple, self-evident fact?

Botkin redefined the word “superstition” to refer to critical approaches to fundamentalism. He reminded parents that they need to correctly interpret the world for their children while in the midst of a “superstitious” culture. One of the most destructive “superstitions” in modern society is the belief that smart people have abandoned God’s covenantal ethics, Botkin claimed.

Parents must teach their children how to decipher our “broken, immoral culture” by using scripture as the standard for all thinking, Botkin insisted. A child’s moral foundation must rest on the ethical system of the Bible, he stressed. Botkin spent several minutes speaking warmly of raising children with God’s law.

At this point, Geoffrey Botkin’s son David chimed in. David Botkin emphasized to listeners that parents must teach children the word of God with great sincerity, and that the word of God must dominate children’s lives.

David spoke approvingly of his father’s influence in his life, such as his father’s emphasis on scripture as a tool for interpreting the world and his love of R.J. Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law. 

David stressed that the law of God applies to everyone, including the President, and to all matters. He claimed that while in Washington D.C., his father was included in a conference call regarding military action after Saddam Hussein’s forces invaded Kuwait. According to David’s account, Geoffrey Botkin advised the conference call participants to give a warning to Saddam Hussein before initiating military action, in keeping with Biblical teachings, and later felt ashamed when he could not recall the exact Biblical verses supporting this approach.

Geoffrey Botkin’s daughters, Anna Sophia and Elizabeth, chimed into the discussion as well. Anna Sophia Botkin discussed daily scripture reading in the Botkin family, sharing a quote from Cotton Mather on drawing lessons out of Bible verses. Elizabeth Botkin explored the question of whether it is beneficial to make children read the Bible if they don’t want to. She admitted that as a child, she did not always enjoy reading the Bible, but she was eventually saved over time by reading scripture. Only scripture can reform an “unregenerate heart”, she said, quoting a passage in Romans 10 that associated faith with hearing the word of God.

Geoffrey Botkin emphasized that parents must teach their children critical thinking, given the importance of discernment in navigating a world steeped in “superstition and falsehood”. Christians cannot be carried away by every “wind of doctrine”, and thus Christian parents must teach their children to have strong convictions in their faith. Otherwise, a child’s faith can be “stolen” by another child who dares them to change their mind. When teaching his children discernment, Geoffrey Botkin instructed them to ask two questions about any issue: what is lawful, and under whose jurisdiction does the matter fall?

The Botkins talked at length about how parents must be gatekeepers over what information their children absorb.

Geoffrey’s son Isaac Botkin noted that his father taught him to look for “useful work by the ungodly”, that is, positive cultural contributions by non-Christians. Geoffrey Botkin expanded on this point at the 44:03 mark, arguing that Christians can learn from non-Christian writers while rejecting their supposedly fallacious conclusions. 

“We go to the ungodly sometimes to learn from them in matters of detail, while we differ wholly on matters of principle, and that’s what we teach. We teach our children principle. We say, ‘Look at this poor writer. He’s seeing everything that’s going on. He makes phenomenal observations, but conclusions are mixed up.’ Why? Because he does not understand Biblical principle.”

I found Botkin’s comments to be contradictory. Earlier in the webinar, Geoffrey Botkin argued that people with impious attitudes can be afflicted with both moral and intellectual stupidity. Later, however, Botkin admitted that non-Christians can make intelligent observations and offer cultural contributions of substance.

I remain puzzled on how Geoffrey Botkin reconciles these two assertions.

Geoffrey Botkin addressed a listener’s question on how soon to expose children to the internet and to writers that one disagrees with. In response, he argued that a child’s spiritual character, rather than their chronological age, determines when they are ready for such influences. At the 45:55 mark, he argued against giving internet access to a child who is “pining away” for “fellowship or companionship with the bad guys”, framing the outside world as a potentially corrupting enemy.

“If you’re a friend of the world, you’re at war with God, and because we’re training our children to be on the right side of the battle, the great antithesis of time, the battlefield that I spoke of earlier, they must stay on the right side … If I have a child who’s really pining away for the grass greener on the other side of the fence, on the other part of the battlefield where all the enemies are because he wants to have fellowship or companionship with the bad guys, I would not let him be on the internet or to be reading somebody’s book. He’s not ready, he’s not willing, he’s not able to absorb the truth and process it and then apply it to the battle in the right way. We could train some of our children to be skilled in many different things and turn them loose to fight for the wrong side if we’re not careful about what we give them and when we give them.”

Geoffrey Botkin’s words on the outside world were revealing. In Botkin’s worldview, the larger world is an ominous enemy “battlefield”, where Christians must fight for dominion. Non-fundamentalist ideas from “bad guys” serve as potentially corrupting influences that can contaminate unsuspecting minds.

Such an attitude is not conducive to critical thinking, open-mindedness, or a robust learning experience.

Victoria Botkin and several of the Botkin children spoke at length about effective writing and the importance of writing in a homeschool curriculum. The Botkin children spent the rest of the webinar discussing various topics around communication, such as effective speaking, the flaws of excessive reliance on “humanistic” rational argument, and struggles with social awkwardness.

Even this seemingly mundane subject drew revealing commentary from the Botkins. For instance, David Botkin argued that good writing must reflect unwavering dedication to some absolute truth. At the 1:06:10 mark, David claimed that “ideological heavyweights” among Christianity’s “enemies” were effective communicators because they tenaciously clung to their standpoints. 

“The word of God needs to be your standard for absolute truth in everything that you write … When we think about the ideological heavyweights of the last couple centuries, our enemies, people like Marx and Mao Zedong, these have all been people that resolutely clung to something as a source of absolute truth, and that’s what made them effective. If you don’t resolutely cling to something as a source of absolute truth, and I say it needs to be scripture, then what you write, your output, will be weak and affective.”

First, when I think of intellectual “heavyweights” from the past two centuries, ideologues such as Mao Zedong do not come to mind.

David Botkin could have chosen from hundreds of groundbreaking men and women whose ideas changed the world, but he chose Marx (a boogeyman of fundamentalists) and Mao Zedong (a communist dictator) instead. Second, effective writing rests on sound reasoning and solid evidence for one’s claims, not necessarily stubbornness. Many good thinkers are willing to evolve, adjusting their ideas as new evidence or new arguments become available. Confidence and sound arguments, not inflexibility, are the marks of a mature thinker.

At the end of the webinar, Geoffrey Botkin encouraged listeners to take in the next part of the webinar series, “Ready to Lead Culture”. At the 1:20:03 mark, he emphasized the importance of teaching children to carry out Christian dominion in the arts and media, which will be discussed in depth in the next webinar. 

“You must be getting your children ready not just to follow along and conform themselves to the culture that they’re in, but literally to analyze it and then lead it and realize what needs to be done, realize their place in the world. They have the authority to lead it. How to take dominion of the arts without the arts taking dominion of you. So, your children are exposed to all kinds of media and the arts every day. Is it taking control of them and taking dominion over them, or do they have wisdom to know how to take dominion over that, to either get rid of it, to change it, to jump in there and lead the way in music and in the visual arts, in media, in filmaking?”

In conclusion, this part of the “Ready for Real Life” webinar series featured the following themes:

  • Fundamentalist Christianity as the foundation of children’s lives. The Botkins argued for the centrality of the Bible — or rather, an inerrant interpretation of the Bible — in the moral and intellectual lives of children.
  • The outside world as an enemy and a corrupting influence. The Botkins repeatedly spoke of the outside world as “bad guys” and an “enemy”, describing Christian interaction with the larger world in terms of battle. The webinar repeatedly framed Christian interaction with society as a zero sum game; Christians could either exert dominion over the surrounding culture, or succumb to its contaminating influence. The idea that Christians could be part of an open marketplace of ideas, rather than exercise dominion or be dominated, was not considered.
  • Parental control over what children absorb. The Botkins stressed the importance of keeping children away from non-Christian cultural influences until their adherence to Christianity was solid. Non-Christian materials could be introduced to children’s curricula later, but the Botkins encouraged parents to point out ideas that did not reflect fundamentalism. (“Look at this poor writer. He’s seeing everything that’s going on. He makes phenomenal observations, but conclusions are mixed up. Why? Because he does not understand Biblical principle.”)
  • Christian faith equated with intelligence. Geoffrey Botkin made the profoundly flawed argument that Christian faith produces both moral and intellectual sharpness, and likewise, that impiety produces moral and intellectual “stupidity”.  However, in a seeming contradiction of this claim, the Botkins later assert that non-Christians could make sophisticated cultural contributions. While the Botkins acknowledged that non-Christian thinkers could offer useful information, they still viewed such thinkers as imperfect at best.

Stay tuned for commentary on the next part of the Botkin’s “Ready for Real Life” webinar!

*****

To be continued.

Ready for Real Life: Part Two, Ready for What?

Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 1.15.43 AM

Ready for Real Life: Part Two, Ready for What?

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. Part Two of this series was originally published on September 30, 2013.

*****

Also in this series: Part One, Botkins Launch Webinar | Part Two, Ready for What? | Part Three, Are Your Children Ready? | Part Four, Ready to Lead Culture | Part Five, Science and Medicine | Part Six, History and Law | Part Seven, Vocations | Part Eight, Q&A Session | Part Nine, Concluding Thoughts

*****

As discussed in a prior post, Geoffrey Botkin of the Western Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences is hosting the “Ready for Real Life” webinar series. “Ready for Real Life” is a seven-part audio series on how Christian homeschooling families should educate their children. Alongside his wife Victoria, his son Isaac, and his daughters Elizabeth and Anna Sophia, Geoffrey Botkin praises Christian homeschooling as a means of resisting a supposedly overbearing government and striving toward Christ. I purchased access to “Ready for Real Life”, and over the next few weeks, I will post content and commentary from the webinar series.

In webinar #1, “Ready for What?”, Geoffrey Botkin argues that Christian homeschooling is more than just education inside the house. Rather, home education is Biblical education. He acknowledge that homeschooling is demanding on parents, especially mothers, requiring a great deal of time and emotional investment. However, such hardships are worthwhile for the sake of one’s children and country, Geoffrey Botkin claimed.

At the 3:50 mark, he assured homeschooling mothers that their efforts were a declaration of defiance against “political enemies” who despise Christ.

“Did you mommies know that simply keeping your children at home and teaching them that B says ‘buh’ and G says ‘guh’ is such a powerful declaration of freedom and academic integrity that your political enemies — and yes, you have political enemies that hate what you’re doing and and all the powers who hate Jesus Christ are losing sleep over your act of defiance and heroic political will. You mothers really are heroes. We want you to know that!”

Christian homeschooling constitutes some of the most important work for the kingdom of God taking place in the 21st century, he told listeners. Homeschooling families are changing the world by teaching math, language arts, and “real” history, he said (an asserting that made me cackle in light of Botkin’s participation in a revisionist history conference this summer).

At the 5:25 mark, Botkin celebrated Christian homeschooling as a challenge to “all controlling” governments, demonizing the American government alongside Russia and China. 

“Home education is the most effective challenge to every runaway, all-controlling government from Germany to Russia to China — every nation that has surrendered liberty to a national curriculum, and that’s what our country has done.”

Homeschooling is more than a “lifestyle option”, he insisted, but rather serves as a way for parents to lead their children through a “very treacherous battleground”. Christians do not want their children to be pushovers for government or culture, he said, so they must find ways to raise their offspring with wisdom, no matter how “confused” the church becomes on real-life issues.

Geoffrey Botkin told listeners that he wanted his children to face the 21st century with “boldness” and stand tall when “enemies scream at them”.

A Biblical foundation for children’s education, he explained, is a correct attitude toward children. Citing Luke 1:17, he invoked John the Baptist turning the hearts of the fathers back to their children to prepare for the Lord’s arrival as a metaphor for the right parental attitude. Geoffrey Botkin used himself as an example of a father whose heart was turned toward his offspring. Initially, he described himself as a former “bad guy” who was once a “disobedient Marxist” before he embraced Christianity. Now, he has rejected the Marxist vision of social transformation in favor of the fundamentalist Christianity vision of changing cultures through families. When his wife Victoria was pregnancy with their first child, Isaac, God turned his heart to his child, he told listeners.

Next, Victoria Botkin spoke at length about motherhood and homeschooling. At the 15:00 mark, she claimed that our “culture of egotism” has encouraged women to see their children as annoyances and assume that their lives are their own (!).

She casts feminism not as a movement that liberates and values women, but as a negative force alongside materialism.

“We have been raised in a culture of feminism and materialism, and of course, those things have been around a very long time. But our generation, I think, may be unique in that we have been raised in such a culture of egotism. Women have been encouraged to think that the only thing that’s really important is self-fulfillment. We’ve been strongly encouraged to think of our lives as our own. We’ve been encouraged to think of our children as a nuisance.”

Victoria spoke of her life as a mother of young children, when she found it difficult to balance child rearing with other activities. For instance, she loved sewing, but quickly grew annoyed when her children would interrupt her sewing time. After reflecting on Matthew 18:9 (“If your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out”), she gave up sewing completely so that she could devote more attention to her children. In another example, she heard another woman holding up Maria from The Sound of Music as a role model because she loved being with children. Victoria liked this idea and wanted to have such a relationship with her own children, but struggled to balance time with her children with household duties such as cleaning and cooking. If she incorporated children into household tasks, he realized, she would not need to take time out away from them.

As Victoria continued, she continued to depict Christian homeschooling and child rearing as a task without rest for mothers. At the 18:29 mark, she explained that full-time motherhood and homeschooling meant no opportunities for recreation or socializing.

“We had a relative visiting, a woman about my age who asked me, ‘Well, do you ever get to do anything YOU want to do?’ Her question stopped me cold, and I knew what she meant. She meant going out shopping with a friend, or going out to lunch and an art exhibit like she did. And for a minute I was tempted to go down the road of self-pity because no, I never did do any of those things. But then, it was like a little voice inside me pointed out that this was a trick question, and all of you who’ve been to public school know what a trick question is. And I realized in reality, I got to do what I wanted to do all the time, and not just once a month or once a week or whatever like she did. I got to do what I wanted to do all the time because I loved being with my children. I loved taking care of them and living with them and learning with them, and it was just exactly what I wanted to do, and I got to do it all the time.”

Quoting Psalm 37:4 (“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart”), Victoria claimed that when she chose to find delight in her offspring, God made that the desire of her heart.

Victoria Botkin’s commentary troubled me, and not just because of the cognitive dissonance.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the life of a stay-at-home mother, but neglecting all other activities is unhealthy. I love my job, but if I worked in the office from sun-up to sundown seven days a week, I’d be a basketcase. I take great pleasure in gardening, but if I spent every waking moment cultivating my garden without any time set aside for hobbies, volunteering, or a social life, I’d be miserable. Victoria Botkin’s advice is a recipe for burnout, as she fails to recognize the need for balance and rest in mother’s lives.

Victoria elaborated on the content of homeschooling, citing Deuteronomy 6 as a foundational text. Parents not only need to teach children to love God, make disciples, and take dominion of the earth, but also need to teach reading, writing, geography, science, and current events so that they can operate in the world. For instance, homeschooling parents should teach children history so they can see “God’s workings in the affairs of men”, civics so children know how government works versus how it’s “supposed” to work, and media literacy so children recognize how the media “twists” coverage of current events to manipulate viewers.

At the 22:40 mark, she rejected the idea of teaching academic subjects apart from God, insisting that it would render subjects “meaningless”.

“The public schools pretend to teach all these things, but there’s one big difference, and it is a colossal difference. If we are obedient to God’s sacred command to parents in Deuteronomy 6, we will be teaching all these things in light of the sovereign God who made all things and who rules all things by his might forever. And we simply cannot pretend that math, science, or history are secular subjects and they’re neutral. Being taught as kids are in public school that science, math and history were and are random happenings makes them meaningless, and that’s why these are the subjects that were especially boring in public school. Meaningless, random facts aren’t interesting or relevant. As Christians, I believe we need to teach our children to love learning about God’s ways and God’s deeds, and that includes loving to study science, math and so on.”

Children will love what their parents love, Victoria claimed, and thus parents should model a love of learning to their children. If Christians love God, they will long to understand God’s workings in all things, including science and history.

But what if science and history show your children facts that don’t agree with fundamentalist Christianity? What will you do if knowledge leads them to question your fundamentalism? I thought.

Geoffrey Botkin stressed that parents must cultivate correct knowledge about their children. Children are “godly seed”, not pupils or accessories, he argued. The Bible teaches that children are weapons of war, he added, asking listeners if they were truly acting like warriors.

Like other fundamentalist voices, Geoffrey Botkin described children as torchbearers for a fundamentalist agenda.

On the subject of discipline, Geoffrey Botkin insisted on absolute obedience from children. He spoke approvingly of spanking and “the rod”, and discouraged parents from countenancing any form of disobedience from their offspring.

“Discipline is not an option in your home. You have to bring discipline and order to your home. Disobedience is not an option in your home. Children cannot disobey parents, ever, either outwardly or passively. They can’t roll their eyes … We have to be very quick to rebuke them and reprove them in a way that we want. The rod and reprove give wisdom … Did we spank our children? Yes, we did spank our children. And there were times that there were children who were easy to spank, and children that were literally impossible and difficult to spank. And did we want to give up on that? Sure we did. And there were many times when I would come home and I would need to encourage Victoria and say, ‘Honey, were you faithful in obeying the Lord in this? Because when you discipline your children, they will delight your soul, and they haven’t delighted your soul today.'”

Throughout the webinar, the Botkins addressed listener comments. One commenter asked the Botkins how he and his wife could “detox” from the “garbage” they learned in public school. Geoffrey Botkin replied that they must replace their old public school teachings with “Biblical truth”. Public school teachings are part of a larger flawed culture, Geoffrey Botkin claimed. We live in a “dirty toxic nation” that is “pagan”, he insisted, lamenting that many Protestant churches have embraced dubious ideas steeped in Greco-Roman thought.

WHICH Greco-Roman ideas? I thought. Greek and Roman thought was not monolithic. Why are you lumping it all together and discarding it?

Geoffrey Botkin’s disdain for Greek and Roman cultural contributions ran deep. Another listener asked about the role of Latin and classical texts in home education, to which Geoffrey Botkin gave a polemical response. At the 56:11 mark, he associated Latin with “pagan” indoctrination, caricaturing classical thought as anthropocentric and monolithic. 

“Latin was basic to the initiation process of pagan or deeply compromised academics to gain control over the training of each generation of Christian leaders in England and America. And it was the kind of thing that we must be careful about because the classics are pagan. Greek and Roman literature and philosophy is pagan. They were based on the premise that man is the total measure of everything, than man’s reason is ultimate. It’s such a toxic thing if our children begin to pick this up and become arrogant.”

In conclusion, the Botkins’ first installment of the “Ready for Real Life” series urged parents to homeschool their children with fundamentalist principles at the forefront. Their webinar placed great importance on parental involvement, the Bible, and studying subjects through a fundamentalist Christian filter.

Several recurring themes became apparent.

  • Children as Torchbearers — Christian homeschooling, for the Botkins, is a deeply political act. Geoffrey and Victoria Botkins saw their Christian homeschooling efforts as a means of raising children for future Christian dominion. Children were compared to weapons and arrows in a quiver, and their home education was intended to produce future Christians who would resist messages from society and the state. 
  • Dominionism — The Botkins repeatedly presented Christian homeschooling as a means by which Christians were to exercise dominion and train the next generation for dominion. Geoffrey Botkin spoke warmly of spoke of the Christian reconstructionist author R. J. Rushdoony, whose books were required reading in the Botkin household. He even celebrated Rushdoony’s Institutes in Biblical Law as a “dinner table reference book” in the family’s conversations about current events. 
  • Christian Patriarchy — The roles that Geoffrey and Victoria Botkin prescribed for parents and children were heavily gendered. Women were expected to be stay-at-home mothers and devote themselves entirely to the education and upbringing of their offspring. Geoffrey Botkin also encouraged mothers to treat their sons like men, not boys, so as to prepare them to be future leaders. Revealingly, he did not say the same about daughters.  
  • Obedience — The Botkins called for children’s absolute obedience to their parents, as well as parents’ absolute obedience to God and the Bible.
  • Disdain with the Outside World — The webinar was riddled with condemnation of the state, public schools, humanism, feminism, alleged “political enemies”, and society in general. Christian homeschooling was presented as a form of resistance to “runaway, all-controlling government”, in keeping with Geoffrey Botkin’s fears of statism. Public schools were denigrated as ungodly learning environments that stuffed students’ minds with “garbage”. “Anyone who went through the American public education system in the last thirty years is not totally ignorant, but mostly ignorant,” Geoffrey Botkin insisted at the 58:25 mark. Society at large was demonized as “dirty” and “pagan”, with Christian dominion as the only true antidote to its ills. In short, the outside world, with its diversity and secularism, was framed as a malevolent force that Christian homeschool families must resist.

Stay tuned for commentary on the rest of the Botkin’s “Ready for Real Life” webinar series!

*****

To be continued.

Ready for Real Life: An Investigative Series

Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 1.15.43 AM

Ready for Real Life: Part One, Botkins Launch Webinar

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. Part One of this series was originally published on September 15, 2013.

*****

Also in this series: Part One, Botkins Launch Webinar | Part Two, Ready for What? | Part Three, Are Your Children Ready? | Part Four, Ready to Lead Culture | Part Five, Science and Medicine | Part Six, History and Law | Part Seven, Vocations | Part Eight, Q&A Session | Part Nine, Concluding Thoughts

*****

One of my readers alerted me to a webinar series hosted by the Western Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences, led by Geoffrey Botkin. The Ready for Real Life webinar series, hosted by the Botkin family, is a seven-part audio series on how Christian homeschooling families should teach children.

“Starting this September, the Botkin family will be hosting a 7-week webinar series on educating children for leadership in the real world. Featuring all seven Botkin children, as well as Geoffrey and Victoria, they’ll be taking on the tough questions: What do you do if your child has a special gifting? How should we teach our sons and daughters marketable skills? How do we teach them to navigate the real world without becoming like the world? How do we find the best resources without breaking the bank? How do we prevent homeschool dropouts? What constitutes “success,” and how do we help our children achieve it? What should we do about higher education? And how do we teach our children well about things we don’t know ourselves?”

I have purchased access to the webinar series, and I will be posting a series of blog posts on its content. 

What I’ve listened to thus far has depicted the state as an antagonistic entity and Christian homeschooling as a positive force for freedom, children, and the future of faith. As the series progresses, I am eager to hear how the Botkin’s views on gender roles, “statism”, and children as torchbearers color their views on children’s education.

For readers unfamiliar with the family, the Botkins are a fundamentalist Christian family with strong ties to Vision Forum. The Botkins are not only supporters of fundamentalist Christian homeschooling, but vocal proponents of Christian patriarchy. For instance, books by the Botkins at the Western Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences are supportive of Christian patriarchy tenets such as courtship and traditional gender roles. Geoffrey Botkin took part in an interview for the anti-contraception film The Birth Control Movie. Also, So Much More by Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin encourages young women to be helpmeets to their fathers and promotes a “stay-at-home-daughters” vision for girls. Websites such as Overcoming Botkin SyndromeTime to Live FriendNo Longer Quivering, and Love, Joy, Feminism have criticized the Botkins for promoting sexism and unhealthy family relationships.

To boot, Geoffrey Botkins is vehemently opposed to so-called “statism”, painting the modern state as a bloated, intrusive entity at odds with the Christian community.

For instance, at this summer’s History of America Mega-Conference, Geoffrey Botkin devoted a talk to the alleged harms of the “Messiah state” and social safety nets. In a 2009 commentary piece, he attacked the state’s alleged “Marxist social engineering”, accusing it of seeking to kill Christendom, emasculate boys, exploit women through the workforce, and confiscate wealth. Geoffrey Botkin’s caricature of the modern state must be understood in order to understand his enthusiasm for fundamentalist homeschooling and Christian patriarchy.

With this in mind, the Botkins’ webinar series should offer a revealing glimpse into their ideology. Stay tuned for commentary on the “Ready for Real Life” webinar series!

*****

To be continued.

When I Rejected Dominionism

Screen Shot 2013-08-05 at 1.43.10 PM

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on August 4, 2013.

By now most people have probably heard of the dominionism in homeschooling and conservative evangelical circles — the idea that homeschoolers will change the world by their involvement in absolutely everything, from science to the high arts to politics. Oddly even after I rejected patriarchalism (and courtship and purity), I still saw myself as a huge warrior and herione. I’ll tell you what changed that for me. But first thought I’ll give you a couple quotes of this in homeschool circles.

First here’s what we learn from the Botkins over at Ladies Against Feminism.

Will your children know how to handle business and finance in a down economy? Defend their faith to militant antagonists? Stand firm against a defiling culture? Fight for their freedoms? Take advantage of technological innovations? And see opportunity amid the chaos?

More importantly, what kind of salt and light are they prepared to be? They may be able to name every country in the world, but do they know how to disciple the nations? They may know about the Battle of Waterloo, but do they know how to fight the battles of today – to win? Homeschoolers have proven they can beat the world at geography and spelling. But can we lead in the arts? Can we lead in the gates? Do we know how to take dominion of science and technology?

Notice the idea that we should be the leaders in science and art, and basically everything. We are cultural warriors, we learn here.

Now here’s a second quote over at The Old School House from Gene Edward Veith over at Patrick Henry College.

Christians fight the culture wars. Some persons put their hope in politics, but that doesn’t seem to do much, even if you elect Christians. A lot of Christians are doing things with the arts and film, and I salute all those efforts. But the effort that is the most dramatically successful is what Christians are doing in education. And the homeschoolers are really leading the way in that.

If Christians become more educated than non-Christians, if they become the people who can use their minds and develop their talents, who can write, read, and have knowledge … if those are the Christians, while the non-Christians in many cases are functionally illiterate, who’s going to be the leaders and the culture makers of the next generation? Homeschool kids give me great hope for the future, that we may come back to where Christians are the influential culture makers once again.

Notice that while Dr. Veith appears to steer away from dominionism in politics, he ends back up in the same place.

If we breed the bright homeschoolers enough, and educate them enough, then homeschoolers can shift the culture. As the nature of Patrick Henry College students, this certainly includes law and politics.

With that, it’s no wonder that when I moved to SE Asia, I thought of myself in big leader terms. To be clear, I grew up in a family with a salary (at least at that time) of the working class, so I was shielded from much of the dominion attitude; we never dreamed big enough for speech, debate, law and politics. We could not afford worldview camps and debate. In fact, my family even slacked to an extent in academics. But I was still taught that motherhood was how I could change the world. I was still taught that Christians would change the world — Christians were that awesome. I was still taught that I was. somebody. special.

Then the bomb fell. I arrived in SE Asia, and I was not anybody special. In fact, I remember telling a friend over skype one day, “people think missionaries pull up to villages, and everyone loves them, and the kid’s kiss them. Yea right.” My work was mostly dominated by kids who either tried to steal from us, or who would yell at me. I was also the worst kind of soldier, and would often fight back. In all the day outreaches I did, the kids and people came running, but what they really meant was, “give me treats and goods.” I still loved those days, but it felt superficial enough that I almost preferred the drama of our kids at home.

That is when I finally began to realize that I am not the hero of my own story. I’m not. I did not come here to win over the world. I came here to serve. I came here to love because they need love, and they need to experience the human dignity that was never afforded to them. The kids do not owe me anything, and I was there to love them, change or no change. In fact, this is what the Bible has to say (I wish I had been taught this in a context other than serving a man).

...whoever wants to be great must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the willing slave of all–like the Son of Man; He did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give up his life as a ransom for many

If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.

And then there is the example of Jesus, who humbled himself to the point of death, even death on the cross (Phil. 2).

My response to Dr. Veith: I do not think the hope of the world is to breed upper middle class Christians with the best education in the world.

Education should never be used as a weapon tool. It’s not a trophy. Instead of focusing on breeding babies and breeding the middle class, we need to focus on all lives. Education is a gift we can give to the entire world, most especially those who have never been afforded one.

I still want to change the world. I hope I’m never too apathetic that my desire to see change dies with me. However, we need to remember that we are first and foremost here to be a servant and to love.

The story is not about us. It’s about other people.