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

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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.

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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

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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!

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To be continued.

Rewriting History — The History of America Mega-Conference: Part Three, “Religious Liberalism” And Those Magnificent Mathers

Rewriting History — The History of America Mega-Conference: Part Three, “Religious Liberalism” And Those Magnificent Mathers

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. For more information about Ahab, see his blog’s About page. Part Three of this series was originally published on July 7, 2013.

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Also in this series: Part One: First Impressions | Part Two: Doug Phillips on God in History | Part Three: “Religious Liberalism” And Those Magnificent Mathers | Part Four: Kevin Swanson Is Tired Of Losing | Part Five: Messiah States and Mega-Houses | Part Six: Doug Phillips Rages Against the 20th Century | Part Seven: Christian Vikings, Godly Explorers, and Strange Bacon | Part Eight: Closing Thoughts

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On Wednesday, July 3rd, I took in two workshops at Vision Forum’s History of America Mega-Conference: “The Rise of Religious Liberalism” and “Puritanism and the Multigenerational Vision of the Mather Family”. The first was a swipe at progressive Christianity and 19th century spiritual movements, while the latter praised Cotton Mather and his forefathers for their piety and devotion to family life.

On Wednesday morning, Col. John Eidsmoe of the Oak Brook College of Law and Government Policy presented “The Rise of Religious Liberalism”. The workshop was a polemic look at the rise of Unitarianism, Transcendentalism, and other forms of “religious liberalism” in 19th century America.

Eidsmoe spoke warmly of early Americans who celebrated Christianity. The Constitutional Convention, he claimed, had mostly Christians in attendance and involved God in their work. He dismissed the deist Founding Fathers in attendance as “outliers”. He discussed the message of 18th century preacher George Whitfield, who did much to unite Americans under a common faith, he claimed.

Eidsmoe also smiled upon Benjamin Franklin for praising Christian preaching and social endeavors, suggesting that the Founding Father appreciated Christianity. However, I found his portrait of Franklin to lack nuance. While Franklin did celebrate the Puritan virtues of his upbringing and respect preachers such as George Whitefield, he also referred to himself as a Deist in his 1771 autobiography, embraced Enlightenment ideas, endorsed religious pluralism, and spent time at a London Unitarian congregation.

In the 1800s, despite the Second Great Awakening, America sees the emergence of Unitarianism. Eidsmoe pointed out that 19th century Unitarians were different from today’s Unitarian Universalists, describing them as “strongly moral” people who revered the Bible but did not believe in the Trinity.

The 1800s also saw the emergence of Transcendentalism, which Eidsmoe described as a belief in God’s presence within nature and humans. Transcendentalists, Eidsmoe stated, believed that all humans have a divine spark within them, and that by getting in touch with that divine spark, they can become godlike. According to Eidsmoe, Transcendentalists rejected the idea of original sin and did not see the need for a savior, thus contrasting them to Christians.

Eidsmoe didn’t seem to think highly of Transcendentalists, sneering at failed Transcendentalist projects such as Fruitlands commune. He briefly discussed major Transcendentalist thinkers such as Ralph Waldo Emmerson, who drew inspiration from German thinkers such as Friedrich Schleiermacher, Buddhism, and the Bhagavad Gita. Eidsmoe also discussed Henry David Thoreau in unfriendly terms, scoffing at Thoreau for trumpeting his return to nature inWalden while eating meals at his parents’ house and drinking coffee in town. Thoreau defended civil disobedience in his classic essay, but Eidsmoe claimed that this was actually a Biblical concept rooted in obedience to God over obedience to civil authority. (For a more in-depth, non-polemical look at Transcendentalism, click here.)

Practice eisegesis much? I thought.

Transcendentalism led to the rise of “religious liberalism” by leading Americans away from Biblical Christian principles, Eidsmoe argued. While he praised Albert Schweitzer for his scholarly and humanitarian work, he disagreed with his “liberal” view of Jesus in Quest for the Historical Jesus. Eidsmoe also disagreed with the work of Julius Wellhausen, who theorized that the Pentateuch was written by four authors in different time periods rather than Moses (later known as the documentary hypothesis or Wellhausen hypothesis). Wellhausen’s theory was rooted “squarely upon evolutionary thought”, Eidsmoe insisted, even though Wellhausen was not the first scholar to speculate that someone other than Moses penned the Pentateuch. Eidsmoe frowned upon the Wellhausen hypothesis, seeing it as an attack on the divinity of Jesus himself who acknowledged Moses as the author of the Torah. Finally, Eidsmoe was also disdainful of the alleged Darwinist worldview, which he caricatured as positing that humans started in the “slime” and evolved, rather than being created by God with moral responsibility.

These 19th century forces contributed to religious liberalism, which exerts influence even today, Eidsmoe argued. He criticized modern “open-minded” liberalism as being closed-minded to anything evangelical, and caricatured religious liberalism as having five characteristics:

  • Denial of absolute truth in favor of a view of truth as relative, subjective, and evolving.
  • Emphasis on man rather than God, with God as a servant of man instead of vice versa.
  • “Presumption against the supernatural” and miraculous.
  • Optimism about progress, public education, medicine, and democracy heralding a new dawn, before events such as World War I and World War II casts shadows on progress.
  • A belief that the Bible is accurate in its conclusions but not its details, or the belief that parts of the Bible are divinely inspired but not inerrant.

The fact that this does not accurately describe progressive Christianity, past or present, seemed to have escaped him. Progressive and moderate people of faith would not describe their beliefs as such, which also seemed to have escaped Eidsmoe.

Eidsmoe listed several alleged dangers of religious liberalism, including the supposed lack of a basis for morality, the supposed lack of basis for evangelism, and the reduction of Jesus to a mere man or to one path to truth among many. Religious liberalism supposedly leaves no room for freedom, he claimed, since it reduces humans to evolutionary animals rather than moral agents accountable to God. He accused religious liberalism of having no means of maintaining Christianity or perpetuating the faith, claiming that liberal Christian denominations are losing members. (Perhaps he forgot that many mainline denominations and religious schools are losing members too?) Germany serves as a model for what can go wrong with religious liberalism, he insisted, claiming that one-hundred years of liberal German thought gave rise to Hitler and the Holocaust. In short, Eidsmoe demonized religious liberalism, using straw man arguments to grossly misrepresent what liberal Christians actually believe.

Eidsmoe concluded the workshop by warning listeners that religious liberalism could seep into their churches. He urged the audience to stay alert for liberal trends in their churches and seminaries, and to stay faithful to belief in Biblical inerrancy. In short, his workshop was not so much a tour of 19th century religious thought as a polemic against non-fundamentalist Christianity, complete with caricatures, oversimplification, and fear.

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On Wednesday afternoon, Scott Brown presented “Puritanism and the Multigenerational Vision of the Mather Family”. Brown, a pastor at Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC and the director of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches, praised the Mather family as a model of piety.

Brown’s workshop focused on three men in the Mather family — Richard, Increase, and Cotton Mather — whom he praised for the “fruitfulness”, citing John 15:5-8 and John 15:16-17. Three generations of the family “cried out for a rising generation”, Brown observed, celebrating the Mathers as a “beacon of light” for families.

According to Brown, the Mathers resolved to bring everything into obedience with the Bible. Every member of the family was dedicated to God and lived for something beyond themselves, he claimed. By looking to scripture alone, the Mathers knew who they were and what role they were to play in life, rather than asking “who am I?”

Brown delved into the individual histories of Richard, Increase, and Cotton Mather, with emphasis on their religious lives and concern for the next generation. I noticed anti-Catholic bias in Brown’s description of Richard Mather when he noted that Richard’s father almost allowed Catholic merchants to fund his education. The Catholic merchants “coveted” Richard’s gifts, and Brown considered it pivotal in Richard’s development that he was not educated by Catholic. Brown then drew parallels to modern times, when “great pagan institutions” allegedly “pickle” children’s brains by pouring “paganism” into them.

Okay, you guys keep throwing around the word ‘pagan’. I don’t think it means what you think it means, I thought.

Brown observed common themes of moral decline in the preaching of Increase and Cotton Mather. For instance, Increase scoured the Old Testament for patterns among the prophets regarding God’s blessing and judgment, Brown said. Increase was reportedly concerned about the “onslaught of wickedness” in his society, and preached sermons on the importance of teaching piety to the next generation. Likewise, Cotton Mather was said to be watching his society decline, and encouraged cultivation of piety in children, Brown stated. Cotton Mather taught parents that children belong in church and are part of the congregation, a belief that Brown seemed to admire.

Brown devoted much of his discussion to Cotton Mather’s admonishments for parents on the spiritual upbringing of children. According to Brown, Cotton urged parents to set good religious examples for their children, concern themselves with their offspring’s spiritual state, and “plead God’s promises” to their children. Moreover, Cotton penned a list of twenty-one resolutions for fathers, including praying for their children, preaching to the family, encouraging children’s self-reflection on their souls, and “marrying” their children to Christ.

At the conclusion of the workshop, Brown listed six lessons that families can derive from the Mathers’ example. Modern Christian families, like the Mathers, must strive to be families (1) dedicated to future generations, (2) possessing clear visions of home life, church life, and civil life, (3) aware of the times and responsive to them in both public and private ways, (4) dedicated to the prosperity of the church, (5) determined to honor each other even as they disagree, and (6) crying out for their sons.

In his haste to praise the piety of the Mather family, Brown ignored the dark side of that piety. He neglected Cotton Mather’s Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions, a 1689 treatise on the dangers of witchcraft and demons that was widely read in late 17th century New England. Some historians speculate that Cotton Mather’s writings on witchcraft contributed to the anti-witchcraft hysteria that spawned the Salem Witch Trials. He ignored Cotton Mather’s zeal to convert black slaves to Christianity in The Negro Christianized: An Essay to Excite and Assist that Good Work, the Instruction of Negro-Servants in ChristianityThe 1706 treatise encouraged slave owners to convert their black slaves to Christianity, assuring them that Christianity permits slavery and will not bring about slave’s liberty. The transmission of piety to young generations must be done in a spirit of self-reflection, lest that piety lead to destructive ends as it did with Cotton Mather.

I can accept the idea that the Mathers longed to do well by their children and grandchildren, striving to raise them well and encouraging other parents to do the same. Given Increase and Cotton Mather’s ties to witchcraft myths and the Salem Witch Trials, however, I draw a different conclusion from their lives. When parents teach their children spirituality, that spirituality must also include empathy, humanity, and critical thinking. Piety without these elements can devolve into fanaticism, with unsettling results.

Stay tuned for more on the History of America Mega-Conference!

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To be continued.