If you don’t indoctrinate your kids, we’ll do it for you.
Note: This story is personal. I probably shouldn’t be sharing it. I am sharing it, however, because many other people will have had this sort of experience. I think it’s important that they know they are not alone.
Last week, my two daughters (5 and 7 years old), went to their grandmother’s house for the week. My wife’s mother lives in Blueball, Arkansas (yes, that’s really a place), and it’s about a 2 1/2 hour drive from where we live. After my wife arrived in Blueball to drop off the kids, her mom said that there was a possibility the kids might be going to Vacation Bible School. My wife voiced her reservations. Once my wife drove the 2 1/2 hours back home, her mom called her on the phone and that possibility morphed into absolute certainty. The kids would be definitely spending the entire week at Vacation Bible School.
Now, my wife’s family knows that she’s an atheist. Or rather, to quote her mom, “She thinks she’s an atheist”. But we’ve never asked the relatives not to bring the kids to church. It’s free babysitting we’re dealing with here, after all. Who are we to argue with that? And besides, a little culture won’t hurt them. You can’t shield kids from religion forever. Maybe a little dose of it will fire up their critical thinking skills? But really, the biggest reason we never forbid this from happening is because we didn’t expect the rule would be followed. If we ordered them not to be exposed to church, we feared the relatives would just take them to church more often. Their eternal souls are on the line, after all. What’s a little white lie when eternal torture is at stake?
My point is, no rules were broken here. Still, though, her mom had to have known the kids would never have arrived at her house had she told my wife about Vacation Bible School before she left for that long drive. These things aren’t just dreamed up at the last minute. They have to be planned. So, it’s fair to say that she knew it was going to happen for sure way before hand. She chose not to mention it until afterwards.
The next day, the 7 year old called my wife on the phone. She was crying. She had been told a story at Vacation Bible School that terrified her. According to my daughter, the story goes like this: There was a magician in a town. Two men came to the town and were trying to talk about God. The magician tried to keep the two men from talking about God. Really bad things happened to the magician. My daughter refused to say what the “really bad things” were. After much crying and reassuring, my wife got her mom on the phone and there was a bit of back and forth yelling. Three hours later, grandma called back, and some half-hearted apologies were made.
We turned to our local atheist group for support. And supportive they were! There are around 70 comments on the facebook thread. One well-read individual in our group found the story the kids were taught: Acts 13:4-12.
4 The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. 5When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.
6 They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7 who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. 9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.”
Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.
This story wouldn’t make me cry. Then again, who knows how the person in charge of educating our kids interpreted this story? However he did it, our oldest child felt personally attacked by people she trusted. She was terrified that something bad might happen to her. She became paranoid and wondered if God had cursed her for not believing in him.
Our friend from the group also found online what we believe to be the lesson plan the church organizers were going by. My wife was able to prep our oldest child by phone what the next lesson would be, thereby lessening the impact. The day after that, my wife drove down there and brought them home early.
Now, we’re left to pick up the pieces. We’ve decided to begin showing our oldest daughter some bible stories before bedtime. We’ll also be including myths from other cultures as well. We’ll try to make it fun and interesting. And hopefully we can teach her that she can be a good person regardless of what she believes.